History of the Fourth International -- the heritage of Marxism

This article consists of the translation into English of the Introduction to the recent Russian language edition of Leon Trotsky's book In Defense Of Marxism. This translation is our contribution to the Day of International Labor Solidarity, May 1st.

Copyright: Iskra Research; September 1994.

Switch to the Russian language version

Marxism is a scientific doctrine which directs the struggle of the working class for the liberation of the whole of mankind from the slavish consequences of the exploitation of one human by another, from economic, physical and moral degradation. Just as the class struggle which gave birth to this doctrine, so Marxism itself does not bear any break or interruption.

The ideological and the political heritage of Marxism has its prehistory in the rise of human civilization, in the work of the great thinkers of the epoch of Renaissance. As a science, Marxism started with the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1847. The continuity of Marxism threads through the struggle of Marx and Engels to organize the First International; through the experience of the Paris Commune, the first workers government which lasted for 71 day. This thread runs through the struggle to construct the mighty national workers' parties and their unity in the Second International. After the collapse of the International in August 1914 Marxism finds its continuity in the struggle of the internationalists led by Lenin, Luxembourg and Trotsky against social-patriotism for the idea of the international socialist revolution. Marxism culminates in the October Revolution and the Civil War in the founding of the Third International in 1919.

The struggle for Marxism against its bureaucratic perversion at the hands of some of the "old Bolsheviks", the holders of the state power in the USSR was begun by Lenin himself in his last letters and articles in which he pointed out the danger of the bureaucratic degeneration of Bolshevism. This struggle took a sharp form in the Fall of 1923 by which time Lenin was taken out of action in the continuing fight for world communism.

The Left Opposition

The struggle begun by the Left Opposition inside the Russian Communist party in the Fall of 1923 was both more prolonged and much more difficult than anyone could have foreseen. Beginning that year, the world proletariat had suffered a number of heavy political and ideological defeats: the loss of the revolutionary initiative in Germany in 1923, the defeat of the British General Strike in 1926, the crushing of the Second Chinese Revolution by Chiang Kai Shek in 1927. All these defeats combined with the difficult inheritance of the economic backwardness and lack of culture of Russia allowed the conservative wing of the Russian Communist party to isolate and defeat the Left Opposition within the party and the whole Third International.

By 1928, analyzing these heavy losses the various groups of communist oppositionists in various countries began to contact each other and communicate. Two works of Trotsky written in the summer of 1928, The Critique Of The Draft Program and What Now? assumed special significance. These works assumed a programmatic and defining character for the whole international opposition movement within the Communist International. These documents had been signed by hundreds of the oppositionists in their far off places of exile inside the Soviet Union and they were submitted in the name of the expelled and persecuted Left Opposition to the Executive Committee of the Communist International. During the convention of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in Moscow in that summer of 1928 these documents were semi-legally circulated among some of the delegates to the Congress, arousing an unofficial but all the more animated discussion.

It should be noted that two delegates to this Congress, James P. Cannon from the American CP and Maurice Spector of the Canadian section received due to a mistake on the part of the Stalinist organizers the English translation of Trotsky's work. This document had the power of a bomb blast on them; they abandoned the routine meetings, began to study the document assiduously and on their return back home started to organize groups of cothinkers around Trotsky's program.

Trotsky's exile from the Soviet Union in January 1929 contrary to Stalin's expectation did not isolate him. Just the opposite, it gave him the possibility to begin the organization of the small and isolated groups of communist oppositionists into an international organization, based on a common program and principles.

During these initial years of its existence, until Hitler's victory in Germany the Bolshevik Leninist Opposition considered itself a faction, albeit an illegal one, inside the Third International. It had for its aim a reform of the International, the correction of its political line, its reorganization, a purge of its cadres.

The International Left Opposition addressed itself to the advanced workers, organized within the various Communist parties and directed to them its criticism of the ultimatist, sectarian line of the Comintern. Pointing to the danger of fascism, the Left Opposition tried to unite the communist and the social-democratic workers into a united front. Inside the USSR the Left Opposition supported the strategy of industrialization and collectivization but insisted that the bureaucratic methods of Stalin the forced collectivization which was not based on any material and technical preconditions, the absence of advanced preparations or planning, the suppression of independent criticism on the part of the masses, the persecution of that very party faction which for a number of years had consistently argued for the need for planned industrialization, the police measures of total dekulakization that all these methods were leading to the weakening of the proletarian dictatorship and to economic catastrophes.

The founding of the Fourth International

Hitler's bloodless victory and the surrender of the German CP without a fight drove the International Left Opposition to make a reassessment of the Comintern. Concluding that a reform of the International is impossible, Trotskyists revised their program and took a course towards the organization of a new, the Fourth International. The new crimes of Stalinism, on the one hand its abandonment of an independent class line in favor of the policy of the reforms of capitalism, People's Fronts and the support of the status quo in Europe, and on the other, the total extermination of the generation of October by the Stalin regime meant that the Communist International was dead for the purpose of world revolution and had now become an agency of the Stalinist bureaucracy and of world reaction. Stalinism drew a river of blood of the betrayed and murdered communists between itself and the world revolutionary movement.

But although the Comintern had become an agency of counterrevolution, the social regime in the USSR did not revert to capitalism. The social relations within the country became more and more contradictory. The inequality of social layers widened and grew, the socialized economy became deformed in order to provide the party and state bureaucracy with special benefits and privileges, the anti-people police dictatorship grew ever more despotic. Trotsky called on the Soviet working class to conduct a political, not a social, revolution, to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy, to cleanse the Soviets of their domination by the reactionary petty bourgeois officials, to fix the planned economy of the USSR from the point of view of the working class and the toiling peasantry.

