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International Socialist Review, Summer 1961


The World Struggle for Socialism

(Resolution Adopted by the Socialist Workers Party National Convention, June 1961)


From International Socialist Review, Vol.22 No.3, Summer 1961, pp.89-99.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The most pressing task facing humanity is to emerge from the anarchy of capitalism to the planned order of socialism, completing the process begun with the 1917 Russian Revolution. The overhead cost of delaying this task for four decades has included depressions, cultural stagnation, fascism and slaughters on a global scale. To these has now been added the hazard of a war of nuclear destruction which could wipe out all the higher forms of life.

The working masses in various parts of the world, under the impulse of intolerable pressures, have repeatedly initiated struggles pointing in the socialist direction. These have resulted in the conquest of state power in a number of countries and in the establishment of powerful working-class organizations in others. What has prevented a decisive victory over international capitalism has been inadequate and even false leadership. The need to construct a leadership commensurate to the world-historical task, the keynote of the founding document of the Fourth International in 1938, has gained in acuteness in the succeeding twenty-three years.

The central feature of such a leadership is understanding of the profundity of the issues at stake and the most resolute determination to bring them to a favorable outcome. An additional requisite, which at certain points can prove decisive, is accurate judgment in the field of tactics and strategy. This involves more than gifted insight. Tactics and strategy must be based on objective conditions; that is, changes in the ebb and flow of the class struggle which are summed up in the relative strengths of the socialist revolution and the capitalist counterrevolution.

Four Major Stages

Since the turn of the century, the struggle for socialism has passed through four major stages:

  1. 1900-1917. A preparatory period that witnessed the development and testing of the theory of permanent revolution, which opened to view the actual pattern of the world socialist revolution, and the role of the revolutionary party, which offers the proletariat the most effective political weapon. High peaks in the class struggle were the 1905 Revolution in Russia, 1910 Revolution in Mexico, and 1911 Revolution in China. These initiated the epoch of proletarian uprisings, agrarian revolt and nationalist anticolonial rebellions in which we now live. The appearance of workers councils in the 1905 Revolution demonstrated that the inherent tendency of socialist revolution is toward the deepening and expansion of democracy on a new class basis and new correlation of social forces.
  2. 1917-1923. The first big breakthrough. The triumph of the October 1917 Revolution and the consolidation of the Soviet Republic marked the beginning of the end for capitalism. Of the many great lessons, the most significant was the demonstration of the importance of revolutionary leadership. As against the victory of the Russian Revolution under Lenin and Trotsky, defeats occurred in the rest of Europe. The Social Democracy was thrust into power by the 1918 Revolution in Germany; but its leaders rejected the mandate to take the road to socialism and instead helped re-stabilize capitalism. They betrayed the interests of the world working class. The task of reconstructing a leadership capable of profiting from the experiences of 1900-1918 was begun by the Bolsheviks with the organization of the Third International in 1919. However, the breathing spell given by the Social-Democratic betrayal enabled world capitalism to recover sufficiently to isolate the Russian revolution and prevent its extension for a time.
  3. 1923-1943. The prolonged isolation of the Russian revolution led to its degeneration, the Stalinization of the Communist parties and the dissolution of the Third International in 1943. Uninterrupted major defeats of the workers movements promoted the spread of reaction, especially in its malignant fascist form in Europe. The defeats in Great Britain in 1926; China, 1927; Germany, 1933; Austria, 1934; Spain, 1937; France, 1938; culminated in the launching of the second world war and the attempt by German imperialism to crush the first workers state.
  4. 1943-1961. The new revival of the international revolution, a period still continuing. The Soviet victory at Stalingrad in 1943 marked the turning point which led to the defeat of German imperialism, an event of immense significance. Tha Yugoslav Revolution, leading to the rupture with Stalin in 1948, signaled the end for Stalinism. The downfall of Mussolini in 1943 and the reentry of the Italian proletariat on the political arena marked the revival of revolutionary forces in Western Europe. This promising beginning was set back by betrayals in Greece, Italy, France and Belgium which saved capitalist rule in Western Europe in the face of a mighty upsurge of the colonial revolution in India, Indochina and Indonesia. The postwar overturn of capitalist property relations throughout Eastern Europe, made possible by the Soviet advance to Berlin, broke the wall which imperialism had erected around the Russian revolution. The victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, coupled with the setback of American imperialism in Korea in 1952, definitively altered the world relation of forces in favor of socialism. This was followed by the sweep of colonial rebellion throughout the Middle East and Africa. A new point was reached in Latin America with the victory of the Cuban Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the first workers state in the Western Hemisphere. Workers and students demonstrations in Japan in 1960 and the Belgian general strike as the year closed indicated renewal of proletarian struggle in the imperialist countries.

Three Sectors of the World

Where do we stand today? What is the present relation of forces? What are the greatest deterrents to the further progress of the socialist revolution? What has to be done to overcome them?

From the standpoint of socio-economic and political development, the contemporary world is divided into three distinct spheres: the imperialist strongholds, embracing the highly industrialized countries from Japan to West Germany under the leadership of the main capitalist power, the United States; the workers states from East Germany to China where the leadership of the Soviet Union still holds, more or less, on all the main questions; and the colonial countries extending from Asia through Africa to Latin America.

In these main sectors, the levels of development and therewith the principal immediate tasks of the revolutionary forces vary considerably.

The peoples of the Soviet zone have passed beyond capitalism but remain dominated by privileged, uncontrolled bureaucracies formed in the Stalinist school. The central task facing these peoples is to develop their economies and culture, end bureaucratic rule and establish the equalitarian social relations and democratic rule and establish the equalitarian social relations and democratic political structure of a healthy workers state. Planned economy has proved its superiority over capitalist anarchy beyond all dispute so far as the bulk of mankind is concerned. The re-institution of the proletarian democratic forms fostered under Lenin and Trotsky would enable economic planning to reveal enormously greater powers in each country and would facilitate harmonious co-ordination of the economies of all the workers states. By ending the dictatorial rule of the bureaucratic caste and giving the world a new example of proletarian democracy in action, the workers would add immeasurably to the defensive strength of their states and encourage the rest of the world to hasten in transcending capitalism.

