The following programme was drafted by a commission of LCFI comrades from Argentina, Brazil and Britain. It has not yet been adopted by the LCFI, but we are planning an international meeting soon to discuss, amend, and adopt it. We intend this to be a fully comprehensive international revolutionary programme and around 18 months of concrentrated work has gone into it so far. It is a genuine international collaboration and we hope it will play an important role in rearming the revolutionary movement internationally for the struggles to come in this century, which will undoubtedly decide the fate of human civilisation and likely humanity itself.
Trotskyism Balance Sheet and LCFI Programme
Foundations for a Communist and Revolutionary Programme in the 21st Century
Part 1. Historical background
a) Liquidationism in the Trotskyist movement and its causes
Over several decades since the end of the Second World War, the Trotskyist movement has been wracked by political problems, and has existed for decades in a state of deep crisis. It was first fragmented into discrete, but still moderately sizeable chunks in the period from the late 1940s/early 1950s expansion of Stalinism to the collapse of Stalinism at the end of the 1980s decade. Since the collapse of Stalinism, the Trotskyist movement then shattered into numerous tiny shards, and gives the appearance of a movement in terminal decline.
In broad outline, the Trotskyist movement predicted that Stalinism, as both a product of the isolation of the Russian Revolution, and first both the primary symptom and then driver of its bureaucratic degeneration, would at some point collapse and lead to such defeats, even if it was impossible to be precise about the tempo of complex future events.
But being right about reactionary phenomena that bring about defeats for the working class does not mean that that the movement that analyses such reactionary events will automatically prevail. Revolutionary movements do not grow automatically out of defeats, and the reactionary backwash and political confusion emanating from such defeats does not provide fertile soil for the growth of such revolutionary trends.
On the contrary, the contradictory impact of the expansion of Stalinism after World War II, with a series of highly radicalised struggles against imperialism that were not led by the class-conscious proletariat, produced a considerable pressure on an often weakly-led Trotskyist movement to adapt politically to Stalinism, and to some elements of left social-democracy that broadly moved in the orbit of the Stalinised official ‘Communist’ movement. This period came to an end with the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam by the Stalinist-led Viet-Cong guerrillas and the North Vietnamese deformed workers’ state.
This completion of this peasant-based social revolution was short-lived, as within just over a decade the Vietnamese Communist Party embarked on the radical marketisation programme known as Doi Moi. The VCP abolished centralised economic management, permitted privately owned commodity production, and established a stock exchange for dealing with both state and non-state enterprises.
This was little noticed at the time as it was overshadowed by the rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and later the last president of the USSR. His ‘reforms’, known as glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction) were the gateway to counterrevolution. Albeit at a slower pace than in Vietnam, the political liberalisation and marketisation in the USSR led within a few short years to capitalist restoration there also.
This was prefigured in the early 1980s with the crisis in Poland, where the Stalinist regime, which had previously been through two cycles of Stalinist liberalisation, after 1956 and 1970, finally lost all authority in front of the working class that it had oppressed and misled since just after WW2. The workers’ disillusion with the Stalinist regime led, in that period of accelerating neo-liberal reaction around the world, to millions of workers expressing their hopes in capitalist ‘freedom’, so much that Solidarność, the mass trade union body they created in the 1980 mass strike, by 1985 adopted as the crowning demand of their programme, the establishment of a stock market to symbolise the ascendancy of capitalist democracy.
Yet while the reactionary neoliberal programme of Solidarność in demanding a stock market is well known today, what is not so well known is that the Stalinised Vietnamese Communist Party, symbol of the post war anti-imperialist struggle, had put forward a similar pro-capitalist programme only just over a decade after the fall of Saigon.
This duality is crucial to understanding the post-World War 2 world. The post war Soviet bloc, and its pro-Chinese schism, comprised the deformed and degenerated workers states. These were the product of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, and then the contradictory and short-lived extension of that degenerated revolution in the aftermath of the victory of the USSR over Hitler’s Germany in the inter-imperialist World War II.
This coincided with possibly the greatest economic boom in the history of capitalism, as US imperialism finally achieved hegemony over its smaller West European and Japanese imperialist rivals. The US victory in war, in a short-lived tactical military bloc with the USSR, over Germany, Italy and Japan, went hand-in-hand with the accelerating disintegration of the European colonial empires, at the hands of nationalist struggles for liberation, e.g., in India and Africa. The US took considerable advantage of this to weaken its rivals, while taking over their counterrevolutionary role against anything radical or liberatory from such struggles. The two blocs confronted each other immediately afterwards in the Korean war, this constituting the Cold War that also provided the political backdrop for the boom.
The victory over Nazism, together with the development of the productive forces in the 30 years after the war, enabled a revolutionary wave of expropriation of private property from the means of production that at the end of that period brought together about 1/3 of the planetary population. In Europe, this wave resulted in the end of the dictatorial regimes of Francoism and Salazarism, with the Carnations Revolution (1974), in Portugal and, in Spain, Franco’s death (1975) was the trigger for a wave of struggles of the workers. With the fall of Saigon, the territorial reduction of capitalism ended. After the fall of Saigon, we had a period of revolutions that did not advance in the expropriation of capital, Iran, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso and then the territorial reduction of capitalism was reversed. The imperialist counterattack begins with the unilateral rupture of the Bretton Woods agreements by the USA in 1971, followed by the coup in Chile in 1973, the alliance with Mao against the USSR.
Still in the 70s, we have counterrevolutions in the extreme south of the Americas, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina. The phase of the imperialist offensive in the Cold War ended the 1970s with the intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, used as the “Vietnam of the USSR” that exhausted the economy of the workers’ state. Imperialism managed to stifle the revolutionary processes of Central America – Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and the southern cone of Africa, Namibia, Angola, in the 1980s, with the help of China. This whole series of defeats and stifling of revolutionary processes prepares capitalist restoration in the workers’ states of Eastern Europe (exogenously, after the overthrow of the Communist Party governments by counter-revolutionary processes of hybrid war, driven by the CIA) and of China and Vietnam (endogenously, through the Communist Parties) in the 1980s.
The margin of manoeuvre that imperialism had in this period is explained at least in part by the absence of a revolutionary leadership at the international level. On the other hand, imperialism did give an international direction, for example with the trilateral, a non-partisan discussion group founded by David Rockefeller in July 1973 to promote closer cooperation between Japan, Western Europe and North America.
This movement of military and political offensive was also accompanied by the deindustrialization of the West and the adoption of a financial strategy after the rupture of the Bretton Woods agreements, which resulted in the transfer, mainly to China, of manufacturing from the West. Today we see that this strategy has turned against imperialism and now isolates it. China has become the planetary factory and the main commercial partner, buyer of raw materials and exporter of manufactures to most countries and all 5 continents, including Latin America, former US armoured zone.
The economic momentum of the US becoming the imperialist hegemon lasted from the late 1940s until the late 1960s- early 1970s. The US quagmire and defeat in Vietnam, the end of the Bretton Woods monetary system, and the neo-liberal Kissinger-Friedman-Pinochet coup in Chile signalled the end of the post war boom and the beginning of a new period of neo-liberal reaction, of offensives of the imperialists against the reformist-inclined workers in the imperialist countries
As did an apparent ascendancy of reformism in Europe and North America, with the brief domination of New Deal liberalism in the US, Labourism in Britain and heightened influence of social democracy and even at times grossly class collaborationist variants of Stalinism in some Western and Southern European countries. The latter only reluctantly and barely tolerated sometimes due to their links with the deformed workers states. But at that time, while continuing to plunder neo-colonial countries, the Western imperialists paid homage to welfare capitalism, as symbolised by Britain’s National Health Service, out of fear of a potentially communist working class.
The end of the post-WW2 boom, coinciding roughly with the end of the Vietnam War, also signalled the end of the illusory and short-lived expansion of Stalinism. Beginning in the late 1970s there arose counterrevolutionary, neoliberal pressures from both within and without the privileged bureaucracies of those deformed workers states. These were, and where they remain intact (as in Cuba and North Korea) still are roughly akin to workers organisations in capitalist countries, dominated by reactionary, privileged labour bureaucracies.
This is the background to the political crisis of the post-war Trotskyist movement. Basically being correct in a period of defeats, and partial and momentary “victories”, does not promote the conditions under which an authentically revolutionary trend can easily grow into mass influence. The opposite appeared to be true in the three decades after World War II. The apparent strength of a revived and expanded Stalinism and the creation of a dozen deformed workers’ states, which were modelled on the degenerate USSR under Stalin and his successors, produced the false conception, but in a way quite plausible in the eyes of many militants, that Stalinism, or some variant of official “communism” related to it, was the wave of the future, and Trotskyism was just a fragmentary movement, poor relatives, condemned to stagnation and irrelevance.
This did not explain why, if this were the case, the Stalinised Communist Parties continued their persecution of ‘Trotskyism’ wherever it raised its head, but this apparent Stalinist strength produced a political adaption to Stalinism itself within the Trotskyist movement, around leading figures like Michel Raptis (Pablo) and Ernest Mandel.
The new revisionism was originally known as Pabloism, though Pablo himself defected outright from the Trotskyist movement in the mid-1960s in solidarity with left nationalism after he served as a minister in a post-colonial ‘radical’ bourgeois government in the aftermath of the victorious struggle to force France to leave Algeria. The main thesis of Pabloism was that the ‘old Trotskyism’ was obsolete and should be ‘junked’, that a reformed Stalinism was the road to world socialism after all, and that there was likely to be a transition period of ‘several centuries’ of deformed workers states like the USSR and China before capitalism could be abolished on an international scale. There was therefore no point in building an independent Trotskyist movement. The task instead was to join the official Communist Parties, which were thereby declared to be ‘centrist’: vacillating between reformism and revolution, and in need of help from the former Trotskyist revisionists to overcome their weaknesses.
In fact what had happened is not that Stalinism had become centrist in this sense, but rather that the large fraction of the Trotskyist movement led by Pablo and later Mandel had become centrist, abandoning an independent revolutionary programme and outlook and becoming a left pressure group on Stalinism. It later became clear, particularly when events such as the Sino-Soviet split, and the Cuban Revolution took place at the beginning of the 1950s, that what was fundamental to the new centrist trend was not so much an affinity for Stalinism per se, as a more general liquidation of the independent programme of the Trotskyist movement.
This led to a perennial tendency to tail after, or liquidate into, other apparently left-wing or radical forces that appeared to have more hope of conquering power than the isolated, and often persecuted Trotskyists. The ‘Pabloite’ tendency, which in broad terms evolved through a series of splits and unifications into the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, still exists today as a very discredited and desiccated ‘mainstream’ of the Trotskyoid left – a concentrated essence of what is wrong. After overt cheering for Soviet bloc regimes became unpopular, they liquidated themselves into ‘third world’ nationalism, guerillaism, student vanguardism, tailing after spontaneous movements of the oppressed from feminism to gay autonomism, refraining from posing themselves as the unifying tribune of the oppressed. They tailed after militant syndicalism, left social-democratic movements such as Bennism, some forms of political Islam as in the Iran revolution of 1978-9, and then finally, as the neo-liberal offensive took hold and the Stalinist regimes began to go on the defensive and crumble, after the ‘democratic’ counterrevolution in the Soviet bloc.
