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International Socialist Review, November-December 1968


Dick Roberts

The Need for a Leninist Party


From International Socialist Review, Vol.29 No.6, November-December 1968, pp.45-56.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Socialist Consciousness and the New Left
by Greg Calvert and Carol Neiman
Guardian, Aug. 24, Sept. 7, Sept. 14, 1968.

Reflections on the French Upheaval
by Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman
Monthly Review, September, 1968.

The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912-1925
by James Weinstein
Monthly Review Press, 1967.

There are two opposing schools of thought in this country on the question of a revolutionary party. One says, “You don’t need a party.” It rejects program, organization, leadership and, above all, centralism. Commenting on the demonstrations in Chicago during the Democratic Party National Convention, some participants wrote:

“The concept of centralized, personal leadership has begun to be transcended by the organic and spontaneous needs of the street ... In this next stage of struggle ... functional leaders will prove to be the only effective means of maintaining tactical and political coherence ... emphasis must clearly be placed on the street rather than the pamphlet.” [1]

But this school is shrinking. Further reflection and experience in struggles are exposing the futility of the anarchist conception. There were far fewer demonstrators in the poorly planned and leaderless fights with local, state and federal police on Chicago’s streets last August than there were a month later in the organized protest against police brutality and the war in Vietnam. Thought is turning to the need for a party; and the question is immediately posed, what kind of party?

Greg Calvert and Carol Neiman’s articles on Socialist Consciousness and the New Left are a serious effort to begin to cope with this question. The authors recognize the crucial importance of a socialist leadership in the struggle against capitalism. At the same time they point to the errors of socialist leaderships in the past as a key to understanding imperialism’s survival to the present day. The central “failure of the left in the last 100 years” was the pre-first-world-war adaptation of the mass Social Democratic parties to trade union and parliamentary work, the subsequent evolution of the Communist International in the same direction, and their common abandoning of revolutionary programs. Calvert and Neiman reject the prevalent academic viewpoint that this failure is “rooted in Marx himself.” For the most part, they correctly view it as rooted in revisions of Marxian concepts. Their starting point is particularly noteworthy, since the authors speak for the “New Left” which up to now has largely disdained to study the lessons of the past.

Nonetheless there remain big gaps in the Calvert-Neiman analysis; they prematurely reject the most important theoretical and organizational conclusions of the Marxist viewpoint they set out to appraise. The authors are admittedly skeptical about the revolutionary potential of the industrial working class, yet they are unable to define a social force that has the power to take its place. Since this is the subject of Ernest Mandel’s article elsewhere in this magazine, it is not necessary to repeat the arguments he presents.

At the same time Calvert and Neiman reject the idea of a Leninist party, and here there is much room for discussion. They partially misunderstand the Leninist conception itself, and do not at all consider the essential lessons in party building and organization gained in the half-century since the victory of the October revolution.

Monthly Review editors Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy turn their attention to the need for a vanguard party in an editorial, Reflections on the French Upheaval, in the September issue of their magazine. Their reasoning closely parallels Calvert and Neiman’s. Huberman and Sweezy single out for devastating rebuttal the apology of the French Communist Party for its failure to lead the French workers toward the seizing of state power in May-June. The argument “that no revolutionary situation existed ... reminds us of the story of the boy who shot his father and mother and then pleaded with the judge for mercy on the ground that he was an orphan.” The MR editors compare the reformist evolution of the Moscow-oriented Communist parties to the degeneration of the German Social Democratic Party before World War I.

“Lenin’s State and Revolution which used to be the hard core of communist theory has been replaced by the utterly un-Marxist and un-Leninist theory of peaceful coexistence, peaceful competition of systems, and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism.”