The Left Opposition continued in its policy of defense of the Soviet Union from the world imperialism. But its method fundamentally differed from Stalin's. Marxists understood that the only real ally of the conquests of October was the international proletariat, which would consciously struggle for its own liberation. The defense of the USSR was a part of the development and expansion of the world socialist revolution. As Trotsky many times explained, the methods and tactic of this defense must be subordinated to the major strategic goal in the same way as a part is subordinated to the whole.

In February 1938, during the peak of the bloody genocide of the fighters of October 1917 down in the Lubianka cellars Trotsky wrote:

"The liberation of the workers can come only through the workers themselves. There is, therefore, no greater crime than deceiving the masses, palming off defeats as victories, friends as enemies, bribing workers' leaders, fabricating legends, staging false trials, in a word, doing what the Stalinists do. These means can serve only one end: lengthening the domination of a clique already condemned by history." Trotsky elaborated: "Permissible and obligatory are those and only those means, we answer, which unite the revolutionary proletariat, fill their hearts with irreconcilable hostility to oppression, teach them contempt for official morality and its democratic echoers, imbue them with consciousness of their own historic mission, raise their courage and spirit of self-sacrifice in the struggle" (Their Morals And Ours).

The 1930's were years of heavy political defeats of the world proletariat: in 1933 Hitler conquered and destroyed all organizations of the German working class; the Spanish revolution was isolated and betrayed in the name of Stalin's alliance with the European democracies and the status quo in Europe; the murder of millions of communists and all the more enlightened witnesses of the October Revolution had dealt a fatal blow to the public opinion of the Soviet and world proletariat. In the midst of the mass confusion, pessimism and apathy, the Trotskyist cadres were small and organizationally weak. But it was they alone who assumed the responsibility for revolutionary leadership. In the Transitional Program Trotsky wrote:

"The Fourth International has already arisen out of great events: the greatest defeats of the proletariat in history. The cause of these defeats is to be found in the degeneration and perfidy of the old leadership. The class struggle does not tolerate an interruption. The Third International, following the Second, is dead for purposes of revolution. Long live the Fourth International!"

In the summer of 1938 twenty one representative from eleven national sections of the Left Opposition had gathered near Paris and took the decision to found the Fourth International. Although poor in numbers and in political apparatus, the International was rich in program, principles, experience, traditions. It was around its banner that the proletarian vanguard was destined to gather. But for now, the tiny sections of the FI lived under tremendous pressure from all sides: in Germany, Italy and in other fascist states they were hunted by the forces of the Gestapo; in the USSR, Spain and in the regions occupied by Stalin they were persecuted by the butchers of the GPU; while in the "democratic" countries they were hunted by Stalin's spies, attacked by the local CPs, legally hampered by the police and government agencies and were in general under constant pressure of the hired press, the Church and the other bastions of the bourgeois public opinion.

The American section of the Fourth International

The North American groups of Trotsky's supporters began to organize seriously in 1928. As shown above, the principled program for opposition groups consisted of the documents criticizing the program of the Sixth Congress of the CI and the policies of Stalin-Bukharin.

Initially, the American section was formed primarily out of the opposition elements of the American CP. In the fall and winter of 1928-29 Cannon, Shachtman, Abern and some other leaders and dozens of rank and file members of the CP USA were expelled from the Party for their open defense of Trotsky. They established the Communist League of America and began to publish the theoretical and political documents of the Left Opposition. In the course of the next few years the CLA busied itself with the theoretical criticism of the false theories of the "Third Period", "social-fascism" and "socialism in a single country". Stalinists and social-reformists were mostly successful in isolating the proletarian masses from the influence of Trotskyists. Fighting against the current, these circles and groups of Trotskyists of necessity worked on propaganda, in small circles and with individuals. During this period, lasting until around 1933, the party could win to its banner only individual members, primarily intellectuals, some young workers and students, those who were concerned about the theoretical explanation for historical problems and defeats of the world workers' movement.

These were the years of necessary education of the future vanguard of the American proletariat, years of imposed isolation, years of swimming against the stream. But in and of itself such ideological work could not attract to the party wider worker masses. It was only in 1933-34 that the Communist League was able to make a significant turn towards the masses.

Firstly, the International League of Communists-Internationalists (as the international movement was then called) met the victory of Hitler fully armed with both theory and perspectives. Trotsky had earlier explained the nature of fascism and showed the measures necessary to fight it. The defeat of the German proletariat had shaken the world workers' movement; the guilt of the Third and of the Second Internationals was obvious; the warnings given by Trotsky and the Left Opposition were fresh in everyone's mind.

Secondly, the European proletariat, which became demoralized by the defeats of the British General Strike of 1926 and of the Second Chinese Revolution in 1927, had now begun to recover and to move forward against the stagnation and collapse which characterized the whole post-War period. The Spanish revolution broke out in 1931 and the European working class began to straighten itself up and to grow more active.

Thirdly, within the United States the masses began to move against the consequences of the Great Depression: there was the movement of the unemployed, the Patterson textile workers strike, some other strikes in which young Trotskyists were able to intervene. In 1934 a strike wave swept the US and members of the CLA led an important Teamsters strike in Minneapolis.

Within the party and throughout the world movement there opened up a struggle against the natural consequence of long isolation, against sectarianism. There were members in the party who were so proud of the purity of their ranks that they refused to make a turn towards the "impure" masses, to begin a recruitment of workers at the point of class struggle.