So, they went from Pablo’s ‘centuries’ of deformed workers states to the United Secretariat’s 1985 document ‘The Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Socialist Democracy’ which asserted the following:
“If the revolutionary Marxists leave the slightest impression that under the dictatorship of the proletariat the political freedoms of the workers will be narrower than under bourgeois democracy – including the freedom to criticise the government, to have opposition parties and an opposition press – then the struggle to overcome the propagators of parliamentary illusions will be incommensurably more difficult, if not condemned to defeat. Any hesitation or equivocation in this field by the revolutionary vanguard will only help the reformist lackeys of the liberal bourgeoisie to divide the proletariat and divert an important sector of the class into the defence of bourgeois parliamentary state institutions, under the guise of assuring democratic rights.”https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1985/dictprole/part1.htm#s1
This was written in the context of the rise of Solidarność, the beginnings of Perestroika and Doi Moi i.e. the beginning of the ‘democratic’ counterrevolution in the deformed workers states, from within and without the bureaucracies.
Impressionistically, the Pablo-Mandelites switched from the belief in the virtually eternal domination of the Stalinists on the road to socialism itself, to a very similar belief in the strategic domination of liberalism over the politics of the bourgeoisie. This led them virtually as a matter of principle to demand full democratic rights to pro-capitalist parties, which would of course inevitably be bankrolled by the imperialists.
This put them at odds with core tenets of Trotskyism, such as that while we stand for a political revolution of the working class to establish a fully-developed proletarian dictatorship in the deformed workers states, we also insist that the overriding priority of such an overturn must be to preserve and extend state property. There were upheavals of the working class in these states in the early post-WW2 period, such as in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary 1956, where the workers spontaneously set up soviet-type bodies and evidenced a socialist consciousness, despite weaknesses.
But as neo-liberal reaction advanced in the late 1970s and 1980s, and the Stalinist regimes went into terminal crisis, spontaneous oppositional movements, even when large numbers of workers were involved as in Poland, tended increasingly to express crippling illusions in Western ‘democracy’, capitalism and neoliberalism. This culminated in the dramatic collapse of the Stalinist regimes back into capitalism in 1989-91. The USFI, and even many of its semi-left critics who shared much of its liquidationism, did not care, and blindly cheered on movements like Solidarność as leading to real socialism.
This led the USFI, and many on the ‘Trotskyist’ left who exist in its shadow as camp-followers, to support the ‘resistance’ of Boris Yelstin’s ‘democrats’ to the Stalinist coup of August 1991, whose defeat marked the final overthrow of the degenerated remnants of Soviet power that had first been established in October 1917.
This method, from the USFI, and camp-followers, continues to this day, and has been extended from the former Stalinist regimes, of which there are few left today, to post-Soviet social conflicts. To get support from the remnants of the USFI and its camp-followers, a movement only has to talk up a ‘democratic’ case against some recalcitrant bureaucratic or nationalist regime that stands in some way as an obstacle to the eternally ‘liberal’ imperialists.
Recent examples of this included the Maidan ‘revolution’ in Ukraine in 2013, when to remove an pro-Russian obstacle to the post-Cold War expansion of NATO and the EU, a ‘democratic’ revolution was organised by imperialist-backed and -funded forces including open Nazis, with the blessing of the mainstream of the USFI and many of its fellow travellers. This was preceded by the earlier support of post-Mandel (he died in 1995) USFI leaders for the overthrow of Libya’s Qadhafi by a ‘revolution’ led by a coalition of monarchists and reactionary jihadists, funded by imperialism and in the upshot, backed by invading British and French forces under Cameron and Sarkozy , with the backing of the United States under the arch liberal-imperialist Obama.
And the USFI’s stars, such as Achcar, have been strident in supporting the exactly similar but unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Syria’s Assad thwarted by the solidarity and military aid from other semi-colonial nations targeted by US, Western and Zionist imperialism, notably Russia and Iran.
b) The ‘anti-revisionists’
In opposition to the liquidationism of Pablo and Mandel in the early 1950s, there stood the forces of the US Socialist Workers Party, led by James P. Cannon; the French Trotskyist group centrally led by Marcel Bleibtreu and particularly later by Pierre Lambert, known for most of its existence as the Organisation Communiste Internationaliste, or sometimes the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (OCI/PCI); and the British organisation led by Gerry Healy, known through most of its existence as the Socialist Labour League or later the Workers Revolutionary Party (SLL/WRP). Another important strand of ‘anti-revisionist’ Trotskyism was the US Spartacist League, which emerged from the US SWP in the early 1960s when the SWP abandoned the anti-revisionist struggle and reunified with the Mandel-led official ‘Fourth International’ body to form the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI), referred to earlier.
We give critical support to these groupings against the Pablo-Mandelite liquidationists. However this has to be very critical support as these groups manifestly failed to create a coherent, internationalist Trotskyist oppositional tendency to the liquidationists and were themselves marked by serious flaws. In many cases these shared at least part of the political problems of the Pablo-Mandelites, and their organisations at times become a byword for cynical opportunist manoeuvring and even reformist practice on their own national terrain, not to mention grotesque bureaucratism that has disgraced the name of anti-revisionist Trotskyism and actually made the task of building a principled anti-revisionist international more difficult.
The Cannon-led SWP was correct to oppose Mandel and Pablo. But they had previously voted for virtually all Pablo’s documents, including the material positing that Stalinism could evolve in a ‘revolutionary’ direction and would last for ‘centuries’ at the Third World Congress of the FI in 1951. In response to criticism of these resolutions from the French Bleibtreau-Lambert group, Cannon wrote:
“We do not see [‘any kind of pro-Stalinist tendency’] in the International leadership of the Fourth International nor any sign nor symptom of it. We do not see any revisionism [in the documents]…we consider these documents to be completely Trotskyist…. It is the unanimous opinion of the leading people in the SWP that the authors of these documents have rendered a great service to the movement.”quoted from Spartacist article Genesis of Pabloism, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/icl-spartacists/1972/genesis.htm
After initially siding with Pablo against the French anti-revisionists, Cannon’s party majority only came to oppose Pabloism when the Pablo-led FI leadership promoted a minority, the Cochran-Clarke group, to demand that the SWP in effect liquidate into the US Communist Party.
This led the SWP to issue its famous 1953 Letter to Trotskyists Throughout the World and the establishment in 1954 of the International Committee of the Fourth International as a putative alternative international centre to the Pablo-Mandel-led International Secretariat. Yet for most of the 1950s the ICFI remained a semi-inactive body. It never met in a conference, nor did it have a leading body of its own. It was simply a bloc between the leaderships of the SWP, the OCI/PCI, and the Healy group, then buried deeply in the Labour Party and its left wing, and cryptically known as the ‘Club’. This group later became the SLL/WRP.
The Healy group at the time of the formation of the ICFI was engaged in its own opportunist deep entrism into the Labour Party. It had no Marxist publication, and instead published Socialist Outlook, a joint publication with left-reformist elements of the Bevanite Labour left, with left reformist politics. Yet after the revolutionary upheaval in Hungary in 1956, the Healy group waged a campaign to recruit an impressive layer of workers and intellectuals from the milieu of the Communist Party, which was plunged into deep crisis by the Hungarian events, preceded by Krushschev’s ‘Secret Speech’, when the new leading bureaucrat in the Kremlin very publicly distanced his new bureaucratic regime from the bloodiest crimes of Stalin.
The French group led by Bliebtreu and Lambert had its own political problems. Unable to make headway in the main militant French trade union body, the CGT, because of the dominance of the Stalinist French CP in that union, the group, which published La Verité, involved itself in the small, right-wing social democratic and pro-US/NATO-led Force Ouvrière union. Being determines consciousness, and this opportunist orientation had a long term, right-wing influence on the politics of the OCI, leaving with it a prolonged tendency to Stalinophobia and reformist politics in practice, which became clearer in subsequent decades.
Another major problem is that when differences arose about tactics toward the divided Algerian movement for independence from French colonialism, Lambert favoured an orientation toward the more right-wing, but older MNA, led by Messali Hadj, and expelled Bliebtreu in 1955 for favouring an orientation to the FLN which, as is well known, eventually prevailed over French imperialism. All this reinforces the impression of a rightist, bureaucratic organisation, which is what the OCI clearly evolved into by the 1970s.
When the US SWP defected from the International Committee back to an alliance with Mandel in the early 1960s, in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, the International Committee became essentially a bloc between the SLL in Britain and Lambert’s OCI in France. The issue that precipitated the reunification of the SWP with the Mandelites was Cuba, where the SWP’s leadership under Joseph Hansen judged Castro’s July 26th Movement (M-26) to be ‘unconscious Trotskyists’ who were leading a genuine socialist revolution.
In fact what had happened in Cuba is that a decaying semi-colonial regime of a US puppet, Batista, had been overthrown by a mass upheaval where military actions by the guerrillas of the M-26 had proved the ‘last straw’ and in face of the overwhelming hostility of the population, who had been brutalised by such forces, Basista’s state forces basically fled to the United States, leaving a vacuum of state power.
The sole organised armed power was thus the petty-bourgeois nationalist M-26 guerrilla army, led by Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara, who were left-wing inclined militants with in the case of Castro, a background in liberal politics – he had stood for the Cuban lower house in 1952 on the ticket of the liberal bourgeois Orthodoxo Party. Guevara, of fairly wealthy origins in Argentina, had undoubtedly more exposure to the left, having been in the Argentine Communist youth, and having toured Latin America on his famous motorcycle trip while both studying and practicing medicine, had been radicalised by the extreme poverty and suffering he found there.
In the absence of a genuinely world-revolutionary international party that could have perhaps won and educated them, these militants had engaged in populist guerillaism, which often appears a viable strategy in Latin America, and succeeded in overthrowing a squalid pro-US semi-colonial puppet. One in power they had to come to terms with the world power of imperialism and Stalinism, and since they did not simply intend to capitulate to the imperialists who had bankrolled the regime they had just overthrown, they were rapidly assimilated into the Soviet camp. They were forced, simply to defend the left-nationalist government that they had established, to expropriate the remaining Cuban bourgeoisie who blatantly acted in concert with US imperialism to try to destroy their government. This was complete by the end of 1960, and in April 1961 they successfully defended the expropriation of capital against an imperialist-sponsored counterrevolutionary invasion, at the Bay of Pigs.
