From The New International, Vol. XII No. 4, April 1945, pp. 105–107.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
In the previous issue of Revolution, Comrade Enrique Procuna presented a polemical article called The Fourth International and Working-Class Unity: Workers’ Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Observing the large numbers of militants who have abandoned the Third International since the first symptoms of its political degeneration became manifest, Comrade Procuna asks why the Fourth International has not been able to grow on a large scale. Comrade Procuna puts a period to his question with the observation that one cannot explain these facts as one explains the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, by the unfavorable conditions encountered by the European revolution since 1923. “What immediately leaps to view,” he says, “is the fact that after the experiences of the Russian and German Revolutions, and much later, the Spanish Revolution, nothing serious can be achieved without a correct analysis of these historic events.” He thereby implies that the absence of this correct analysis has been, and is, an obstacle to the vigorous development of the Fourth International. And by light-mindedly linking the Trotskyist movement with centrism, he attributes to the former the lack of a concrete and profound analysis of events so characteristic of the latter. With this mistaken method, he only succeeds in imitating centrism; that is, Procuna substitutes vague generalities for concrete analysis. I reproach him all the more strongly for this, since Procuna knows that if in the ranks of the Fourth International concep- [some text missing in printed version] exist centrist deviations coupled with organizational conceptions intractable to criticism, they are not generally characteristic of the Fourth International, but apply principally to our American section, which we have been the first to criticize with the utmost vigor.
Of course, the downward trend of the European revolutionary movement is not sufficient to explain the limited growth of international Trotskyism. And the decline of the revolutionary movement did not follow a straight line, but occurred in zig-zag fashion. The process was not fatalistically predetermined, but was subject to the intervention of human consciousness; in so far, it must be added, as this consciousness was susceptible to the pressure of the Trotskyist movement. Our ideas were not the only force acting on the historical process. We had to content against the negative power of the Social-Democracy and, above all, Stalinism. The latter, usurping the prestige of the Russian Revolution, which still dazzles the masses as the greatest exploit since the Paris Commune, was able to yield a great power of deception. This power of deception can be explained by the general law, “Being determines consciousness.” The masses, including the majority of militants with some training, refused to believe that the Russian Revolution had been betrayed, and that the Third International, officially linked to it, represented the counter-revolution, and not the Russian Revolution. To grasp this reality, the living experience was necessary. It was given, and given painfully, by the triumph of Nazism in Germany, and its domination over Europe; by the barbarous Stalinist despotism in Russia; by the wanton destruction of the imperialist war, and by the new slavery imposed on Europe and the world in general by the Washington-London-Moscow combination.
Taking the Spanish experience primarily into account, I believe
that before the war the Trotskyist movement had some possibility of
developing and of turning upward once more the descending line of the
world revolution. But these .possibilities were meager indeed,
compared to the crushing number that led in the opposite direction.
The reason why it could not take advantage of the opportunities which
did present themselves is to be found in the inadequacies and defects
common to any organization in the period of formation: extreme
numerical weakness, meager material resources, inability to approach
the masses, vacillation in critical situations, and many other
imponderable factors. No serious militant can reproach the Trotskyist
movement for not knowing how to build, in a few years and under the
most disadvantageous conditions recorded by history, mature
revolutionary organizations nothing short of perfect. Honestly posed,
the problem reduces itself to understanding whether the organization,
holding to a correct revolutionary line, is overcoming its defects as
it develops or whether its growth is being hampered by incorrect
political ideas. Obviously, the Fourth international falls into the
first category. Even Comrade Procuna is compelled to admit that at no
point in its career has the Fourth International been guilty of any
theoretical misconceptions. But this is precisely why Procuna must
reject what is surely the main – if not the only – reason for the
limited success of the Fourth International in the pre-war period:
the unfavorable conditions since 1923. Given the fact that these
conditions have changed, and given the considerable experience
already accumulated, we have the right to expect of the leading
sections of the Fourth International a rate of growth which formerly
required tremendous enterprise.
