Fourth International in Manchester Group

The 2013 science fiction thriller Gravity raises a question as to who is in charge of the plot of a film; the main characters – in this case Lieutenant Matt Kowalski and Dr Ryan Stone – or the actors who play them, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, or, perhaps more likely still, the director, here Alfonso Cuarón for a film he co-wrote with his son Jonás. Cuarón has good radical form, directing the best of the crop of little boy wizard films with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004, and then, two years later, a film he also wrote, Children of Men (a film that twisted to the left a 1992 novel by Tory Peer P. D. James). In other words, Cuarón is really the main man here, taking bad material and making good of it.

It is then too easy to be misled by the antics of Clooney and Bullock. They look like the stars, up among the real stars on the NASA Explorer Space Shuttle to fix the Hubble Space Telescope. But, when they are hit by debris resulting from a Russian missile attack on one of its old pieces of equipment, it looks like Clooney and Bullock will both soon be dead meat. It is Clooney who pegs out first, reappearing in one of Bullock’s later hallucinations as she works her way into an abandoned Russian Soyuz craft and then onto a Chinese Shenzou vehicle, just in time to zoom in and break through the upper atmosphere and arrive safe back on earth.

We are up in space circling the planet for most of the film, getting more than a bird’s eye view of home, more than enough, too much to work out what is really going on down below. Instead, in a hyper-real internationalist perspective on the world, we navigate in this film the vain attempts by nation states to project themselves into space, into territory they do not yet control. Just as in Children of Men Cuarón was able to make us see something about our reality that we could not already see, to see more of it, so in Gravity, he was able to show us how little we are, little bit players in our national struggles; we have to step beyond the nation state, beyond earth itself, to get a better perspective on what is really going on.

FIIMG

The Fourth International in Manchester Group (FIIMG) is, let’s be honest, one of the smaller, if not the smallest of revolutionary organisations. If it were really led by George Clooney (which is a plausible supposition) then his partner Sandra Bullock would be rolling her eyes wondering what an earth he is doing most of the time tangled up with those old macho leftists who are tangled up in turn with the tangled lines of old clapped out group leaders. She’s the one who will survive this. But it’s not even down to George, this thing.

Cruciverbalists will detect in the initials FIIMG ‘Fourth International’, of course, and then ‘IMG’ which will remind old Trotskyists in Britain of the International Marxist Group, some of whose ex-members are accumulating a valuable public archive of material; that’s an invaluable accompaniment to the FIIMG Mapping the British Left through Film project. The current incarnation of the IMG as British Section of the Fourth International is Socialist Resistance, SR, which might lead you to expect FIIMG to praise SR and the FI and attack the rest as pretenders. Not so, because the Fourth International has always comprised a weird mix of old-line Trotskyists, surrealists and libertarians, and all the more so today when it includes members around the world from very different revolutionary traditions; it is a space for action and critical reflection.

Ok, take a deep breath and admit it, there is now more than one ‘fourth international’, in the sense that there are actually many groupings of revolutionaries who link politics around the globe; you need but two Trotskyists to found a party, three to build an international, and four to produce a split. Maybe that is one reason why we, FIIMG, are actually less than one. We need to acknowledge the others racing around the globe in hyperspace because we are hit by their debris every now and again.

Next down in size after the Fourth International with credible continuity with the organisation founded by Trotsky and his followers in 1938 are, number two, the very nice on the whole comrades of the International Marxist Tendency, whose British section inside the Labour Party is named for its newspaper Socialist Appeal. Next down on the list, number three and four in the international hit parade, are two internationals with so few members here as to make them inconsequential to the British scene (unlike the other local groups, LOL), the Fourth International La Vérité, followers of Pierre Lambert (of which the British Section is ‘FI Britain’), and the Latin-American ‘Morenoite’ International Workers League, whose British Section is confined pretty much to the Old Swan district of Liverpool (where it is called the International Socialist League). The British SWP runs its own outfit called the International Socialist Tendency, a fifth contender on the world stage.

Sixth, there is a one half of the Committee for a Workers International (with a very small group in Britain called Socialist Alternative), though internationally the ‘majority’ and renamed in early 2020 the International Socialist Alternative; and, in seventh place, the other half of the Committee for a Workers International, the ‘minority’, still staggering on under its original name after a disastrous split in 2019 that was very much to do with London-centric control-freakery by one of its few remaining live groups, the Socialist Party. There are still tinier ‘internationals’, some of which still claim the title ‘Fourth International’ (fragment fall-outs from the sexual abuse scandals that spawned the current thankfully much-reduced version of the Workers Revolutionary Party and Socialist Equality Party, and some going where no one has gone before, or will do, to the ‘Fifth International’ of Workers’ Power. Unfortunately, the Cuarta Internacional Posadista, which did try to make contact with flying saucers no longer exists except in name.

It all looks very different from space, no doubt, but we didn’t need Alfonso Cuarón to tell us that in space no one can hear you scream. Comrades have given their lives to the tin-pot dictators that run some of these groups, and that’s why internal revolutionary democracy is the absolutely indispensable key to building anything that is worth the time and the energy we have left before the world itself heats up and capitalism kills us all. It is small consolation that people are able to escape every now and again and find a revolutionary space to work together instead of against each other.

You can fill out Gravity with any old ideological content, even with advertising, recuperate it, and turn it against the left. And you can do the same with each and every group on the left, drag it back into the orbit of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. In fact, that’s what many of the so-called revolutionary groups already offer themselves up to, set themselves up for, and then it is all the worse when they try and build their own ‘internationals’ in their own image, as simple projections onto a global scale of the way they see things on their home ground. FIIMG escapes that, circling around the British groups, liminal to them, whatever their size, and the various ‘internationals’ that pretend they are the one.

FIIMG cannot, of course, break free from the Fourth International which was actually founded by Leon Trotsky and fellow anti-Stalinist revolutionaries, not only because the FI can be traced back to the historical origins of revolutionary socialist struggle against both capitalism and Stalinism, but also because this Fourth International is the most honest and open about the need to connect with other revolutionary traditions. This Fourth International does its level best to build something from the fragments, to make another world possible, just as FIIMG shows you where those fragments colliding with each other in Britain come from, all the more effectively for you to make your own commitment to take them some place better.

 

This is part of the FIIMG Mapping the English Left through Film project.

People’s Republic of China

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949 following a protracted liberation struggle headed by the Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Mao Zedong, who was chairman of the party until his death in 1976. This liberation struggle had five key elements which are intertwined, but which we need to conceptually disaggregate if we are to make sense of what happened over the next seventy years, if we are to make sense of the nature of the Chinese state now.

The struggle was, first, an explicitly modernising enterprise involving educational projects, battles against semi-feudal superstition, foot-binding and so forth, and continuing in the tracks of the bourgeois-democratic developments in the early years of the twentieth century. These cultural-political developments saw, for example, the emergence of a women’s suffrage movement way in advance of many other countries. There was the implantation of ideas from the Western Enlightenment tradition which include those of the idealist philosopher Hegel and, of course the materialist revolutionary Marx.

It was, second, a national liberation struggle, reasserting the independence and pride of the Chinese people against invading forces, most notably, of course, against the Japanese, who had carried out horrific massacres, at Nanjing to note only one of the most well-known examples. The negotiations, and failed attempts to form ‘National Revolution United Fronts’ with the Kuomintang, entailed bloody failures. The Kuomintang, the ‘Chinese Nationalist Party’ under Chiang Kai-Shek, butchered communists while negotiating with the imperial powers. It was the Communist Party that emerged as the dominant nationalist force.

The third element, which needs to be untangled from basic national liberation in China in 1949, is that it was an anti-imperialist struggle. The revolution entailed the beating back of the imperialist Japanese invasion forces, and the driving out of the Kuomintang into Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-Shek ruled until 1975; he died a year before Mao. The Kuomintang was ejected from the island of Hainan in the south in 1950, the year that Tibet was formally incorporated into the People’s Republic. The British, a powerful colonial presence that allied with the Kuomintang against the Communist Party, was confined to Hong Kong, and the Portuguese confined to Macau.

With the fourth element we arrive at one of the main political contradictions, which was then to provide one of the hallmarks of Mao’s rule and of so-called ‘Maoism’. This is the rural, peasant-based element of the struggle. There was a contradiction between Western Marxist emphasis on urban industrial development as the context and motor for communist politics, on the one hand, and the Long March that Mao and his comrades engaged in through the mid-1930s, a long march through the countryside which led them to strategise the struggle as involving the encirclement of the cities. A hallmark of Maoism was to become its praise of peasant struggle.

Finally, fifth, there is a national and international element of what we could call ‘rebel Stalinism’; this term to attempt to capture the way that, on the one hand, the Chinese Communist Party was indebted to the apparatus of the Third International directed from Moscow, and, on the other hand, had to break from Stalin’s advice. The advice was that the disastrous National Liberation United Front be maintained with the Kuomintang in order to bring about a bourgeois-democratic revolution instead of a socialist one, which, in line with Stalinist ‘stage’ versions of historical development, would have been premature.

So, the political organisation of the Communist Party was still Stalinist, with top-down military discipline that had been necessary to liberate the country, but Maoism was to emerge as an international force on the world stage with the victory of the revolution there. The 1949 seizure of power was a world-changing event. But the world has also changed in the seventy years since that revolution. There is a contradictory process of resistance and adaptation to the international context that needs to be grasped if we are to understand China now and the prospects for Marxism there.

‘Marxism’ and Marxist Analysis

Leap forward seventy years; where is Marxism in China now? In a peculiar way, the fate of Marxism as a crucial practical-theoretical resource for Mao and his comrades mirrors the fate of Marxism in the advanced capitalist countries; while there are myriad leftist groups, including different competing remnants of the Third International in the Western world, much Marxism as such has been transformed into an academic speciality. It is kept alive in the universities, and that’s not only a bad thing, but it is too often enclosed there, and so turned into a scholarly abstract theoretical enterprise instead of a practical one geared to link understanding with political struggle. And so it is in China, where there is occasional lip-service to Marx in public arenas, but few statues of Marx or Engels, or even, today, of Mao. You can buy tourist kitsch images of Mao and hammer and sickle souvenirs in the cities, but the one place where you can be sure to find ‘Marxism’ is in the Schools and Colleges of Marxism inside the universities.

And that’s what I know of it. I’ve visited China a number of times over the past fifteen years. I remember the year of the first visit, 2004, because that was the year Jacques Derrida died, something that was cause of some shock and upset among the academics in the conference in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province in the south of the country. I mention it because that conference on linguistics and critical discourse theory saw figures like that, deconstructionist philosophers, as more important than Marx or Marxists.