These events, and their subsequent assimilation to the Soviet bloc, including fusing the M-26 with the pro-Moscow Stalinist Popular Socialist Party, which had actually condemned the M-26 prior to its victory as ‘ultraleft’, showed that Cuba had become a deformed workers state. The guerrilla struggle of the M-26 was waged by forces that were not consciously Stalinist from the start, but were otherwise materially very similar to the guerrilla armies led by Mao, Tito, Ho Chi Minh and others that had uprooted capitalism in other backward countries and established bureaucratic regimes ruling a nationalised economy, where the working class was excluded from exercising political power.
Such regimes were blurred carbon copies of the degenerated USSR, not new instances of the revolutionary struggle of the genuinely internationalist Bolshevik Party that led the proletariat to power in Russia in 1917, founding the Communist International as a World Party to lead the world revolution. Neither Mao nor Ho Chi Minh nor Castro tried to emulate Lenin and Trotsky and found such a world party. Far from it. It appears that there was a confused expression of such internationalist sentiments in Guevara’s attempts to create revolutions in Congo and then Bolivia, where he was murdered by imperialism. Marxists that base themselves fundamentally on the proletariat can use rural or even urban guerrilla warfare as a subordinate tactic for military struggle in a revolution, but the strategy of focoist guerrillaism chosen was tragically suicidal because not based on the proletariat or oppressed masses, and at odds with the strategy of genuine communism.
Clarifying all this is very important for understanding the precise nature of the political problems that plagued and fragmented the Trotskyist movement after the Second World War, of understanding what precisely it was that divided and crippled the movement. These issues were the highest expressions of the international class struggle in this period, and yet both the liquidationists, and most of their ‘anti-revisionist’ opponents got them fundamentally wrong. Except for a small minority, around the US Spartacist League, which got Cuba basically correct. But even they subsequently proved themselves to be fundamentally flawed over a number of other questions that are crucial today, which is why we need a new international Trotskyist tendency to rebuild the Fourth International on what are in fact its original programmatic foundations, properly understood.
For while the Pabloites and the SWP, led by Hansen, unified on the basis of their view that the Castroites were unconscious Marxists, the majority of the ‘anti-revisionists’, the Healy group in Britain and the Lambert group in France, also got Cuba fundamentally wrong. Unable to construct a theory that explained how the Cuban revolution could have overthrown capitalism unless, as the Pabloites said, the Castroites were some kind of unconscious Marxist force, both the British and French groups denied obvious reality, and asserted that Cuba was still capitalist. The Healy group claimed that the Cuban bourgeoisie was still in power under Castro, but that it was a ‘tired’ or ‘weak’ bourgeoisie. The French group likewise said that Cuba was ruled by a ‘phantom’ bourgeoisie.
But the minority Revolutionary Tendency of the US SWP led by James Robertson, Shane Mage and Tim Wohlforth correctly noted, after the economy was nationalised in the autumn of 1960 and then the regime proved it would defend that during the subsequent Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba, that Cuba had become a deformed workers state, led by a Stalinist regime, albeit an unconsolidated one, that needed to be overthrown in a political revolution by the conscious working class to open the way to socialism.
This US minority was aligned with the British and French groups of ‘anti-revisionists’ led by Healy and Lambert. But the political insecurity of those groups’ ‘anti-revisionism’, epitomised by their refusal to recognise the social overturn in Cuba, was a symptom of their own bureaucratic and unprincipled degeneration. Wohlforth and some followers split away from the Revolutionary Tendency in an unprincipled manner, based on personal loyalty to Healy. When Robertson wittily criticised the denial of reality of Healy/Lambert at the 1966 London Conference of the International Committee, the ‘anti-revisionists’, noting that “If the Cuban bourgeoisie is indeed ‘weak,’ as the I.C. affirms, one can only observe that it must be tired from its long swim to Miami, FLA [Florida]” he and his group were thrown out of the Conference and bureaucratically excluded from the IC.
The Revolutionary Tendency of the SWP became the Spartacist League of the US, which founded its own anti-revisionist tendency internationally beginning in 1966, though for several years it had to struggle against involuntary national isolation due to being bureaucratically excluded from the ‘anti-revisionist’ IC. Though they analysed the Cuban revolution correctly, concluding that Castro had established a deformed workers state, they had other fundamental political problems in their history and background which they failed to properly address.
For instance, the origins of their leading cadre: Robertson, Wohlforth and Mage, were in the Shachtmanite ‘Third Camp’ Workers Party (WP), later Independent Socialist League (ISL) in the 1940s and 1950s. They split to the left from the ISL in the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and embraced a Soviet defencist position that was obviously basically correct. But they never completely broke with another facet of the Shachtmanites’ politics, their pro-Zionism, support for Israel and softness on the nationalism of oppressor peoples in some important conflicts involving settler peoples in conflict with indigenous peoples who the colonists had subjugated and/or driven out.
A year or so after the Spartacist League/US was founded, it faced the political test of the June 1967 war between imperialist-colonial, advanced-capitalist Israel and several semi-colonial Arab states, centrally Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The SL/US took a ‘defeatism on both sides’ position, a fundamentally wrong position that failed to distinguish an oppressor, imperialist predatory state from oppressed semi-colonial nations that Israel targeted as part of its planned expansion into the West Bank, Gaza and Golan, land which it occupies to this day. Even worse, its article on this war makes clear that if Israel had been in danger of losing this war, and being eliminated as a state, the SL/US would have sided with Israel, and retrospectively took the position that it was correct for Marxists to support the defence of Israel in the 1948 war (whose outcome was the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine of its indigenous Arab population by Zionist forces). This was not a new position for Robertson; it had in fact been the position of Shachtman’s Workers Party in that very war at the time, when he had been a young member of that organisation.
This revealed a central political weakness of the Spartacists. Even though they had correctly analysed the Cuban revolution, they then failed the test on another crucial question of the international class struggle. Subsequently, the Spartacists extensively debated Zionism and related questions involving settler-colonist-derived populations in conflict with oppressed colonised peoples and rejected Shachtman’s position on the 1948 war. Instead, they extended their neutral position on the 1967 war, and the subsequent 1973 war in which they had the same approach, back to 1948 and retrospectively advocated a dual-defeatist position then also. They claimed, because the US SWP had a similar neutral position at the time, that this was orthodoxy, though in fact it was a capitulation to Zionist pressure by the SWP also, involving again, neutrality between colonists and their victims. They then decided that such neutrality, or dual defeatism, should be a general principle, that it was wrong to deny the ‘right to self-determination’ to armed settler populations in conflict with indigenous populations anywhere.
In the 1970s this approach was extended to Ireland and the conflict in the North, where they denounced the demand for the ‘forcible’ reunification of Ireland and effect endorsed the right of the Scots-derived Protestant settler population, which had no separate national consciousness themselves but frankly regarded themselves as British, to a veto on self-determination of the historically oppressed Irish nation. While they called for Troops Out Now, this position logically was at odds with that.
However this was an improvement on the position that the Spartacists held in 1969 when the Civil Rights movement reached its height and British troops were sent in to suppress it and ‘control’ the pogromist Protestant-sectarian response to that movement. At that time, the SL/US called (from afar) for a ‘socialist independent Ulster’, an appalling position based on ignorance of the extreme reactionary nature of the sectarian ‘Ulster’ statelet and an obvious attempt to ‘apply’ Shachtman’s approach in the Middle East, to the Irish Question.
Other examples of this softness on oppressor people nationalism in colonial type situations was in South Africa in the late 1970s, when in public speeches Robertson appeared to embrace the idea that the white colons who were the social base of apartheid rule in South Africa had the ‘right to self-determination’. Though this never found its way into any printed document, no doubt because it was too outrageously embarrassing, the idea was floated. They flinched from the racist logic of their position in this instance. But overall, tragically the Spartacist League, which had correctly analysed the Cuban Revolution, was unable to deal properly with this other major flaw and systematised it into a theory that it dubbed ‘interpenetrated peoples’ – defending the ‘rights’ of settler colonists against their victims’ calls for full restitution.
The same approach prevailed in the Malvinas war in 1982. When Argentina’s junta, undoubtedly as a diversion, took back the ‘Falkland Islands’ British colony by force, the Spartacists were neutral, calling for defeatism on both sides because of the presence of 1800 or so British settlers, who had been there for a century. But irrespective of the immediate causes of the war, this was a war between an imperialist country and one of its semi-colonial victims over who should control offshore islands whose natural resources, which should have benefitted the people of South America, not British imperialism, were considerable. It is a matter of principle to defend the semi-colonial country in such a war, irrespective of any incidental circumstances.
The incapacity of the Robertson leadership in this situation led to other errors that, either inadvertently or by design, led to the cohering of the Spartacist tendency as an eccentric sect, rather than a source of clarity and regroupment for the Trotskyist movement. Such as the adoption of a position on Trotskyist tactics towards Popular Fronts, that it was a betrayal of class independence to give any electoral support to mass working class parties involved in any explicit or implicit coalitions with bourgeois parties, that was demonstrably at odds with the practice of the classical Trotskyist movement, and had the effect of isolating those whom Robertson’s tendency led from interaction with broader radicalising currents in the labour movements in the countries in which they operated. The result was the coherence of an increasingly sterile sect, as time went on.
Their response to the rise of Solidarność in Poland, once it became clear what the political thrust of the movement actually was, correctly was to highlight the developing pro-capitalist politics that were becoming dominant in the movement. However, their Stalinophile deviations manifested themselves in their propaganda that denounced the Polish working class in ways that resembled anti-union tirades from bourgeois politicians in capitalist countries. Polish workers were denounced for supposedly being too well-fed and the endemic shortages engendered by Stalinist bureaucratic misrule were blamed on the supposedly lazy and strike-prone Polish workers. While it certainly was correct by the end of 1981 when the Solidarność leadership were indeed driving to topple the Stalinist regime, to bloc militarily with Jaruzelski to prevent such a counterrevolution, the anti-union and anti-worker thrust of much Spartacist propaganda contradicted the pro-socialist thrust that should have permeated the revolutionary attitude: that we are for workers power, not capitalist restoration.
Throughout the martial law period as Solidarność under Jaruzelski’s restrictions became more and more openly pro-capitalist and neo-liberal, and eventually called for a Polish Stock Market, the Spartacists fulminated against them while at the same time looking to ‘harder’ elements of the Stalinist regimes to fight the counterrevolutionary drift. So, there was a portrait of Poland’s Jaruzelski in their New York office. Around the same period, the Vietnamese Stalinist regime, whom Robertson visited and sought some kind of fraternal relations, as part of Đổi Mới also called for the creation of a stock market in Vietnam, and then began to implement its plans. The Spartacists were silent about this, though through their contacts with this regime they must have known about it.