But they draw unwarranted pessimistic conclusions from this. Although they would like “a real Leninist party,” they almost rule it out: “No mass party which is organized to work within the framework of bourgeois institutions can also be revolutionary” (emphasis in original). At a panel discussion on Mandel’s paper, Workers under Neo-Capitalism, at the Socialist Scholars Conference in Rutgers University, Sept. 7, Paul Sweezy asked in so many words,

“How do you account for the fact that whenever there has been a revolutionary situation in advanced capitalist countries, the leadership of the working class turned out to be counterrevolutionary? Doesn’t this need explanation and isn’t there a certain lawfulness in this uniformity?”

Another Socialist Scholars Conference panelist, James Weinstein, offers an organizational ‘model’ for a socialist party in his recently published book on the American Socialist Party, 1912-25. Weinstein asks for a return to this “broadly based,” “all-inclusive” party: “seemingly diverse” but “much more viable than the highly centralized and disciplined communist parties of the 1920s and 1930s.” This, as we shall see, is not a new idea. Like many of his elders who drifted away from the radical movement in the forties, Weinstein sees as the cardinal sin of the American socialist movement its “international connections,” the most malignant form of which was the “interference” of the Communist International in the 1919 split of the Socialist Party and the subsequent formation of the American Communist Party.

Weinstein conveniently overlooks the fact that, before the influence and intervention of the Bolshevist Third International, the equally strong influence of the European Social Democratic Second International was instrumental in the formation of Debs’ party. One was inconceivable without the other. Perhaps Weinstein views the reformist practice of the Social Democrats more favorably than the revolutionary doctrine of the Leninists.

In any case his method is inadequate. A consideration of present perspectives for an American vanguard party must be based both on the history of American and world socialist organization. The weakness of Weinstein’s procedure is shown by his failure to explain why all those radical political organizations which did emerge on a purely national basis in America, as against the parties of the Second and Third internationals, never amounted to much. They either merged with the parties of the internationals or disappeared.

The need for a vanguard party of a specific type is the main lesson of over 100 years of working class struggle against capitalist oppression. Lenin’s theory of party organization did not spring fullblown from his head in 1902 when he undertook to form the Bolshevik faction in the Russian Social Democracy; it had its origins in the five-decade-long experiences and ideas of the movement founded by Marx and Engels; and it was not based on Russian conditions alone. Rosa Luxemburg, a Pole who was active in both the German and Russian movements, drew attention to the reformism of the French Socialist Party when Millerand entered the capitalist cabinet in 1899 – before Lenin and other Social Democrats opened their polemics against the reformism of the Second International in general. And the Marxist conception of a party has been modified and enriched since the collapse of the Second International, particularly in the fight to prevent the degeneration of the Third International and the subsequent struggle to reconstitute a revolutionary world movement to take the place of the Stalinized Comintern.

The necessity of a vanguard party is demonstrated over this 120-year-long experience by “the actuality of the workers’ struggle for the conquest of power and the necessity of creating a leadership capable of carrying it through to the end.” [2] Its specific character is dictated by this task. It must be an international party with a revolutionary program and democratic-centralist organization.

The French events once again remind us that the question Lenin set out to solve, how to build a party capable of leading the working class in an actual struggle to take power, is by no means outmoded. Lenin and other Bolsheviks believed that with proper leadership the French Communards could have toppled capitalist rule as early as 1871. In the 20th century, the insurgency of workers has posed the question of state power time and again, in all the major bastions of European capitalism – Germany, 1918,1921,1923,1930-33; Britain, 1926; France, 1936, 1944-47, 1968; Italy, 1944-45 - and in a number of other countries – Spain, 1936-37; Greece, 1944, 1946-47, to name a few. Such social and political crises do not occur every day or every year in the development of capitalism; they last relatively brief periods of time, sometimes only for a few days; but neither are they fantasies. They emerge from the real and irresolvable contradictions of the capitalist mode of production.

Calvert and Neiman correctly understand that the “objective conditions” for a socialist order exist but the “subjective conditions” are lacking. Recognition of this fact has been the cornerstone of the Marxist movement since its inception. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 was itself the programmatic declaration of the Communist League, the nucleus of an international revolutionary party of which Engels was general secretary. To build an anticapitalist working class party with a revolutionary program has always been the fundamental aim and everyday concern of revolutionary socialists. That three internationals in the course of a century have failed to carry through this task does not make the fourth attempt easier, of course; neither does it make it unnecessary.

