Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The end of the Fourth International

This pamphlet reprints several documents from the so-called Vern-Ryan Tendency within the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The documents were originally written in 1952-53. At the time, the SWP was a Trotskyist organization in political solidarity with the Fourth International. I know next to nothing about the dissidents Sam Ryan and Dennis Vern apart from this material. Their opposition group is often accused of being “pro-Stalinist” in its analysis of East Europe. However, the Vern-Ryan Tendency is most famous for its criticism of the Trotskyist party in Bolivia, the POR of Guillermo Lora. Most of the material reprinted here deals with this issue.

In 1952, the nationalist MNR took power in Bolivia. What began as a classical coup soon turned into a virtual revolution, as the labor union federation COB mobilized thousands of armed workers in support of the MNR. The nationalist cabinet consisted of several different factions, its left wing represented by COB leader Juan Lechín. Eventually, the revolution entered a more moderate phase (or was “betrayed”) as the MNR center faction around Victor Paz Estenssoro got the upper hand.

What made the Bolivian situation almost unique was the important role played in the events by a Trotskyist party, the previously mentioned POR. While the POR was numerically weak, it did exercise a strong influence within the COB leadership and the MNR left wing. POR leader Lora was Lechín's secretary, Lechín's speeches were written by POR cadres and Lechín himself was briefly a member of the Trotskyist party. The mineworkers' union FSTMB (likewise headed by the ever-present Lechín) had adopted a Trotskyist-sounding program. The POR also had several parliamentary deputies, elected as part of a FSTMB-backed union ticket. When the MNR took power backed by COB, FSTMB and Lechín, POR naturally acted as a ginger group on the MNR left wing.

The Fourth International supported Lora's policy, while the Vern-Ryan Tendency accused the POR of selling out the revolution to the nationalists. Instead, Vern and Ryan argued, the POR should have mobilized the working masses against the “bourgeois” MNR government, like Lenin's Bolsheviks had mobilized the Russian masses against the provisional government of Kerensky. Lora's failure to do this was a “betrayal” of the Bolivian revolution. I admit that I find their analysis surreal, but that's another show. Part of the disconnect is that the Vern-Ryan Tendency assumed that the POR was a mass party with a strong working class base, and hence resembled the Bolsheviks in that respect. But as we have already seen, Lora's group was actually quite small. They were influential precisely because they *didn't* oppose the MNR lefts, but rather mingled with them. Mainly, however, we are dealing with a political problem, Vern-Ryan opposing all nationalism (including Third World nationalism) to begin with.

In 1953, the Fourth International split. Neither the “orthodox” International Committee (dominated by the SWP) nor the “revisionist” International Secretariat (led by Michel Pablo) criticized Lora's policies in Bolivia. This is what makes the Bolivian issue so contentious for Trotskyists. If the International Committee was the true embodiment of revolutionary Trotskyism, how could it fail to notice that one of its member parties (POR supported the Committee) had betrayed a working-class revolution? From this, some really hard line Trotskyist elements eventually drew the conclusion that Vern-Ryan had been right, and that the entire Fourth International ceased to be a revolutionary organization in 1952-53. The International died on the Altiplano. These groups either call for the creation of a Fifth International, or the recreation of the true revolutionary Fourth International. This pamphlet is published by such a group, the small League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) in New York City.

This material clearly isn't for the general reader. However, if you are interested in Trotskyist splits and fusions, “Bolivia: The Revolution the `Fourth International' Betrayed” may be a useful addition to your collection.

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