When Stalinism collapsed in Eastern Europe in 1989-90 they made extensive efforts to intervene, but their interventions were tainted by their insistence on the one hand that a political revolution was happening in East Germany in particular, while at the same time trying by various propaganda feints to induce elements of the old regime to lead it. Their leaflets were ostentatiously and publicly cc’d to General Snetkov, the chief of the Soviet garrison in the DDR. It was a strange strategy for a Trotskyist grouping and seemed like a kind of manifestation in inverted form of the Shacthmanite politics that survived more openly in their positions on Zionism, etc. To prove that they were not Shachtmanites, they expressed a degree of political confidence in the capacity of the Stalinists to fight the counterrevolution.
To summarise then, despite their correct opposition to the liquidationist trend around Pablo and then Mandel and the SWP defectors, all these anti-revisionist trends proved to have politics that were fundamentally flawed, over crucial questions like the Cuban Revolution, Zionism, the Irish struggle against British imperialism, and the decline of Stalinism. This is not about being always right – every political trend faced with new developments will make errors, which they are forced later to correct, and will need to continually reassess developments.
But this did not happen with the ‘anti-revisionists’. In fact, all three strands of the post-1963 ‘anti-revisionist’ tendencies, the Healyites, the Lambertists, and the Spartacists, evolved/degenerated into irrational sectarian political machines that, far from rebuilding the Fourth International, ended up destroying and driving out of politics many militants who wanted to rebuild Trotskyism. All three degenerated into political cults with somewhat different emphases, but some common practices including at times bureaucratic violence against critics, internal and external.
The Healyites, after decades of wild political gyrations where they tailed after all manner of political forces with such a degree of cynicism that their political relations eventually amounted to a quest for mercenary gain from various ‘radical’ bourgeois regimes in semi-colonial countries, finally blew apart in a multiplicity of scandals in 1985. The Lambert group, on the other hand, gained a reputation as bureaucratic reformists with a reputation for cowardice, deeply Stalinophobic and ensconced in the bureaucracy of Force Ouvriere. Both tendencies had a deserved reputation for abusing and using violence against critics.
The Healyites beat up a supporter of the USFI in public in a major 1967 scandal and did the same in private to members of a dissident faction led by one of their most prominent trade unionists in the mid-1970s. Then in the late 1970s they ran a truly demented campaign accusing the leaders of the US SWP of being accomplices of Trotsky’s murder by Stalin. The Lambertists beat up supporters of their former Hungarian group and smeared them as police agents. And the Spartacists, not to be outdone, when their political life seriously degenerated in the 1980s, slandered various critical ex-members as being supporters of fascism and other similar smears.
This is the sorry tale of the shipwreck of those who aspired to fight the liquidationism that destroyed the Fourth International and put the movement back on its original foundations. Apart from dealing with the specific errors that they made, which have been addressed here, it is necessary to address why it is that no mechanism existed to correct these errors, to prevent these movements degenerating into bureaucratic cults that were useless for the purpose of reviving the revolutionary movement? That is a crucial question that must be answered before we elaborate an updated programme that fits the current world political situation.
c) The Russian Question and Soviet Defencism as a Central Dividing Line of Trotskyism
From the very beginning, defending the positions conquered was the main dividing element between Trotskyism and pseudo-Trotskyism. This applies to workers’ states, oppressed nations, workers’ organizations. “The duty of revolutionaries is to defend every conquest of the working class, even if it has been disfigured by pressure from hostile forces. Those who are unable to defend the positions taken will never conquer new ones” (Trotsky, 25/04/1940). We shall see later that this correct prediction by Trotsky became almost a fate for Trotskyism and prevented it from conquering new positions. The first watershed for international Trotskyism took place after the first Congress of the IV International and had Trotsky’s direct involvement, it was about the class character of the USSR. Most of the Fourth International, led by Trotsky and Cannon, stood for the unconditional defense of the USSR. They characterized it as a workers’ state that had become bureaucratised. A minority of the International, other activists and small organizations characterized the USSR as governed by a new mode of exploitative production, run by a new post-capitalist social class, “bureaucratic collectivism”.
The first author of the conception of bureaucratic collectivism was Yvan Craipeau, Trotsky’s former personal secretary and leader of the Internationalist Workers’ Party, a party founded on the expulsion of Trotskyists who carried out the French turn: entry into the Socialist Party. Other anti-Stalinist theorists, but not Trotskyists, also adopted, under different arguments the theory that was criticized by Trotsky in the 1930s. Among them were Hugo Urbahns, Lucien Laurat and Bruno Rizzi. Trotsky believed that if a new proletarian political revolution did not occur in the USSR, the bureaucracy would not generate a new social class, as advocates advocated in the theory of “bureaucratic collectivism.” For Trotsky, as the bureaucratic caste was unable to extend the revolution, this would allow a counterrevolution that would restore capitalism. Events in the 1980s and 1990s proved Trotsky entirely correct. The minority of the Fourth International, mainly within the US SWP, the main section of the International, also characterized the USSR as “bureaucratic collectivism”, a conception that had much in common with Craipeau’s. This faction of the SWP argued that workers should not defend the USSR but constitute a third camp between imperialism and what they understood as “bureaucratic collectivism”.
This minority trend, with about 40% of the SWP, was led by Max Shachtman, and brought together the petty bourrgeois intellectual bourgeois fraction of the party: Hal Draper, CLR James, Raya Dunayevskaya, Martin Abern, Joseph Carter, Julius Jacobson, Phyllis Jacobson, Albert Glotzer, Stan Weir, BJ Widick and Irving Howe. The Shachtmanites founded the Workers Party (WP) with about 500 members. In 1949, believing it to be too small to call itself a party, they renamed themselves the Independent Socialist League (ISL). In 1957 the ISL joined and liquidated themselves into the Socialist Party of America (SPA). In this process of dissolution and Stalinophobia, many of these intellectuals (including Shachtman) moved increasingly to the right, some to the point of supporting the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, against the Cuban revolution, and the U.S. War against Vietnam.
Another trend claimed to be Trotskyist but did not belong to the Fourth International was inaugurated by the Palestinian Yigael Glückstein, who assumed the pseudonym Tony Cliff. In the 1940s he also rejected the defence of the USSR as a bureaucratised workers’ state. In 1948, he borrowed the expression “state capitalism”, used by numerous anarchist theorists, several non-Marxists and some Marxists, to designate different types of social formations, including those prior to the USSR. Already in the Korean War, Cliff renounced the defense of the Asian nation attacked by imperialism. Cliff followed the same route as the Shachtmanites. The renunciation of revolutionary defensism has become the renunciation of the workers’ states and also the renunciation of defense of oppressed nations against imperialism. The group grew up as a left wing of anti-communism and unfortunately identified with the Trotskyist left. In 1950 there were eight members when they were expelled from The Club grouping by Gerry Healy. In 1960 there were 100 militants. By 1977, there were already 3,000, when it was renamed Britain’s SWP. In some groupings whose conceptions and origins were in Cliffism, the renunciation of the defence of oppressed nations in the 1950s became the renunciation of the struggle against capitalism itself in the 21st century.
The British SWP created the International Socialist Tendency (IST) with dozens of sections. Unlike many international trends, the IST has no formal organizational structures, but in 2001 expelled the U.S. International Socialist Organization (ISO) from its ranks claiming that the ISO, a mainly university-based organization, had renounced the anti-capitalist struggle. In 2013, the ISO reached 1,500 members, when it claimed to be the largest revolutionary socialist group in the United States at the time, even publishing a daily (web-based) newspaper, Socialist Worker. THE ISO led the movement against campus rape and embraced intersectional feminism. However, between 2013 and 2019 the organization was consumed by a rape scandal involving a leader who was protected by the organization’s leadership. Demoralization and the loss of militants led the group to vote to dissolve in 2019.
Next, we present three examples of organizations that broke away from the revolutionary defence:
- i). The Spartacist extended “family” renounced the defence of the oppressed nations (Argentina, and to some extent, Libya and Syria) and oppressed peoples (Palestinians, Irish);
- ii). The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), descendant of Cliffism and Workers Power (UK), has also renounced the defence of oppressed peoples such as Libya and Syria and, following in the footsteps of Workers Power, characterizes China and Russia as imperialists, and started to support all initiatives of “colour revolutions” of US imperialism against Russia, China, Iran, Belarus.
- iii). David North’s International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), one of the ruptures of Healysm, overestimates the militancy on the internet, has very little participation in the struggles of the working class and has renounced the defence of the union organizations of the working class.
c.i)The Spartacist extended “family”.
The obvious cultist degeneration of the Spartacists led to the formation of two tendencies that claimed to represent a ‘clean’ version of the Spartacists’ “original” politics. At different times and places, different waves of higher-level cadre from the Spartacists’ groups in North America, Germany, Mexico and Australasia were hounded out or expelled. They never broke from the Spartacists’ flawed politics at all. Their break from the overt cultism that characterised the Spartacists by the end of the 1970s was also patchy.
The International Bolshevik Tendency claimed to be the continuity of the ‘revolutionary’ Spartacists from the earlier period, and they appeared to have a reasonably democratic internal life, to have wide-ranging debates, and to even allow different tendencies, political shadings etc. But they maintained the core political positions of the Spartacists, both positive and negative. This included the Spartacists’ correct insights into Cuba. They also made some correct criticisms of the pro-Stalinist drift of the clique around Robertson in his dotage. But on the key positions of the Spartacists that were derived from Shachtmanism, they defended Robertson down the line. In several crucial tests of the class struggle, the IBT demonstrated that it did not overcome the Shachtmanite heritage of the ICL and renounced the defence of nations and peoples oppressed by imperialism and underestimated the national question in the class struggle and in the struggle between nations. The Spartacist family, which presented itself as champion of revolutionary defencism for workers’ states, failed in the question of revolutionary defence of peoples and nations oppressed by imperialism. They defended Robertson’s position of refusal to take sides with Argentina in the Malvinas war in 1982, and his positions on national-colonial questions such as Ireland and Palestine, where the supposed ‘national rights’ of armed colonists are equated with those of their victims and the victims of dispossession are urged to make a compromise with the oppressor working class and wage ‘class struggle’, instead of seeking liberation from their class and national oppression through permanent revolution.
The lengths they were prepared to go to in defending Robertson’s specific ‘contributions’ was shown when a critique of the Spartacists’ position on Popular Fronts was produced internally in 1998, demonstrating in detail that their refusal to countenance support to a bourgeois workers party in a popular front, while refusing to support its bourgeois partners, i.e., the Popular Front itself, was at odds with the practice of the Fourth International. This error is at the root of the Spartacists’ sterility and inability to intervene in the workers movement around the world, where such conflicts are often the catalysts for ferment that revolutionaries ought to be able to intersect and grow. The Spartacists’ position means they must merely comment from the outside. Their response to this critique was Robertson-like: they made it a test of loyalty to the IBT itself for members to refuse to discuss this critique for a period of years, until the future discussion period of the next international conference.