As mentioned above, the fascist victory in Germany had shaken up the workers' movement throughout the world, made the rank and file of the Stalinist parties somewhat more open to Trotskyist propaganda, led to a rise of a number of left-radical factions among the rank and file of the social-democratic parties, especially among the working class and student youth. A number of socialist and syndicalist mass movements split and exhibited significant leftward moving trends.

The tactic of the "French turn"

On Trotsky's advice, opposition groups in a number of countries changed their tactic and with varying degrees of success adopted an entryist tactic, named the "French turn". In 1934, in France, the Trotskyist group had entered the Socialist party as an organized fraction and attempted to influence the Socialist left wing. In the fall of 1934, the American CLA joined together with equal to itself in size American Labor Party and in this way expanded its influence among much wider audience of workers. The new organization received the name Workers Party. Due to the high theoretical and ideological caliber of the Trotskyist fraction, the new organization was solidly grounded on Marxism.

In 1936 the American Trotskyists were given another chance to open to wider working class audiences. The sizable reformist Socialist party headed by Norman Thomas united in its ranks some radical workers and youth but also numbers of pacifists, religious mystics, Sunday preachers, syndicalist and cooperative reformers and various other "progressives" and "radicals". Influenced by the victory of fascism in Germany and Austria, pushed by the sit down strikes in France and the widening trade union movement in the US, shocked by the beginning of the Spanish revolution and Civil War, this party exhibited a quickly growing left wing which soon took over the leadership of the party. It was vital to exploit the ferment inside the Socialist Party and the Cannon-Shachtman leadership of the Workers Party began to orient the party towards an organized entry of party members into the Socialist Party, so as to open up immediately the propaganda among the radicalizing workers and intellectuals.

In June 1936, the conference of the Workers Party decided to join the Socialist party. Some leaders of the group, specifically Muste and Abern, argued against entry, but the overwhelming majority of the party understood this step as an opening to a tremendous victory of Trotskyism. Cannon, the outstanding leader of American Trotskyism remembers in his book The History Of American Trotskyism:

"We went into the Socialist Party confidently because we knew that we had a disciplined group and a program that was bound in the end to prevail. When, a little later, the leaders of the Socialist Party began to repent of the whole business, wishing that they had never heard the name of Trotskyism, wishing to reconsider their decision to admit us, it was already too late. Our people were already inside the Socialist party and beginning the work of integrating themselves in the local organizations. We issued a declaration in the last number of the Militant, published in June 1936, announcing that we were joining the Socialist Party and suspending the Militant. We stated our position very clearly, so that nobody could misunderstand us; no one could have any ground to believe that we were joining as capitulators, as renegades from Communism. We said: "We enter the Socialist Party as we are, with our ideas." These world conquering ideas once again were on the march. And there was a fruitful year of work ahead of us in the Socialist Party" (The History of American Trotskyism, Pathfinder Press, 1972, pp. 232-3).

Trotskyists spent one year inside the Socialist Party. They utilized the wide forum of this sizable party in order to disprove the notorious Moscow Trials which had exterminated all of the comrades of Lenin. Cannon and Shachtman organized a Committee of Defense under the leadership of the famous philosopher John Dewey, and the Committee conducted a wide ranging investigation of the Stalinist accusations against Leon Trotsky. The Committee concluded that the accusations were groundless and amounted to a monstrous judicial forgery. The Trotskyists conducted a mass campaign of propaganda inside the Socialist Party and taught the revolutionary program of Marxism to the thousands of formerly platonic socialists; they recruited hundreds of new adherents to the Trotskyist movement. Cannon, Shachtman and their cothinkers succeeded to conquer for socialism the majority of revolution minded worker members of the Socialist Party and were able to bring over to the side of Trotskyism the majority of the members of the SP youth movement.

In the fall of 1937 the "democratic" wing of the Socialist Party expelled the supporters of Trotskyism. The expelled members and whole expelled branches quickly organized themselves into a new Trotskyist party in the United States -- the Socialist Workers Party. The Socialist Party quickly decayed and never again posed a pole of attraction for socialist minded American workers. American Trotskyism came out of its "French turn" stronger politically, ideologically and numerically.

The SWP expanded work among workers, organized strong party factions in the major industries: in transport, the merchant marine, steel making and machine building, the automobile industries, etc. The SWP became a leading section of the Fourth International and when the Second World War began it was able to assume the difficult task of the central organizer and defender of international Trotskyism.

The Second World War

The opening of the conflict did not astonish the party (SWP). Trotsky's political analysis had previously exposed the fragility of the European system of alliances and antagonisms; his theoretical analysis of Stalinism foresaw the possibility of Stalin's switching to Hitler's side.

But the social composition of the party harmed its work: the number of intellectuals within the SWP in places exceeded the number of workers; the long years of isolation, on the one hand, the political immaturity of the American proletariat, on the other, was reflected in weaknesses as far as the social composition of the party. In New York City there were relatively many intellectuals insufficiently surrounded by proletarian cadres. While the USSR was on the side of the democracies and of status quo, these intellectual elements within the party stood for the defense of the workers' state. But when in August 1939 Stalin fraternized with Hitler against the bourgeois democracies, the middle class environment and the strength of public opinion fell like a great weight over the more sensitive and less sturdy middle class radicals, who were not yet tempered in the party's cauldron.

The whole anthology In Defense Of Marxism tells the story of the internal party struggle during this initial period of the war. There is no need to retell this story.