My most recent visit, in December 2019, was to a more explicitly Marxist context. I was paid by Guangxi University for Nationalities, for travel and accommodation, to speak at ‘The 46th Discipline Forum of the National College of Marxist Theory Discipline’ (maybe it loses something in translation), the subtitle for which was ‘International Academic Symposium on’ (with the next phrase in scare quotes) ‘“New Development of Socialism in the 21st Century and Progress of Human Civilization”’. That’s what I will mainly describe here, and I’ll use it as a peg on which to hang other reflections on what I’ve made of China in different visits.

You need a political frame to make sense of what you are told, and it’s this political frame that underpinned my paper at the conference on ‘Socialism in the next century’, which is probably why it got a polite quiet reception. It is a political frame that includes three moments of analysis from within the tradition of the Fourth International, which was founded in war-torn Europe in 1938, just over ten years before Mao came to power. This dissident revolutionary Marxist tradition, and an organisation that explicitly broke from Stalinism, is my implicit, and sometimes explicit, point of reference for the debates occurring in China before, during and after the revolution. It gives us three key texts, books that have been influential on me, at least.

The first text is a book by Wang Fan-hsi who died in Leeds at the end of 2002. The book published in Hong Kong in Chinese and then in English in the mid-1990s, is called Wang Fan-hsi: Chinese Revolutionary, Memoirs 1919-1949. Wang Fan-hsi was born in 1907, and compiled these memoirs in the 1950s while in exile in Macau. The memoirs trace his political journey from being a member of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1920s. He was a supporter of CCP co-founder Chen Tu-hsiu who resisted Moscow’s orders to take distance from the Kuomintang and who was then displaced by Mao, who was a more obedient Stalinist apparatchik. Wang describes encountering Trotskyism during his time in Moscow in the Communist University for the Toilers of the East, and then his return to China in 1929, the formation of the Chinese Left Opposition, imprisonment during the 1930s, and then expulsion to Macau in 1949.

The Trotskyists in China were isolated, caught between the Kuomintang and the Stalinised Communist Party. Along with Peng Shuzhi, who was once on the Political Bureau of the Communist Party (who became a Trotskyist, was imprisoned by the Kuomintang, fled to Saigon after 1949, and then ended up in exile in the United States), Wang was an important figure in the Fourth International, keeping the revolutionary Marxist tradition alive, reflecting critically on Maoism, and paying the price. We can see in Wang’s memoirs and in debates with Peng Shuzhi, questions raised about what Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution meant in Chinese context, and whether they had themselves been mistaken in putting their energy only into urban proletarian movements. In some important respects, Mao was right.

The second text, and it reflects a second moment in the Fourth International’s engagement with Maoism is the Italian scholar and activist Livio Maitan’s book published in English in 1976 as Party, Army and Masses in China: A Marxist Interpretation of the Cultural Revolution and Its Aftermath. Here in his book there is a history of the revolution, and a balance sheet of the Cultural Revolution which lasted for about ten years, from 1966 until Mao’s death, and then the final defeat by the party apparatus of the so-called ‘Gang of Four’ led by ‘Madame Mao’, Mao’s fourth wife Jiang Qing.

That Cultural Revolution, especially in its first phase, seemed to chime with and inspired some of the ‘New Left’ movements around the world, reenergising Maoism as a political current. On the one hand, it raised again the question of the peasantry as a revolutionary force, and was an important player on the far-left, along with Trotskyism, particularly in radical versions of ‘Third Worldist’ politics that struck a distance from the capitalist West and the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the Cultural Revolution raised questions about the anti-bureaucratic potential of the mobilisation of the young Red Guards; the extent to which they were being used by one wing of the bureaucracy, that of Mao and then the Gang of Four, and the extent to which there was a dynamic to that movement that posed a threat to the bureaucracy as such, something that revolutionaries should be participating in.

The third text brings us almost up to date, a 2012 book by Au Loong YuChina’s Rise: Strength and Fragility. Au describes the fundamental shift in class relations in China since 1949 with rapid industrialisation and the appearance of an urban working class. That working class is divided between those working in the state sector, those working in the service sector, which is rapidly expanding with the production of consumer goods, entertainment industries and new social media, and the role of migrant rural workers who provide cheaper labour living in vast barrack complexes run by large corporations.

Since the 1990s the Chinese Communist Party oversaw two waves of privatisation. Small and medium-sized State Owned Enterprises were privatised first while the larger enterprises were aggregated into joint stock companies. Then urban and suburban land was privatised, something which put more pressure on rural migrant workers who were unable to afford accommodation, even when restrictions enforced by the ‘Hukou’ household registration system were relaxed. There are thus, Au Loong Yu argues, two forms of capital accumulated and managed and then invested in China now: There is capital which is individually owned by the bureaucrats, figures like Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba online retail and ecommerce group who is a multimillionaire and member of the Central Committee of the party; and there is collective capital owned and organised according to the needs of the different government departments and regions. There is an increasing flow of capital from one realm to the other, with corruption scandals symptomatic of the too-fast access of collective capital by individuals and an attempt to rein in competitors who threaten social cohesion. Recently, the inflow of capital from émigrés in Hong Kong and Taiwan has been at least matched by an outflow of capital into the West.

One of the most interesting aspects of Au Loong Yu’s book, and his day-to-day work – he is an activist based in Hong Kong, and so is vulnerable to the recent proposals to enable extradition of those deemed evildoers to the mainland – is the fracturing of social cohesion, not only through individual millionaire bureaucrats fleecing the system, but through the many thousands of acts of resistance documented by China Labour Bulletin, including mass strikes, by rural and urban workers each year. With the recent slowdown of economic growth these have been fewer, and focused on resistance to closures. This has led to two quite different ‘critical’ responses inside the Chinese Communist Party, with a group of neoliberals advocating full-scale privatisation, protection of private property and ‘globalisation’ of the economy on the one hand, and, on the other, a left-nationalist current that calls for a more intense crackdown on dissidents and securitisation of the state apparatus.

There has been much debate about ‘social credit’ as a gathering of data about consumer trustworthiness, but these debates inside the party apparatus could spin the emphasis either on to economic-focused free-market grounds or on to direct political control, of who can access what services and who can travel where. At the moment it is both, which leads Au Loong Yu to suggest that the most accurate characterisation of the system now that it is as a form of ‘bureaucratic capitalism’.

Marxism as a belief system

So what do ‘Marxists’ in the university Schools and Colleges of Marxism make of this, and how do they attempt to justify what is going on?

Well, first of all, Marxism in China is not a political praxis, an analysis that is dialectically and intimately linked to changing the world. On the contrary, Marxism operates as a kind of social glue. In this way, I suppose you could say that it still functions as a political praxis, but one concerned with order rather than change.

A sidestep for an example of this: In 2009 I was at an academic psychology conference in Nanjing where we were treated to the most reactionary mixture of US-American laboratory-experimental psychology – rats in mazes, human beings turned into cognitive-behavioural mechanisms, that kind if thing – and so-called ‘indigenous’ Chinese psychology, which was basically Confucianism. The Confucius Institutes around the world funded by the Chinese state are a manifestation of this reclaiming of a philosophical system that emphasises the importance of people knowing their place and showing obedient willing submission to their elders and betters, and, as far as Confucius was concerned, of women to men.

One paper in that 2009 Nanjing conference traced out similarities between Confucius and the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Both, we were told, focused on duties and obligations, and on the way that power relations operated in a micro-managerial ‘capillary’ manner, linking surveillance with the inculcation of a sense that we needed to speak to those accorded power in a way that maintained power relations. It was an interesting talk, but with one thing missing, which I pointed out; Confucius endorsed and aimed to strengthen these power relations, while Foucault’s historical analysis was critical of them, emphasising, in his famous phrase, that ‘where there is power there is resistance’. The speaker looked at me dumbfounded, as if that had never occurred to him, and he avoided me afterwards.

During my last visit in 2019 I agreed to teach a session in the School of Marxism at Guangxi University of the Nationalities the day after the conference. I agreed to do it because I wanted to see what the students made of it. Students from different disciplines, whether from the social sciences or natural sciences, are required to take classes in Marxism alongside their main topic. This is the case in every Chinese university, and this is mainly what the Schools and Colleges of Marxism are up to.

Last year at a College of Marxism in one of the universities in Beijing I asked students who were based in the College, taking Marxism as their main topic, what they would do when they finished the course. They laughed and said, ‘teach Marxism’. I asked one of the lecturers, an economist, whether they thought China was capitalist, and they said ‘yes, of course it is’. In this 2019 class in Guangxi University, I was co-teaching with another comrade academic, Alpesh Maisuria, a Marxist who had also been invited to speak at the main conference. The Dean of the School of Marxism sat in on the class, and after we spoke about praxis and class struggle, the Dean intervened and said ‘we need to learn about Marxism because it is our belief system’. When we tried to set up the session as a discussion of what they knew about Marxism, the Dean advised against this, saying ‘they want to be told’. This had pretty well set the frame for what the agenda was in the main conference, which was to promote, we were told, ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.

There is an aspect of surveillance and control that makes any attempt to get behind the screen of state ideology extremely difficult, surveillance and control in China that is expressed in forms of management of a visitor’s experience of the country. Sometimes that surveillance and control is well-meaning and benevolent rather than deliberate and sinister. The visa application process, now outsourced to a private company, is more of the latter, laborious and intrusive, asking for detailed information not only about where you intend to go, but where exactly you went last time you visited China. The former, friendlier micromanagement of your time in academic settings, is more common.

At a 2011 conference on contemporary capitalism in Hangzhou, for example, I was told that we would all be taken down to the West Lake for an early evening meal in one of the restaurants. I said that I had stayed in Hangzhou before and would like to follow one of the canal-side paths to the lake myself, and I would meet them there. We had been relayed to the conference site, some hours away, from the hotel on coaches early in the morning, and I’d had enough of that kind of mass travel. (Our coach driver who had brought us down from Nanjing had a hard time navigating the traffic, and some chaotic cross-cutting of road-lanes, shouting at one point that ‘these people drive cars as if they are bicycles’.) We had a back and forth argument in which my assigned student guides insisted that this solo walk to West Lake that I was insisting on was impossible, and that I would get lost, it would be dangerous, and so on. I said I really want to walk to the lake on my own, and eventually the penny dropped; they said ‘Oh, you need private time’, I agreed, and that did the trick. I walked to the lake, went to the wrong restaurant, and arrived at the meal two hours late, causing great panic meantime.

The West Lake was much changed since my previous visit seven years before, this is a feeble excuse for my mistake, I know, with private coffee shops, including Costa Coffee, sprung up around the edge, and incredible obvious commercialisation of it as a tourist site. There has, in short, been amazingly fast modernisation of previously quasi-rural parts of the country; skyscraper-strewn cities like Shanghai are now the rule instead of being the hyper-developed exception. And so it was in Nanning, site of the 2019 ‘New Development of Socialism in the 21st Century and Progress of Human Civilization’ conference.