Like many other worthy militants, Comrade Procuna is guilty of a mechanical approach. Taking as his point of departure the admitted fact that economic conditions are ripe for the development of the socialist revolution, he is driven to the inevitable, though tacit, conclusion that a correct political program ought to be crowned with success. Conversely, failure to grow is but the direct reflection of a false political line. The social processes would proceed smoothly indeed if they were regulated by such a simple and automatic determinism. To refute this mechanical conception and to indicate the complex relation between revolutionary politics and success, it is enough to record the frequency with which the reformist and Stalinist parties have achieved great successes while pursuing false programs to a reactionary and criminal degree. The experience of the last ten years permits us to accept as axiomatic the idea that it is much easier to build big parties with an opportunistic political line than with a line that is revolutionary. The reason is obvious. Capitalist society presents no real resistance to the politics of the opportunist working-class parties. And so long as it lasts, these parties benefit from the inertia and lack of consciousness which existing conditions impose upon the masses. In critical moments such as those through which Europe is now passing, capitalism could not save itself without the aid of the opportunist working-class parties. So it is that within the framework of capitalist society these parties are granted the right to flourish on a grand scale. For the revolutionary party it is otherwise. It encounters the iron ring of capitalist resistance; it must educate itself ideologically in a hostile world; it must reach a degree of practical efficiency and a numerical size that will permit it to undertake independent action; above all, it must dissipate the inertia and apathy imposed by both the capitalists and the opportunist working-class organizations on the proletariat. The proletariat is not wailing for a correct and finished program to fall from the skies, which it will then proceed to adopt and carry out in action. If it had the intellectual sensitivity and knowledge necessary to discriminate between revolutionary and opportunist politics there would be no need for the revolutionary party that gives the proletariat leadership in fulfilling its historic task. And to tell the truth, the proletarian vanguard is itself often enough found wanting in this very quality. A revolutionary party develops itself, first of all, in the struggle against the prejudices and bourgeois ideas that weigh down upon the majority of the exploited masses. The relation between correct program and success is not automatic; it is subject and subordinate to various factors, three of which can frequently be decisive even with the most correct program: a vanguard large enough to be in contact with the most active and conscious layers of the proletariat, the capabilities of the party in question, and conditions among the masses which facilitate its break with the opportunist organizations. Two parties who have accepted the same program are not equally capable. As for the working class, conditions do not always permit it to understand that the men and organizations in whom it has confidence are betraying it. So, before the war, the masses and many relatively advanced militants interpreted the opportunism and betrayals of the Stalinists as tricks or maneuvers, directed, in the last analysis, against the bourgeoisie. So great was the hope that the Russian government would remain faithful to the great revolution. Now, however, things begin to change. They change because the arguments employed by the Stalinists no longer have the apparent validity they had before; because Stalin himself is assassinating the revolution in the countries he occupies; because the Stalinist parties in Western Europe are serving as more powerful props for a severely shaken capitalist system than the reformists; and, above all, because we are entering a period of ascending development for the revolution.
The only concrete criticism which Procuna makes of the Fourth International is of not having conducted a “thorough discussion on the important problem of the dictatorship of the proletariat and workers’ democracy,” for “fear of submitting to a severe analysis the Russian Revolution up until Lenin’s death and, consequently, the theories of Trotskyism, and the program of the Fourth International.” But even if we were to accept his assertions as correct, it would be absurd to find here the cause of the limited development of the Fourth International in the pre-war period. The truth is that our analysis of Soviet degeneration seemed at that time false or exaggerated to the most capable and advanced militants of other tendencies.
I cannot judge Comrade Procuna’s criticism of the Fourth International’s program since has had not made any. He has been content to make some superficial observations. However, he cannot deny that the only analysis of the Russian Revolution and counter-revolution in existence is that made by the Trotskyist movement. So much so, that from it emanates anything concrete that Procuna has been able to say on the subject. There exists, moreover, the theory of bureaucratic collectivism which departs from Marxism, destroying its conception of social evolution, and is more in the way of a declara[tion] than than an analysis. Whether or not my opponent leans toward this theory cannot be deduced from his article. At any rate, nothing more remains of his accusation than the supposed fear of critically evaluating the Russian Revolution up until the time of Lenin’s death. Procuna does not have the right to make this accusation until he demonstrates that some ideas pertinent to this subject have been rejected. My reply, and I find it sufficient, is that I consider the discussion necessary, not because I think the analysis of the Fourth International false, but because it can be amplified and more directly applied in the struggle of future revolutions against the danger of Thermidor.