In colonial countries still stagnating in precapitalist, meagerly developed, or lopsided capitalist conditions, the principal task is to throw off the political and economic chains of the foreign imperialists and indigenous oligarchies and set up workers and peasants governments. These can carry through the long overdue tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution (agrarian reform, national unification and sovereignty, democratization of the armed forces, elimination of illiteracy, more advantageous relations with the world market, etc.) while moving forward, as far and as fast as circumstances permit, to end capitalist relations, change the state structure and grapple with the problems of the transition to socialism (industrialization, economic planning, etc.) as in China and Cuba.

The workers in the imperialist countries have to end the rule of monopoly capitalism, take over the means of production, create democratic workers regimes which will eliminate the threat of nuclear destruction, plan the national economies in collaboration with other countries, and move toward a socialist federation that will enable all mankind in short order to unite its productive forces in a planned economic community of nations.

Interacting Processes

The strategic necessity of the world revolution at its present juncture is to combine into one mighty movement these three titanic historical processes: the anticapitalist struggles of the workers in the highly industrialized imperialist centers, the anti-imperialist movements of the colonial peoples, and the antibureau-cratic movements of workers, peasants and intellectuals in the Soviet countries.

These three processes unfold at extremely irregular rates. While one leaps ahead, the others hold back or fail to mesh into the momentum of the pacemaker. A most graphic example of this uneven development is the fact that the Cuban workers and peasants moved ahead to establish a workers state ninety miles from Florida while the American workers have not yet broken from the Democratic machine to organize their own mass political party.

But at all times the three processes interact upon one another promoting or retarding each other’s further development. For example, the extension of the Soviet zone into Eastern Europe and the victory of the Chinese Revolution, which smashed the isolation of the Soviet Union on two borders, had among their effects a great increase in the self-confidence of the Soviet masses. Demands for immediate improvements in living conditions compelled the bureaucrats to make significant concessions. The post-Stalin “thaw” in turn stimulated the East German, Polish and Hungarian uprisings against the tyrannical practices of the Kremlin’s agents.

The contradictory conditions in the Soviet sector exert contradictory influences upon the masses in the other two sectors. Among the colonial peoples, the Soviet and Chinese successes appear as models which they too can achieve. Moscow and Peking thus serve as sources of support and powerful inspiration. In the West, on the other hand, the crimes of Stalinism and its totalitarian practices depress and discourage the workers, slowing them in settling accounts with their own capitalists for fear of falling into worse evils. The political apathy of the workers in the West, in turn, gives the imperialists a freer hand in waging cold war, thus dampening the struggle of the workers in the Soviet zone for proletarian democracy.

In both the West and the colonial areas, Stalinism, operating through the intervention and influence of the Communist parties, plays a direct role in holding back the progress of the international revolution. In the United States, for example, the Communist party has buried its members in the Democratic party where they serve as doorbell-ringers for figures of the Stevenson stripe. It has consistently abstained from political action that would injure the Democratic party and has opposed socialist candidates. In Cuba the powerful Communist party even went so far at one stage as to support Batista. It opposed the revolutionaries of the July 26 Movement in their struggle for power, and the Cuban Revolution succeeded only because the Cuban peasants and workers finally bypassed the Communist party. The role of Stalinism is glaringly clear in the contrast between Cuba and Italy. If a handful of students around Fidel Castro were able to lead a mass struggle to power through sheer energy, self-sacrifice and devotion to the principle of militant struggle, what couldn’t the Italian Communist party, with its millions of members, accomplish by displaying one-tenth the revolutionary determination of the Cubans?

The nationalist movements have similar contradictory effects. They have won big concessions from imperialism and helped inspire progressive struggles in the imperialist centers, as we see, for instance, among the Negro people in the United States. By their anti-imperialist tendencies, which threaten to unleash uncontrollable revolutionary forces, they have compelled support from Moscow and Peking. This has aided the struggle for freedom; but the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalists by their opposition to proletarian democratic tendencies have also strengthened the antidemocratic ruling castes in the Soviet Union and China. While these movements have been able to win national sovereignty in a number of countries, they have sown fresh illusions in the imperialist-dominated United Nations as an instrument of peace. The disaster to which such illusions can lead is shown in the tragic case of Patrice Lumumba. In general, the nationalist movements, in breaking out of imperialist political bondage, have sought to confine the struggle for freedom to narrow bourgeois channels, blocking the thoroughgoing measures required to lift the colonial areas out of their centuries-old stagnation at the maximum possible rate. Nevertheless, under mass revolutionary pressure, particularly in combination with imperialist attack, some of these movements can take extremely radical steps. This has been shown in Mexico, Bolivia, Egypt, Algeria and other places. In Cuba, American imperialism became involved in a process of blows and counterblows that ended not only with the nationalization of American capitalist holdings but Cuban as well.

The Main Determinants

The current world situation is determined by four major factors: the decline of the imperialist camp; the growing strength of the Soviet bloc; the irresistible spread of the colonial revolution; and, last but by no means least, the relative immobility of the labor movement in the centers of imperialism.

On net balance the struggle on a world scale since World War II has been proceeding in favor of the workers and their allies. They have been gaining ground and making headway at the expense of the imperialists. The relation of forces remains advantageous to their cause.

This is most dramatically demonstrated in the loss of prestige and power suffered since 1945 by the mightiest member of the imperialist coalition. After the defeat of the Axis powers, US imperialism emerged paramount in economic, military and diplomatic strength. To most people, it appeared then that the US would retain this pre-eminent place unchallenged for an indefinite period. Some Wall Street propagandists boasted of a Pax Americana that would endure like the Roman empire for a thousand years.

Fifteen years later, however, its pretensions to economic, political and moral supervision of the world are being questioned from Korea to Cuba.