After the split, the Socialist Workers Party continued its penetration of the American proletariat. It advocated the strategy of revolutionary defeatism during the Second World War, uncovered the imperialist aims of the American and Allied governments, yet it defended the USSR and China. In the summer of 1941 the American government accused the leaders of the Party and of the Minneapolis Teamsters local (it was since the famous 1934 strike under Trotskyist leadership) of the crime of state treason for their anti-war propaganda. The behavior of the accused Trotskyists in court was impeccable, in the spirit of Luxembourg and Liebknecht.

While the Stalinist Comintern misled and disarmed the working class by changing from day to day its strategic orientation depending on the diplomatic needs of the Kremlin, the policies of the SWP and of the Fourth International exemplified internationalism and uncovered before the whole proletariat the social-chauvinism of the "Communist" parties. These latter, having concluded a truce with their own bourgeoisie, played the role of overseer over the workers during the Second Imperialist War.

During the strike wave which swept Britain in the spring of 1944, Trotskyists actively participated and led in the growing radicalization of the proletariat. Churchill's government, aided actively by Stalinists, attacked the revolutionary leadership of the working class, arrested four leaders of the Revolutionary Communist Party (the British section of the Fourth International) and jailed three of them for the Marxist policy of revolutionary defeatism.

In Europe, sections of the Fourth International existed under extremely difficult conditions. With the exception of Britain, they were forced underground; they were hunted by the Gestapo, betrayed by the Stalinists, the nationalists and the bourgeois "democrats". In Belgium, Trotskyists succeeded in starting revolutionary defeatist agitation among the German soldiers and for a time published a clandestine paper Worker and Soldier.

The end of World War II

The results of World War II took the Fourth International by surprise. European capitalism finished the war in a much weakened condition. The police dictatorship inside the USSR was weakened as well: the Soviet people expected the victory over fascism to bring them delivery from the terror of the GPU and real social equality. Despite the expectations of Trotsky, the defeat of fascism in Europe did not usher in a socialist revolution in the capitalist countries, nor the political revolution within the USSR. Stalinism and imperialism leaned on each other in this mutually dangerous moment. Stalin ordered the western CPs to support the restoration of "democracy" in France, Italy, Greece and other countries; in return, Truman and Churchill turned half of Europe over to Stalin.

The working class was engaged in class struggles the world over, capitalism and colonialism lost all authority; but the Stalinist leadership deflected the fighting attitude of the proletariat into the channel of reformism. The "socialist" and laborite leaders in a number of countries (France, Italy, Great Britain) and the trade union leaders in the US convinced the working class to be satisfied with economic gains alone. The world capitalist system was put on the dollar rations of the Marshall Plan, placed under the control of the economic hegemony of the United States. It succeeded in recovering, patched up the war wounds and developed and broadened on the basis of the inflationary government budgets, multiplication of the various credit instruments and mutually reciprocating, wildly growing debts.

Stalinism expanded into eastern, southern and central Europe. On the orders from the Kremlin, with the passive support of the working class, overseen by the torturers of the NKVD and the Soviet Army, Stalinist regimes arose in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries of Eastern Europe. They conducted nationalization and set up regimes of bureaucratic economic planning. In China, the peasant armies of Mao Zedong took power due to the weakness of the local bourgeoisie and the impotence of imperialists.

Pabloism -- the disruption of the Fourth International

In such conditions of the stabilization of capitalism and the apparent successes of Stalinism, there developed within the Fourth International an opportunist wing which took this temporary stabilization for a permanent and normal phenomenon. Trotsky defined Stalinism as a temporary reaction against socialism, and a counterrevolutionary agency of imperialism in the working class. In 1949 and again in 1951, the leader of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International Michel Pablo began to insist that Stalinism is a legitimate phase along the road to socialism, that the Stalinist states will spread and widen, that these vile anti-worker police states will last for centuries. Pablo even advanced a grotesque pessimist theory about a nuclear war-revolution between the systems of Stalinism and imperialism, using this perspective to justify his move to support Stalinism. Pablo and Ernest Mandel insisted that Stalin's death in 1953 opened a process of the "self-reform" of Stalinism to the left.

The basic conception of Trotskyism was and continues to be -- the construction of a revolutionary party and its assumption of the leadership of the working class. As opposed to that, the conception of Pabloism stated that Stalinism and petty bourgeois nationalism can play a progressive role in the move from capitalism to socialism, that the role of Trotskyism under conditions of continuing isolation of the revolutionary elements lies in criticism, in pushing these "mass movements" to the left. During the early 1950's Pablo, Pierre Frank, Ernest Mandel and many other leaders gave in to the apparent omnipotence of Stalinism and led the 4th International into a series of self-liquidations.

They used their own authority and the authority of the Fourth International, giving directions to the sections of the FI to liquidate themselves into the various Stalinist parties. The differences between the tactic of the "French turn" of the 1930's and the Pabloite strategy of "integration in mass movements" consists in the following. Firstly, in the 1930's some of the social-democratic and centrist mass parties were of an amorphous, indeterminate character, often lacking a defined program, traditions and coloration. The Stalinists of the 50's and 60's had a definite counterrevolutionary tradition. Secondly, following Hitler's victory, inside the French, American and some other socialist parties there developed a strong left wing which had to be wrested from the clutches of the social-democrats and the Stalinists and directed towards revolutionary Marxism. In the post-War period, under conditions of worldwide stabilization of capitalism and the growth of opportunism, the reformist tendencies of the Stalinists and social-democrats could successfully suppress and isolate any leftist criticism.