Nanning is the capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in the far south of the country, a ‘second tier’ city, and so relatively small compared with first tier cities like Shanghai and Beijing; it is about six million, a sprawling smoggy metropolis that is known, I was told, as a ‘green city’. The campus was quite leafy. A philosophy student who was sent to meet me at the airport – he liked Heidegger, he said – told me that in China there was ‘too much development, too many people’. Another student who took over to show me round the Guangxi University for Nationalities campus was more positive, praising the development and modernisation that Marxism had made possible. As an ‘autonomous region’, Guangxi, which is about the size of the UK, contains a significant minority population, the Zhuang and other groups, whose cultural artefacts are on display in the museum on the riverside, but the name of this academic institution, ‘University for Nationalities’, has another meaning too.

Nanning is the nearest urban metropolis to the border with Vietnam, and the university operates as staging post for academic contacts with Indochina, with visiting students from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. And here is one crucial link between modernisation, nationalism and a peculiar twist to the anti-imperialist heritage of the Chinese revolution. I will come to that, and the way it manifests itself in debates about ‘Marxism’ in a moment. Let’s turn to the conference.

In the Progress of Human Civilization conference…

There were introductions to the theme of the conference by local worthies, party members, and School of Marxism faculty heads, before ‘photo time’; visiting guests – that’s us outside China along with Marxism College visitors from other parts of China – sat on chairs at the front and other local speakers stood on the steps at the back. The introductions emphasised what they called ‘the integration of Marxism and traditional culture’ and links with ‘south east Asia’ culture, arguing that ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ shifts the balance of power between capitalism and socialism globally. We were reminded that this is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, and advised that ‘during the event our university will provide quality services for you’. One visiting apparatchik from outside Nanning said that they felt ‘very excited about the event’, telling us that it ‘will be recorded in the history of Marxist theory discipline’. What is socialism? ‘Socialism is the product of the contradictions of human development’, culminating in ‘Xi Jinping thought’, which provides ‘a new viewpoint for world socialism’; General Secretary Xi Xinping shows us that ‘we need to provide a Chinese solution to world problems’.

A keynote address before photo time by Professor Song Jin was designed to set the tone for the day (and this was the title displayed on the screen), ‘The Cognitive Logic for the International Dissemination of Achievements in Localization of Marxism in China’. There was a quick run through the history of the Opium Wars, that is, nineteenth-century British imperial import trading of opium against Chinese resistance – the Brits don’t come out of this well, to say the least. It was a potent telling reminder that anti-imperialist struggle has a long background history to what eventually happened in 1949. This brought us to the ‘contemporary history of China’, sideswipes at the Kuomintang and present-day Taiwan, with the lesson that ‘promotion or propaganda must run alongside military power’. This ‘revitalisation of China’ must involve, ‘the promotion of development theory’, and ‘telling good stories about China internationally’.

What is to be done? Professor Song Jin said ‘we need to win over foreign media’, and promote Marxism and socialism, and aspects of that struggle include showcasing ‘good research in China’. We build on the observations of Deng Xiaoping, Party Chair from 1982 to 1987, he said, the first of which is the importance of ‘development’, and the second here is that ‘It doesn’t matter what colour the cat is as long as it catches mice’. This brings us, as the conclusion of the talk, to the ‘three philosophical questions addressed by Xi Jingping, which are ‘Who am I, where do I come from, and where am I going?’

After photo time I gave my talk, following which there was no time for discussion, and then there was an extra lengthy intervention by an elderly comrade wearing a grey cap who rambled around a number of different issues before he was told by the chair to wind up; these included reference to the ‘failures that can be seen in the Soviet Union’, Deng Xiaoping’s shift to ‘peaceful development’, the founding of over 500 Confucius Institutes to promote Chinese culture, ‘Chinese soft power’ and ‘Chinese traditional medicine’. This guy spoke about his visit to Vietnam; ‘they made the mistake of privatising land’, whereas China has ‘succeeded in managing urbanisation’. This was one of the few points in the day when interventions shifted gear from rather abstract distanced commentary on how good Marxist theory was to directly political comments.

A talk from a Russian academic on ‘The Post-Soviet School of Critical Marxism’, which was helpfully printed in Russian in the conference book we were handed at the beginning of the day, spoke of ‘the tradition of socialism preserved by the great power, China’, and then went on to mention some more interesting stuff and theoretical reference points, including Bertell Ollman, István Mészáros, Lucien Sève and David Harvey, though it was unclear how exactly they were being put to work. The ‘Post-Soviet School’ which has developed over the past 25 years, with Alexander Buzgalin as a key figure, includes focus on the development of global ‘late capitalism’, ‘qualitative changes in the nature of the economy’, ‘corporate manipulation’, the role of ‘simulacra’ and limits of capitalism. There wasn’t time either for the speaker, Olga Barashkova, to elaborate on this, or to do much more than praise Marxist theory in China, invite people to visit her institute in Moscow and look forward to future research links.

At least here we were talking about Marxism as such, but in a way that was ‘about Marxism’, and how important that was as a belief system, rather than actually being Marxist as such. Indicative of this distanced relationship to what was supposed to be the central theoretical framework for the conference was a paper included in the conference book by Meng Liangqui from the Nanning School of Marxism on ‘Mapping Knowledge Domains Analysis on Marxism in 21st Century’ which was using CiteSpace, a software package for mapping dominant trends in research. ‘Journal Co-citation analysis’ identified key texts in ‘Marxism studies’, though it is not clear what criteria defined the field, but it included as top ‘research fronts’ the following top ten keywords: ‘Marxism, capitalism, state, politics, history, socialism, globalization, revolution, power, and Marx’.

This kind of list is perhaps what drives the jargon-generator style conference and publication titles produced by the Colleges and Schools of Marxism. The top five text resources from the ‘co-citation analysis’ were New Left ReviewCapitalAntipodeHistorical Materialism and Theory and Society. Top author citation counts ranked in the top five, Marx, Marx (so he got the top two slots), David Harvey, someone only identified as ‘anonymous’ and Antonio Gramsci. As regards top documents from the citation analysis, these were Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Marx’s Capital, Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness, Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.

This is interesting not so much for what the analyses throw up, but for what the point of the analysis is and the role it plays within ‘Marxism Studies’ in China. We know that Chinese academics have, over the past years been noticing what the key debates are in Marxism and have been translating key texts into Chinese. Until recently these texts have only been available to the party cadre, but the work of the Schools and Colleges of Marxism in each university indicate that the texts have now been so successfully enclosed within academic space that they no longer pose a threat. They no longer need to be explicitly restricted to the cadre.

Our participation, we Marxists from the West flown in to an academic conference, is obviously part of this phenomenon. What could we possibly say in this context that could be a threat? We were being used, and we knew it. In any case, the dominant language of higher education being English has further insulated the population from possibly dangerous subversive ideas. We know that some young scholars in these university-based institutes have been punished and, in some cases, been arrested and disappeared after putting the ideas they have been reading about into practice. Demonstrations by Marxist academics in support of the 2018 Jasic Technology strikers, for example, have been violently suppressed.

It was now becoming clear that there was to be no time for discussion after the papers, and what little wriggle-time there was would be plugged up with unscheduled speakers, now Professor Xinping Xia who followed up on the Russian talk by speaking about the way the Russian School was borrowing from Chinese Marxism, and then, a weird indicative move, about the functions of the Chinese Army in protecting the development of socialism. There were aspects of these extra interventions, where the speakers spoke without notes, that felt, especially through the simultaneous head-set translation, like slow rap; the ideological preoccupations of the moment were coming into the head of the speaker and blurted out into the conference. This particular speaker went on to describe the publication in Russian of an ‘Encyclopaedia of Chinese Spiritual Culture’, and the importance of Confucius as ‘an organic part of socialism with Chinese characteristics’, of ‘traditional culture’. It was good, he said, that ‘the Soviet Academy’ was more open than the West to the rational nature of China’s success rather than simply treating it as an inexplicable ‘miracle’.

The other British speaker, Alpesh Maisuria, was more successful than me in keying into some of these preoccupations and to the theoretical level of the conference, speaking about the importance of alleviating poverty and the way that neoliberal capitalism relies on mystification, making it seem that communism is no longer feasible. Then we were quickly brought back, in another unscheduled intervention by a visitor from Hainan Normal University, to a brief review of and praise for the Russian Post-Soviet Critical School, warning that ‘critiques of the Soviet Union that focus on Stalin have some Western themes’.

This brings us to the significant strategic location of Nanning and the Guangxi University for Nationalities; context for a talk from a Vietnamese academic, and another from Bangladesh. These talks were also sandwiched between extra interventions, which again squeezed out any time for questions and discussion. Pham Thi Chauhong began by tracing the origins of democracy to ancient Greece, its development in the thought of Marx and Lenin, and then the role of the Vietnamese Communist Party, VCP, in promoting ‘socialist democracy’ which blossomed in 1986 with the ‘collective ownership for the labouring classes’. After 1986, she said, the VCP has protected ‘peoples rights and interests’; ‘we improved inner-party democracy’ and ‘leadership efficiency’, rectifying, for example, the ‘balance of power between prosecutors and courts’ and acknowledging the role of competition and entrepreneurship which are ‘popular issues among youth’, moving to a ‘market-oriented economic system with socialist characteristics’ which includes attention to ‘cyber-information security and development of e-governance’.

The talk by the Bangladeshi speaker was more interesting and indicative still. The speaker, Mostak Ahamed Galib, was not actually living in Bangladesh but working in the School of Marxism in Wuhan University of Technology. The son of a diplomat in Beijing, he had remained in China. His paper was on ‘The peaceful rise of China through “Belt and Road” initiative with a special focus on people to people partnership’. The Belt and Road Initiative, also known as ‘One Belt, One Road’, comprises road and rail and sea-route trade routes through six ‘economic corridors’ which link China to the world, and that link developing countries directly to China through infrastructure development loans, the infrastructure for which is designed to increase trade.

We were told that the Belt and Road Initiative now involves, six years after it was announced by Xi Jinping in 2013, 138 countries as a ‘cooperation platform’ and as a ‘welfare centric initiative’. You get the picture so far that there was not to be a whisper of criticism of this, and in fact the intervention at the conference was focused on rebutting criticisms of it. The main criticism is that it draws other countries, including Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, but also way beyond, into a ‘debt trap’, with strategically important countries provided loans which then mean that they are in debt to China. We do see this around the world, including in Latin America.

No, this is far from the case, we were told, and the guy was shouting into the microphone now, because what the Belt and Road Initiative does is lift 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty, and the loans are taken out as a free and open contract. This is, he said, ‘a win-win cooperative project’. Again, no questions or discussion, but afterwards when I pressed him on this, he admitted that there had been problems with some of the loans so far, but that was because Chinese entrepreneurs who didn’t understand local contexts had made some ‘bad deals’. This was, he said, very different from what Xi Jinping intended, and rules were now being tightened up, with more training for state-owned and private enterprises. This contract model of the Belt and Road Initiative driven by ‘development’ and profit imperatives illustrates well how China, from being resistant to imperialism, is now up to its ears in it, part of imperialist penetration of capital and commodification into every corner of the world.