This decline in the relative power of US imperialism has been accompanied, and in part produced, by the growing ascendancy of the Soviet bloc. This has been manifested in many domains. The economic superiority of the US is being overcome, more rapidly than expected, by the progress of planned economy in the workers states. The rate of economic growth in the Soviet Union not only remains higher than that of the US, but the internal contradictions of the capitalist system have prevented American economy from even running at full capacity (production is currently around only seventy-five per cent) while cyclical “recessions” and automation have steadily swelled the army of permanently unemployed workers. In the military field, the Soviet Union rapidly cancelled the American lead in production of nuclear weapons and is now years ahead in rocket and missile capacity. In education, the Soviet Union leads the world by far in production of engineers, doctors, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, etc. It is thus rapidly moving into position to take the world lead in basic research and discoveries in these fields. In the diplomatic arena, since the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union has displayed growing boldness and flexibility, scoring gains among the “neutral” countries through aid programs and through exposures of Washington’s aggressive policies. The diplomatic hegemony of the US is being contested even in Latin America, long regarded by Wall Street as a closed preserve.

However, the decisive contest against capitalism and for socialism will not take place between these rival blocs of state powers. The differences between the capitalist and workers states are of great importance and can easily appear paramount in the cold war. Nevertheless they are only components of a far greater and more explosive struggle – the economic, social and political contest on a world scale between the upholders of the old order and the billions of people who stand to gain through socialism. It is in this international class struggle that the fate of mankind will be finally determined – whether we are to plunge into the abyss of atomic war or open up the new civilization of world-wide socialism. In this arena the situation is highly complex and the outcome not yet certain.

The abolition of capitalism all the way from Eastern Europe to China and the growing strength of the planned economies have forced imperialism to retreat and repeatedly postpone a decisive showdown in war. Even more, the advances of the colonial revolution, which since the Chinese Revolution has spread steadily from East Asia into the Middle East on to Africa and has even leaped the Atlantic to Cuba, have further weakened the grip of the imperialist system, strengthened the anticapitalist camp and heightened the self-confidence of the oppressed masses in the industrially underdeveloped countries.

But these successes have not been matched in the imperialist centers. There the picture has been and remains quite different. Instead of moving in unison with their allies elsewhere in the world, the workers have been inert in the main. This immobility was generated by the betrayals of the Communist and Social-Democratic leaders at the end of the war and fostered by the prolonged boom and absence of an effective alternative leadership which has yet to be created.

In Great Britain, for example, the Labour party won power in 1945. But instead of establishing socialist institutions in the world’s first capitalist country, Attlee, Bevin and the rest, while granting considerable concessions to the workers, utilized office to shore up capitalism and give it a new lease on life. Instead of opening up a great new socialist advance for all of humanity, the Labour party officialdom made possible the conversion of Britain into a military beachhead for American imperialism in its projected war against the Soviet Union. This betrayal of their socialist aspirations had a depressing effect on the British workers from which they have not yet recovered. In the United States the greatest strike wave in the history of the country occurred at the close of the war. The labor officials succeeded in containing the movement within narrow channels. This, in conjunction with their constant blocking of all rank-and-file initiative toward formation of a labor party and their servile role in the Democratic party machine, helped pave the way for McCarthyism. The witch-hunt atmosphere and erosion of democracy in the fifties, coupled with the prolonged prosperity, greatly blunted the class struggle in the United States, making it possible for imperialism to carry on with relative impunity a policy of the most dangerous “brinkmanship” in foreign affairs.

The confinement of revolutionary advances to the less developed parts of the world, together with the pronounced political lag in the West, has set its stamp upon our entire period. This negative feature, the most important element in the current reality, involves the citadels of imperialist power as well as the proletarian forces that must be mobilized to take them. The key to the world situation is here. Not until the workers in the industrially advanced countries dominate the political arena with all their mighty social weight will the struggle for socialism fee won.

The chief problem is how to loosen the deadlock, break the stalemate, by overcoming the passivity of the workers in this decisive sector of the international class struggle. Until this is done, there can be no decisive change, no qualitative transformation in the world-wide relation of forces, no great new period of historical advancement opened up, no scoring of an irreversible victory for socialism, no guarantee that atomic war will not convert our planet into a radioactive desert.

The Accumulation of Forces

Objective forces are accumulating for a major breakthrough in the class struggle in the West. Some run deep below the surface without drawing much public attention; others make spectacular headlines. As they gather, they can coalesce at a certain point and set off the chain reaction unleashing the pent-up energy of the industrial workers in the great industrial and metropolitan centers.

The most basic force is the economic decline of capitalism. The prosperity that has instilled passivity in the workers is not normal. Much of it has been based on repairing the damage of World War II, on shoring up reactionary regimes and battered or decrepit capitalist sectors, and on preparing for World War III. An economy that must depend on such means to assure jobs, including production of nuclear weapons, intercontinental missiles, poison gases and deadly bacteria, is basically unhealthy. The workers, deep down, sense this and are uneasy over it. Despite the long prosperity, the working class still feels economically insecure. Unemployment, both the acute kind due to cutbacks and the chronic kind due to automation, involves more and more workers. Inflation continually undermines wage gains so that it becomes an unending battle simply to maintain living standards. A comparable situation exists in regard to working conditions. To this add the hazards of sickness and old age, especially in a country like the United States which, for all its wealth, has notoriously inadequate social benefits. How such slowly accumulating economic pressures can lead to an explosive situation was graphically illustrated in the case of Belgium at the end of 1960 when a proposed capitalist program of increased austerity for the working class touched off a strike wave of such extent and intensity that it shook the government.

In the United States, where no labor party exists, the working class finds that its economic interests tend more and more toward decision, in important issues, on the political arena where it lacks its own representatives and defenders. This constantly raises the question of independent political action. The struggle of minority groups for economic and social equality likewise tends to take a political direction and to ally itself with the labor movement. Once the impulsion toward formation of a labor party takes hold, as it already has across the border in Canada, it can develop at extraordinary tempo and go very far. In Britain, where a powerful labor party exists, the absence of independent policies and the lack of militancy in fighting for the economic and social interests of the working class foster radicalization of the party, tending to push the left-wing tendencies to the fore. The same holds for the mass Communist and Social-Democratic parties of Western Europe.