The third, and most important distinction was that the "French turn" was a temporary tactic, subordinated to the strategy of conquering the advanced masses to the banner of Trotskyism. Pabloite world view, on the other hand, assigned a progressive role to Stalinism or petty bourgeois nationalism. Trotskyism was seen only as a movement of pressure and left criticism. According to Pablo and his cohort Ernest Mandel, the Fourth International was bound to dissolve in the mass Stalinist parties or movements of national liberation.

The International Committee of the Fourth International.

In 1953, the orthodox Trotskyists rebelled against this opportunist line. James Cannon published his Open Letter to the Trotskyist groups around the world and together with the majority of the French, British and some other sections of the Fourth International established the International Committee as a new organizing center of revolutionary Marxism.

The developments of the past 40 years justified this step. Stalinism time and time again betrayed the revolutionary attempts of the proletarian masses in the advanced capitalist countries: in Italy, the giant Communist party played the part of loyal opposition, and with its passivity contributed to today's dangerous situation, when the fascists once again sit in the government; the giant French CP saved the capitalist regime after the war and many times since, for example in May 1968. In the backward countries, the petty-bourgeois nationalists, helped by the Stalinists and the fake-Trotskyist Pabloites repeatedly led the masses away from the revolutionary path and brought them into the dead end of reforms, coexistence with imperialism and illusory programs of nationally isolated development.

The International Committee conducted this fight in defense of the theoretical perspective of Trotskyism in exceedingly difficult conditions. The post-War boom and the softening of the class struggle in the advanced capitalist countries, on the one hand, the successes of Stalinism and petty bourgeois nationalism, on the other, both combined into a tremendous conservative force, pressing down on the modest cadres of Trotskyism. This pressure reflected itself in the comparative isolation of the sections of the ICFI, subjectivism, splits, loss of cadres, and all the other ills of stagnation. Frequently, splits occurred for secondary reasons and were inadequately documented. In 1971, the French section, the Organisation Communiste Internationaliste broke with the ICFI without an adequate explanation of the differences. There were other individual and subjective splits. In the early 1980's the leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party, the British section of the ICFI, the largest and most authoritative section, surrendered the principles of permanent revolution and conducted an accomodationist policy with respect to the Arab petty bourgeois nationalists. The leader of the WRP Jerry Healy abandoned materialist dialectics. With the help of high blown and vacuous discussions of dialectics in general he started justifying the betrayal of the Trotskyist program and his own secret sellouts to the Arab bourgeois regimes.

But the turn in the whole international situation stopped any further disruption of the Fourth International. The victory of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam and of Khomeinism in Iran were the last political successes of Stalinism and petty bourgeois nationalism. During the 1980's the structural crisis of the whole world system of capitalism became the determining factor of the world situation.

The period of unchallenged world economic domination by the United States came to an end. The long period of the post-War boom rested on this hegemony and on the system of mutual indebtedness, budget deficits, the "magic" growth of speculative values on the world's stock markets, the never-ending credits, monetary instruments, and so on. But all these measures could only delay, but not prevent the eventual collapse of the economic system. In the early 1980's the United States from the world's creditor turned into the greatest debtor. In the political sphere this meant that from a stabilizing force the US now changed into a dangerously explosive factor.

Firstly, the capitalists in the advanced countries were forced to direct their attacks against their own working classes. Secondly, the world agencies of imperialism (the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Paris Club and others) began to cut the rations which they allotted to the local bourgeoisie of the backward countries. Thirdly, imperialists strengthened their pressure on the Stalinist regimes in order to bring this huge portion of the globe back under their direct exploitation. All class questions sharpened and took on a decidedly international character.

In 1985 the rotten abscess within the WRP burst and there began an open struggle between the fake and the real Trotskyists within the ICFI. For the first time since 1939-40 this struggle was conducted out in the open, with documents in hand, in full view of the advanced Trotskyist cadres of the whole world. A leading role in this struggle was played by David North, the leader of the American Workers League, who beginning in 1982 detected the falsity and the subjectivism within the philosophical and political method of Gerry Healy and the other leaders of the WRP.

The documents of theirs struggle are many; a part of them has already been published in the Russian language in ICFI journal Bulletin of the 4th International. ICFI is also preparing for publication a translation of The Heritage We Defend, the 500-page book of David North dealing with the history of the 4th International. The major programmatic theses of the ICFI adopted in August 1988 are as important today. Here are some extracts:

"In the founding document of the Fourth International, Trotsky advanced two interrelated propositions. He defined the epoch as that of imperialism's death agony. At the same time he insisted that the crisis of mankind was, in essence, the crisis of revolutionary leadership in the working class. The content of the first proposition was an objective historical assessment of the desperate and insoluble character of the contradictions of world capitalism. Contained in the second proposition was the warning that the resolution of this historical crisis on a socially-progressive basis depended, in the final analysis, upon the building of the Fourth International" (Fourth International, July-December 1988, p. 4).

In the chapter The Objective Basis for a New Revolutionary Crisis the ICFI stated:

"The visible crisis of the international workers' movement has been seized upon by propagandists of the bourgeoisie to proclaim a new golden age of capitalism. But despite the enormous growth of poverty, the bourgeoisie has been unable to extricate itself from the deepening world crisis of the entire capitalist order. The crisis which confronts the bourgeoisie on a world scale is of a historic and systemic, and not simply conjunctural, character.