This was all of a piece with the message that came through in the other papers after lunch; that development was bound up with China being able, as one speaker put it, to ‘stand up’, ‘enrich the people’ and ‘make the country stronger’. Another speaker, Professor Chen Yuan, asked the telling question as to whether it is possible to avoid capitalism, and argued that ‘Chinese socialism’ has not escaped capitalism, but that we need to think again about the historical order between capitalism and socialism if we want to find ‘a new direction for human civilization progress’.

Another speaker gave his paper very quickly in the afternoon, apologising that he had to leave early to travel back to his own university because he had a ‘performance review meeting’ the next day. I felt for him. I had resisted pressure from the conference organisers to take a long flights with multiple stops to arrive on Saturday in time for the Sunday conference and leave China to go home on Monday. I have the sense from talking to Chinese academics, that the pressures on them there make the complaints from Western academics about their own workload pale into insignificance. The world of an academic is of a piece with that of hard-pressed, suicidal party apparatus bureaucrats.

There were now brief talks, these in Chinese, eight minutes each, about ‘global governance’ and the ‘ecological sense of being as part of Xi Jinping thought’; ‘ecologically’, we were told, ‘we need to improve the environment’. There were complaints that China was being blamed for CO2 emissions when actually the problem was the result of 400 years of development in the capitalist countries, and so the burden should be shouldered by the capitalist countries. This would be a ‘crisis transfer’ way of dealing with the problem. Confucius and ‘traditional Chinese culture’ was evoked again a number of times, as was the importance of ‘coordinating Chinese language with the world’; ‘we should tell good Chinese stories’. Is Confucius socialism, one speaker asked? No, says Xi Jinping, and so we need to clarify what traditional Chinese culture is, and regard it as ‘socialist Chinese culture’. If we want to break through ‘traditional thinking’, someone else said, we need to ‘criticise ourselves’, combat ‘wrong ideas’. Yes, one speaker said, there was corruption, but that could be changed by changing the mindset of the leadership and ‘old and backward practices’, replacing these with ‘evaluation criteria for inputs and outputs’.

There was to be no time for debate, everything seemed stitched up. Alpesh Maisuria and I complained bitterly about this at lunchtime, and convinced the organisers to open up a space toward the end of the afternoon session for what they called a ‘Q & A’ which would replace the coffee break. (The morning coffee break included biscuits and cakes and bananas and mandarin oranges and fresh lychees, product of this sub-tropical region of the country.) This is where a surprising eruption of politics into academic debate occurred. There was a good deal of heat in the discussion around one of the short papers that had been given late in the afternoon which had the title ‘Revalorization of the Chinese Nation and Tranquility’.

The argument of the paper went as follows. The historical suffering and liberation of the Jewish people could have lessons for China, raising a question as to whether they, the Jewish people, could be liberated as ‘Jews’ or as ‘human beings’. The Jewish people were isolated, and isolated themselves, the speaker said, and their liberation was through asserting ‘Jewish ideology’ by establishing the state of Israel. We could learn from this, for ‘it threw light on Chinese people and revitalization of the nation’. In the additional Q & A session, there were many objections to this narrative, but mainly on the basis that the history of the Chinese people was entirely different, and their national identity forged through anti-imperialist struggle could not be reduced to that of another different people. There was some discussion of the problem of Zionism as itself an ideology that could be oppressive to the local population, Palestinians, something I pointed out, but this was quickly skirted over, and we moved into the closing talk on, you will be amazed to hear, ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.

…and out in the city

Translators always have something interesting to say about meetings they are brought in to work at, and this was no exception. Alpesh and I posed for photos with the translators when the conference was over. They said they were a bit anxious about the quality of their translation into English, which was actually really very good, and they apologised that they had not had sight of the papers in advance, only being brought in very late on, arriving that morning and expected to launch into action. They had to work freelance, had background academic study in politics and languages, and now they were forced to compete not only with the state enterprises but also with a proliferation of private companies that employed people and offered translation services at impossibly low rates to organisations. Academic organisations like the School of Marxism in Nanning were expected to outsource its work. This was privatised precarious zero-hours work.

Alpesh commented that during our visit to the city centre the previous day we had not encountered any homeless people. The translators smiled and said that this was probably down to what they called ‘urban management’. There are gated communities in Nanning, as there are in Beijing. Travelling out to the edges of the very efficient clean new metro system on the south, north and west of the city, I could see different kinds of community. In some cases, those near the university, they were more typically middle-class, while at the edges and in the south of the river centre away from the shopping malls these were enclosed poorer spaces with checkpoints. At the farther south edge of the city were timber yards and shacks where workers and their families lived with farm animals.

Shopping malls in Nanning were, as in Beijing and Shanghai, glitzy consumer heavens, housing KFC and Starbucks. Around the local mall area close to the university there were cheaper open-air restaurants in the car-parks, and in one of these there were pictures of Mao on the wall, a rare sight, and a reminder not only that such imagery is not common now, but also that to display such pictures must indicate some decided political choice on the part of the owner, a reminder that there are still such decided political choices, one of those permitted by the regime.

Closed-circuit cameras are everywhere, and we know that there is sophisticated face-recognition technology that enables the authorities to track the movements of the population. Social credit surveillance, for example, is actually already present in Western capitalist countries. It is a function of capitalism, and an indication of how far and fast China is travelling, and in what direction. Regime-friendly justifications for social credit include that Chinese citizens positioned as consumers are happy to buy into it. However, there are still spaces in China where this kind of surveillance is not necessary. When I was able to get out to the edges of the city on the metro, I walked in near-countryside. As evening draws in, the flash of the cameras is more evident, more intrusive, a reminder that everyone is watched, or is reminded that they may be watched; surveillance culture in action. The time for pedestrians on the zebra crossings, by the way, was just a little less than necessary; the car is becoming king.

China is a successful capitalist country, success built through a revolutionary break with its history of dependence on imperialism, and on a reassertion of its national independence through the unifying force of a party apparatus that was itself built with the help of a foreign power. Marxism itself is part of that heritage of Western Enlightenment developmental modernisation, but now absorbed and harnessed to the needs of the state, as have been the rural forces that made the revolution, absorbed and harnessed to a rapidly urbanising country.

In the process, the contradictions of which Marxism speaks, class struggles, are displaced onto the notion of ‘development’ as such, an ideological process which conceals, seals over, the real contradictions that are still present, and which are actually intensifying as a gap increases between the super-rich at the head of the party apparatus and the rest of the population.

Every radical social movement, ranging from those that make claims for their own national identity against the Chinese state, as in Xinxiang, to the #metoo and LGBT movements, and including a nascent trade union movement, are present in China now. That will put pressure on the ‘Marxists’ confined to the universities to make a connection with the real world, a process that Marxists around the world should play some part in, in debate and in solidarity.

 

This is one of the Socialisms series of FIIMG articles

Socialist Resistance

Groundhog Day, the 1993 romantic comedy directed by Harold Ramis and starring Bill Murray as weather reporter Phil Connors, was not an immediate hit at the box office. However, bit by bit it wormed its way into our affections, much as Phil did wooing Rita Hanson, played by Andie MacDowell. Phil discovered that he was stuck in a weird time loop with Rita in Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania, and had all kinds of opportunities wooing her with different strategies that, he guessed, she would appreciate.

That’s the joke, the hook in Groundhog Day; just as the Groundhog in the annual Punxsutawney festival revolves around a futile attempt by Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, to predict the weather, so our hero learns that he cannot get love by simply predicting and calculating what the other wants. Phil Connors repeatedly makes the same mistake, of using his knowledge of one day’s events, one set of failed encounters with Rita, in order to impress her, to fit in with exactly what he has imagined she wants. But, in the process of bettering himself, learning new skills to directly impress Rita the next day when the alarm clocks goes at 6.30am – ‘I Got You Babe’ blasts out every morning – he unintentionally turns into someone else, someone who actually is better; someone who was so dislikeable and manipulative becomes someone likeable and genuine. Phil has had to move beyond tailoring his every word to what he expects Rita will go for and, eventually, be himself. That’s finally when he succeeds.

Punxsutawney is a real place and Groundhog Day is real festival, but the film was not shot there because it is actually a bit of a dump (believe me, I’ve been there). There are two subtexts to the film, or rather to the conditions of its production. One is that Bill Murray was himself a bit of a mess at the time of filming, and was rather like the disagreeable character he played; he is a good actor, but you sense with Bill that he is always actually playing himself, something of the same grumpy grudging guy he is comes through. The other subtext is that, like Lassie in all those old doggy films, Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog is never the same little guy. A different groundhog is recruited each year to play the part of that furry Phil, and there are always a number of other substitute Phils on hand to step in should one of them not be up to throw the right shadow and whisper its meaning into the ear of the master of ceremonies.

SR

Groundhog Day might be touted as one of the most spiritually significant films of our age, but it runs on a premise unconsciously enacted by many left groups, and no more so than for Socialist Resistance, SR. Their wackier enemies on the left have a name for it, and are obsessed with it as the main obstacle to bringing down capitalism, ‘Pabloism’ named after a past leader of the Fourth International Michel Pablo. And because SR are the British Section of the Fourth International (FI) – the reunified world organisation that can trace its lineage back to the one founded by Trotsky and his followers back in 1938 – this Pabloism is all the more formidable a force on the practice of the left, not only in Britain. And, worse for the dedicated anti-Pabloites, as the current manifestation of the British Section of the FI – for many groups have stepped into the role over the years – SR comprises personnel from the old FI groups and some grizzled old activists who were themselves brought up to hate Pabloites.

In one of the more remarkable chapters of the history of Trotskyism, there was a significant merger of two groups – the Socialist Group and the International Group – in 1987 to form, wait for it, the International Socialist Group (ISG). It was the ISG which became British Section of the FI in 1995. That organisation went on to help found Socialist Resistance in 2002 (alongside the Socialist Solidarity Network and other assorted independent activists) and then took SR as a whole into the FI as British Section in 2009. That merger was so significant because the Socialist Group (SG) consisted of comrades led by Alan Thornett who were expelled by the fiercely ‘anti-Pabloite’ Workers Revolutionary Party in 1974; those expelled comrades formed the Workers Socialist League a year later before becoming, after some other failed encounters, the SG.

Meanwhile, the IG were seen as the worst of Pabloites, individual members of the FI, remnants of the old International Marxist Group (IMG), led by figures like Terry Conway. The IMG had joined the Labour Party in 1982, changed its name to the Socialist League, and then was taken in a weird direction under the name of its magazine Socialist Action advising key left Labour Party politicians like Ken Livingstone. A small group left to form the International Group (IG) in 1985, and they remained individual members of the FI. In Britain, then, there was a fairly successful healing of wounds brokered by Alan Thornett and Terry Conway, old enemies and now comrades, from the unconscionable separation of the FI from 1953 to 1963, something we could, for shorthand, refer to as the ten-year-Pablo-split.

