Ray O Light

The Positive and Negative Significance of Hugo Chavez's Call for a Fifth International

From the Belly of the Beast

International capitalism, headed by U.S. imperialism, is rapidly rendering "mother earth" inhospitable to human habitation. The depth and scope of the problems continually being raised up by imperialism, by capitalism in its death throes, from global warming to oceanic pollution to a global war of terror, are too great for nationally-oriented communist parties to address systematically and decisively.

Serious scientific socialists in Leninist Parties and organizations around the world urgently need to reject a narrow, bourgeois nationalist perspective and reassert proletarian internationalism as the cornerstone of our work. For the bourgeois nationalist orientation undermines any sustained effort to re-establish a viable, vibrant international communist movement capable of grasping the magnitude of our tasks and of rallying the proletariat of each country and all countries to lead the revolutionary forces to decisive victories over international capital in this moment of great danger — and great opportunity.

The bourgeois nationalist perspective focuses on "my country" or "my people" or even "my working class" rather than on the situation of the international working class, the situation of the world as a whole. In the name of gaining advantage for "my own section of the international working class," it inevitably leads to the reduction of our revolutionary goals and aspirations to mere reformist demands, to seeking rapprochement with the imperialist enemy at the expense of some or all sections of our class. Certainly, the world-wide "democratic illusions" among socialists about U.S. imperialism in the Bema Era, even Hugo Chavez himself around the Honduran Coup, are a manifestation of this problem.

It is in this context that we evaluate the call by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for a Fifth International. President Chavez hosted "the Left Encounter of Left Parties" from November 19 to 21 of 2009. Addressing the delegates from 55 parties from more than 30 countries representing nominally communist and social democratic parties from Asia and Europe, national liberation forces from Africa and the Middle East, radical and new left parties from Europe and Latin America, President Chavez stated: "the time has come for us to convoke the Fifth International."

Immediately following the Left Encounter, on November 21, the First Extraordinary Congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began. In his opening remarks to the 772 elected delegates, PSUV President Chavez reiterated his call for a Fifth International and asked the Congress to make this issue a subject of serious debate during the five months that the PSUV Congress was slated to last— until April 2010, when the founding congress of "the Fifth International" was projected "to become an instrument of unification and coordination of the struggle of peoples to save this planet."

There are substantial positive and negative aspects of this initiative from the standpoint of the international proletariat, from the standpoint of revolutionary Marxism.

As reflected in both the discussions and the Declaration of the Left Parties, this new effort at international political coordination is largely a positive response to the new aggressive actions of United States imperialism in Latin America undertaken under the Obama/Biden Regime. Great emphasis was placed on the successful coup against President Zelaya in Honduras as well as the seven new U.S. military bases in Colombia. Chavez and others recognize correctly that much of the U.S. imperialist impetus for sponsoring and sustaining the overthrow of Zelaya was to undermine, push back and destroy ALBA and other regional economic initiatives and to reverse the growing political independence of Latin America from U.S. imperialist domination. And the practical program outlined in the Declaration makes clear that national sovereignty of oppressed nations, especially in Latin America and especially against U.S. imperialism, is at the heart of this "international" initiative.

Another positive is that this call for a "Fifth International" represents a recognition by significant non-proletarian anti-imperialist forces that imperialist oppression and terror in our time requires international co-ordination and solidarity. In this light, the Chavez call for a Fifth International should serve as a wake-up call to the genuine communist parties and organizations around the world that the international proletariat and oppressed peoples need a new Communist International.

Northstar Compass and the International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with Soviet People have also recognized the deep need for the re-establishment of a more organizer and integrated international movement in order to advance the cause of national liberation and socialism against international capitalism. The small gathering of the International Council Conference in Toronto, Canada in October 2008 unanimously passed a resolution entitled, "The Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World Need a New Communist International!" Unlike the Chavez Call, Northstar Compass, recognizing its own limitations, called upon the communist movement to undertake the task of building a new communist international. As the author of this resolution (at the request of NSC Editor and Chairman Michael Lucas), I was acutely aware that it was a demand from a "mass" organization on the proletarian vanguard to take up this serious and urgent task.

There are also a number of negative features of the Chavez call that need to be exposed.