Marxism has nothing in common with what is really a fatalist conviction that capitalist contradictions will “automatically” create revolutionary consciousness and leadership. On the contrary, it places the greatest emphasis upon the importance, and, at critical points, the decisive weight of organized intervention, and even the individual initiative of prominent leaders. According to Cannon, a contributing factor in the disintegration of the American Socialist Party, bemoaned by Weinstein, was Debs’ failure to intervene in internal controversies over crucial questions, which permitted the centrists and reformists to gain control of the party against him, while he concentrated on mass work.

Calvert and Neiman are in error when they assert that “Marx and Engels weren’t particularly preoccupied with the question of class consciousness – they seemed to assume it would develop with a larger and larger body of wage earners ... At no time did Marx and Engels foresee the problems of mass false consciousness which confronts us today.” In fact Marx was among the first to emphasize that without mass false consciousness bourgeois society could not function for a moment: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” (The German Ideology). The underlying economic source of this false consciousness in commodity fetishism plays a pivotal role in Marx’s analysis of capitalism.

Marx and Engels saw that one of the paramount functions of a revolutionary party was to impart a correct consciousness to the working class of its conditions of emancipation:

“To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretic expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism.” (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific)

While recognizing the importance of developing class consciousness, Calvert and Neiman do not grasp the significance of the heterogeneity of this consciousness and its varying expressions among different layers of the masses at any given juncture. This lends decisive importance to the intervention of the most conscious elements of the class, organized as its vanguard. Even in periods of the most intense activity, the working class has its rearguard, which lags far behind the needs of the moment. Thus there are wide fluctuations of mass consciousness. For example, within less than a month of occupying the factories under their red banners, a substantial number of French workers voted for de Gaulle! This was one result of the default of the Communist and Socialist parties and the absence of an alternative mass leadership.

In the critical post-first-world-war period following the defeats of revolutionary upsurges in Europe, Trotsky once again drew the attention of revolutionary militants to the lessons of the Paris Commune:

“The Commune shows us the heroism of the working masses, their capacity to unite in a single bloc, their talent to sacrifice themselves in the names of the future, but at the same time it shows us the incapacity of the masses to choose their path, their indecision in the leadership of the movement, their fatal penchant to come to a halt after the first successes, thus permitting the enemy to regain its breath, to reestablish its position ... The workers’ party – the real one – is not a machine for parliamentary maneuvers, it is the accumulated and organized experience of the proletariat. It is only with the aid of the party, which rests upon the whole history of its past, which foresees theoretically the paths of development, all its stages, and which extracts from it the necessary formulas of action, that the proletariat frees itself from the need of always recommencing its history: its hesitations, its lack of decisions, its mistakes.” (Lessons of the Paris Commune, 1921, reprinted in the New International, March 1935).

Clearly such a party does not arise “spontaneously.” It cannot be built overnight “on the streets.” There may not be time enough to form it in the heat of events and the time lost may enable the reaction to stage a comeback. Prior preparation of a party is the sole insurance against such a disaster. Cadres who know the lessons of the past history of socialist struggle must be carefully and consciously trained beforehand. It is naive and reckless to approach the problem of building a vanguard in this country or anywhere else by turning one’s head away from the role of the proletarian party in the worldwide struggle for socialism. Socialist ideas have flourished and been strong and victorious, as organic expressions of an international movement, since socialism is essentially internationalist. Whenever these ideas have become distorted or enclosed by national bureaucratic interests, as was the case with the Social Democracy and Stalinism, they have become mutilated and debased.

