Recently a conference was held in Caracas, Venezuela that included representatives from socialist and left parties from around the world and that culminated in an official statement, referred to as The Commitment of Caracas. As reported by Venezuela Analysis, one of the points included in this statement was reference to a call by Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, for the formation of a Fifth International in order to promote the defeat of capitalism and the creation of “Socialism of the 21st Century.”
This conference and the official statement hold tremendous significance for socialists in particular and the working class in general around the world. It contains several points we wish to highlight.
First, the statement calls for the replacement of capitalism by socialism, pointing out that capitalism threatens the survival of humanity as well as the survival of all life, because capitalism combines “the economic crisis, with an ecological crisis, a food crisis and an energy crisis.”
Second, some parties that have signed the statement, for example, from Venezuela and Bolivia, are large, mass political organizations, which means that powerful resources may be available for the creation of a world socialist movement.
Third, it calls for an “ideological debate on the fundamental aspects of the process of construction of socialism.”
Fourth, it recognizes that the Third International degenerated under Stalinism, which betrayed struggles for socialism around the world.
Finally, and most importantly, as already mentioned, the statement of the conference notes that it “received” the call by Hugo Chavez for the creation of a Fifth International and voted to “create a WORKING GROUP comprised of those socialist parties, currents and social movements who endorse the initiative, to prepare an agenda which defines the objectives, contents and mechanisms of this global revolutionary body.” The conference also called for a “constitutive event” in Caracas in April 2010 that would aim at organizing this new international.
This call for the creation of a Fifth International can serve as a lightning rod for uniting socialist parties and social movements around the world in order to magnify by many times the power of the movement for socialism. The new totality, achieved on an international basis, will be far greater than the sum of its constituent parts. Moreover, in countries where socialist parties currently do not exist or are small and lack any substantial power, the Fifth International has the potential to serve as a pole of attraction, thereby overcoming the isolation and accompanying sense of hopelessness and demoralization of those fighting for a better world. It can therefore serve as an indispensable tool in helping working people around the world organize themselves in order to fight against the routine daily assaults of capitalism that are throwing increasing numbers of humanity into abject poverty and completely destroying the environment while at the same time making a tiny minority obscenely rich.
By joining such an international, socialist parties will be able to translate their aspirations for a better world into a framework that can realistically hope to achieve revolutionary change. It has the potential to forge the indispensable link between theory and practice.
This Fifth International can promote the strategical approach embodied in united front structures that can unite working people around the world in opposition to the capitalist class that oppresses them. The united front brings together working people, although they might adhere to different political points of view or persuasions, in order to unite workers as workers rather than as members of a single political party. In other words, it unites working people as a class and in this respect promotes the development of class consciousness. Therefore, it encourages working people to act independently of the capitalist class in defense of their own interests, as opposed to their feeling compelled to support one capitalist candidate or another in exchange for a few crumbs.
Moreover, the united front approach is an attempt to win the majority of the working class to a revolutionary perspective by organizing workers, first and foremost, to put up a fight in defense of their interests. It begins with those issues that workers themselves want to win and are prepared to fight for, no matter how modest these issues might be from a revolutionary perspective. In this respect, the united front approach is distinguished from the approach of social democrats, who are fundamentally reformists and do not want to put up a fight. The social democrats look to the capitalists to give workers some gains and are prepared to accept anything that comes their way, or nothing. The united front approach is also distinguished from the approach of the ultra leftists or sectarians who are only prepared to support a struggle if it exhibits a sufficiently revolutionary content. For example, the united front approach is prepared to take up a struggle for higher wages, if that is what workers want and if that is all they are prepared to fight for. The ultra leftists or sectarians insist on injecting more revolutionary demands into the struggle, even at the expense of alienating all, or almost all, the workers in the process. The united front approach, by encouraging workers to put up a fight, establishes a link between the day-to-day struggles of workers on the one hand and the struggle for socialism on the other hand, because the act of standing up and organizing a fight has the potential to fundamentally alter the consciousness of all those involved and raise it in a revolutionary direction. When this is achieved, the relation of forces between workers and capitalists is changed to the advantage of the working class.
Although the call for the Fifth International deserves enthusiastic support, those who respond must be vigilant, since the road ahead can contain many pitfalls. One must not allow this international unwittingly to degenerate into another social democratic formation, where instead of fighting for socialism, members are content to reform capitalism. In fact, some of the formulations in the Commitment of Caracas leave open the possibility of being interpreted as endorsing such a deviation. For example, the statement declared: “One of the epicenters of the capitalist crisis is in the economic domain; this highlights the limitations of unbridled free markets ruled by private monopolies.” This might be read by some to imply that what is needed are government regulated free markets that are ruled by multiple private businesses that compete against one another.
The fight for socialism, like everything really worthwhile, will be a long, arduous struggle. Using the classical Marxist framework as a point of departure, the essential ingredients of socialism include the following:
1. The fundamental pillars of the economy are nationalized and operates according to a plan that has been determined democratically by the entire population. Hence, it will serve the needs of the people, not the profit margins of a rich minority at everyone else’s expense.
2. The people democratically control the government. The government does not control the people.
3. Quality education (through college) and health care are considered basic human rights and are free. Quality housing is available to all at affordable prices.
4. Everyone is guaranteed a well-paying job. People are rewarded first and foremost according to how much work they perform. By guaranteeing work for everyone, as opposed to the capitalist system of condemning large numbers of working people to the ranks of the unemployed, the workweek can be reduced.
5. The environment is cleaned up and pollution is eliminated.
6. Government administrators can be recalled at any time and may not be paid more than working people.