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Statement:  Scandal in the Fourth International – Brazil comes to Europe

The politics of ‘pluralism’

19 March 2007

Karl Liebknecht was an active member of the Second International, the mass socialist movement that dominated politics in Europe before the First World War. In 1912 Liebknecht was elected to the Reichstag as a Social-Democrat, a member of the SPD's left wing. He opposed Germany's participation in World War I, but following the party line he voted to authorise the necessary war loans. However by December 2nd 1914 he found himself the only member of the Reichstag to vote against the war, in opposition to 110 of his own Party members. 

Liebknecht set a standard for coming generations, drawing a line in the sand between social democrats and Marxists.  Marxists did not vote for capitalist war. As the Marxist movement developed Lenin, Trotsky and their followers codified another principled position.  Marxists do not sit in capitalist governments.  By doing so they automatically cross the barricades and find themselves in the enemy camp joining in attacks on the working class.

Over the past two decades the Fourth International has argued for a new type of International workers movement – supposedly one that draws on the ‘pluralism’ of the First International founded by Marx.  Critics argued that in so doing they were setting aside the hard-won lessons learnt by the working class since the time of Liebknecht and of Lenin and Trotsky.  To paraphrase Marx, such an act of forgetting would lead us to repeat history with predictable and tragic results.

That tragedy struck in Brazil when the Fourth International organisation in that country called, like ourselves, Socialist Democracy (SD), fell to the right. After decades of activity as the left wing of the Workers Party, led by the populist left figure Lula, the SD found itself holding ministerial position in a coalition government with representatives of the capitalist right and with a reactionary programme agreed between Lula, the World Bank and the IMF. 

There followed a period of confusion in which the SD continued in both the capitalist government and in the Fourth International.  Figures within the SD who protested the new line found themselves forced out and had some difficulty in obtaining international support. Our own views can be found at:

The Brazil question has been “resolved” in the sense that the FI now supports a new opposition current.  However there has been no sharp break with the SD current and, more importantly, no re-examination of how SD arrived at its betrayal or how this naturally arose from the political line of the FI leadership.

That political failure has predictable results. Elements of the Brazilian debacle have happened again – in Europe – in Italy.

The whole direction of the Italian movement had been to build a supposedly pluralist movement, Rifondazione, in reality a movement that has not broken from the reformist politics of Stalinism, as a mass party. The Italian FI section, Bandiera Rossa, has operated inside Rifondazione with a current Sinistra Critica .  The political limits on organising around a ‘pluralist’ movement were that one had to accept the leadership of figures committed to a reformist programme and to electoralism as a method. Pluralism simply became a modern method in which to promote such .a policy.

Almost inevitably the left found itself in a coalition government led by the right social democrat Romano Prodi.  Even more inevitably Prodi, a ‘responsible’ capitalist politician, advanced the programme he had been elected to oppose – a neoliberal offensive at home and military involvement in imperialist aggression in Afghanistan. This turn was supported by the leadership of the ‘pluralist’ Rifondazione movement the left had struggled for decades to build.

The result was chaos. In August 2006, after an international campaign against the Prodi government’s war plans, leading Sinistra Critica figure Franco Turigliatto joined with other ‘opponents’ of the war in voting yes to the war plans as part of a vote of confidence in the government.  He declared that this was a one-off vote dictated by the fact that the government had yet to become established.

The issue resurfaced in February 2007 when he was asked again to vote for war credits as part of a 12 point programme of aggression and austerity linked both to pension cuts and to the doubling of a US war base in Italy.  He abstained from the vote and offered his resignation from the senate. The decision led to the resignation of Prodi, the fall of the government and the decision of Rifondazione to expel Turigliatto.