The thing with Michel Pablo, and this, perhaps, is what makes SR what it is today, staggering on in its own peculiar version of Groundhog Day, is that, after the proposal to enter mass workers parties – the Stalinist International Communist Parties where they were big and the parties of the Second Socialist International (which in Britain is the Labour Party) where they were popular – came the temptation to tail behind existing movements and adapt to them in order to win friends and influence people. That’s basically what Pabloism is, though in their defence, those accused of being ‘Pabloite revisionists’ and suchlike would say that we need to be where the action is, not just dust off Trotsky’s Transitional Programme and hoist up the flag of the FI and expect people to rally to it. That’s the way Alan Thornett tells it when he is rallying the troops, and so it is sometimes Alan who plays grumpy Phil Connors searching for socialism, and sometimes Terry who takes up that role.

Sometimes it really works, as in the turn to feminism, in which Terry Conway has been a key force in SR and in the FI; in this respect SR really becoming what they think they should be. In other cases it is difficult to bring all comrades on board, as in the case of Cuba where some cannot stomach cheer-leading the regime simply because other activists involved in Latin American solidarity movements tend to do that. The recent turn to ‘ecosocialism’ that has been pushed by SR, and by its comrades on a world scale inside the FI, could be seen as the latest attempt to get their Rita, to win the socialist workers and make revolution. In the process there have been some successes in building alliances, and SR have often endeared themselves by pouring their energies into joint projects that they were careful not to control. But then, there are moments when this goes wrong, when the Phil Connors leadership of SR go too far repeating back the message they think the others want to hear; a case in point is the embarrassing ‘ecosocialist’ defence of population control in which Thornett will bang on about it while other SR comrades look at their shoes and wish they could change the topic.

The comrades of SR have become who they are, really honestly authentically reconfiguring themselves to what they imagine and hope others will want, and want of them, but, this is the problem, still all the same mutating, chameleon-like to adjust their politics to each new political movement they hope to impress. The deepest underlying problem is that while they do have their eyes on a prize they can just about name – revolutionary socialist transformation of capitalist society into a world in which we will treat each other as human beings instead of as objects – just as Phil Connors has his eyes on Rita Hanson in the film, SR twists and turns to give this future goal a different name each time it twists and turns to make itself loveable. This is, after all, of a piece with the FI itself, and it is not surprising, perhaps, that recent meetings of its own ‘International Committee’ of the reunified FI have embarked on a discussion of what socialism would actually look like. Meanwhile, as it burrowed into the Labour Party in its new guise as Corbynite, SR in Britain dropped the perhaps offensive term ‘revolutionary’ from the masthead of its website.

There is a happy end to Groundhog Day, but that is cinematic fantasy. Meantime, we are stuck in SR with the real world in which socialism is not yet on the horizon. They keep trying out new tricks, waiting for applause, and maybe, one day, they will hit the right note, build the kind of limited alliances they have been so good at forming in the past, and really be part of a revolutionary mass movement in the future.

 

This is part of the FIIMG Mapping the English Left through Film project.

 

 

 

Fourth International World Congress 2018: Praxis

The Seventeenth World Congress of the Fourth International (FI) took place on the chilly Belgian coast from 25 February to 2 March 2018. This congress takes place eighty years after the FI was founded by revolutionary Marxists on the outskirts of Paris in the extremely difficult conditions of 1938 Nazi-occupied Europe. Leon Trotsky in exile wrote the founding document ‘The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International’, usually referred to as the ‘Transitional Programme’ after the demands it included; transitional demands such as to open the books of the large companies and implement a sliding scale of wages linked to inflation. Such demands are ‘transitional’ because, reasonable though they are, they cannot be met by a capitalist system which relies on trade and diplomatic secrecy and on shifting the burden of economic crises in times of austerity onto the working class. The transitional demands link theory and practice, link Marxist theory of how the capitalist economy works with political practice to overthrow this wretched economic system. The link between the two is sometimes named as ‘praxis’, and this praxis in one form or another runs as a red thread through the history of the FI up to the present day.

The Fourth International continues the Marxist tradition of the first four congresses of the ‘Third International’, congresses which were rooted in the revolutionary practice of the 1917 October Revolution. Those first four congresses, in 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1922, operated as a space of debate and sharing of experience from Russia, of course, and from communist parties that were being formed around the world to extend and protect the revolution. Each congress was a place for the theorisation of the quite unexpected leap from Tsarist feudalism to the construction of socialism, an experiment in freedom that was brutally crushed by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1920s. Trotsky’s call for a new international in the 1930s set itself against this bureaucratic counter-revolution headed by Stalin and the disastrous transformation of communist parties of the Third International, the ‘Comintern’, into diplomatic tools of Moscow. The criminal twists and turns of political line transmitted to the German Communist Party by this highly centralised bureaucratic apparatus – an apparatus that separated the ossified ‘theory’ which Stalin treated as a quasi-religious worldview from manipulative ‘practice’ – had left the working class defenceless in the face of fascism. We face such dangers again and new threats alongside an intensification of repression around the world to which sections of the FI and other revolutionary organisations are subjected.

The twists and turns of the bureaucracy are tragically mirrored in the various splits and purges of the myriad groups and ‘internationals’ that have spun out of the history of the Fourth International since 1938 and the murder of Trotsky by a Stalinist assassin in Mexico two years later. At every point in that history of the attempt to connect theory and practice we have been participating in a praxis which takes us forward in the struggle against capitalism, a praxis in which it is absolutely essential that we avoid two traps: we have to avoid academic-style theory which tells us how the world is or should be rather than learning from the experiences of revolutionaries around the world; and we have to avoid a simple direct jump into activity without the critical reflection that practical engagement with different contexts enables. Praxis was a signature concept in the work of Hungarian Hegelian Marxist Georg Lukács who, before he went on to head the Star Wars film franchise (not), developed an account of the collective self-conscious agency of the working class. The notion was taken up by anti-Stalinist dissident philosophers in Yugoslavia, the Praxis Group which the FI was in close contact with in the 1960s and 1970s.

Reflections and interventions on how to link theory and practice were the stakes of the debates from 1917 just over a century ago, and they were the stakes of the debate at the Seventeenth Congress in 2018 which brought together delegates from Sections of the FI as well as sympathising organisations and permanent observers and visitors. Nearly 200 revolutionaries were able to travel to the congress, a major accomplishment in the face of travel and visa restrictions for many comrades. Some sections were missing, a disappointment, but the Philippines section made it, as did delegates from other countries in Asia and across the Americas.

The three main documents worked up over the last few years by the elected leadership of the FI, the International Committee, separated out three main aspects of an orientation to contemporary struggle in different contexts around the world. This was a contentious choice itself, and one which the ‘opposition platform’ refused to go along with (and that platform stayed firm to its one document which was voted on at the end of the conference along with a second opposition text on the new era and tasks of revolutionaries that had been submitted by a minority of the FI leadership). It would be possible to argue that such a separation into a first text on capitalist globalisation and geopolitical chaos (what we are up against now), a second text on social upheavals and fightbacks (forms of resistance), and on role and tasks of the FI (what we must do in order to build that resistance and our own organisations) itself cut into praxis, that is, separated theory from practice. Did it? No.

A fourth main document, on the destruction of the environment and an ecosocialist alternative, could also be accused of separating out one aspect of the current global context of exploitation, resistance and revolutionary tasks. However, the key question was whether the contributions around these documents that took up the bulk of the time comrades were together would also weld these separate theoretical-practical issues together. The proof of the pudding would be in the eating (as Engels once remarked in an essay on utopian and scientific socialism), in this case, for the vegetarian minority, alongside the eating of too much cheese and quorn cutlets in a total institution with us packed into shared bedrooms at night and well sealed off from the freezing wind and sea outside.

The discussion and voting consolidated a profound shift that had taken place inside the FI in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the disintegration of any pretence that socialism had existed in that part of the world and the first signs that China too was taking a path from bureaucratic repression to full-blown capitalism. The 2003 World Congress of the Fourth International rewrote its constitution to finally break from the impossible unwieldy task of maintaining itself as a ‘world party of socialist revolution’ (which had been proclaimed in Trotsky’s founding document) to be run on Leninist democratic centralist lines. This shift in perspective was also bitterly contested by the opposition platform who view it as a profound mistake, and they still also contest the parallel shift from building democratic centralist revolutionary groups around the full programme of the FI to an orientation to ‘broad parties’ of the left. These broad parties of the left provided the context for being able to argue for revolutionary ideas, a much more complicated and difficult task than simply unfolding the flag of the FI and waiting for the working class to rally to it. After all, with all the hundreds of orthodox Leninist-Trotskyist groups around the world that have emerged from the FI over the years, we have had many empirical tests of the thesis advanced by the opposition platform; not one of these theoretically-pure groups have struck lucky, and it is clear we need to tread a different path which actually connects with ongoing struggles.

A repetitive theme running through the World Congress, a theme which tangled itself around the red thread of praxis, was the idea advanced by the opposition platform – sometimes explicitly and many times implicitly – that if only they had the chance to present themselves openly as revolutionaries with the right programme, then there could have been breakthroughs, or at least we could avoided some of the demoralising failures we have experienced over the years. It is as if the working class is reaching out here or there with its hand ready to grasp the revolutionary flag, and the vanguard party in the right place at the right time with the right programme needs to put that flag into that eager hand.

The failure of the Workers Party in Brazil, of the regroupment process around elements of the communist party in Italy, and of the Syriza government in Greece are each, in one reading, evidence of the failure of broad parties, or, on another reading, of the force of circumstance, of the balance of forces that were against us in every case, and from which we must learn and rebuild ourselves. Each reading of these situations and of the way they can be linked together is grounded in a kind of practice, revolutionary praxis, and that is precisely what made the debates at this World Congress so sharp.

For many comrades of the Greek section of the FI who stand now with the opposition platform, for example, even the attempt to build Syriza was doomed to fail. For them, they repeated, Tsipras as leader of Syriza did not ‘betray’ when he caved in to the EU, he was always going to betray, and that betrayal needed to be mobilised against in alternative left coalitions like Antarsya. If so, shame on the FI leadership for sowing illusions in what Tsipras and Syriza could or would do. But then, does this mean that the four different parts of the FI who now work in Brazil in the new broad party PSOL are equally culpable, part of the same pattern of compromise and failure, as if the shift to the right of the Workers Party under Lula was inevitable and unavoidable? At what point should we shout ‘betrayal’ against those we are allied with us as we build a left alternative. It is gratifying to be able to say that you have been proved right, but every such prediction and complaint against the reformists is itself ‘performative’, it has effects, and usually those effects are to isolate yourself from any and every movement. This is what will be insisted on by those who are with the FI majority leadership, including comrades in Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines. If so, shame on the sectarians for sabotaging what is being created, the conditions in which we can learn and build from those we struggle alongside.