In seeking to explain the degeneration of the Second International and the Moscow-line parties of the Third International, Calvert and Neiman and the editors of Monthly Review avoid the essence of the issue. They repeat what is well-known to Marxists: that either “pure and simple” trade unionism or total adaptation to bourgeois parliamentarism, or both, inevitably lead to reformism, the abandoning of revolutionary goals for immediate demands and the “peaceful road from capitalism to socialism.” This mistakes the effect for the cause.

The American Socialist Party and Communist Party have today no pretensions whatsoever to being in the leadership of the trade unions or in congressional, let alone cabinet, positions of government. Yet they are 100 percent reformist. Despite their avowed aims of transforming society, their day-to-day work and their support of the candidates of capitalist parties is non-revolutionary.

Calvert and Neiman miss Marx’s point when they quote his declaration: “Instead of the reformist slogan ‘a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’, [workers] ought to emblazon on their banner the revolutionary watchword ‘abolition of the wages system’” (Wage Labor and Capital). He was not advising against engaging in trade union work; Marxists have always done so. Marx was emphasizing the decisive importance of class politics and a revolutionary party to implement them. Such a party, independent of the trade unions, could deal with everyday problems and tasks in strict connection with the ultimate aim of conquering power. The mass socialist movements in the first half of the century went wrong, not because of what kind of work they did, but how and why they did it. A prime example is provided by Weinstein’s cherished Socialist Party of Debs, Hillquit and Berger.

This was a mass party appealing to the working class. Its greatest spokesman, Debs, was an honest and principled revolutionary and thoroughly anticapitalist, but, as Cannon points out, he was limited in his overall conception of revolutionary tasks on a global scale. “The Socialist Party of Debs’ time has to be judged, not for its failure to lead a revolution, but for its failure to work with that end in view and to select its membership accordingly.” [3] The SP failed to accomplish its central prewar goal of preventing US entry into the imperialist war, and it disintegrated following the war because it lacked centralized organization around a revolutionary program. Its “diversity” amounted to a number of autonomous vote-getting machines in different states. Far from representing the working class base, middle class professionals, fearful of initiating or organizing mass action, were in the leadership. The ranks could not exercise control over them. Each contending faction had its own policies and newspapers, with the right wing exercising veto power over the whole party.

Such an organization was shaped by the expansion of capitalism around the turn of the century, the extension of bourgeois democracy, the slow rise in the mass standard of living. Debs’ faults were not simply personal failings, but those of the entire pre-Bolshevik generation of his time, both in America and Europe. Their movements were entirely unsuited to the imperialist epoch of capitalist decline, stormy class struggles, imperialist wars, proletarian uprisings and colonial revolutions, and this was demonstrated by their decline from the moment this period set in.

All the defects of the American Socialist Party came to the surface and were exposed after the victory of the Russian Revolution. These were the underlying reasons for the irrepressible and irremediable split in the socialist movement between the reformist-center coalition and the revolutionary left wing. Weinstein views this as an unmitigated disaster which has crippled American socialism ever since. Actually it constituted a rebirth, an ascension to a higher stage, of the ideological, political and organizational development of socialism in this country. It aligned the American movement with the triumphant leadership of the October revolution. It facilitated an assimilation of the ideas and methods which brought them to victory. It introduced superior methods of organization. It destroyed the whole conception of a common party of revolutionaries and opportunists as the instrument for revolutionary leadership!

Contrary to Weinstein’s view, the connection between the newborn communist parties and the Communist International brought many benefits which have remained permanent acquisitions of the American socialist movement, despite the subsequent distortions of the Communist Party under Stalinist leadership. One of the most important of these contributions was Lenin’s polemic against ultraleftism, “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder. The chief rival to the newborn Communist Party in this country besides the SP, the Industrial Workers of the World, suffered all the maladies of this disease. It had little use for any but the most rudimentary syndicalist concept of organization and no use for a comprehensive political theory. The Wobblies made a cult of rank-and-file spontaneity and improvisation; they rejected the concept of the party as leader of the class. Lenin’s pamphlet explained in theory, as the October revolution had proved in practice, the necessity of a revolutionary program and party to lead workers to the conquest of power.

