Splitters! A short and polemical history of the far-left.

Revolutionary socialists, in the main, depend on international organisation, for one of the key lessons that many (following Trotsky) took from the Russian experience is that socialism cannot exist in one country, but requires a wave of revolutions across the globe. Workers struggle requires, therefore, solidarity and coordination.

International Socialism Today

My favourite wikipedia article of the moment presents the current state of play in the international organisation of socialism. For historical reasons, very briefly described below, Trotsky’s attempt at international coordination, started in 1938, became known as the Fourth international. I’ve stolen the following list of organisations from this Wikipedia article, most of them trace their roots to Trotsky’s fourth international:

* Collective for an International Conference of the Principled Trotskyism -Liaison Committee of Militants for a Revolutionary Communist International -Organizing Committee of Principist Trotskyism (Fourth International)
* Committee for a Marxist International
* Committee for a Workers’ International
* Communist Organisation for a Fourth International
* Co-ordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International
* Coordination Committee for the Construction of the International Workers Party (KoorKom)
* Fourth Internationalist Tendency
* International Bolshevik Tendency
* International Centre of Orthodox Trotskyism
* International Committee of the Fourth International
* International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)
* International Liaison Committee for a Workers’ International
* International Secretariat of the Fourth International
* International Socialist Tendency
* International Trotskyist Committee for the Political Regeneration of the Fourth International
* International Workers League (Fourth International)
* International Workers’ Unity (Fourth International)
* Internationalist Communist Union
* League for the Fifth International
* League for the Fourth International
* Liaison Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International
* Movement (Movimiento)
* New Course
* Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International
* Trotskyist-Posadist IVth International
* United Secretariat of the Fourth International
* Workers International to Rebuild the Fourth International

Solidarity – Yeah! Coordination – Right on!

The Preceding Internationals

This rather sorry state of affairs is a probably partly a product of the decreased cost of global communication. But its pretty obvious that the history of ‘socialist internationals’ is one of splits and factions.

The first international (Marx’s International Workingmen’s Association) managed about a decade’s existence, although it was somewhat weakened by a clash of ideology and ego between Marx and the anarchist Bakunin. The second international managed about a quarter of a century before it was riven by splits as nobody could agree on an analysis of the first world war.

The third international (Comintern) was begun by Lenin after the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia. The authority this leant to Lenin and Trotsky, and the undoubted attractiveness of ‘success’, has meant that it was this period that has had the most enduring influence on the far-left. But the third international also was marred by splits and factions, mostly of Lenin’s creation.

Lenin first followed a tactic of splitting national workers organisations so that the reformists would see the ideological purity of the revolutionaries, and presumably, be so impressed that they would give up on their remformist organisations alltogether. This patently failed, and in the process dramatically weakened the domestic strength of workers organisations across Europe. So, Lenin stole and possibly misunderstood the ‘united front’ tactic from German unionist Paul Levi. Under Lenin’s instruction, for the international organisation was exceedingly disciplinarian, national member organisations were encouraged and sometimes coerced into taking part in ‘united front’ action with organisations they labelled as bourgeois reformists. The idea, again, being to demonstrate the validity and ideological purity of the revolutionaries in order to draw the workers into the fold. One wonders if the fact that united front organising was coupled with screaming, public denunciations of the organisations they were working with as corrupt traitors, betraying their own class for a pocketful of coppers contributed to the patent failure of this tactic. (See Trotsky on the Fabians for a good example.)

Trotskyism then and now.

Stalin eventally took complete control of Comintern which, given his professed belief in ‘socialism in one country’ was unlikely to create the domino effect that became so feared by the MaCarthy era Pentagon. So, in 1938, Trotsky organised is ‘Left Opposition’, previously a persecuted faction within the Comintern, into the fourth international. While Trotsky wholeheartedly believed in the united front tactic, there was a new development, born of necessity by the numerical weakness of the Trotskyists, of entrism. Here Trots would join reformist organisations, no longer as equals under a united banner, but as members who would organise themselves into factions and ‘tendencies’ and attempt to influence the direction of the organisation. The ideas was, quite literally, that wherever there were at least two active communists within an organisation they must coordinate in order to make the biggest possible impact. Among many other effects, entrism was the tactic used by the trotskyist Militant tendecy within the British Labour party that resulted in it looking so utterly shambolic when its left wing finally managed to gain some serious influence in the 1980s. Surely any sane left politico would, with the benefit of hindsight, have preferred a certain amount of negotiation, even capitulation to have avoided the resultant lurch to the ‘electorally appealing’ right under Blair et al.’s modernisation agenda. So, I don’t want to be sectarian, but …