In some respects the opposition platform are right, the Greek section was effectively sidelined by the FI leadership which was intent on supporting Syriza and it ignored the warnings and crucial necessary independent activity on the left by our comrades. A critical honest balance sheet still needs to be made of these events. But the ‘pattern’ that the opposition platform claims to find in the broad party projects of the FI, a theoretical fiction which relies on an abstract return to the good old days before 2003 when we were a world party composed of Leninist democratic centralist sections, leads to gross accusations and misrepresentations; false accusations that the Danish comrades in the Red Green Alliance voted for war in Syria, for example, or that our comrades in the Spanish State are colluding with the leadership of Podemos. Obsession with this ‘pattern’ of betrayal would, among others things, lead comrades in Britain to begin denouncing Jeremy Corbyn now instead of building for Labour victory in the next election. Work in the Labour Party and for Corbyn creates the conditions for revolutionary debate, in line with a transitional method. We know this from our own praxis.

The shift in the 1990s, away from democratic centralist world party to broad parties and alliances in social movements, was in response to a dramatic transformation of the conditions for revolutionary work and enabled two things; it was to a new ‘praxis’ open to anti-imperialist struggle and to the diversity of forms of resistance to multitudinous forms of oppression. On the one hand, it enabled an opening of the FI to parts of the world that had until then either deliberately or unwittingly been treated as outposts in which the flag should be planted. On the other hand, at the same time, it enabled an opening to feminist and LGBTQI and anti-racist activity, and, of course, to ecology, to ecosocialism, to an eventual self-definition of the FI (at the last World Congress which took place in 2010) as a revolutionary ecosocialist international.

Practical experiences from around the world directly linked with theoretical questions in the congress. Around the question as to whether China should be characterised as imperialist, for example, comrades from the Antilles and Pakistan explained how Chinese strategic investment and control buttressed local regimes. This debate gave us a different vantage point on the vexed question of ‘campism’, that is the temptation to side with the enemy of your enemy; concretely the temptation of some US-American comrades of the FI to combine valiant defiance of their own government’s military adventures with implicit support for China and Russia and then, a slippery slope, to the Assad regime in Syria.

The closed section of the congress voted on amended documents, delegates heavily endorsing the main texts and then electing a new International Committee (IC). The IC met immediately after the congress to elect a Bureau charged with the day-to-day running of the FI between its annual meetings. Four new sections of the FI were recognised at this congress as well as new sympathising groups and permanent observer organisations. Organisations from over 40 countries now participate in IC meetings alongside existing FI sections voting at this world congress. In some countries there is more than one section which are in the process of merging (as has happened since the last world congress in the case of Germany) or which are operating together as publicly visible parts of a section of the FI (as is the case now in Brazil where the four groups which constitute the section today are all working together in PSOL).

On a world scale, these leadership bodies, the IC and Bureau, are almost the equivalent of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party and then the Politbureau, but with a crucial difference; we speak openly about the differences in our organisation and are keen to learn from comrades and activists outside this ‘party’ that is no longer a world party at all. It is the tradition of the FI that voting is open on the floor of the congress, and that as well as votes for or against, abstentions and ‘no votes’ are recorded as well as indicative votes by the outgoing leadership, sympathising organisations and permanent observers. The amended ecosocialist document was overwhelmingly carried (apart from a couple of opposition platform delegate abstentions or votes against), as was a statement on the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh (for which some opposition platform delegates inexplicably submitted a ‘no vote’ – this in line with a distancing from the FI overall, a refusal to take any responsibility for decisions collectively made in the congress, something which augurs badly for the next years).

Among other things, not all positive to be honest (representation of women on the Bureau is now actually worse than before, and this will be addressed by the new 40%-women IC), this World Congress of the FI marked another significant shift in the centre of gravity of the international. We were originally rooted in Europe, the site of our first congress in 1938, and even when there were significant numbers of members in Latin America they were still often guided from Europe, and then from time to time rebelled against that. That problematic aspect of our history as a ‘world party’ was continued in even more extreme form in other rival internationals that split away and claimed to really be or to be reconstructing the FI (with some such international tendencies still directly ruled from London).

What we saw at the 2018 congress was a conceptual shift in terms of intersectional and postcolonial perspectives; which could be seen also as a deliberate engagement with some of the new ‘revolutionary keywords’ of the kind that FIIMG has been noting and exploring in the practice of the new social movements. The theory and practice of the first fifty years of our revolutionary century which was inaugurated with the October Revolution in 1917 was hobbled by the rise of the bureaucracy in the workers states, and it has been in the next fifty years, from the rebellions and new wave of struggles in the late 1960s that Trotskyists have learnt from different movements of the exploited and oppressed around the world. Now over 40% of members of the FI are in Asia, with new perspectives and histories to enrich the revolutionary tradition. Reports on the International Institute for Research and Education in Amsterdam, Islamabad and Manila made it clear that this ongoing development of revolutionary theory is being combined with practice. This was praxis, and the path ahead will be global debate combined with action to end capitalism, not simply to interpret the world but to change it.

JT

 

You can read this report and comment on it here

If you liked this report then you will like Revolutionary Keywords

 

 

 

Women’s Seminar of the Fourth International

Alison Treacher reports back from her attendance at the women’s seminar of the Fourth International in Amsterdam where representatives from 28 countries discussed the current global capitalist crisis, ecological destruction, continued imperialism and new tensions within geopolitics.

We concentrated on the impacts on women, their lives and the resistance required in this new context. I will focus on women and migration and rise of the far right in national discourse and conclude with an account of the international, intersectional movement which saw 50 countries mobilise against violence against women, demanding environmental justice and workers rights.

Women and migration

The number of international migrants reached 244 million in 2015 for the world as a whole, a 41 per cent increase compared to 2000, according to UN reports. This figure includes almost 20 million refugees. Women migrate for many different reasons; fleeing war and persecution, as climate change refugees, or for economic reasons, seeking better working conditions for themselves and their families as their country of origin cannot provide decent employment.

These women face many challenges including dangerous journeys across borders and seas. We have seen the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean sea of migrant women and children fleeing violence from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Another example is from Mexico where women face dangerous journeys seeking employment in the US. In Mexico and countries where organised crime and cartels are strong, women face the risks of sexual violence and abduction resulting in forced prostitution and slavery. At the seminar we heard heart breaking accounts from women from Mexico and Brazil speaking of disappearances, sex trafficking, organ trafficking and the desperate search of mothers for their loved ones.

In other countries, such as the Philippines, migration is economically driven, in which poverty, inequality and lack of opportunities force people to migrate for better opportunities. In the Philippines more than 10 million people work outside the country, the majority of these are women, working as in the UAE, for example, as domestic workers. The social impact of this level of migration is devastating with families separated and children being raised without their mothers. In the UK throughout the Brexit campaign we have witnessed how xenophobic campaigns are being used politically, to dehumanise migrants and present them as enemies, this was replicated Trump’s campaign in the US.

These challenges do not end when these women reach their destination country. According to a UN report, 2 out of 3 migrants’ destination is either Europe or South Asia. In countries such as Denmark and Italy, xenophobic campaigns have taken on the form of ‘feminationalist’ rhetoric which claims that migration is undermining the rights and freedoms of the women in the destination countries. The discourse of ‘feminationalism’ is closely related to homonationalism in which the xenophobic right is claiming that migration is a threat to the rights of the LBGT community.

It is important that we recognise these narratives and ensure we unpick them to reveal their xenophobic intent, and ultimately reject them from our feminism. In Italy in 2015 there were mass protests after a woman was raped on a beach in Rimini. The narrative quickly turned to the perpetrators nationality opposed to male violence against women. One activist from Non Una Di Meno stated that ‘We don’t want our bodies used for racist and xenophobic campaigns: rape is rape, regardless of the nationality of the rapist. We reject the culture of possession that triggers male violence and we do not accept the blackmail of fear … The streets of our cities are not savannas infested with predators from which we can defend only by renouncing the freedom to move … the majority of rapes occur among the domestic walls. The rapist is often a husband, a partner, a father, a cousin.’

A feminist perspective on immigration and migration is important so we are able to recognise these narratives and are prepared to call them out and reject them from our politics.

Women and the far right

As a consequence of the instability of global capitalism, the world has witnessed the resurgence of a more organised, influential far right. In Greece there is Golden Dawn, in France the Front Nationale and in the UK, UKIP. Their economic positions vary, however they have in common a fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric and islamophobic racism. In this new context we are also seeing new forms of fundamentalism increase, movements which cross state borders such as the Taliban and ISIS. The women’s seminar discussed how ‘theofascism’ is a useful term to describe these evolving groups. Religious fundamentalism is a core tenet of their ideology and this reaffirmed the necessity of the old demand for separation between church and state. Women in Ireland, Italy, Poland and Mexico have continued struggles over the rights of reproduction.

Nazila Kivi succinctly expressed the threat of this rise in the nationalism to women in her address to the Women’s march in Copenhagen. She states: ‘we know that people gendered as women are the first to suffer when nationalist and racist agendas win, because ‘woman’ as a concept becomes a metaphor for the nation. Our bodies, our right to self determination and our sexual and emotional desires are too contentious to be left in our own hands. That’s why, too often, our bodies constitute battlefields, war zones and objects to be conquered, literally and symbolically. The examples are plenty. It’s women who are raped in wars, it is women’s reproduction that is regulated in order to control or reduce populations.’

International mobilisations and the feminisation of protest

In this new context we have seen an increase in women’s resistance, arguably the feminisation of protest, and the birth of an international, intersectional women’s movement. This is a process seeing both increased participation and visibility of women and women’s issues being addressed in national discourse. In 2015 we saw in Argentina the Ni Una Menos, huge mobilizations against femicide and violence against women. In Italy and Poland we witnessed huge protests and strikes challenging religious and far right reaction which threatens their rights over their own bodies. In the UK we have witnessed women leading the way in many areas of resistance including housing, the E15 Mums and in the environmental movement with the Lancashire the Anti Fracking Nanas.

On the 21st of January, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, there were mass mobilisations across the globe. In the US the marches outstripped the mobilisations of the 2003 Anti War movement. These marches were initiated and led by predominately by women fearing Trump’s attacks on both women’s and migrant’s rights. Although Trump was the catalyst to these demonstrations the level of international response illustrates shared international narratives and anxieties which women face – including attacks on their rights over their bodies, freedoms and the way they wish to live their lives.

On the 8th of March we then saw the International Women’s Strike with mobilisations in over 50 countries; with the largest marches seen in Poland, the US, Argentina, Italy, Ireland and Spain. The marches called for the end to violence against women, the rights of migrant, disabled and LGBTQIA sisters, demanding both environmental justice and equal pay. The marches were a move away from institutionalised channels of resistance for example NGO’s, charities and individual forms of protest.