Failure to recognize the central lessons of the October revolution doomed the Wobblies to extinction. Some of their members went over to the American Communist Party; the organization soon disintegrated.

Lenin’s Bolshevik Party was forged precisely as an organizational means of overcoming the shortcomings of the Social Democratic and syndicalist movements. He recognized that the kind of party required to get rid of capitalism must be a disciplined and centralized combat party of workers, democratically controlled by its members. To bureaucratic control, Lenin counterposed the necessity of democratic selection of program and leadership. To dissipated and powerless activism, he counterposed the necessity of centralized action on a common revolutionary program.

Ernest Mandel defined democratic centralism in a recent speech to the International Assembly of Revolutionary Student Movements sponsored by the Columbia University SDS:

“It means that all those who are convinced of the ideas of revolutionary Marxism, of revolutionary socialism, instead of acting in a dispersed, disorganized, discontinuous way, should act in an organized and coherent way with the fullest possible democracy and the necessary coherence and centralization which makes their action efficient.”

Democratic centralism is the only organizational form consonant with the revolutionary program of mobilizing the masses for the conquest and holding of state power. Conversely, a party lacking this revolutionary program inevitably develops its own narrow bureaucratic interests, opposed to those of the masses.

This is one main lesson of the evolution of the Moscow-line Communist parties following Stalin’s consolidation of power. Their policies did not initially flow from adaptation to bourgeois parliamentarism, as Huberman and Sweezy argue, but from adaptation to Moscow’s peaceful coexistence line, based upon the narrow national interests of the Soviet uppercrust: the “theory” that international strategy and tactics should be tailored to facilitate the construction of “socialism” in the Soviet Union. The adaptation of the pro-Moscow Communist Party leaderships to Kremlin domination, and their participation in popular front governments and coalition cabinets with the capitalist parties, was the logical consequence of subordinating the independent movements of the working class outside the Soviet Union to the shifting diplomatic requirements of Moscow.

In the name of “democratic centralism,” the Kremlin bureaucrats and party leaderships subservient to them silenced and expelled any tendencies that opposed their anti-Leninist and antirevolutionary line, beginning with the Trotskyist Left Opposition and its adherents around the world. That comes under the category of bureaucratic centralism. It is the opposite of democratic centralism. In order to ram their policies down the throat of the rank and file, the leadership had to be “liberated” from rank-and-file control; it had to substitute Stalinist monolithism for Leninist democratic centralism.

Huberman and Sweezy criticize Trotskyists because

“They imagine that if they could build a mass party like the CP, they would be able to steer it in a revolutionary rather than a reformist direction. The cause of past failures is seen as rooted in bad leadership rather than in an inappropriate conception of the party’s tasks and the means to achieve them.”

What is this supposed to mean? When Marxists condemn a “bad leadership,” they have in mind one that has “an inappropriate conception of the party’s tasks and the means to achieve them” – in other words, a leadership without a revolutionary program and without revolutionary methods.

The Monthly Review editors appear to share with Calvert and Neiman the misconception that a revolutionary party is needed only in revolutionary situations. This notion flows from an inadequate appreciation of the distinctions in the variegated consciousness of the mass, and the consequent underestimation of the value of revolutionary intervention at all stages of the development of mass consciousness. For example, Calvert and Neiman attack Trotskyists for believing that

“the task of the vanguard party is to prepare the correct propaganda, especially the correct slogans, which will suddenly capture the allegiance of the masses in the moment of capitalist crisis ... Just to make sure this distinction holds true, Trotskyists work to prevent the development of broad-based socialist consciousness in mass movements. The mechanism involves enforcing the ‘single-issue’ nature of mass movements and fighting to destroy or nip in the bud any leadership which develops outside their ranks.”