This was one bad sign of their failure to transcend the flaws of the Spartacists. Another occurred later when differences emerged in their ranks as to the nature of Russia, where the New Zealand section and others politically closest to them, adopted the view that post-Soviet Russian capitalism had become imperialist. The other side, mainly centred in Canada and Germany, correctly maintained that post-Soviet Russian capitalism was of a dependent, subordinate nature within the world economy, and Russia should be defended against imperialism, therefore. This led the New Zealand section to side with the Maidan movement against Russian ‘imperialism’ in Ukraine. However, there were other differences over questions involving conflicts such as the attempted coup against Erdogan in Turkey and the successful coup against Morsi in Egypt, where the New Zealand based trend correctly took sides, opposing the Canada centred wing who refused to defend the governments led by Erdogan and Morsi against these coups. And around these issues there arose a third current around their section in East Asia who rejected more and more of the Spartacists’ deviant positions, centring on their method during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, where the Spartacists refused to side with the Iranian masses under the slogan “Down with the Shah! Down with the Mullahs!”, yet another expression of their Shachtmanite approach to national questions.
The entire situation was a political mess, and one key element making it worse was the rigid position of the IBT that all such debates were to take place in private, to be kept out of the public domain. Thus, the organisation was paralysed for an entire decade while some of the most fundamental questions of politics and programme were debated in private. And still at the end of that decade, from 2008, when the differences over Russia first emerged, to 2018, they could not avoid a messy three-way split. It would have been far better if these disputes had taken place in the public domain, where they could have educated other layers, and drawn them into the political struggle, and likely led to other syntheses and outcomes than the self-defeating fragmentation that was the ultimate result of nearly four decades of political work. But that touches upon a problem, of how the Trotskyist movement is organised and deals with political disputes, that is fully addressed in part 2 of this manifesto.
The other trend in the Spartacist ‘family’, the Norden trend, now known as the League for the Fourth International, are much less political and significant, even though they superficially appear more dynamic than the IBT and its fragments, with a more frequent press and an apparent ethos of activism. They were founded by some very senior Spartacist cadre, including Jan Norden, the editor of the US Spartacists’ Workers Vanguard flagship organ through the 1970s until the mid-1990s. Their press capability comes from Norden and the central Spart editorial collective around him. Norden’s group is more dynamic than the rest of the family but continues to be a useless sect for the majority of workers because it has not resolved the pro-imperialist inherited contradiction of its mother party, the stunted defencism, an abstentionist policy in relation to the defence of the oppressed peoples that opposes the Anti-Imperialist United Front.
Their differences with the Robertson leadership as they emerged in the 1990s were secondary and in a rational organisation ought to have been the stuff of debate about questions of emphasis. The main axis of them was that the Robertson trend, to compensate for some of the overtly pro-Stalinist deviations they were known for earlier, put a sudden emphasis on the counterrevolutionary nature of Stalinism and insisted that the Stalinists had simply led the counterrevolution in the former Soviet bloc. The Norden trend were more cautious about saying this and continued with the Spartacists’ earlier emphasis on the supposed ‘dual nature’ of Stalinism. But the controversy between them about Stalinism is a controversy between two Stalinophile trends, who ‘defend’ the USSR through the bureaucratic apparatus and not through the military united front with the bureaucracy in defence of the workers’ state. The anti-united front sectarianism of Spartacism contaminated the matrix and with the IG (and the IBT, on the question of the anti-imperialist struggle), this is another deformation that interpenetrates the Russian question and the question of imperialism. However the Robertson leadership would not tolerate this dissent, and declared war on Norden and his followers, who formed a faction to defend themselves against being purged, which was then promptly expelled, despite their activity being completely disciplined and non-public. They thus clarified that the Spartacists will never tolerate an opposition faction of any type, even one that scrupulously observes their caricature of Bolshevik discipline.
Politically they are quite like the IBT et al but refuse to engage with them simply because Norden and his comrades were central to the Robertson group in the earlier period and engaged in many of its smears against the founders of the IBT, centrally the smear that the BT represented some kind of anti-Soviet, Shachtman-type break from the Spartacists’ soviet-defence. Which is visibly untrue and irrational as the IBT maintained the same basic programmatic positions as the Spartacists on all these questions throughout the whole of their existence, up to their split in 2018 over matters that are about the post-Stalinist word situation, not the defence of former deformed workers states. Thus, the Norden tendency, despite their activism, should be regarded less seriously than the former IBT comrades because on top of the latter’s defence of flawed positions that damaged their own movement and prevented it from rearming Trotskyism, the Nordenites are still semi-cultists who defend and propagate outright lies about Robertson’s earlier critics, even though the same techniques were used against them. There are none so blind as those who do not want to see!
c.ii) The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT)
Three decades after the anti-communist offensive that fuelled the 1989-1991 counter-revolutionary processes, some organizations that call themselves Trotskyist have adopted positions as much or more pro-imperialist than the renegades Burnham and Shachtman. After being defeated in the internal struggle in the US SWP, by Trotsky and Cannon, the two leaders of the petty- bourgeois faction broke with Marxism and joined the ideological and military campaigns of imperialism, such as the McCarthyist witch hunt, and the US actions in the Korean War, in the invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, or against Vietnam. And it all started by refusing to characterize the USSR as a workers’ state and to defend it against Nazism in World War II, adhering to a vulgar and moral anti-Stalinism, called Stalinophobia. Examples of these trends are found in various splinters of pseudo- Trotskyism today: in the LIT created by the Argentine Nahuel Moreno (ITU, FLTI, FTL); the defenders of the 5th International (L5I, RCIT) and the followers of Guillermo Lora, from the Bolivian POR (CRCI). Just to cite the last 10 years, Morenoites sell as democratic revolutions the coups and lawfares of imperialist agents in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba. In 2016 and 2019, the PSTU (LIT) in Brazil and the POR (CRCI) in Bolivia supported the coups d’état orchestrated by imperialism and led by the far right in their respective countries.
The RCIT basically adopts the same positions as the LIT, justifying it with a “theory” that Russia and China are imperialist powers and that Cuba an ally of the first two, no longer a deformed workers’ state, but already a capitalist state. In this way, the RCIT supports the CIA’s regime-change operations orchestrated by the US, Israel and NATO, as in what they called the “Syrian revolution”, because Russia, which supported Syria, is an imperialist power and the Syrian government a totalitarian dictatorship, as is written in the main producing bodies of international public opinion. In 2021, the RCIT cynically went further than bourgeois public opinion itself, denying that there was even a CIA conspiracy behind the demonstrations of the gusano right for capitalist restoration against the Cuban state. The RCIT supported Biden’s offensive which used classic colour revolution tactics, calling for “Cuba Libre!” of communism, and US intervention on the Island.
c.iii) David North’s International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)
In the 21st century, new information technologies, the hypertrophy of virtual relationships and the long reach of the internet, made possible an even greater divorce between pseudo-Trotskyism and workers. One of the most successful Trotskyist currents on the web, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), with its World Socialist Web Site, decided to proclaim itself completely free from militant labour in the unions, updating the same arguments of the German ultra-lefts of a century ago that were strongly opposed by Lenin and Trotsky. The ICFI basically utilises the pro-capitalist programme of the union leaderships to promote a (virtual) anti-union policy and agitate (always within the limits of its website) a fiction of independent rank-and-file committees in opposition to the unions themselves, not just the bourgeois bureaucratic leaderships.
The union is the elementary form of the united front in the economic struggle (Trotsky, 1933). The union struggle is the source of basic awareness of the political struggle against bosses, businessmen, police officers and the capitalist state. Without going through this school and without discovering the limits of this school, workers will hardly surpass it, acquire revolutionary consciousness, class consciousness for themselves, communist consciousness. To renounce the grey work of struggle against the ruling faction of the reactionary workers’ movement embedded in the unions is to renounce the struggle for the workers’ consciousness in favour of organizational and virtual fantasies. We return to the path of Lenin and Trotsky and recommend readers to follow the controversy “WSWS (ICFI) ultimatism on the union issue serves the US imperialist bourgeoisie” https://www.consistent-democrats.org/uncategorized/wsws-icfi-ultimatism-on-the-trade-union-question-serves-the-us-imperialist-bourgeoisie/
Part 2: An Important Corrective on Communist Organisation: The Bolshevik tradition and the Importance of Public Debate among Communists on Complex Issues of Political Analysis.
A crucial weakness of the post-war ‘anti-revisionist’ Trotskyist organisations was that their political culture and understanding of how a communist organisation should function was not adequate for handling the complexity of the questions they were confronted with and resolving them in a manner that could enable the movement to separate that which was correct from that which was fundamentally flawed.
We must learn the lessons of this going forward. A crucial flaw had taken root on the organisational question within the Communist movement in the early, revolutionary period of the Third International, which logically led to a practice that was at odds with the practice of the Bolshevik Party that successfully led the October Revolution in Russia. This problem was obscured by the subsequent Stalinist degeneration of the Third International, whose causes were unrelated to this problem. But it was inherited by the Fourth International.
While Trotsky was still alive, it was again somewhat obscured by his great authority in the Fourth International, but after his death and in particular after the political crisis of the Fourth International in the early 1950s, it became perhaps the most important reason why the anti-revisionist trends failed to correct the political problems caused by the liquidationist deviation.
The concept that public debate among communists about complex questions of political analysis, and what to do about them, is a breach of democratic centralism and the principles of communist organisation is an error both in terms of the historical practice of the Bolsheviks, but also from the point of view of the theory of democratic centralism. The main resolution of the Communist International, from its Third Congress in 1921, got it almost correct on this, only to spoil it in practice by a crucial ambiguity:
“Party members are to conduct themselves in their public activity at all times as disciplined members of a combat organization. When differences of opinion arise as to the correct course of action, these should as far as possible be decided beforehand within the party organization and then action must be in accordance with this decision. In order, however, that every party decision be carried out with the greatest energy by all party organizations and members, the broadest mass of the party must whenever possible be involved in examining and deciding every question. Party organizations and party authorities also have the duty of deciding whether questions should be discussed publicly (press, lectures, pamphlets) by individual comrades, and if so, in what form and scope. But even if the decisions of the organization or of the party leadership are regarded as wrong by other members, these comrades must in their public activity never forget that it is the worst breach of discipline and the worst error in combat to disrupt or, worse, to break the unity of the common front.”Third Congress of the Comintern, Guidelines on the Organizational Structure of Communist Parties, on the Methods and Content of their Work, 12 July 1921, https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/3rd-congress/organisation/guidelines.htm
This was widely interpreted as an encouragement of party authorities to regard public discussion of political, ideological, and programmatic differences in a communist party as something to be greatly regretted, a ‘breach of the common front’ (this ‘common front’ formulation is unfortunate as it could be confused with the idea of the united front between parties. What it is really referring to is the public discipline of the party). At the time this resolution was written, the main problem facing the Communist International was assimilating large numbers of new members, and whole new Communist parties, that were in the process of breaking from anarcho-syndicalism, Social Democratic politics or ultra-leftism, or left-wing nationalism or even guerillaism in some backward countries, and basically promoting the assimilation of what a communist party is actually supposed to do: act as a professional revolutionary political leadership within the workers’ movement.