In the first place, Chavez, reflecting a strong Trotskyite current in the Latin American Left, shows positive respect for Trotsky's so-called Fourth International, which never built a strong revolutionary movement anywhere in the world. At the same time he slanders Stalin and the Communist (Third) International and slights the role of Lenin and the Soviet Union. While the Stalin and Soviet-led defeat of world fascism did not have as profound and immediate an impact on the independence movements in Latin America that it did in Asia and Africa, there can be no question that the upsurge of the national liberation struggles in Latin America also owed much to the heroic Soviet-led victory.

The Cuban Revolution, which Chavez praises to the skies, would have been impossible to sustain over these decades without the immortal accomplishments of the Soviet Bolshevik Party and people under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, as well as the victory of the Communist Party-led Chinese national democratic revolution, the heroic Communist Party-led struggle of the Vietnamese people, etc. The leadership for all these struggles helped produce and/or were produced by the Third International. Chavez' ignorance of history allows him to confuse the present Soviet revisionist era, the dissolution of the socialist camp, etc. with the earlier period of proletarian revolution and proletarian internationalism.

Chavez' profound distortion of history leads to other problems.

As the great Filipino revolutionary leader Jose Maria Sison has observed, opportunism (from the Right or the "Left") promotes the illusion that the struggle is easier than it actually is. Along these lines, Chavez and other supporters of the Fifth International initiative, disparage and attack the democratic centralist organization and discipline that enabled the comrades of the Communist (Third) International to lead the masses of humanity from one victory to another over international capital.

Failure to recognize the world-historic rote of the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, and the Vietnamese Revolution, among other significant twentieth century revolutions, of the Soviet-led defeat of the Fascist Axis powers in World War II and the tremendous contribution of the Communist (Third) International to the historic advances of the proletarian revolutionary cause including the creation of a socialist camp, and the flowering of newly independent states in Asia, Africa and Latin America leads to a serious underestimation of the tremendous sacrifices and struggle that are necessary in order to achieve decisive victories over imperialism. It leads to a failure to appreciate the necessity for proletarian organization and discipline, for Leninist Party organization.

The recent upsurge of popular movements and governments throughout much of Latin America, in opposition to U.S. imperialism, in particular, has been a great source of inspiration to all conscious anti-imperialist fighters around the world. And Cuban-Venezuelan anti-imperialist unity has been the core around which significant political and economic advances have been made. Certainly, this phenomenon is the basis of strength from which the Chavez call for a Fifth International has been made. However, it is a pipedream to expect that, simply by calling on bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties in state power, and petty bourgeois social-democratic and anarchist parties from other countries to unite, one can form an international capable of withstanding the terrible political, economic and military pressures of imperialism.

At best, the Chavez-led call for a Fifth International is a petty bourgeois projection of the idealist conception of party-building. It attempts to forge "the unity of the socialists," of the "great men" and the "thinkers," on the basis of their commitment to the "socialist idea" in general rather than forge the unity of the international working class in the crucible of the class struggle for socialism. The Chavez call is a radical departure from the first, second and third internationals, all of which were aimed at the unity of the international working class in the struggle against capital. Such a petty bourgeois idealist constructed international can only be quickly smashed on the rocks of the reality of imperialist bribery, oppression and violence.

Not surprisingly, on the day after Chavez first presented his proposal, when it was still at the very beginning of its talking stage, there was already as much opposition as there was unity. Representatives of the Ecuadorian and Bolivian governments and of the Honduran resistance pledged their support. But the experienced and battle-tested Cuban Communist Party, while expressing agreement with the general notion of international coordination, did not express a formal position at all. Valtar Pomar, international relations secretary of the Workers Party of Brazil (PT), opposed as "divisive" making socialism the common denominator for unity and stated that the PT would continue to make the (openly reformist) World Social Forum its priority. The vice president of El Salvador, FMLN leader Salvador Sanchez Ceren, spoke in favor. However, immediately thereafter, Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes, an independent elected on the FMLN slate, distanced himself and the government from any support for "21st Century Socialism." Since then the FMLN government has recognized the reactionary and illegitimate Honduran coup-"elected" government!

Since the November 2009 Chavez initiative around this call, it appears that little or nothing of substance has been achieved. Meanwhile, U.S. imperialism continues to re-penetrate Latin America, to make new political, military and economic inroads there.