There is not yet a development of mass socialist consciousness in America. But there is a crucial struggle against US imperialism, the struggle to end the invasion of Vietnam. The necessity and worth of revolutionary participation in this struggle has been clearly demonstrated, precisely in the carrying out of the tactic Calvert and Neiman reject: the organization of mass demonstrations in opposition to the war.

The majority of the American people oppose the war. Opposition is making its appearance here and there in the ranks of the Army, which in its further development could bring the war to a halt. This overwhelming discontent with the war does not mean masses of Americans have “broad” or any kind of socialist consciousness. But it is objectively anti-imperialist because it threatens to frustrate what the imperialists consider to be their most urgent foreign-policy objective, the crushing of colonial revolutions. Many of their recent political moves testify to their awareness of this danger: Johnson’s resignation from the presidency; the opening of “peace” talks in Paris; McCarthy’s “keep the kids off the streets campaign,” etc.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially the parents, wives, sisters of soldiers, and, most crucially, more and more soldiers themselves, can be organized to demonstrate against the war. The larger these demonstrations, obviously, the more are soldiers encouraged that their feelings are supported by masses of Americans. Far, far fewer people – and this is one lesson of the demonstrations in Chicago last August – can be mobilized for actions melding together a number of diverse issues, ranging from opposition to the war, to supporting or opposing various Democratic candidates, than around the single issue of ending the war by “bringing the GIs home now.”

Are we supposed to abandon the fight to expand mass opposition to the war, the fight to encourage and aid GIs in their democratic right to express their own opposition to the war, in favor of vague, smaller and fragmented demonstrations around a number of often contradictory issues? That is a poor alternative. The fact that such an ineffective approach is advocated by sections of the radical movement is proof enough of the necessity of a revolutionary vanguard. This vanguard recognizes big problems for the ruling class when they arise (and there can be big problems without there yet being a final crisis of capitalist rule!), and it intervenes in a correct manner, as the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance are doing, to turn these difficulties against their capitalist creators.

There are two serious gaps in James Weinstein’s analysis, both of them pertinent to the question of building a vanguard today. In focusing exclusively on the parties of the Second and Third internationals in the period 1912-25, he neglects to deal with the rival political groupings which sprang up as a challenge to the parties representing world tendencies during their existence. He neither assays their significance nor explains why they proved incapable of gaining any foothold in competition with the international parties. And he disregards the organizational lessons of the 1930s, the decade of radicalism which preceded the resurgence of the 1960s.

Pertinent to Weinstein’s thesis is what happened to Norman Thomas’ SP, the successor to Debs’ party. After the departure of the old guard in 1935, the SP leadership, through Thomas, deliberately set out to create an “all-inclusive” party in opposition to the sectarian exclusive-ness and opportunism of the Stalinist party. The Trotskyist Workers Party accepted the invitation, along with numerous unaffiliated radicals and young militants. But the prolonged cohabitation of divergent tendencies within an “all-inclusive” organization proved impossible.

When the left wing threatened to become predominant, the SP leadership suddenly discovered the virtues of “democratic centralism” and attempted to gag the revolutionary tendencies. But to superimpose upon a centrist, reformist, “all-inclusive” party the principle of democratic centralism is to make a caricature of Lenin’s concept. When the revolutionary tendencies in the SP refused to submit to the leadership’s attempt to impose bureaucratic control,they were expelled. This left the SP weaker than it had ever been: The left wing of the SP joined with the expelled Trotskyists to form the Socialist Workers Party; and the others began a shift to the right which hasn’t stopped even after their “all-inclusive” party fell into oblivion.

This is what happened in past decades. There is no reason to believe it will be any different with a “new” attempt to form an “all-inclusive” party on the Debs or Thomas model. The SP today supports Hubert Humphrey’s campaign for the presidency, it favors “negotiations” in Vietnam, it is for subordinating the black liberation struggle to a coalition with union bureaucrats, it is rabidly anti-Communist and on that ground rejects participating in the mass antiwar movement, etc., etc. Is it conceivable that this “all-inclusive” reformist swamp could possibly provide a congenial habitat for revolutionary Marxists? The lessons of both history and experience speak against it.