What the Third Congress resolution in 1921 did not address, was the possible arising of situations where groups of Marxists, who had assimilated the lessons of the Russian Revolution and the need for a Communist Party as an alternative political leadership of the working class, could themselves become divided by complex programmatic questions, involving different interpretations of the degeneration of a workers’ state such as the USSR; the emergence of apparent clone states of the USSR throughout wide sections of the world after the Second World War; different interpretations of the relations of the degenerated Stalinist states with other forces, such as nationalist regimes and movements in semi-colonial countries; the disintegration of the old colonial empires which rendered the question of the oppression of the semi-colonial world and how imperialism controls it more complex; and then later the whole complex series of problems posed by the collapse of the Stalinist regimes and the restoration of various kinds of capitalism in those countries.
To say that these kinds of problems were not anticipated by the authors of the Comintern Organisational Resolution would be the understatement of the 20th Century, if not the 21st as well! They had the character of ‘unknown unknowns’, to steal a useful idea from a thoughtful class enemy (former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld). The perspectives of the authors of this document were that of tempered revolutionary optimism.
That although the immediate post-WWI revolutionary wave had receded, the retrenchment and proper organisation of Communist Parties, along with the proper application of the tactic of the United Front, in the imperialist countries with large Social Democratic parties, or the Anti-Imperialist United Front, in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, would see in a relatively brief period a revival of mass struggles, giving Communists the opportunity to lead; and thus the revival of the world revolution. They did not anticipate that all this would be fatally undermined from within, by Stalinism, and the world Marxists would have to deal with would become qualitatively more complex and problematic.
Indeed Lenin expressed his misgivings about this resolution in a famous speech at the subsequent, 4th Congress of the Comintern (1922), which has the quality of “I know there is something wrong with this but I cannot quite put my finger on exactly what is wrong”:
““At the Third Congress, in 1921, we adopted a resolution on the organisational structure of the Communist Parties and on the methods and content of their activities. The resolution is an excellent one, but it is almost entirely Russian, that is to say, everything in it is based on Russian conditions. This is its good point, but it is also its failing. It is its failing because I am sure that no foreigner can read it. I have read it again before saying this. In the first place, it is too long, containing fifty or more points. Foreigners are not usually able to read such things. Secondly, even if they read it, they will not understand it because it is too Russian. Not because it is written in Russian—it has been excellently translated into all languages—but because it is thoroughly imbued with the Russian spirit. And thirdly, if by way of exception some foreigner does understand it, he cannot carry it out. This is its third defect. … I have the impression that we made a big mistake with this resolution, namely, that we blocked our own road to further success. …
That resolution must be carried out. It cannot be carried out overnight; that is absolutely impossible. The resolution is too Russian, it reflects Russian experience. That is why it is quite unintelligible to foreigners, and they cannot be content with hanging it in a corner like an icon and praying to it. Nothing will be achieved that way. They must assimilate part of the Russian experience. Just how that will be done, I do not know. The fascists in Italy may, for example, render us a great service by showing the Italians that they are not yet sufficiently enlightened and that their country is not yet ensured against the Black Hundreds. Perhaps this will be very useful. … I am sure that in this connection we must tell not only the Russians, but the foreign comrades as well, that the most important thing in the period we are now entering is to study. We are studying in the general sense. They, however, must study in the special sense, in order that they may really understand the organisation, structure, method and content of revolutionary work. If they do that, I am sure the prospects of the world revolution will be not only good, but excellent.”ibid, Guidelines, https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/3rd-congress/organisation/introduction.htm.
What was the ‘big mistake’ Lenin was musing about, but not sure how to concretely express? In our view it is not that the resolution reflected too much of Bolshevik experience, but rather that it was suited for the immediate perspectives of the revolutionary Comintern in 1921, in what was considered a ‘breathing space’ for imperialism within a situation when the Comintern was consolidating itself and preparing through the ‘conquest of the masses’ for a further offensive on power.
What it did not prepare the Communists for was how to politically handle complex reactionary developments that would necessitate a prolonged swimming against the stream of reaction, which the Trotskyists subsequently had to do. When that happened, in the face of serious reactionary developments such as the final defeat of the 1905 revolution after 1907, or in the face of the destruction of the Second International by social-imperialism, the Bolsheviks had to fight out major programmatic and theoretical differences in order to go further. And they inevitably were fought out in the public domain.
The fight with Bogdanov and Lunacharsky, the so-called ‘god builders’, was a fight to preserve the Marxist world-outlook of the Bolsheviks in a period of considerable retreat and political demoralisation of the revolutionary movement, both in Russia and in exile. The expression of this was the publication of Lenin’s well-known theoretical work Materialism and Emprio-Criticism, which was about as far as you can get from some obscure polemic in a secret internal bulletin.
Then there was the fight over ‘Imperialist Economism’ during the first world war, differences that arose with Bukharin and Pyatakov, Bolsheviks who were somewhat influenced by the political rigidity about democratic questions associated with Rosa Luxemburg, which was again fought out in public, in the pages of the Bolsheviks’ Pravda, and in Lenin’s pamphlet A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism.
And most strikingly there is the debate/confrontation between Lenin, and the Old Bolsheviks, led by Kamenev and Stalin, in April 1917, when he presented his ‘April Theses’, to the Party, and in effect to the public. Preceded by four ‘Letters from Afar’ only one of which was published by Kamenev and Stalin in Pravda, despite being written by Lenin for the express purpose of publication, they put forward a major corrective to the historical position of the party on the nature of the revolution.
They steered away from the Bolsheviks’ earlier halfway-house demand for the ‘Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry’ in which the aim of the revolution was to create the conditions for a rapid American-style development of capitalism, to the immediate perspective of the proletarian dictatorship and an attack on capitalism itself, in the context of an expected Europe-wide working-class revolution.
This was fought out in public and was always intended by Lenin to be public; the ‘Letters from Afar’ and his demand for their publication signify that. The return of Lenin was big news; as soon as he returned via the Finland Station the party met in the full glare of publicity and Lenin not only proclaimed his Theses openly, but also soon made clear that if he did not get his way on this he would take his case to the working class itself. The revolution itself was at stake!
An outrage from the point of view of the passage quoted earlier from the Comintern Organisational Revolution, but Lenin understood that the likes of Kamenev and Stalin represented backwardness in that context, that the newly revolutionised workers had leapt far ahead of them politically. He openly threatened to use the non-party revolutionary workers to get his way in the party – which proved not to be necessary as he was able to win a clear majority of the party to his perspective in a matter of a few weeks.
The practice of the Bolsheviks after the revolution, at least until the 1921 ban on factions that was instituted as an emergency measure at the end of the Civil War, did not differ from this. As Trotsky noted in Factions and the Fourth International (1935):
“After the conquest of power a sharp factional struggle broke out around the question of the Brest-Litovsk peace. A faction of Left Communists was formed with its own press (Bukharin, Yaroslavsky, and others). Subsequently, the Democratic Centralism and the Workers’ Opposition factions were formed. Not until the Tenth Party Congress, held under conditions of blockade and famine, growing peasant unrest, and the first stages of NEP -which had unleashed petty-bourgeois tendencies – was consideration given to the possibility of resorting to such an exceptional measure as the banning of factions. It is possible to regard the decision of the Tenth Congress as a grave necessity. But in light of later events, one thing is absolutely clear: the banning of factions brought the heroic history of Bolshevism to an end and made way for its bureaucratic degeneration.”
The point being that on questions of revolutionary strategy there is no law that says that the leadership, or the membership, of an aspiring revolutionary organisation must have a higher political consciousness than those outside, or that the majority at a given time must be right. Minorities can be right against the majority; even on occasion minorities of one can be right against the whole organisation. Here the generational question can matter a lot, when the previous generation was formed at a time of rising workers and partial and international victories, and the new generation was formed at another time of the class struggle, reflux and defeats. On the other hand, the degree of accommodation and bureaucratization between generations also matters, tending, in most cases, the oldest to be more addicted to bureaucratic structures.
In all these cases, the minority should have the right to appeal to, recruit to itself externally and put social and political pressure on the majority to conform to its views. If the views of the majority and minority are fundamentally incompatible in some decisive class sense, this will result in a split, and nothing in terms of democratic innovations will be able to prevent that. Such splits are in fact healthy. Trotsky spoke thus about the limits of factions, contrasting the practice of reformists and centrists to that of Communists:
“A party can tolerate those factions that are not pursuing goals directly opposite its own. When the traditional left wing in the French Socialist Party was innocuously marking time, it was tolerated; more than that, it was encouraged. Blum never referred to the margarine revolutionary Zyromsky as anything other than “my friend.” This title, used also with reference to Frossard, meant: that person was needed as a cover for the ruling clique, either from the left or from the right. But the Leninists – for whom word and deed are not at variance – were something the democracy of the social-patriotic party could not tolerate.”Factions and the Fourth International (1935)
However if the views of the majority and the minority are not fundamentally incompatible in class terms, but nevertheless the views of the minority are a significant improvement on the politics of the majority within an overall common political framework, then it is imperative that the minority be given every opportunity to become a majority as soon as possible for the political health of the organisation as a whole. This means that it is in the interest of the revolutionary organization as a whole to allow the minority to direct its propaganda not only to members of the majority, but to the entire working class.
The minority must be free to issue propaganda aimed at others outside the organisation who are able to see matters more clearly, not only to recruit them directly to join the minority, but also to exert social and political pressure on the majority to abandon what may be irrational or flawed positions that are damaging the movement as a whole. But conversely, if it were the positions of the minority that were flawed and damaging to the interests of the organisation, then the same social and political pressure would act on them and tend to bring them into line with reality.
What then is the real meaning of democratic centralism? The clue is to be found at the highest level of the class struggle so far in the entire history of the Communist movement, the organisation of the workers insurrection in Petrograd, then the capital of the Russian empire, planned for November 7, 1917. It is well known that Grigory Zinoviev and Leon Kamenev, two longtime Bolshevik leaders who were very close to Lenin prior to the February Revolution in 1917, objected not only to the change in the party perspective on the revolution that Lenin won with the April Theses but to the insurrection itself which they considered to be madness. So they went public, condemning the plans for the insurrection and even naming the day that had been planned. Lenin was furious and called for their expulsion from the party as strike-breakers against the revolution itself.
In fact, he did not get his way on this. The fact that their transgression involved divulging military secrets of an insurrection undoubtedly meant Lenin was right and they should have been expelled, but they were not expelled. This actually shows the nature of the party regime at that point. Far from excessively draconian: they should have been expelled. Such a break would have been the correct side of the Comintern Organisation Resolution’s condemnation of those who ‘break the unity of the common front’.