To defeat the imperialist enemy and destroy the capitalist system before it destroys our human habitat, a new communist international needs to be built. The communists need to provide critical support for the efforts at coordination of the petty bourgeois and bourgeois nationalist anti-imperialist forces in and around the so-called "fifth international" led by Hugo Chavez. At the same time, the communists must fight for proletarian leadership of the national liberation struggles in the oppressed nations and of the revolutionary struggle for socialism throughout the world.

The mobilizing effort around a petty-bourgeois dominated "fifth international" that tells "plausible, respectable petty bourgeois lies" about and buries the outstanding heroic role of the Communist International and its member parties in the past can serve to discourage and undermine instead of inspire the proletarian vanguard. In opposition to this petty bourgeois deceit, the communists need to undertake the difficult task of leading the international working class and the oppressed masses in the building of a new communist international on a materialist basis, that is, on the basis of their own experience in the class struggle for national liberation, socialism and communism.

In order to successfully carry out all the many and various revolutionary tasks in the struggle against international capital, headed by U.S. imperialism, a new genuine communist international is required.

Puerto Rican Student Strike Victory

Thousands of Puerto Rican students voted on June 21 to end their two month long strike which had shut down ten of the eleven campuses of the University of Puerto Rico. Student leader Shirley Rosado called the strike settlement an "historical achievement" in which the students "rescued the true purpose of the university [of Puerto Rico] to guarantee high quality public education to the people of Puerto Rico." (Puerto Rico Daily Sun, June 26, 2010)

The University of Puerto Rico system includes 65,000 students and more than 5,000 faculty members. According to Victor M. Rodriguez Dominguez, in his excellent article, "Puerto Rican Student Strike – Victory and Context as Recurring Social Struggle in The Oldest Colony in the World," "More than 33 per cent of Puerto Rico's 25 years and older population has some post-secondary and/or university education. This is higher than more developed nations like Finland and New Zealand. Puerto Rico, with a population close to four million has developed a philosophy about the need to have an accessible system of public higher education. ... Access to higher education, while not specifically enshrined in the constitution is also considered a right and not a privilege by most Puerto Ricans. The state support and relatively low tuition attests to that philosophy."

The students were striking in opposition to the plans of the administration of the University of Puerto Rico with the support of Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno to double university tuition, as well as to take steps towards privatization of the University. Striking students also defended current tuition exemptions for students based on merit and economic need. The strike settlement was negotiated between representatives of the students and the Board of Trustees of the University with the intervention of a court-appointed mediator. The University Trustees conceded to the students on all three of their demands, and also agreed not to sanction students, faculty members or workers for participation in the strike, or in the many protests and pickets, including a number of clashes with the police.. While the University Trustees reserved the right to increase tuition next year, the students took a "preventative strike vote" and vowed to continue their struggle in case increases are imposed.

U.S. imperialist domination of Puerto Rico has persisted since U.S. imperialism took over the domination of the island from Spanish rule in the Spanish-American war of 1898. Puerto Rico remains an open colony of the United States to this day. The following excerpt from a resolution entitled "Independence and Socialism for Puerto Rico!" adopted at a Marxist-Leninist Conference sponsored by the predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Organization of Labor, USA, in July, 1981, we believe is still valid.

"Puerto Rico is a colony in the imperialist epoch. ... the U.S. has used the island as the spearhead of its economic exploitation, military aggression and ideological penetration of Latin America ... Yet the Puerto Rican people are fighting back. ... The Puerto Rican people were successful in stopping the military draft during the Vietnam War, when thousands of youths refused induction into the U.S. armed forces on the grounds of Puerto Rico's colonial status. ...We ... reaffirm that the fight for national minority rights of the Puerto Rican people in the U.S. (North) is integrally connected with the task of the liberation of Puerto Rico."

The Puerto Rican Student Strike victory took place in the context of the global capitalist economic crisis in which the U.S. imperialist-controlled Puerto Rican government has been trying to make the Puerto Rican masses pay for the crisis through the elimination of public sector jobs, privatization of state-run enterprises and the cutting of social benefits. Students joined the labor movement in a national general strike last October in protest of the firing of thousands of public workers. In turn, the well-organized student strike was supported by labor unions, including the university faculty and clerical workers union, religious organizations, as well by their parents and the community at large This is a victory for the oppressed Puerto Rican nation and a blow against U.S. imperialism and its colonial domination of the island. It reflects the continuing vitality of the Puerto Rican national democratic struggle on the road to Socialism.

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