Cinzia Arruzza stated in her interview with Penny Duggan on the International Viewpoint site that ‘these mobilizations are showing a new increasing awareness of the necessity to rebuild solidarity and collective action as the only ways we can defend ourselves from the continuous attacks against our bodies, freedom, and self-determination as well as against imperialist and neoliberal policies. Moreover, they are acting as an antidote to the liberal declination of feminist discourse and practice.’

It is essential, moving forward, that the feminist movement doesn’t turn in on itself, and there remain many contradictions and contentions within the movement. It must recognise its diversity and our increased understanding of the social condition of cis and trans women, and layers of oppression which different women face, as a weapon as opposed to something which divides us. It is essential therefore that women who face multiple forms of oppression are ensured visibility and voice, within the movement.

Arruzza continues: ‘the only way to give birth to a truly universalistic politics is not by making abstraction from differences, but by combining them together in a more encompassing critique of capitalist and hetero-patriarchal social relations. Each political subjectivation based on a specific oppression can provide us with new insights on the various ways in which capitalism, racism and sexism affect our lives.’ Hence a Marxist Feminist perspective is vital for cohesion and coherence moving forward.

There has been much discussion about the use of the word ‘strike’ in these mobilisations and the emphasis on women’s seen and unseen labour. In France, two trade unions, the CGT and the SUD called a general strike at 3.40pm on the 8th an action highlighting the extra social reproductive labour women undertake, which, according to an ILO report, remains 2½ times more than that of men. In the US, the key slogan for the strike was ‘Feminism for 99%’ in reaction to ‘lean in’ politics which imply our only remaining challenge is to have more women in boardrooms. In Argentina the Ni Una Menos movement ignited around femicide but also highlighted the slowly inflicted violence of the capitalist system.

The movement and resistance in the UK was not as radical in demands as many of the marches across the globe. Our movement in the UK has unresolved tensions and contradictions, with trans activists and radical feminists sometimes not working together. This was a shared experience and other women reported there were intergenerational tensions with ‘old guard’ of feminist refusing to engage contemporary ideas.

Marxists can not just be observers in this movement. We need to push past the confines of individual intersections and finding a wider narrative which unites as all. It is only through a Marxist feminist critique of the current global crisis will we realise a universalistic politics which will cross borders and provide the international response required to challenge both gender oppression and capitalism.

 

You can read and comment on a version of this report that was published here

Fourth International: Marginalisation and its Discontents

The seventeenth congress of the Fourth International (FI) will be held in March 2018, and in preparation for this, the general line of three documents – on Capitalist Globalization, on Social Upheavals and a document toward a text on Role and Tasks – were approved by the International Committee in February 2017 to open the World Congress Discussion.

The sixteenth congress was held in 2010, with representatives from sections of the FI, sympathising organisations and visitors from over 40 countries. Some important organisational and political steps were taken. For example, a section of the FI was recognised in Russia, very significant for us, of course, and there was recognition of a shift of the centre of gravity of the FI to Asia. Politically, the trajectory of the FI toward an open inclusive revolutionary politics was continued; sustained discussion of anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics, sexual politics and feminism begun at earlier congresses was taken forward, and extended to encompass a conscious turn to ‘ecosocialism’. A number of key documents from 2010 are publicly available, and there is a documentary film record of the congress, mainly in French but with interviews with participants in different languages.

It is very difficult to briefly summarise the political line agreed in the three documents opening discussion for the 2018 congress. It is a little easier, perhaps, to do this by attending to some of the key programmatic differences that have been emerging in the past years, differences that revolve around contrasting balance sheets of the FI project to build ‘broad parties’. A lot hangs on this phrase, and some of the debate is muddled by exactly what constitutes a ‘broad party’, and what examples of success and failure by ‘broad parties’ should be mobilised to argue for continuing and deepening this perspective or for abandoning it. One reason for focussing on this particular aspect of the wide-ranging documents is that a Fourth International Opposition Platform has been formed to contest the ‘broad party’ approach and to contrast it with, they say, ‘building an international for revolution and communism’. Here I point to some of the problems with Opposition Platform approach, argue that a real revolutionary alternative actually lies in an extension of the perspectives elaborated in the three agreed documents, documents that require some amendment and nuance.

Between the lines

What are the stakes of this complaint about the failure of the ‘broad party’ perspective, and how useful is it? It is but one way into the debate that has now opened up and that will be carried out in sections of the FI around the world up to and including the congress in March 2018. The danger is that focussing everything around a false opposition between ‘broad party’ and ‘revolutionary international’ could obscure the many different political lines of agreement between comrades in very different contexts and organisations around the world.

The FI is not run on a ‘democratic centralist’ basis, and the agreed line of march at the congress has to manage a delicate balance between grasping a shared international perspective on the mutations of capitalism and neoliberalism on the one hand, and enabling the specific problems faced by sections and sympathising organisations on the other. More than that, there is a danger that the crucial political gains that have already been made in terms of anti-racist, ecosocialist, feminist and sexual politics could be overshadowed by this forced polarisation between the current international leadership and the opposition. On both counts, we have enough cases of sects and even ‘internationals’ that parade a ‘correct line’, littering the world with rhetoric to which no-one listens and which even provokes feelings of repulsion among new generations of activists suspicious of left parties of any kind. That is why it is necessary to bear those broader organisational and political issues in mind as we approach the documents and try to make sense of them and where they lead us.

The first document presents an overview of the development of new forms of imperialism, authoritarian regime and far-right forces, the threat to women, LGBT+ people, human rights and the environment, pointing out along the way that the demand for democracy ‘acquires a more subversive dimension that is more immediate than was often the case in the past’. It opens onto the second and third documents concerned with ‘the dynamics of popular resistance’ and ‘the conditions of construction of militant parties’.

The second document notes the shift in political geography from what the FI once called ‘the three sectors of world revolution’, the rise of the service sector and precarious employment, population displacement, and the development of different forms of resistance (new forms of trades unionism, self-organisation in cooperatives, debt struggles, ‘transversal’ peasant struggles, democratic and social justice movements, youth struggles, women’s mobilisations against violence, rape and feminicide, LGBT+ struggles, migrant and anti-racist movements, and protests against global warming). It points to successful mobilisations against dictatorial regimes and to defensive struggles, including against betrayals by social movements.

The third document warns against generalising a model for what the FI has to do, but rehearses the shift of orientation in the mid 1990s – the decision that ‘the perspective of building small mass vanguard parties based on the full programme of the FI had met its limits’ – and the shift a few years later to ‘a pluralist functioning that goes beyond simple internal democracy in a way that fosters both convergence and discussion, allowing for the functioning of a revolutionary Marxist current as an accepted part of a broader whole.’ It warns against ‘the elitist and or sectarian behaviour of far left groups in the social movements’, and even countenances ‘the dissolution of existing organisations’ (as has already occurred in the case of some sections of the FI) while ‘maintaining a framework of the Fourth International’.

Viewed through the lens of the ‘opposition platform’, we have three documents that continue a general line that has failed, and the prospect of dissolving our organisations in some cases into broader social movements evidently fills them with horror. Viewed from the perspective of the current international leadership of the FI, we have an opposition that is disappointed and impatient at the progress toward world revolution and which appears to believe that returning to the FI as a ‘world party’ which marks itself out from all the others will immediately solve the problems we face and will win recruits with the correct line. This line must, they say, break from ‘political forces or governments acting in the framework of capitalist management’, and work with forces with a ‘communist programmatic basis’ based on the working class as playing ‘a central role’ as part of a battle for a ‘transitional programme’ (embodied, they say, in the demand ‘No layoffs, for workers’ control over hiring’). Sections of the FI must be built as ‘revolutionary vanguard parties’ which aim at regroupment of revolutionaries internationally in the FI as a ‘world party’. There are complaints that the kinds of alliance that the FI has made in different countries have fostered the illusion that Western states could and should arm the oppressed.

The problem is that the problems we face are quite a deal larger than us, and we actually face a choice between a consistent approach to existing social struggles through which we gather around us activists who respect our engagement with different forms of politics, respect us enough to join us, and an opportunist tactical party-building operation which actually ends up making more enemies than friends among those who are actually doing more to bring about social change than we have been able to.

It is true that the ‘broad party’ approach could be seen as, and could actually be implemented in an inconsistent opportunist way, and that is the aspect of it that is homed in on by the Opposition Platform. Yes, the shift of allegiance from one contender for the status of ‘broad party’ could easily be read as some kind of way of merely going with the flow, abandoning our revolutionary compass points. That shift into the flow of most popular radical politics is what was once referred to in Trotskyist sect-jargon as ‘tailism’, tailing behind events, social movements or even leftist bourgeois parties.

However, the ‘revolutionary vanguard’ approach which confuses the vanguard with the party, and which leads to the party imagining that it is itself the vanguard, is actually the one most prone to inconsistent opportunism. That is the lesson we learn from comrades in struggle in the new social movements when they point to the way so many of the ‘left parties’ manoeuvre themselves in a way that is instrumentalist and dishonest when they aim to recruit what they view as the most ‘advanced’ sections of the movement and then use those new recruits as mouthpieces for their own revolutionary line.

Actually, ‘tailing’ behind is not at all what is meant by building a broad party (even if there have been occasional lapses in practice into the kinds of things the Opposition Platform fears). It is important, then, to clarify what it means and what it should mean in such a way that connects directly with the broader political and organisational steps forward the FI has made. This term ‘broad party’ covers a range of different social forms that include: anti-capitalist initiatives that problematise the concept of party as such; anti-racist and feminist mobilisations that involve the building of horizontal networks; intersectional initiatives that rework divisions based on sex and gender; and eruptions of democratic alternatives from within the heart of social democratic parties that connect with social movements. This surely is what the claim that democracy now ‘acquires a more subversive dimension’ means; these new social movements draw attention to the radical role of the demand for democracy, not merely as an expansion of bourgeois democracy but as something that challenges the undemocratic practice of ‘vanguard parties’. That demand is ‘transitional’, and then turns the demand for ‘workers’ control’ into something that is genuinely transitional.

One task in the discussions will be to acknowledge some of the missteps made by the FI – taking seriously some of the complaints of the Opposition Platform – while avoiding a retreat into the kind of ‘vanguard’ politics that has been discredited in new social movements and most working class organisations. The task here is to retain independence of movement in and alongside the movements we build, retaining our independence through participation in the FI. We will need to extract ourselves from the binary between ‘broad’ and ‘revolutionary’ which makes it seem as if ‘broad’ means political compromise and as if ‘revolutionary’ is a guarantee of the correct line, and orient ourselves within the new forms of struggle in such a way as to cut across the ‘broad party’ versus ‘vanguard party’ opposition. What capitalism is as such has mutated, and what it is to be anti-capitalist has also changed, and so it is from within a different map of global exploitation and oppression and with different compass points that we have to act. That much is clear in the FI documents, but another step needs to be taken within the framework they have laid out; in place of the Opposition Platform step back, another step that really is a step forward.