The upheavals in the colonial world have a direct economic effect on the imperialist centers. The flow of super profits is slowed down, the lucrative foreign holdings are placed under national control and even nationalized. This not only weakens the monopolists but narrows their field of safe investment and increases the tendency of the old capitalist powers to choke on the surfeit of accumulated capital. New dislocations are thus added to the contradictions capitalism faces at home.

The unending succession of revolts also has a cumulative psychological effect on the working class in the imperialist centers. The incessant cry that it is all due to “communist conspiracies” loses plausibility. The suspicion grows that the imperialist propagandists are lying and that whatever the truth may be about “communism,” there must be good reason for people in the colonial areas to feel and act the way they obviously do.

In addition, the action of the masses in the colonial countries sets example after example of militancy. This begins to sink in. It is reinforced by exposure and ridicule of imperialism, by explosions of revulsion like the stoning of Nixon, and by direct appeals for sympathy and support that touch the deepest chords of human solidarity among the workers. The truth begins to cut its way into popular consciousness.

This altered relation between the colonies and the imperialist centers is one of the prominent features of the “new reality.” The sharpest reversal occurred in the case of Japan. The colonial area in which she was most deeply entrenched – North China – not only won its freedom, it became a component of a planned economy. An American who has felt the impact of tiny Cuba’s rebellion on the United States has a basis for visualizing how developments in huge China reverberate in neighboring Japan.

In Europe, imperialist France has been hammered by unending colonial rebellions since the end of World War II. The stubborn heroism of the tndochinese and Algerians has not been lost on the French workers. The climate in France, despite the seeming passivity, is definitely not propitious to fascism, as the April 1961 failure of the colonialist and army plotters indicates. The successive shifts to the right in French politics can be reversed with stunning speed as the long chain of colonial revolts finally crosses the Mediterranean and fires the French workers. In Belgium the loss of the Congo at once sharpened class relations when the capitalists, in their customary way, attempted to maintain their assets column at the expense of the workers. The disintegration of the British empire, now proceeding at swift pace in Africa, will have similar ultimate consequences in Britain despite all the sagacity at the disposal of the world’s most politically adroit ruling class.

As for the United States, Cuba is only the harbinger of what is in store as the peoples of Latin America, in defiance of Wall Street’s “Monroe Doctrine,” write their own doctrine of national sovereignty and economic emancipation. This revolutionary process in the vast area extending from Lower California to Patagonia will repeatedly shake the American workers if they have not already been aroused by other events from their lethargy.

The Soviet successes likewise penetrate into popular consciousness. At first it seemed utterly incomprehensible to Americans that the Soviet Union could, on its own, duplicate the feat of producing an atom bomb. It was widely accepted that the success must be due to “spies” who “stole the secret.” This fatuous belief weakened when Soviet technology speedily developed the hydrogen bomb. It was knocked out completely when the Soviet Union put the first sputnik into orbit, then proceeded to hit the moon, take photographs of its far side, launch a space ship to the sun, then Venus, and finally put the first man into orbit around the earth. The Soviet Union is even beginning to challenge American imperialism in certain areas of the world market. The oil monopolists, for instance, complain about the capacity of the Soviet Union to undersell them in many areas, including Western Europe. Such achievements help convince pragmatic Americans of the potentialities of planned economy. How else to explain how a country that did not topple feudalistic Czar-ism until 1917; that suffered the destruction of two world wars, a civil war and three catastrophic invasions; and was hampered by bureaucratic mismanagement and totalitarian practices, could nevertheless take a world lead on the frontiers of technology within four decades?

The impact upon the colonial peoples of comparable Soviet gains in the fields of mass education, public health and sports is a topic of continual concern in the capitalist press. More observant editors might feel still greater concern over the fact that the Soviet achievements have not gone unnoticed among the workers of Western Europe and even the United States. Planned economy is in the world to stay; its superiority over capitalism is sinking into the thinking of wide layers of workers in the imperialist sectors, whatever their reservations concerning the lack of democracy in the Soviet zone.

Finally, the threat of nuclear war permits no thinking person to rest. It is true that many, seeing no effective way to stop the drift in that direction, try to block from consciousness their fear of a contest in which each side demonstrates with what dispatch it can deliver its stockpile of hydrogen bombs to the other. But the fear is there nevertheless; and few days go by in which the media of mass communication fail to bring it to the surface by reports of one or another belligerent action. Figures of the stature of Einstein, Schweitzer, and Bertrand Russell, as well as leading nuclear physicists, insistently express their concern over the gravity of the danger.

This fear and uneasiness have led to increasingly bigger demonstrations against the danger. The demonstrations began under pacifist leadership which seeks to channel the protest into prayer and supplication to the powers that be to pay heed and reform themselves. The goal is Utopian but the desire of the demonstrators for peace is not. Like other social protest movements that have begun in seemingly mild and innocuous ways, the demonstrations against nuclear war can become radicalized and take militant class forms. A significant sign is the tens of thousands of mothers marching in the parades. The appearance of women in numbers in the field of political action is a classic sign of the rise of revolutionary temper among the masses. Another significant sign is the youthfulness of the majority of participants and their dedication to the cause of peace.

Importance of the Youth

Revolutions are carried forward mainly on the shoulders of the youth. The generation of the postwar world appears destined to make the greatest revolutions in human history. Many got their baptism in great demonstrations like the one in Bogota in 1948 or those that swept Western Europe in 1945-47. Still younger contingents came into activity in Cuba in 1958 and 1959 or in the mass actions last year in Japan, South Korea and Turkey that gave a foretaste of what is to come. In the “sit-ins” today in the US, the new generation is reviving American radicalism.