"The fall in the rate of profit in the 1970s and the general economic stagnation provided the impulse for an explosive growth in the activity of transnational corporations. The result has been an unprecedented integration of the world market and internationalization of production. The absolute and active predominance of the world economy over all national economies, including that of the United States, is a basic fact of modern life. Advances in technology associated with the invention and perfection of the integrated circuit have produced revolutionary changes in communications which, in turn, have accelerated the process of global economic integration. But these economic and technological developments, far from opening up new historic vistas for capitalism, have raised the fundamental contradiction between world economy and the capitalist nation-state system, and between social production and private ownership, to an unprecedented level of intensity.

"The phenomena of massive transnational corporations and the globalization of production are inextricably linked with another factor which has profoundly revolutionary implications: the loss by the United States of its global economic hegemony, in both relative and absolute terms. The historic change in the world position of US imperialism, expressed in the transformation of the United States from the world's principal creditor into its largest debtor, is the underlying cause of the dramatic decline in workers' living standards and must lead to a period of revolutionary class confrontations in the US.

"A third factor, manifesting the irrevocable breakdown of the entire economic and geopolitical framework of the postwar reconstruction of world capitalism under the hegemony of the United States, is the rise of Japan as the most potent industrial power and the largest exporter of capital. It challenges American capitalism in every corner of the globe. The conflict between the United States and Japan is the most explosive, but by no means the only expression of steadily worsening inter imperialist antagonisms. The old "Atlantic Alliance" of the postwar era is breaking down completely as the European bourgeoisie strives to transform the Economic Community into a trade and financial bloc capable of challenging both Japanese and American capital. This is the significance of the plans to establish a single European market by 1992.

"A fourth factor of great revolutionary significance is the extraordinary rapid development of the economies of the Asian Pacific Rim, which has brought into existence large working classes that are being thrust into struggle against the native bourgeoisie, whose economic position is entirely dependent on unsustainable export markets. The movement of the working class in South Korea signifies the entrance of young but powerful detachments of the industrial proletariat throughout Asia into the arena of world revolution. Moreover, it is not in Asia alone that the export of capital by imperialism has given rise to these new battalions of the working class. The same process is well advanced in Africa and Latin America (especially Mexico).

"The fifth factor to which we draw attention is the impoverishment of the backward countries and the collapse of all the myriad "development" strategies of the impotent national bourgeoisie. The countries of Latin America, Africa and the Indian subcontinent, while by no means identical in terms of their industrial and general economic development, are all social powder kegs. There is no escape from the suffering and degradation produced by imperialism and the policies of its national bourgeois henchmen except through socialist revolution.

"Finally, a sixth factor, to which we have already made reference, is the revolutionary consequences which must flow from the turn by all ruling Stalinist bureaucracies in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China to the policies of the market economy. In China there is a revival of forms of poverty not seen in more than 35 years as a consequence of the Stalinist bureaucracy's encouragement of capitalist relations in the city and countryside. Inflation and unemployment are already making their impact felt. As the recent strikes in Poland have demonstrated, the workers in the Stalinist-ruled countries will not peacefully accept the reintroduction of capitalism." (Ibid., pp. 21-23).

The ICFI was the only tendency from among those pretending to Marxism or Trotskyism which correctly evaluated the turn of the Stalinist bureaucracies towards the program of the restoration of capitalism. ICFI's statement of March 1987 explained that Gorbachev's program of "Glasnost and Perestroika" consisted of two interdependent elements: 1) within the country, Gorbachev's actions attempted to develop and strengthen new bourgeois and petty bourgeois social layers to serve as a new social basis for the bureaucracy; and 2) internationally, Stalinist bureaucracy rejected an independent geopolitical strategy and charted a course towards the integration of the Soviet economy into the system of world capitalism. (cf. What Is Happening In the USSR?).

In 1989, one of the leaders of the ICFI David North published a book Perestroika versus Socialism which in detail explained the restorationist policy of Gorbachev. This book was also published in Russian in the new journal of the ICFI, Bulletin of the 4th International, #1, January 1990.

Degeneration of the Socialist Workers Party

But what had happened to the SWP? The Open Letter turned out to be the swan song of James P. Cannon. The privileged situation of the American proletariat slowly put out the revolutionary fire within the Socialist Workers Party. By the end of 1950's the SWP accommodated itself to the influence of American particularism, lost its belief in the revolutionary potential of the proletariat and began to adjust to the "progressive" movements of the petty bourgeoisie and the various movements of national liberation. With the passing from the scene of the older generation of American Trotskyists (the generation of Cannon, Vincent Dunne, Farrel Dobbs and others), the SWP even abandoned the formal adherence to the program of Trotskyism.

Influenced by the long boom and the conservatism of the American proletariat, the SWP transferred its hopes to the petty bourgeois revolutionists of the type of Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba. Forgetting the lessons of Marxist dialectics, learned in 1939--40, the leadership of the SWP eclectically separated the Cuban revolution, the liberation movements in the Congo, Algiers and so on from the whole world situation. Such movements grew and succeeded as a result of the temporary equilibrium between imperialism and Stalinism. But the stability of Stalinism and the successes of the petty bourgeois radicals had a transitory and contradictory character. The Pabloite conclusions that the victories of such national liberation movements remove the need for a real revolutionary leadership were fatally dangerous to world Marxism.

Such attitudes within the SWP naturally led to a break in its adherence to the International Committee, and in 1963 the SWP went over to the International Secretariat, renamed the United Secretariat. The reader should bear in mind that due to the reactionary Voorhis Act the SWP could not formally join an international socialist organization.

The United Secretariat, the Posadas group, the Spartacus League and Pabloism in general.