The totality of objective causes and the majority of subjective causes to which Procuna attributes the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the defeat of the European Revolution in the preceding period are but a repetition of the analysis made by the Trotskyist movement. The ideas vaguely expressed in his article can be summarized in the following fashion: Starting in the summer of 1918, there begins in the Red Army and the factories a centralization of power which gradually withdraws control of the economy and army from the proletariat, virtually suppresses Soviet democracy and culminates in the total suppression of all opposition. This is the source of the Stalinist counter-revolution. While I cannot pause to refute every argument of Comrade Procuna, I must say to him that he commits an error in presuming that the Fourth International hypocritically seeks to maintain its prestige by repudiating its heritage, and for that reason singles out 1923 as the year One of degeneration.
In reality, the danger of Thermidor continually preoccupied the
Bolshevik Party from the moment it took power. Unfortunately, most of
what was said on this subject by Lenin, Trotsky and other leaders,
has not survived in writing, or is hermetically sealed in the
archives of the Kremlin. 1923 is simply a year of culmination, a year
in which Lenin’s disappearance from active political life
precipitates the rapid progress of Thermidor. The previous existence
of its germs in the organism of the state, the Soviets, and the Party
is attested to by the following extract from Lenin’s speech before
the Congress of the Council of Economy in 1918: “There exists a
tendency of the petty-bourgeoisie to transform the members of the
Soviets into parliamentarians, or rather, into bureaucrats. It is
necessary to struggle against this by engagingall the members of the
Soviets in an active participation in the administration. In some
parts of the country, the Soviets are being transformed into organs
which differ in no way from the Commissariats.” The Thermidorean
symptoms did escape the eyes of the best revolutionists. Their
efforts to avoid it were defeated, according to Lenin, because there
are epochs, “in which the abundant ruins of the old ideas
accumulate more rapidly than the scattered sproutings of new creations ...”
Yet we must not attribute to the Thermidorean counteroffensive, founded on the economic and social ruins of the old society, and omnipotence which it does not possess. The experience of the Russian Thermidor ought to be carefully studied and employed against the future Thermidor, which will not fail to threaten. The question Comrade Procuna poses is the great question of the revolutionary movement: how to avoid Thermidor. One can truthfully say that the conquest of power will seem like child’s play;·it will be far more difficult to prevent the masses from being misled, once more, by a reactionary clique that springs from the ranks of the revolutionary cadre itself, and to uninterruptedly carry forward the work of dissolving the classes, political parties and the state.
It is impossible to deal adequately with this important question in a brief article. I intend to devote a special work to this question in the near future. But those who assert that the single ruling party is the goal of Bolshevism can put their minds at ease. The aim of the Fourth International is the democracy of the producers through their organs of power, with complete freedom for working-class parties loyal to the revolutionary regime. The best of parties, turned monolithic, tends necessarily to smother all opposition in its own ranks, and to liberate the tendencies toward degeneration. Nevertheless. the danger of Thermidor cannot be avoided by the simple expedient of giving liberty to all the parties within the revolutionary organs of power, because, among other reasons, two or more parties can degenerate just as well as one, and can unite their respective Thermidorean elements against the revolution. The concrete process of Thermidor embraces a multitude of factors, large and small, not easy to describe. One ought to remember that important as the economic basis is, which the victorious revolution inherits and develops, no less important is the cultural level and intelligence of the common man. Between the one and the other, there is no direct relation. The connection must be made by the revolution. It must be understood that Socialism cannot be attained on the present cultural basis. A great spirit of responsibility is necessary – without which the indispensable discipline is realized through coercion – and also necessary are ability, the power to make critical decisions, vast practical knowledge, and a general level of intelligence which will make difficult the use of deceit and fraud, weapons used against the masses for forty centuries, and which Thermidor turns to superlative use.
In conclusion, I believe that the problem of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the struggle against future Thermidors must be posed against the background of the social contradictions which determine the function of the state, and consequently, of the political parties and working-class organizations in general, including the unions. Only by overcoming these contradictions, so deeply rooted in society, will the social revolution achieve an uninterrupted development, make an end to the government of men, and give way to an administration of things.
Last updated on 13 March 2017