Suppose we disregard these lessons of the past and forget about Lenin’s conception of the vanguard party and meet the “New Left” pragmatists on the grounds of practicality alone. What kind of parry do they think can overthrow capitalism and carry through the socialist revolution? The character of such a party is determined by the power of the adversary.

It is hard to see how one can possibly conceive of combating and destroying US imperialism, with the mightiest military force in world history, its international police agencies, its gigantic domestic federal, state and local government apparatus, courts and police forces, its subservient trade union bureaucracies and its control of the educational process from kindergarten to postgraduate education, except through a mass movement with combat discipline and a revolutionary program.

This is the Leninist conception. On the face of it, it seems obvious that any party which fails either to prevent bureaucratic control, or fails to forge a mighty, unified fighting arm, or especially one which fails to do both – and that is the history of the Second and Third internationals – can do the job.

Actually, there was a little more realism to Weinstein’s party model before US imperialism embarked on its 20th century course of world domination. But today the United States is totally involved in the economics, politics, military affairs and even the culture of every other country.

What are the major political events of the day? Where are the big battlefronts? They are not confined to this country by any means. There is the revolution in Vietnam, the revolution in Cuba and the fight to extend these revolutions throughout the oppressed colonial world, against US imperialism, and this very minute there is the fight of the Mexican students to expose the phony democratic mask of the Diaz regime on the eve of its cherished Olympic Games. There is the struggle to build workers’ democracy in the Soviet-bloc states,

centered now on protecting the gains of Czech democratization against the invasion of Moscow – which involves the very “Russian questions” Weinstein wants to forget. A revolutionary socialist party in America which is not internationalist in its program, its outlook and its associations is antiquated before it even gets started!

* * *

Trotsky summarized the whole essence of the working class struggle for socialism in the opening sentence of the Transitional Program, adopted by the founding congress of the Fourth International in 1938: “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.” [4] This was the true spirit of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

When the mass parties of the Second International capitulated on the eve of the first world war, each supporting the imperialist interests of its own nation, Lenin declared that the Social Democracy was dead as an instrument of revolutionary working class struggle. He immediately proclaimed the necessity of building a new, third, international, based on the socialist principles of Marx and Engels and incorporating the lessons of the October revolution.

“The fact is,” Lenin declared in April 1917, “that it is by no means easy to be an internationalist in deeds during a frightful imperialist war. Such people are few; but it is on such people alone that the future of socialism depends; they alone are the leaders of the masses, and not the corrupters of the masses.”

Founded in 1919, the Comintern provided leadership for those who wanted to work for world revolution; its Bolshevik leaders taught that without international leadership there could be no successful culmination of this struggle.

In the same spirit less than 15 years later, when the Stalinized German Communist Party capitulated to Hitler without a struggle, Trotsky pronounced the Third International dead and set out to build a Fourth International. He was not overawed by this task. The need for a revolutionary leadership of the working class and the necessity of building one was not new to Marxists in 1933; it was not new to them in 1914. It was the historical task posed by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

Today the Fourth International carries forward the lessons of Marxism as delineated and practiced by the greatest of revolutionary leaders, beginning with Marx himself. The task of building a combat party to lead the workers against capitalist rule is the decisive task that faces the youth of today. They would do well to study and absorb the lessons of 120 years of struggle to forge a revolutionary leadership capable of ushering in the new order of world socialism.

October 8, 1968



1. Respect for Lawlessness by Up Against the Wall, SDS New Left Notes, Sept. 16, 1968.

2. James P. Cannon in The Vanguard Party and the World Revolution, in the international symposium, Fifty Years of World Revolution, shortly to be published by Merit Publishers.

3. Eugene V. Debs and the Socialist Movement of His Time, in The First Ten Years of American Communism, available from Merit Publishers, 54.00, or as a separate pamphlet, 35 cents.

4. The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, available from Merit Publishers, 25 cents.

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