This is not about a disagreement about some theoretical or programmatic question that may impact on future actions down the road, or change their nature. This is going public about an action that had already been decided, that is underway. This is about disrupting and sabotaging an action, which since the party’s whole purpose is to lead actions at the highest level of the class struggle, is an attack on the party itself. If an action of the party is aborted due to such sabotage, even if the action is mistaken, if the disruption succeeds it will most likely result in a severe defeat of the whole party.
The destruction of the Comintern as a revolutionary organisation, which right from the beginning of the degeneration resulted in severe attacks on the democracy of the Communist movement, meant that this question became a dead letter. The Comintern’s revolutionary successor, however, was the Fourth International, and though not entirely uncritical of its predecessor, on this question it adhered largely to an interpretation of democratic centralism that regarded questions of political agreement and disagreement as coming within the sphere of the ‘common front’ as the Comintern Organisational Resolution put it.
This was decisively clarified in the fight with James Burnham, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern in the American Trotskyist movement, the Socialist Workers Party in 1939-40. These leading figures wanted to abandon the defence of the USSR in the context of the Stalin-Hitler pact, capitulating wholesale to the bourgeois outcry against the USSR.
We consider Trotsky and Cannon to be right on all the disputed questions with the Shachtman-Burnham opposition. But one thing that set a precedent was the arguments used by both Trotsky and Cannon against conducting the factional dispute publicly, which have long been quoted by post-war Trotskyists in defence of keeping serious political differences internal. The Shachtmanites wanted to publish their own materials and appeal to the public with their criticisms of the terrible Trotskyists for their alleged apologias for Stalin (i.e. their defence of the social foundations of the USSR against imperialism despite Stalin).
It would have benefitted the Trotskyist movement to conduct the dispute with Shachtman and Burnham publicly. It would have educated wider layers about what the Trotskyist movement really stood for, drawing these new layers into the dispute. By forcing both sides to face the full force of the social and political pressures that resulted, it would likely have both accelerated the evolution of the opposition into the imperialist camp and hardened up the SWP’s cadre by forcing them to face such pressure during the fight itself.
As it was it is now widely seen as a somewhat obscure and esoteric dispute, the first major one of many that splintered the Trotskyist movement into fragments, still increasing in number. Trotsky, who had the heritage of a great revolution behind him, was able to fight the actual issues out in a highly political and clarifying manner, which tended to minimise the negative effects of the hidden, secretive nature of this fight.
But his successors did not have the same advantages and a process was set in train that resulted in an organic tendency to produce fragment after fragment, to give birth to bureaucratic regimes and even cults based on the logic of conducting principled political disputes on matters that affect the entire working class movement in strict secrecy, behind closed doors.
The attempt to neutralise the effects of social pressure on the cadre of revolutionary groups by conducting disputes in secret does not, in fact, neutralise these effects at all. What it does is give expression to the same social pressures in a deformed, claustrophobic political environment. In sects that are built on this model, the majority has a built-in advantage over minorities as it has the right to gag them and prevent them from recruiting.
If the majority then decisively loses its real revolutionary bearings, therefore, it has the power not only to gag minorities but to suppress and abuse them. The minority then has two choices: to capitulate or leave. Either is possible: the former gives rise to cults and odious sects, the latter leads to fragmentation. Or it could equally be said that the former only delays the latter until the minority can bear it no more.
Conversely, in a party model where the right to public programmatic and theoretical criticism is guaranteed, the exercise of this right by a sharp and politically revolutionary minority can, through political and social pressure again, save for revolutionary politics the cadre of the erring majority, or at least part of it, and thus allow an erring revolutionary organisation to be salvaged. Conversely, if the closed party paradigm were in place the majority’s degeneration would be unstoppable.
This, then, is one of the explanations for the bureaucratic degeneration and political distortions that aborted the struggles of anti-revisionists to save the Trotskyist movement from liquidationism from the 1950s to the 1980s, which laid the foundation for the dire situation of the Trotskyist movement today. We in the LCFI seek to correct this error, which as explained has its origins in the early Comintern, not the Fourth International.
Part 3. Our Revolutionary Programme
a) Method and concreteness
We critically claim the 1938 Transitional Program.
We do not agree with the position implied in the Transitional Program that the productive forces can only stagnate in the imperialist epoch, at least since 1914. This mistaken and impressionist characterisation, inherited from the early Third International, was one-sided and based on a partial experience of imperialist capitalism. Capitalism develops the productive forces, but not as it did in the progressive era of capitalism. It also develops destructive forces that threaten the destruction of humanity’s potential. Imperialism is qualitatively more inclined to economic convulsions, including deep depressions, where the productive forces decline. Booms still happen, but such booms lay the basis for worse problems, for example, climate change, and there is a danger of imperialist war arising from the advance of the production of means of destruction. All these things are integral to imperialism.
If this was not clear in the 1930s, influenced by the crises of 1929, 1937 and the rise of fascism, it became evident in the three decades after the Second World War, in the so-called 30 glorious years. Between 1950 and 1970, the manufacturing sector’s net profit rate, on an annual average, was 24.3% in the USA, 23.1% in Germany and 40.4% in Japan. (See Robert Brenner: The boom and the bubble: the US in the world economy, Verso 2003) The post-war economic expansion (1950-60) was linked to the core capacity of advanced capitalist countries to realize and sustain high rates of profit, producing relatively high surpluses from the use of fixed capital / capital stock.
As Paulo Balanco and Eduardo Costa Pinto highlighted in The Golden Years of Capitalism: An Attempt to Harmonize Between the Classes, written in 2007, the sustainability of profit rates at a high level was due to the renewed political arrangement, articulated at the end of World War II, that is, a new institutionality, both at inter and intra-state levels and at the managerial-administrative level of production. As a result, the task of regulating inter-capitalist competition and cooling the contradiction between capital and labour in national spaces was facilitated by the new social control structured around certain concessions to workers. The capitalist world needed to stabilize its class domination at least in capital’s central countries, because the existence of the USSR as a political rival, especially the defeat of Nazism and fascism by the workers’ state, was a ‘bad’ example to the masses that had to be combated by all means. In Europe, social-democratic reformism based on the ’participation’ of workers in ‘association’ with capital was used; in the United States, a Fordist-Taylorist rationalization was set up that allowed workers to make wage gains.
In addition to this internal rearrangement, high profit rates were leveraged by the intensification of colonial exploitation, which provoked a reaction in several colonies, which rebelled in anti-imperialist struggles, bringing about the end of colonialism and its replacement by semi-colonial relations with imperialism, worldwide. As a result of the formal independence of almost all countries on the planet, in a considerable part of the world, the anti-colonial struggle became an anti-capitalist struggle, resulting in the largest wave of social revolutions in human history.
These temporarily high profit rates began to fall by the mid-1960s, and things started to change. The US abandoned the Bretton Woods monetary system in 1971. The last qualitative ascents of the entire working class took place in the 1970s, such as May 1968 in France, Italy’s Hot Autumn in 1969, the 1974 Portuguese ‘Carnation’ revolution and the 1975-7 rise in the class struggle in post-Franco Spain. They were pre-revolutionary situations, or ones of transition to a pre-revolutionary situation. Their origin was in the beginning of the transition from the Keynesian period to the neo-liberal one. After that, in the western proletariat of the imperialist countries there were no qualitative movements of ascent in the class struggle. In a climate dominated by these kinds of struggles as well as a major oil crisis, monopoly capital began to financialize the West, and transfer part of their industrial plant to the East.
As part of this shift in strategy, US imperialism made an agreement with China against the USSR and the revolutions in Asia and Africa, and we saw the beginning of the neoliberal offensive in the US, Britain, and Chile, which became a special case in the counterrevolutions the US initiated in South America, as the Chilean masses became guinea pigs to test out the new neoliberal strategy. The promotion of Solidarność as a vehicle for beginning capitalist restoration in Poland/Eastern Europe was also part of this imperialist counteroffensive. Part of the task of updating the revolutionary programme is to take full account of such changes and draw the relevant conclusions as to how these modify the tasks of Marxists and the wider working-class movement.
b) Popular front and anti-imperialist front
History has shown that in exceptional circumstances, forces initially involved in a popular front can break with the bourgeois element and transform their activity into an anti-imperialist front, in the face of the combination of the rise of the struggles of the working-class and peasant masses and the pressure of imperialist oppression. As during and after World War II, the popular fronts in China and Yugoslavia were transformed in this way into their own anti-imperialist fronts in the fight against German and Japanese imperialism. In the post-war period, this trend also occurred with the Vietnamese revolution and outside of a leadership that emerged from Stalinism with the Cuban revolution. In other words, the popular front produced an advance in progressive tasks where, in exceptional circumstances, the masses of workers and peasants broke it up and pushed its non-bourgeois forces into the struggle against imperialism, breaking a short period of impasse with the emergence of deformed proletarian dictatorships, where they conform to a workers’ state they advanced in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a whole, but without fully developed workers’ council bodies, which were stunted or aborted by the directions of these processes.
The popular fronts are counterrevolutionary, they do not consummate the revolutionary process, they are unable to expropriate the bourgeoisie, they expropriate the revolution as occurred in various processes such as the Spanish civil war, Indonesia, Chile or Nicaragua. Only when they assumed another political quality of denying the popular front and overcoming their impasse of class collaboration, of breaking with their bourgeois wing, through the emergence of an anti-imperialist front, did they expropriate the national fraction of the international bourgeoisie with methods of proletarian dictatorship.
c) Capitalism, Imperialism and the Productive Forces
Since the origin of its accumulation, capitalism has changed throughout history. It is a myth that capitalism started as an exclusively progressive movement based on free liberal competition. Capitalism had as its starting point the conquest, slavery, murder, violence, theft, and expropriation of the common lands of peasants, indigenous peoples, and other native peoples. And, contradictorily with all its brutalities, it improved and increased qualitatively the productive capacities of humanity, wage labour created the material basis by which an advanced human civilization and association of free producers (communism) became possible. In the 20th century, the era of imperialist capitalism was born, the era of bourgeois monopolies, of multinational worldwide companies and above all of the control of the world by oligopolsed financial capital, establishing in history the greatest concentration of wealth ever seen, on the one hand, and the growing misery in absolute and relative proportion of almost the totality of humanity.
As Lenin pointed out in his work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, the ” fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites, when the features of the epoch of transition from capitalism to a higher social and economic system had taken shape and revealed themselves(…) Monopoly is the transition from capitalism to a higher system.. (…) The world has become divided into a handful of usurer states and a vast majority of debtor states (…) The questions as to whether it is possible to reform the basis of imperialism, whether to go forward to the further intensification and deepening of the antagonisms which it engenders, or backward, towards allaying these antagonisms, are fundamental questions in the critique of imperialism … due to the oppression of the financial oligarchy …a petty-bourgeois-democratic opposition to imperialism arose… “.