Campuses the world around are alive with new currents. Here the intellectuals, sensitive barometers to the rise and fall of social pressures, meet students in search of the truth. Here, on the ideological front, the battles of the coming revolution are anticipated in argument and debate over issues that at times appear remote from the living class struggle. But the discussions over “humanism” and “alienation” lead directly into such problems as war and peace, the struggle for equality, the relation of democracy to socialism. Discussion leads naturally to action, a tendency reinforced by the rise in number of students from working-class families. Actions begun under student auspices can be taken up by far more powerful forces. It is noteworthy that both the Hungarian workers uprising and the Cuban Revolution began with ferment among the intellectals and dissent on the campus.

Another symptom of greatest importance is the appearance of young socialist – and communist-minded radicals. The most politically alive sectors of the Zengakuren movement, for instance, are ardently studying Marxist ideology, including Trotskyism. The development of the Zengakuren movement only bears witness in a spectacular way to what is occurring around the globe as the new generation grasps the import of the great issues of our time and turns in the direction of revolutionary-socialist politics.

It is true that dangerous counter-currents exist, especially in the United States where such reactionary and even fascist-minded organizations as Youth for Goldwater and the John Birch Society have made headway. These are symptoms of incipient class polarizations. In fighting reactionary tendencies, the youth wins its political training and prepares for the class battles to follow.

Still to be heard from is the decisive sector of the youth – the new generation of industrial workers. They will begin coming into action, as they have in the past, when the class struggle flares in picket lines and in demonstrations of the unemployed. Young workers, combining the energy of youth with the mature out-look of wage earners, and directly linked to the industrial process and the older generation of workers, are in strategic position to assume leadership as the revolution develops. Their role in sparking the Belgian general strike shows what bright promise exists among their ranks.

The Search for Leadership

Any number of negative signs – such as the danger of nuclear war, unemployment in wealthy United States, racial discrimination, endemic hunger in Asia, Africa and Latin America – testify to the depth of the crisis of leadership that has faced humanity since the eclipse of revolutionary socialism in 1924. At the beginning of the end of this crisis, the phase we are living in right now, objects stand in a strange half light. Leaderships are thrust forward that in the logical sequence of history have been superseded; they are compelled to meet tasks that belong to a different class; but they handle these in a way that presents the world with all kinds of deformations, partial steps, and unexpected combinations. In 1938, for instance, the Mexican bourgeois government expropriated the oil industry and placed it under workers management. Peron in Argentina and Nehru in India both introduced Five Year Plans. Nasser took over the Suez Canal. The most spectacular case to date is the Cuban Revolution in which a petty-bourgeois leadership, beginning with a bourgeois-democratic program, followed the dialectical logic of the revolution instead of the formal logic of their own program, and ended up establishing the first workers state in the Western Hemisphere and proclaiming it an example for all of Latin America.

What is the meaning of all this for revolutionary socialism? Some have proclaimed that it signifies a Marxist leadership is not needed, or that at best a Leninist-type party can only accomplish the inevitable with greater quickness and efficiency. Even if this were true, it would not prove the lack of necessity for such a party. “Quickness” and “efficiency” may prove to be the essence of the matter in blocking the plunge into nuclear war. But the truth is that the facts speak with greatest eloquence of the necessity for an international party of the kind that Lenin and Trotsky set out to build in 1919, a party based upon national organizations rooted in the mass movements of their countries and determining their own leaderships and direction of development.

The masses, particularly in the colonial areas, feel the desperateness of their situation in the keenest way. They are completely unable to wait until a revolutionary-socialist party is constructed before they move into action. Since such parties do not exist, except as small nuclei, the masses, following a well-known law of politics, push into power whatever leadership of national scope happens to stand to the left of the ruling party. In default of socialist leadership – a default due to the decades of betrayal by the Social Democratic and Communist parties – nationalistic bourgeois and petty-bourgeois formations of all hues occupy left positions and are much stronger than they would be if they were flanked by revolutionary-minded proletarian parties. That a Mossadegh can be thrust into government power and nationalize British oil holdings thus in no way signifies that the Iranian masses can count on bypassing the task of building a revolutionary-socialist party. On the contrary, it testifies to the ripeness of conditions for formation of such a party and the need for it to assure swift and sure success, Mossadegh’s downfall and the return of Iran’s oil industry to the British colonialists demonstrated how vulnerable the masses were without a combat party.

Not even the Cuban experience nullifies this conclusion. In fact it powerfully reinforces it. The Cuban leaders were compelled by life itself to recognize that their revolution is no historical exception and that Marxism applies in the Caribbean, too. With what forcefulness experience has spoken in the Cuban revolution!

In contrast to the defeat in Iran, which dampened party-building prospects for the time being, the victory in Cuba immediately brightened prospects. Cuba, which took the lead in opening the socialist revolution in Latin America, may well open a new phase soon in party building. The very necessities of the Cuban revolution point in this direction. Cuba has demonstrated what a fatal error it would be to cross off in advance a revolutionary-minded petty-bourgeois formation simply because it begins with a petty-bourgeois outlook. It is clear that such formations, in some of the colonial countries at least, constitute a source of recruitment for the international revolutionary-socialist movement.

Bourgeois nationalism, such as that represented by Nehru, Quadros and Cardenas, offers no new problems despite its current strength. The main line of approach, worked out by Lenin, is to recognize it as an allied force in the struggle against imperialism but one in which the proletariat places no political confidence because of its unreliable and wavering character. Correctly appraised, the growth of bourgeois nationalism in the world today – along with its radicalism in some areas – is an important sign of the decay of imperialism and of the immense opportunities opening up for revolutionary socialism in the colonial areas.

If the strength of radical nationalist leaderships in the colonial areas is due largely to the default of both the Social-Democratic and the Communist parties, the continued existence and even revival of the Social Democracy is due to the default of Communism that occurred in the years of Stalin’s dictatorial rule. From the historical point of view, the Social Democracy was finished when it betrayed the proletariat in World War I. It gained a new semblance of life only because militant workers turned in revulsion from Stalinism. But nowhere has it opened up any new perspective. It continues to do what it did in World War I – tie its followers hand and foot to bourgeois democracy, no matter how decayed. In Germany this has become so crass that the party has officially given up any pretense to Marxism.