The United Secretariat today is a confederation of parties which grew out of the adaptation towards Stalinism and the petty bourgeois movements of national liberation. In 1969 they published in their journal Quatrieme Internationale a survey of their own history written by one of the principal leaders of U. Sec. Mr. Pierre Frank.

This gentleman summarizes the world situation in the following manner:

"1. A huge shift in the overall relationship of forces on an international scale, to the advantage of socialism.

"2. A tremendous impetus to the colonial revolution, which thenceforth would spread from one colonized continent to another; outbreak of the Korean war in 1950; continuation of the Vietnamese revolution, first against French imperialism, later against American imperialism; extension of the colonial revolution to Latin America and victory of the socialist revolution in Cuba in 1959; extension of the colonial revolution to the Middle East, to North Africa in the 1950s, then to Black Africa from 1960 on.

"3. Extension of the crisis of Stalinism" (The Fourth International, Ink Links, 1979, p. 73).

Mister Frank later on cites the report of Ernest Mandel at the 5th congress of the U. Sec. in October 1957 on the question of Stalinism and the "workers states" (Trotskyists commonly refer to the "degenerated" or the "deformed" workers' states). Mandel reported on the various maneuvers of the Stalinists, the different splits and zigzags in their line, and concluded: "henceforth there can be no danger, except in the highly improbable case of defeat in a world war, of a restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union" (ibid., p. 98). It should be noted here that this thought of Mandel's repeats quite literally the thesis of Stalin and Bukharin about the possibility of constructing socialism in the isolated USSR.

Thirty years later in 1988 Mr. Mandel wrote a whole book about Gorbachev, Beyond Perestroika; The Future Of Gorbachev's USSR. In this book Mandel describes the process of de-Stalinization, democratization, political pluralism, and calls for giving Gorbachev critical support. He ridicules "the ridiculous theory that the Soviet leader is trying to reintroduce capitalism into the Soviet Union" (Beyond Perestroika, Verso, 1989, p. 129).

Generally speaking, the United Secretariat represents the inner interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie; it fits itself into the public opinion of the European capitalist countries.

The Posadas group, named for its founder and leader Juan Posadas, differs through its coarser and more primitive form of opportunism. This tendency begins and finishes with the adaptation to the national liberation movement in the colonial and semicolonial states of Latin America, Africa and Asia. It split with the U. Sec. at the end of 1950s, early 1960s, proclaiming that the radical guerrillas of the Che Guevara type represent the new ideal of revolutionary. This group later liquidated itself into the various guerrilla movements of Latin America.

The Spartacist League may be described as a third type of opportunism. They are characterized by their "strrrrident" "rrrrrevolutionary" language, a facade of "Trotskyist" orthodoxy and catholicism which hide their complete veneration of the iron fist of Stalinism. They justify any crime of the bureaucracy against the working class and the exploited masses: the suppression of the mass Solidarity movement in Poland, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the police actions of the KGB against the dissident democrats or nationalists, etc. In August 1991 they criticized the Emergency Committee for its lack of resolution in conducting state terror. At the same time, their agitation and propaganda lacks any educational content and limits itself to loud phrases. These caricature-Trotskyists do not distinguish between Lenin's and Trotsky's revolutionary Red terror of the period of the October Revolution and Civil War and the counterrevolutionary terror of Stalin-Brezhnev-Gorbachev.

All these types as well as other varieties of Pabloism, not mentioned here for lack of time, are characterized by their adaptation to the existing fact. They surrendered to the pressure of imperialism, petty bourgeois nationalism or Stalinism.

Bureaucracy as a new class, or the theory of "state capitalism"

To complete our survey of the disputes about the nature of the Soviet state which were fought out within and around the Marxist movement, we must touch upon the various theories of the Soviet bureaucracy as a "new class".

Firstly, we must state the fact that Marxists had always realized the difficulty of building a classless society. Marx and Engels on purpose schematically differentiated between a lower stage -- socialism, and a higher stage -- communism. They appreciated that immediately following a socialist revolution, even in an advanced and cultured country where proletariat predominates, conditions which did not prevail in Russia, a radical government is threatened with the danger of degeneration of the revolutionists, the revival of the old abominations of the class society, and the restoration of capitalism.

During the Trade Union dispute in 1920-21 Lenin defined the young Soviet state thus: " we, in fact, have a workers' state, but firstly with the peculiarity that the predominant class in the country is not the workers but the peasantry; secondly, that this workers' state is suffering from a bureaucratic deformation". The discussions within the CP during the 1920s on the question of the Thermidor attempted to define those levels, where the bureaucratic deformation of the party and the state changes qualitatively into the creation of as new class of exploiters. The opposition grouping of the Democratic Centralists led by T. V. Sapronov and V. M. Smirnov had already in 1926 come to the conclusion that the Soviet state had degenerated from a workers' to a bureaucratic-capitalist state.

Trotsky had always tried to define the economic and social, i.e. class factors as clearly as possible; to move beyond the purely verbal and terminological discussion to the analysis of the material changes in the class nature of the USSR. Using the method of analysis he tried to identify the level of the backsliding of the Soviet state from the precepts of socialism towards the bourgeois degeneration; he differentiated between the political and ideological degeneration of the ruling layer and the party and state bureaucracy, on the one hand, and the qualitative cataclysm of the social counterrevolution.

As opposed to the scientific method of Trotsky, during the decades in the workers movement there formed numerous factions and tendencies which had rejected the method of material, historical and dialectical analysis and reached superficial conclusions about the formation in the Soviet Union (or in other Stalinist states) of a new ruling social class, or even a new class system.