We need a more revolutionary approach to the question of ‘broad parties’ and to the building of social movements, movements that represent a qualitative shift from sectional protest to internationalist anti-capitalism. This approach needs to be based on an analysis of the wider effects of neoliberalism, of the return with a twist to the classical free-market liberal economics that existed at the birth of capitalism and on analyses of segregation of communities and political resistance.

The nature of neoliberalism

Neoliberalism needs to be grasped as comprising three elements, three key ideological and material mutations in global capitalism. The first, which is often fore-grounded in left analysis, is the stripping away of public welfare, something that is a traumatic shock to those used to state provision in some parts of the world, but not so strange to many parts of the world which have never had this public welfare. For most parts of the world, this aspect of neoliberalism is business as usual for capitalism, perpetual social insecurity and precarious economic existence in which women are expected to supply the care on an individual or familial basis that is not collectively provided. The second and third aspects are intertwined.

The second aspect is that the state, far from rolling back, actually rolls forward, intensifies in force. While any welfare provision is withdrawn, punitive sanctions are applied to those who fail to take responsibility for their own lives, and the securitisation of everyday life goes hand in hand with the transfer of powers to private security agencies. The second aspect of neoliberalism, then, is the intensification and distribution of police powers of the strong state, both through the concentration of powers in the nation state apparatus and through the delegation of authority to private companies or, in many parts of the world, private militias (including of narcotics and trafficking gangs). This second aspect is intimately bound up with misogyny, male violence, with the reinforcement of patriarchal authority structures.

The third aspect is the individualisation of everyday life, but far from heralding a simple return to classical liberal contract economics in which the worker is supposed to freely sell their labour power to an employer, this neoliberal version of individual responsibility carries with it a deep appeal to feelings of personal responsibility, so that women are not only made responsible for the care of families but made to feel guilty if they refuse that responsibility. We are all made anxious, made to feel anxiety as if it were only something internal to us.

This peculiar combination of welfare-stripping, intensification of state power and individualisation under neoliberalism has immense consequences for the capacity of the working class to resist austerity and violence, to build an alternative to capitalism. It puts misery onto the agenda of capitalist ideology and demands a response by the left to the misery experienced by those who live under capitalism today, misery which isolates and paralyses those who already suffer materially, misery which works its way in to the lives of those who try to resist what is being done to them.

Capitalism has always brought about the immiseration of communities and individuals, true. But what is being wrought now on a global scale is an ideological assault integral to neoliberalism which has material roots and material consequences. This is apparent, on the one hand, in the hypocritical appeals to ‘well-being’ and programmes of ‘mental health’ which include distribution of free pharmaceutical remedies for ‘mental illness’ in the developing world to hook populations onto medication which numbs their experience of oppression, and therapeutic self-help advice on television and in popular magazines which encourage each individual to ‘take responsibility’ for their distress and find personal solutions to what are actually political problems. It is also apparent, on the other hand, in the concern with personal solutions that are increasingly replacing collective action, in the ‘flight into therapy’ of some on the left (and in the feminist movement) who, disappointed with the prospects of political change, look to their own self-care and one-to-one care of others as the priority to enable them to survive. We should not underestimate either the way this impacts on left practice or the way some left groups react against it, closing themselves up and becoming more authoritarian.

One way of conceptualising this two-fold shift into the realm of the personal is to see it as a ‘feminisation’ of relationships (a very different and regressive stereotypical feminisation to the ‘feminisation of struggle and organisation’ that revolutionaries in the FI have been arguing for); feminisation because it is the taken-as-given commonsensical ideological qualities of women that are appealed to and harnessed in various governmental and NGO projects for ‘well-being’ and therapeutic change. There is, in sum, a widespread globalising ‘psychologisation’ of politics and of the experience and response to misery that we need to address. We need to put this on the agenda, alongside and interconnected with the other forms of social struggles, as revolutionary mental health politics (a politics that encompasses mobilisation of the millions in, or treated under the auspices of public or private mental health services). This question needs more work.

This neoliberal ‘psychologisation’ of individuals, communities and populations needs to be tackled in the context of three other related mutations of life under global capitalism which we can group all-too briefly under the heading ‘segregation’.

Forms of segregation

There are three aspects of this segregation, segregation that neoliberalism feeds and conditions, that each have consequences for the way we organise ourselves as revolutionaries. They are consequences that, on the one hand, make it all the more impossible for classic Leninist vanguard parties to operate and, on the other hand, make a distinctive revolutionary orientation by us to broad social movements even more crucial.

The first, which should be painfully obvious to all Trotskyists, is the fragmentation of the left. It is something we see all around us in the left as Stalinist politics goes into crisis after the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and of our own framework that conceptualised our work in ‘three sectors of world revolution’. The Stalinist parties, already in disarray as a result of the centrifugal effects of ‘socialism in one country’ and their adaptation to their own bourgeoisie under ‘Eurocommunism’, have lost their compass points. Some of the residues of those parties try to retain those compass points with ridiculous and dangerous support for Putin, for example, or campist allegiance to other pretend-left authoritarian regimes or movements (Assad, for example). This fragmentation is something we also see closer to home in the sectarian conflicts between different interpreters of Trotsky or Luxemburg, and in the proliferation of different national groups and ‘internationals’. This rivalry affects every activist who comes into contact with us, provoking questions about what we are really and what we stand for and how we are to be distinguished from all of the others who say almost the same thing. It is rivalrous fragmentation that is evidently not going to be solved by ‘regroupment’ initiatives to bring all the Leninist vanguard groups together.

The second aspect of segregation is to be found in the political diversification of what it is to be ‘revolutionary’. It is clear that the conditions for political resistance are giving rise to a multitude of formulations which differentiate the people from the ‘caste’ or the ninety-nine percent from the one percent. This proliferation of terms to describe exploitation and oppression should not be treated merely as ideological mystification, or as a misunderstanding of the underlying conditions that can be clarified with a healthy dose of correct Marxist analysis. The diversification of struggles reflects the diversification of different dimensions of power, around dimensions of ‘race’ or gender or sexuality or disability as well as around different experiences of class organisation.

The third aspect of segregation is the radical separation of different life-worlds, so that the revolutionaries in each group actually seem to inhabit a different mental universe from their rivals, and, worse perhaps, the revolutionaries live in a bubble and comfort themselves by finding reflections of the truth of their own particular analysis in the echo chambers of social media. This particular kind of segregation is one that also reinforces the sectarian hope that one correct revolutionary vanguard line will solve the problem, and the vanguard group that imagines that it has the solution itself cuts itself off all the more surely from the diverse contradictory social struggles that are happening around it. This is why participation in the broad social movements, and even, in some contexts, participation in the double reality of a broad party alongside revolutionary discussion in our own organisation as part of the FI is so vital. It is only this participation that will enable us to navigate and move across some of the boundaries that divide radically different radical life-worlds from each other.

We all now increasingly live in a world that has already for centuries of capitalism’s existence been grim reality for much of the population at the margins of the ‘developed’ capitalist world, a world of perpetual crisis, insecurity and precarious employment. Mass migration across national borders, internal dislocation as a result of various different strategies employed by neoliberal shock capitalism also means that the segregation that organises the experience of the oppressed and of the revolutionary left now occurs inside every major city rather than in ‘other’ exotic locations. That much is evident if we ask ourselves now, with the end of the ‘three sectors of world revolution’ framework that once guided our work, how many sectors of world revolution there are today. The answer is many, many and segregated, segregated in such a way that demands solidarity but which solidarity as such cannot repair, cannot put an end to.

With and in the margins

Instead of imagining that we can completely comprehend, control and predict the contradictory intersection of social struggles that will at some point give rise to challenges to the state and make visible the different forms of social organisation that already go beyond the limits of capital, we need to be open to the unexpected. That means working flexibly in diverse social movements, working in a world that is not organised as yet around any ‘core’ but which, in practically every version of resistance today, operates at the margins.

Here there is a further connection between the neoliberal psychologisation of misery under contemporary capitalism and the necessity for revolutionary activity in the broad social movements, and even in the building of broad parties. The Leninist vanguard approach which pretends to be revolutionary is actually not only a return to the past, but a return to a particular version of old left politics that is saturated in patriarchal vertically-organised disciplinary conceptions of organisation. It is the broad open inclusive approach of building horizontal alliances across the party and organisational borders that turns out to be the more ‘revolutionary’ option. It is revolutionary because it keys into the personal experiential misery of those subject to different intersecting forms of exploitation and oppression, and it addresses that misery instead of simply trying to patch it over with an appeal to macho instrumental control politics. It learns from different forms of anti-racist struggle, and particularly feminist struggles attuned to various strands of sexual politics, learns that with fragmentation, diversification and radical separation of life-worlds come isolation and hopelessness. Working with and collectivising those experiences is then ‘therapeutic’, not bourgeois individualising therapy but revolutionary social activity that empowers us in the very process of doing politics. We thereby turn our very marginalisation into a weapon.

We already know this, some of us, from the negative example of vanguard organisations that employ violence against their rivals or have been called out by women activists at the sexual violence that operates inside the party apparatus. That is why we take seriously the argument that the oppressed see power ‘from below’, and that autonomous self-organisation of the oppressed is crucial to the internal functioning of a revolutionary Marxist party worth the name. How we organise our own political debates, how we structure our own groups, has to be ‘prefigurative’, anticipating the forms of life beyond capitalism and patriarchy that we aim for in our broader political interventions. We must be of the margins and reflect that marginal diverse nature of the experience of oppression inside our organisations, not only in terms of the theoretical language we use to describe reality but also in terms of our practice, our relationships with each other as comrades.

Neoliberalism and segregation demand a political strategy that deliberately works at the margins. It may be, for example, that in some specific situations a group or, why not, section of the FI, could operate as a vanguard party of the old type, and succeed in quickly gathering together a cadre which has the confidence of significant sections of the working class. That should not be ruled out as impossible, but our overall strategy has to be open and flexible enough to include that as a possibility rather than impose it as a model. Inclusive open revolutionary politics is one that also enables us to approach the task of building broad parties of the left, parties and movements that bring together revolutionary Marxists with feminists and LGBT+ groups and anti-racist and migrant activists and, why not, those who still think of themselves as reformists or social democrats or autonomists.

In other words, we need to cut across ‘revolutionary’ and ‘broad’ party political divisions to intervene as real revolutionaries in such a way as to make what is broad into something transitional. That won’t be brought about by forcing formally correct transitional slogans on the movements we work with. That understanding of ‘transitional demands’ also needs to be worked through in practice in a quite different way in this new context of neoliberalism and segregation. It will be through our revolutionary practical engagement with those we do not fully agree with that we will learn from the margins and make the margins into a transitional force, a force that will build an alternative to capitalism from within its heart, anticipating the form of society we want to live in.