Due to a big base of socialist-minded workers in some countries, however, the Social Democracy dis-plays contradictory tendencies. Against the rightist pole represented by Germany, Holland and Scandinavia stand center and left formations which are quite strong in Britain and Belgium. These sectors of the Social Democracy are in ferment today. The ranks, who stand in the militant vanguard of the working class, are moving toward the left. Their leaders, tied to the right wing to one degree or another, feel pulled and torn. The division reflects a sharpening of class relations that portends a new wave of struggles. The most dynamic sections of the left-wing Social-Democratic workers will find their present inclination to move in the direction of revolutionary socialism strongly reinforced by coming events.

In the United States, the Social Democracy is so reduced in size, influence and energy that it has been forced to retire from electoral activity. The completely ossified right wing runs things with an iron hand; however, differences over the Cuban Revolution and its defense have cropped up, primarily among the youth.

What happens to the movement in and around the Communist parties is incomparably more important in world politics than the final fate of the Social Democracy, despite the latter’s weight in countries like Great Britain. The Social Democracy, linked to the conservative trade-union bureaucracies of the Western powers, shares their basic outlook and deep-seated disinclination toward an independent course in opposition to capitalist rule. The Communist parties are linked to the conservative bureaucratic caste of the Soviet countries, which, in turn is bound to the planned economies. The difference, which at first sight appears minor, has proved to be a crucial one.

Despite the decades of efforts under Stalin and his heirs to reach an accommodation with the capitalist rulers comparable to that of the trade-union bureaucracy, “peaceful coexistence” has proved to be Utopian. One reason for this is that while the capitalists have found the labor lieutenants indispensable to their rule, they cannot accept the Soviet bureaucracy on the same basis. The Soviet bureaucracy is linked to a different social system which offers a permanent challenge to capitalism. So long as the Soviet Union was isolated, Roosevelt was, for example, able to coexist profitably with Stalinism. But they cannot endure an expanding Soviet economic system. The capitalist class as a whole, especially its leading American sector, views planned economy, especially its strengthening and extension, as a mortal peril. The capitalists make little distinction between planned economy and those in charge of it, whether they live off it in a parasitic way or defend it by revolutionary-socialist means. American imperialism is committed to destroying the Soviet system as a whole, including the bureaucracy, and opening up these fields to capitalist investment and exploitation. Historic experience has revealed that the Soviet bureaucratic caste tends to act differently from the trade-union bureaucracy of the West when the chips are down. The German trade-union bureaucracy, for instance, sank before the assault of fascism with scarcely a murmur. The Stalinist bureaucrats sacrified their German representatives in similar style but when the Nazi invasion occurred and their own heads were on the block, they recovered from their shock and fought back with desperation. The consequences were immense as the world is now well aware.

But the development of the planned economy is also decisive for the fate of the caste in a different way. The successes, which tend to first strengthen, ultimately undermine the bureaucracy. As in other fields, the increased health of the host is no favorable augury for the parasite. To understand the “new reality”; that is, the difference between now and Stalin’s time, it is essential to bear this in mind.

In four areas relations are now much more complex and difficult for the bureaucracy. First, the working class at home is far stronger numerically and culturally. Its self-confidence is higher as are its expectations and its impatience. With Stalin’s death, it looked for big concessions and has gained a considerable number. The same general strengthening of the working class is to be found throughout Eastern Europe as the uprisings in East Germany, Poland and Hungary testify. Secondly, the Soviet Union is no longer isolated internationally. The victory over German imperialism, the sweep into Eastern Europe, the victory of the Chinese Revolution, broke the capitalist ring of containment established in the early twenties – one of the main conditions for the growth and the power of the bureaucracy. The rapid recovery from the destruction of the war and the great gains which have made the Soviet Union second only to the United States in world power have placed completely new diplomatic weapons at its disposal. This has broken down another condition for bureaucratism – the international weakness of the Soviet Union. Thirdly, the extension of planned economy to other countries brought into being rival tendencies within the bureaucratic structure itself. Moscow can no longer simply lay down the law without thought of contradiction; it must consider the interests and the opinions of Peking, Belgrade, Warsaw, etc. Fourthly, the rise of the colonial revolution has brought a host of problems ranging from the opportunity of fostering “neutralism” to the difficulty of exorcising the specter of a socialist revolution which might touch off a great movement in the Soviet Union for a return to the proletarian democracy of Lenin and Trotsky.

Just as the Soviet bureaucracy, in yielding concessions at home, never loses sight of the essence of the matter – its own power and privileges; so abroad it retains its policy and objective of a deal with the imperialists through “peaceful coexistence” at the expense of revolutionary struggles. But in this “new reality” of enormous pressures, inviting openings and deadly dangers, the Soviet bureaucracy has had to revise and adapt and shift its line. Many parallels can, of course, be found in Stalin’s shifts and adaptations, but the differences are exceedingly important. The left turn in 1929, for instance, was forced by the crisis of the regime, brought on by kulak pressure, and was calculated primarily as a blow at the Trotskyist Left Opposition which had warned of the kulak danger. The left turn which Khrushchev began initiating in 1958, even as he stepped up his summitry blandishments, is calculated to avoid being outflanked from the left; but it is forced by pressures from Peking and by revolutionary pressures of the national independence struggles in Algeria, Africa and Latin America. The consequences of a left turn in these circumstances can have completely opposite consequences from those calculated by Stalin.

Even Moscow’s repeated efforts to straddle an issue like the Algerian conflict ran into resistance Stalin never experienced in the latter years of his rule. The Chinese Communist party, holding state power, objected and its objection carried sufficient weight to finally wring a concession in the substantial form of moral and material aid to the Algerians.

Likewise in wheeling and dealing with “summitry,” Moscow has lacked the free hand Stalin enjoyed. Peking has justifiably been reluctant to approve a summit conference from which its representatives are excluded, and it has vetoed at least one projected conference.