An international appeal was launched in defence of Franco Turigliatto.  The appeal was blind to the difficulty in supporting abstention on a question of principle and resignation in order to avoid facing further principled questions.  Prodi collapsed the government, not because he was threatened by the left, but precisely because the jumble of abstention and resignation represented no threat.  Rather they represented an opportunity to strengthen his authority by forcing uncritical support from Rifondazione and crushing the weak parliamentary left opposition.  The Prodi government is now restored, stronger than before and with all the elements committed to a neo-liberal offensive at home and imperialist aggression abroad.

The campaign in support of Turigliatto collapsed in embarrassment following an ‘Open letter to those who supported me’ penned just a week after his abstention in which he announced his decision to press ahead with his resignation from the senate and that on his way to the door he would vote, once again, confidence in the Prodi government.

The letter can be viewed in full at:

It is however worth quoting from it in some detail. Franco Turigliatto argues:

"the balance sheet of the Prodi government during the last few months is very negative, and what is likely to come will be even worse. This judgement, obviously, is not shared by my party, which on the contrary strongly supports the new government. And it has been received in different ways by civil society, the movements, the trade-union leaders, the representatives of radical pacifism, by those who on February 17 took to the streets in Vicenza. The fear of the return of a rightwing government is indeed very strong. There are also those who think that the possibility of a fight with the Prodi government is not finished, and that its survival is the framework within which one can obtain better results or at least a democratic dialectic.

As I was not the one to decide the fall of the Prodi government, I think that it is right to check the validity of these intentions, to continue the debate with greatest part of the movement and of the people of the left who think this, and thus that the Prodi government should remain in place.”

This indeed could have been written in 1914 or by members of any reformist movement since.  It does not quite argue that Marxists should support the lesser of two evils rather than fight for an independent movement of the working class.  Instead it says that if the ‘anticapitalist movement’ has such illusions then Marxist should agree with them, even to the extent of resigning a position which could quite clearly be used to oppose the capitalist offensive and crossing the barricades to vote for a government leading such an offensive.

Franco Turigliatto goes on to argue:

“…insisting on certain principles and certain constraints that are in my opinion essential: those which bind us to the movements of the workers, the popular communities in fight against the TAV and for the environment, with the peace movement which one recently saw in Vicenza. These are the principles which determine my political activity, not an abstract idealistic coherence, but a political project which has been mine all my life.

In the fifteen last years these principles, these convictions corresponded perfectly with those of Rifondazione Comunista. A few days ago however, my party declared me “incompatible” simply because I remained faithful to the historical programme of the PRC. I do not want to discuss a decision which concerns me, but there is one thing I can say. I built Rifondazione from the start, I defended it when it was attacked, I spent hundreds of hours discussing with working men and women in factories in Turin and all over Italy.”

The “abstract idealistic coherence” referred to is of course the Marxist programme.  Part of the justification for moving away from the programme was the accusation of dogmatism.  Now we have someone with a new dogmatism.  That dogmatism is to be bound to some workers, communities and peace movements – that is, to follow behind popular moods and illusions rather than to popularise class struggle and socialism through a Marxist programme.  It is a dogmatism so hidebound that, even after fifteen years of work ends in collapse and comrades find themselves voting for a government in absolute opposition to the workers, no critique is to be offered, no change of programme is to be considered.

One of the wonders of ancient Greek tragedy is the inevitability of fate.  The trajectory of Rifondazione could be foreseen from the start.  This is not the first time it has supported a government that attacks the working class.  Thousands of indicators litter its evolution. This Rifondazione is the natural outcome of the politics an International which opposes the ‘dogma’ of the Marxist programme, dismisses all talk of a revolutionary programme as sectarian, yet supports failure after failure of this method to build anything that represents a coherent alternative for the working class.  Brazil was the outcome.  Italy was the outcome and there are more Brazils and Italys waiting in the wings.

What is most instructive is the lack of discussion, the lack of self-criticism within the International.  Sections of the movement seem no longer to possess the analytical tools with which a critique of current positions can be made, corrections applied or lessons learnt. 
It is for this reason that we publish our own view and welcome members and sections of the Fourth International to add their own views and comments.


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