We may note in the 1920s the growth of the ultra-leftist groupings of an anarcho-syndicalist strain: Democratic Centralists in Russia; Maslow and Ruth Fischer in Germany; Amadeo Bordiga in Italy. During the 1930s, due to the bureaucratization of the Russian CP and of the Comintern the ideological babel inside the socialist and communist movement continued to grow. In 1939 the Italian Oppositionist Communist Bruno Rizzi wrote a book, The Bureaucratization Of the World in which he attempted to synthesize the features of the Soviet, fascist and capitalist bureaucracies and to ascribe to them the character of an independent class.

Influenced by the successes of Stalinism at the end of World War II and the expansion of Stalinism into Eastern Europe and China, there grew two interdependent trends in revisionism. We have already discussed the first of them: Pabloism. The second trend at first glance radically differed from Pabloism. The so called "state capitalists" (supporters of the theory of state capitalism in the USSR, China, Yugoslavia and the other Stalinist bureaucratic states) proclaimed that in these countries there formed a qualitatively new class of exploiters, the bureaucracy, and a new class system -- state capitalism.

The "state capitalists" argued among themselves about the exact timing of a social counterrevolution in the USSR and the coming to power of the new class of "collective capitalists" -- bureaucrats. In the international field this position opened for them the road of cooperation with the western imperialists against the "Soviet imperialism", based on neutrality, the "third camp" theory, etc.

Among the "state capitalists" there are more right wing pro-imperialist trends typified by Milovan Djilas. There are also more leftist platonic "socialist internationalists" of the Tony Cliff type. Both the first and the second stand close to the social-democrats of various colorations.

Today, we are able to reach a final conclusion as to the barrenness and bankruptcy of this theory. If Stalin and the Soviet bureaucracy up to and including Gorbachev, while possessing a total and omnipresent machine of state terror still could not abolish the major social conquests of the Russian proletariat in the October revolution, then how can one explain the current processes of social counterrevolution, taking place on the territory of the former USSR and the other bureaucratic states? Here we clearly see in action the difference between Stalinism -- a parasitic growth on the body of the workers' state, and capitalism -- a social regime which acts according to the laws of the market and of private property.

Stalinists and agents of imperialism inside the Fourth International

Here we should mention the role of agents of Stalinism and imperialism within the ranks of the Fourth International. Persons, familiar with the story of Evno Azef and Roman Malinovsky will not be surprised to find out that Stalinist and imperialist agents penetrated into the center of the Trotskyist movement in Europe and the United States. Stalin's spies organized the murder of several leading fighters of the Fourth International, set up a medical murder of Trotsky's son Leon Sedov in Paris and the assassination of Leon Trotsky himself in Mexico.

The penetration of enemy agents of Stalinism and imperialism into the FI did not stop with the murder of Trotsky but continues to this day. One of the byproducts of Senator Joe McCarthy's witch hunt during the 1950s was the exposure of many Stalinist spies within the American socialist movement, especially inside the SWP. Unfortunately, at that time the Fourth International did not assign due significance to this important information and did not conduct an independent investigation into the activity of Stalinist agents within its ranks. The political attitudes among Pabloites and their accommodation to Stalinism did not motivate them towards vigilance. A new investigation into spying inside the Fourth International fell to the International Committee.

In 1975 the ICFI began its investigation and shortly discovered that Cannon's New York secretary at the end of 1930s, one Sylvia Franklin was a secret agent of the GPU. Discovery of other astounding evidence and archival documents showed that one of Trotsky's guards and secretaries in Mexico, Joseph Hansen was sent into the Trotskyist movement in 1934 at the order of the GPU. After the successful assassination of Trotsky Hansen switched his allegiance to the American State Department and the FBI. Hansen advanced inside the party and in the 1960s assumed a leading role. All these facts were published by the International Committee during the course of their investigation. Some of them appeared in Russian in the Bulletin of the 4th International, #3 in September 1990.

It was Hansen himself who brought into the SWP thirteen student agents from Carleton, a small college in Northfield, Minnesota. All of his proteges were later promoted into leadership positions within the party and its organizations. During the 1960s and 70s more than a thousand agents swamped the SWP and its youth movement, the Young Socialist Alliance. With the help of these agents the American government was able to observe and control the youth radicalization during the Vietnam War.

In the early 1980s the head of the SWP James Barnes (one of the former students from Carleton) proclaimed that "the old Trotskyism should be buried", that the SWP "should return to Leninism" (i.e. merge with Stalinism). During the 1970s and 80's almost all the older members of the party, all those with at least a platonic tie to Trotskyism, were expelled from the SWP. The SWP lost any definite political line and the propaganda of this group is today limited to hosannas addressed to this or another petty bourgeois radical organization in the backward countries: praise for Castro in Cuba, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, New Jewel in Grenada, Frelimo in Mozambique, Mandela in South Africa, etc. The SWP has split from the United Secretariat (the mainstream Pabloites) and today is mainly acting as a spy agency on behalf of imperialism (with the necessary radical journalist cover).

Although all these organizations (the Socialist Workers Party, the various sections of U. Sec., the Spartacists, the "state capitalists" an others) are formally independent and skirmish among themselves, they are united in the defense of Hansen and the other agents of imperialism within the ranks and in their attacks on the International Committee of the Fourth International.


We began to discuss the continuity of Marxism. Today, it is precisely the International Committee of the Fourth International and the members and supporters of the Fourth International organized under its leadership who carry through and preserve Marxist continuity.

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