On questions of war and peace, the nature of imperialism and the role of the colonial bourgeoisie, the criticisms of the Chinese, regardless of their real motivation, have resounded throughout the ranks of the Communist parties and beyond, and have intensified the differences at work within the Kremlin’s orbit.

Thus what we have been witnessing in the past fifteen years is the expansion of planned economy, the temporary strengthening and then break-up of Stalinist monolithism. This took spectacular shape in 1956 at the Twentieth Congress with Khrushchev’s repudiation of the Stalin cult and his confirmation of many of the crimes of the tyrant.

The hypnotic trance that served for ideological cement was broken. The American Communist party, for instance, which had banned factions for so many years, became riddled with groupings. They proved incapable of effectively challenging the old leadership and went in various directions, some to the Socialist Workers party, the bulk into political passivity or, still worse, into the Democratic party where they had already been working for years in behalf of alleged antimonopoly candidates. A similar process occurred in Britain, with larger numbers finding their way to the Trotskyist movement. The Canadian Communist party suffered great reduction in size. In Hungary the downfall of the Stalin cult was a key factor in touching off the workers uprising in 1956. Significantly, a big section of the Hungarian Communist party swung to the side of the proletarian rebels and was prominent in the workers councils that were formed.

In countries where the Communist parties managed better to hold together, the shock nevertheless opened the minds of the rank and file to critical thought. They are now much more prepared to attempt to estimate situations and issues for themselves and to weigh the positions of other radical tendencies on their merits instead of simply brushing them off without a hearing. Many of them have become aware of great gaps in their knowledge and, in trying to make these up, are even doing a little bootleg reading in Trotskyist writings. The fact that Peking, Moscow and Belgrade feel forced in their ideological disputes to refer to “Trotskyism,” even if sometimes only by innuendo and most often by misrepresenting the real Trotskyist positions, helps the process along. The ranks of the Communist parties, as Trotsky long ago forecast, will provide some of the most important forces in the world-wide reconstruction of the revolutionary-socialist movement.

A completely new force must now be taken into account – the Cuban revolution and its leadership. Havana wields immense independent influence throughout Latin America. With the defeat of the invasion sponsored by the White House in April, the prestige of the Cubans rose high on the world scale.

Not least of the areas in which this holds true is the Soviet zone where the Cuban Revolution has appeared as a bright light in the nightmarish darkness of Western Hemisphere politics. With what gratitude the Soviet and Chinese and East European workers look to the valiant Cubans who began the socialist revolution in Latin America under the very nose of the imperialists who have been brandishing the atomic bomb since 1945!

The Cuban Revolution gave every Communist party in the world, and above all the Cuban Communist party, something to ponder. A handful of determined revolutionaries demonstrate that the masses can be mobilized and power won without Moscow’s approval. They demonstrated it without the help and even against the opposition of a strong Communist party. The bypassing of the Communist party opened up a new vista throughout the world on the possibilities of overcoming the obstacle of Stalinism in constructing revolutionary parties.

It showed other things, too. Among these was the swiftness with which revolutions in colonial countries can pass from the bourgeois-democratic to the proletarian stage under a leadership that is not hampered by Stalinism. Another was the demonstration that the appearance of this new leadership did not at all weaken the Soviet Union. Instead, it strengthened the defenses of planned economy. It was fresh and dramatic confirmation of the Trotskyist position that the best defense of the Soviet Union lies in extending the revolution and spreading planned economy into new areas. The aid granted by Khrushchev to the Cuban Revolution did more to strengthen the Soviet Union and the cause of world peace than all the years of angling for a live-and-let-live understanding with the “summits” of imperialism.

The Fourth International

The imperative necessity for building a proletarian combat party, discerned and put into practice by Lenin, has not lost any of its urgency since the founding of the Third International. All the great events since have served only to reinforce the correctness of Lenin’s views. Now mighty forces, gathering on a world scale, project creation of such parties in the very process of revolution.

All the elements are at hand – the basic program developed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, the example of successful revolutions as well as the lessons of catastrophic defeats, the existence of powerful workers states, the swiftening tempo of events, the radicalization of great masses, the upsurge of class struggles, the flaring of revolutionary contests throughout the world, major crises in the imperialist sector, the disintegration of Stalinism, the sharp dissatisfaction and the striving towards decisive changes in the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie in many countries, the appearance of revolutionary currents that turn inevitably toward Marxism.

The cadres centered around the Fourth International are witnessing the verification of the program and prognoses which they have so stubbornly defended during these difficult decades. They have every reason for the greatest optimism over the perspectives now opening up.

The Fourth International, “the world party of socialist revolution,” was founded in 1938 under the guidance of Leon Trotsky two years before he was assassinated by an agent of Stalin’s secret police. Trotsky had concluded that the Third International demonstrated in 1933 that it had died as a revolutionary organization when it joined with the Social Democracy in Germany in permitting Hitler to come to power without a struggle. The Socialist Workers party, which played a key role in founding the Fourth International, remained a member until the passage of reactionary legislation in the United States forced it to withdraw. However, the Socialist Workers party remains completely sympathetic with the emancipating socialist aims of the Fourth International and has remained keenly concerned in a fraternal way over its welfare.

The Fourth International seeks to provide the international working class with the fullest possible understanding of the great issues of our time and its own historic destiny in settling them. To this end the Fourth International puts the truth first, no matter how bitter or dark. From the day it was founded, it has done its utmost to see clearly and to speak honestly. It has done this at great cost in martyrs and in persecution from all sides. To be a consistent representative of the truth in our times is not easy.

The Fourth International has played an indispensable role in preserving vital Marxist teachings and in applying them to the reality of our times. It does not view these teachings as sacred texts but primarily as a living self-critical method that keeps an open mind to new facts that call for new appreciation of long-ago discovered laws of the class struggle.

The world Trotskyist movement does not consider itself a sect or faction with interests separate and apart from those of the working class as a whole. Its interest is in articulating the long-range experience and historic aims of the proletariat and in doing as much as lies within its power to provide revolutionary-socialist leadership in immediate struggles. It makes no pretense at holding a patent on Marxist thought. Its contributions are offered freely in the best spirit of international science and it approaches the contributions of others in the same way.

From its inception, the Fourth International has faced great difficulties. As Trotsky noted at the outbreak of World War II, “In the conditions of triumphant reaction, mass disillusionment and mass fatigue, in a political atmosphere poisoned by the malignant decomposition of the traditional organizations of the working class, in the midst of heaped-up difficulties and obstacles, the development of the Fourth International of necessity proceeded slowly. Isolated and at first sight much broader and more promising attempts at unifying the left wing have been undertaken more than once by centrists who disdained our efforts. All these pretentious attempts, however, crumbled to dust even before the masses had a chance to memorize their names. Only the Fourth International, with stubborness, persistence, and increasing success keeps on swimming against the stream.”

In addition to these difficulties, the Fourth International suffered the terrible blow of Stalin’s murder of Trotsky. Then came years of fearful persecution in which outstanding cadres were lost in the gas chambers and concentration camps of fascism. In the United States, the boasted champion of the “free” world, the Trotskyist leaders were the first victims of the Smith Act.

Despite all this, Trotskyism survived and won new footholds on all continents. The imperishable character of its ideas is illustrated by the fact that to the imperialist rulers Trotskyism, with its consistent program of revolution, represents the ultimate threat to their system; while Moscow, Peking and Belgrade find the subject of Trotskyism cropping up despite themselves under the impact of the great key issues of our time. Even more impressive is the fact that the Chinese and Cuban revolutions in their main course followed objective laws long ago worked out by Trotsky.

A fresh interest in Trotsky, in his views and contributions, is apparent in many countries today. New editions of some of his books have appeared in increasing numbers. The most advanced intellectuals recognize increasingly that it is impossible, whatever one’s attitude may be, to fully understand the reality of today without knowing the central tenets of Trotskyism.

It is obvious that conditions are maturing for the resurgence of revolutionary-socialist ideas and the popularization of Trotskyist principles on a wide scale. However, it must be frankly admitted that the Fourth International faces a serious internal crisis which has endured some years and which offers no easy or immediate solution. One of the key issues at the heart of the crisis is the relation in the International between centralism and democracy. In response to a question in 1937, Trotsky stated the problem that has come to trouble the Fourth International today as follows:

“If every section lives its own life, without consulting the others, without submitting to democratically established decisions, it is not necessary to create an international. On the other side, if the international creates a central body which commands the national sections, it is not necessary to have intelligent people. It is sufficient to have robots in the national sections. Between these two extremes is the real policy, between the two extremes.”

However adversely the internal organizational and political differences have affected the functioning of the Fourth International, it is nevertheless true that a substantial body of cadres has been assembled on all continents. In some areas they are few and isolated. In others they have strong roots in the class struggle, enjoy great respect in the radical and labor movements and have established party bases that can expand rapidly under favorable conditions.

As indicated above, the key problem for the socialist revolution as a whole is to unite the anticapitalist, anti-imperialist and antibureaucratic struggles into one great emancipating movement. The Trotskyist forces, besides participating directly in each of these struggles, play an indispensable role in drawing them together on the ideological plane. The main historic contribution of the Fourth International to date has been a program that consciously expresses and unites the long-range interests of the working people in all three sectors of the world.

The process of fusing the struggles in the three sectors will undoubtedly prove relatively protracted although great successes in one sphere can speed up action in the others, thereby drawing them closer together at a more rapid pace.

In the Soviet zone the high rate of growth of the productive forces, increasing the relative abundance at the disposal of society, will stiffen the demands of the workers. The perspective is a more or less steady maturing of the conditions that will finally make possible the displacement of bureaucratic rule and the restoration of proletarian democracy. The bureaucracy will not undergo self-liquidation; but on the other hand no quick or early explosions are likely to occur.

In the colonial world, events are proceeding at a much swifter pace as the revolutionary wave widens and deepens. Here a new set of difficulties comes to the fore among nations like India, Indonesia, Egypt and Ghana which have not progressed beyond the bourgeois-democratic stage. The task is to break through these limitations and take the path blazed by the Russian workers and peasants in 1917 and the Chinese and Cuban workers and peasants today. As the most dynamic sector at present, the greatest immediate revolutionary opportunities lie in the colonial area today.

In the industrially advanced sphere, deepening economic and political crises are jolting the working class out of its apathy and immobility. When radicalization will occur cannot be forecast with certainty. It is clear only that the ultimate effect of the long delay will be to give the struggles when they do break enormous depth, speed and decisiveness in altering the balance of world forces. Every foothold gained by the revolutionary-socialist movement now in the United States, in Canada, in Great Britain, in Japan, Western Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Holland will receive tremendous amplification in the days to come. In this sector the main tactic to be recommended to revolutionary socialists is continued dogged perseverance in defending and teaching the program of Trotskyism and building Leninist-type combat parties.

As Trotsky declared in 1940:

“The capitalist world has no way out, unless a prolonged death agony is so considered. It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades, of war, uprisings, brief interludes of truce, new wars and new uprisings. A young revolutionary party must base itself on this perspective. History will provide it with enough opportunities and possibilities to test itself, to accumulate experience and to mature. The swifter the ranks of the vanguard are fused the more the epoch of bloody convulsions will be shortened, the less destruction will our planet suffer. But the great historical problem will not be solved in any case until a revolutionary party stands at the head of the proletariat. The question of tempos and time intervals is of enormous importance; but it alters neither the general historical perspective nor the direction of our policy. The conclusion is a simple one: it is necessary to carry on the work of educating and organizing the proletarian vanguard with tenfold energy. Precisely in this lies the task of the Fourth International.”

This prognosis has been confirmed in the most powerful way. It has become a life-and-death question for the proletariat to construct its revolutionary party. At the same time the objective conditions for its appearance are much more auspicious than in 1940. From all indications, a great new period of revolutionary advances is opening. To the generation now entering the political arena has fallen the historic destiny of winning the final victory of socialism over capitalism.

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Last updated on 7 May 2009