When Trotsky wrote …
“All talk to the effect that historical conditions have not yet ‘ripened’ for socialism is the product of ignorance or conscious deception. The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only ‘ripened’; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. The turn is now of the proletariat, i.e., chiefly of its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tp-text.htm
… far from representing an ‘obsolete’ vision, as reactionaries would maintain, he was ahead of his time. At the time this was adopted, nuclear weapons were still in the future, as was knowledge about the dangers of human-induced climate change that threatens the world with catastrophe today. Thus, in terms of the overall historical perspective of the epoch, this perspective is valid and will continue to be valid until humanity resolves the problem of capitalism’s accelerating threat to the future of life and human civilisation, or conversely until capitalism destroys the possibility of further human advancement and causes human society to relapse into barbarism, if not extinction.
But there are other features of the 1938 text that are more historically specific to the time that it was written. For instance, in the opening section, Trotsky wrote:
“The economic prerequisite for the proletarian revolution has already in general achieved the highest point of fruition that can be reached under capitalism. Mankind’s productive forces stagnate. Already new inventions and improvements fail to raise the level of material wealth. Conjunctural crises under the conditions of the social crisis of the whole capitalist system inflict ever heavier deprivations and sufferings upon the masses. Growing unemployment, in its turn, deepens the financial crisis of the state and undermines the unstable monetary systems. Democratic regimes, as well as fascist, stagger on from one bankruptcy to another.”ibid
This was written during the second major economic crisis of the 1930s, in the immediate aftermath of what was then the greatest depression in the history of capitalism, on the eve of World War II, a tremendously destructive and barbaric war. That was marked by the attempted genocide of European Jews and Gypsies; the starvation of millions in India in man-made famines that were engineered as part of British imperialism’s plundering resources to fight its rivals around the world; the enormous carnage of 27 million who died in the USSR, victims of Nazi Germany’s own policy of exterminating civilians, assumed to be communists, Jews or both, as it fought to destroy the state that for all its bureaucratic degeneration, still embodied the basic gains of the October 1917 revolution. The war concluded with the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities, an incredible act of barbarism and a potent threat to human existence that may have been dimly foreseen by some in 1938, but not tangibly.
However as has already been noted, the aftermath of the Second World War coincided with possibly the greatest economic boom in the history of capitalism, as US imperialism finally achieved hegemony over its smaller West European and Japanese imperialist rivals. The boom was essentially caused by the economic opening up of the massive European colonial empires to US hegemony and exploitation, quite a revolutionary change in itself, and sustained by the economic boost provided by military competition with the Soviet bloc. It was not the result of some intrinsic ‘long wave’ periodicity built into the structure of capitalism, as argued by Ernest Mandel of the liquidationist United Secretariat. The boom was comparable, and in fact exceeded both in length and height, the economic expansion that preceded the First World War. And the explanation for it was in a major shift in the imperialist world order, as a new hegemon emerged and thus was able to reshape the capitalist world in its image, after an imperialist war that destroyed a huge amount of obsolete, unprofitable capital and thus cleared the way for such a boom.
It can hardly be said therefore, that in the post WWII economic environment, “Mankind’s productive forces stagnate. Already new inventions and improvements fail to raise the level of material wealth.” For a while, they certainly did raise the level of material wealth. However, that did not mean that it ceased to be true that under the militarised, Cold War capitalism of the 1950 and 60s, “without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind”. Mankind’s culture is threatened even more with catastrophe by destructive forces created by capital that were unknown to most in 1938.
This one-sided conception of economic stagnation as the primary feature of the imperialist epoch was an impressionistic response by Trotsky to the circumstances of the Great Depression. It is in contradiction to some earlier writings of Trotsky when he did talk about the likelihood of a capitalist revival taking place after some cataclysmic event linked to the failure of the proletariat to take power. In 1921 he wrote that if this happened “the mechanics of capitalist development…, would doubtless accomplish their work in the long run. Entire countries would be hurled back economically into barbarism; tens of millions of human beings would perish from hunger… and upon their bones some new sort of equilibrium of the capitalist world would be restored.” (Flood-Tide, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/ffyci-2/06.htm). He reinforced this several years later: “… even a new chapter of a general capitalist progress in the most powerful, ruling, and leading countries is not excluded. But for this, capitalism would first have to overcome enormous barriers of a class as well as of an inter-state character. It would have to strangle the proletarian revolution for a long time; … enslave China completely, overthrow the Soviet republic, and so forth.” (The Third International After Lenin, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1928/3rd/ti04.htm). His projection of what it might take to bring about a capitalist revival were wrong: the USSR survived and expanded after WWII and the new capitalist boom arose from the conquest of imperialist hegemony by US imperialism, at the expense primarily of Britain.
The underlying issue behind all this is that imperialism is the epoch of the decay of capitalism and its decline as a system. This question of the relationship between this and the dynamic nature of capitalism was addressed by Lenin thus:
“It would be a mistake to believe that this tendency to decay precludes the rapid growth of capitalism. It does not. In the epoch of imperialism, certain branches of industry, certain strata of the bourgeoisie and certain countries betray, to a greater or lesser degree, now one and now another of these tendencies. On the whole, capitalism is growing far more rapidly than before; but this growth is not only becoming more and more uneven in general, its unevenness also manifests itself, in particular, in the decay of the countries which are richest in capital (Britain)” .https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/imperialism.pdf
The precise way in which these tendencies of decay and destructiveness manifested, and how they are analysed by Marxists, is complex and will inevitably give rise to differences and controversies. Trotsky’s perspective on ‘stagnation of the productive forces’ in the 1938 text was erroneous and one-sided.
Many Trotskyists, expecting events to conform to Trotsky’s perspective, were reduced to attempting to talk up ‘The Crisis’ to absurd levels in the middle of a huge boom. They were profoundly disoriented from seeking to apply the words of Trotsky’s text as if they were holy writ and unquestionable. In fact, after the Second World War, the longest period of growth of the productive capitalist forces occurred. The boom was comparable, and in fact exceeded in length and height, the economic expansion that preceded World War I, and the world growth curve after World War II was much steeper: it accelerated as never before in history. Contrary to the stagnation of the productive forces, the reality was of the boom of the productive forces, of the golden 30 years of capitalism, between 1945 and 1975.
Certainly, this whole process was uneven, with the growth of the USA being greater than in many other capitalist countries because after becoming the hegemonic power, it began to drain the best wealth from much of the rest of the globe. However, it also expended considerable resources trying to economically stabilise and undermine revolutionary possibilities in defeated imperialist rivals such as Germany, Japan, and Italy, in the light of events such as the WWII Soviet victory and expansion in East Europe, the Chinese revolution, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. This also had secondary effects particularly in the Far East, laying the basis for the rise of the so-called Asian Tigers: Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea. This produced considerable growth among some of them that in the case of Japan and Germany for a while rivalled the US itself. If we evaluate together the growth of the productive forces in capitalism since the end of the first industrial revolution, we will see that the world has become 112 times richer. World GDP increased 112 times between 1750 and 2010. Most of that growth was during the 20th century and, most importantly, during the three glorious decades (1945-75).
The golden 30 years of the boom of the productive forces after WWII brought into being an historical moment by the mid-1970s when 1/3 of humanity lived in countries where there was no private ownership of the means of production. So, we can conclude with Marx that the development of the productive forces undermines the basis for capitalism and tends to generate forces to overthrow it. However, this was undermined by the bureaucracies that came to lead the resulting workers states.
Of all the workers states that were created by revolutions in the 20th Century, only in Russia in 1917 did the revolution bring to power a fragile proletarian democracy, with a leadership that consciously fought for building of socialism based on the objective tendency of the productive forces created by capitalism to require international planning, in turn based on the highest capitalist technique. They fought politically for the world revolution and the victory of the revolution in the decisive advanced capitalist-imperialist countries necessary for this to succeed. The internationalist Bolsheviks were ousted from leadership after 1924 due to the isolation of the revolution within a backward country and the rise of a privileged bureaucracy that was hostile to the world revolution and revolutionary internationalism, and the Bolshevik Left Opposition waged a struggle, that was ultimately defeated, to try to regenerate the revolution on internationalist foundations. As the bureaucratic regime consolidated itself through organising further defeats for the world proletariat, most decisively in Germany in 1933, this came to require a proletarian political revolution to restore the USSR to its original internationalist foundations.
The further development of these contradictions produced a series of revolutions after WWII that created a series of other workers states, not only in the territories that were conquered by the USSR in the process of its defeat of the Axis imperialists, but also in a series of other countries where workers states came into existence by indigenous social revolutions. All these victorious revolutions of the late 20th century took place in semi-colonial countries and were the reaction of the oppressed masses of these nations against the increase in class and imperialist parasitism that enabled the growth of the productive forces in the metropolises.
If these revolutions had had internationalist, revolutionary leaderships, consciously fighting for the same world-revolutionary perspective as the Bolsheviks, they would have provided a huge impetus to the world revolution, shaking the world in the manner of 1917, bringing about a worldwide revolutionary impetus comparable to the Bolsheviks’ coming to power. Yet their influence proved short-lived, because unlike the Russian revolution, which degenerated from a fragile and short-lived soviet democracy and internationalist leading party, these workers states were from the very beginning deformed, in a similar condition to the USSR after the 1924-33 degeneration, with regimes dominated by privileged bureaucratic castes. Trotsky characterised the bureaucratic caste in the USSR as “petit bourgeois in its composition and spirit” (The Workers State, Thermidor and Bonapartism, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1935/02/ws-therm-bon.htm) though this should not be taken to mean that the bureaucracy is a property-owing layer. Its basis is like what Lenin described as the social base of the pro-capitalist labour bureaucracy in the imperialist countries: “This stratum of workers-turned-bourgeois, or the labour aristocracy, who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook, is the principal prop of the Second International…. the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism”. (Lenin, Imperialism, Preface to the French and German Editions, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/pref02.htm)The bureaucracy is petty bourgeois in its remuneration, way of life and conception of the world, though it does not own property. Its privileges are derived from a collectivised economy, a form of property whose origins are in the proletarian revolution. The bureaucracy requires abolition through proletarian political revolutions to place the revolutionary proletariat in the commanding political position within the workers’ state.
Their leading forces were hostile to the world-revolutionary programme of Bolshevism, accepted the anti-revolutionary theory of ‘socialism in one country’ and at times fought each other in nationalist rivalry for the favour of imperialism. They betrayed revolutions just like the earlier: the betrayal and massacre of the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965, led by Beijing to politically support Sukharno’s bourgeois nationalist regime in a similar way that the CCP itself had supported the Kuomintang, led to a massacre of half-a-million Communists by the army that was virtually identical to what happened in China in 1926-7. The Castroites also opposed further overturns of capitalism, as seen for example in the way Castro strongly pressured the leftist Sandinistas, who held power in Nicaragua from 1979-89 because of a revolution that had considerable similarity to the Cuban Revolution, not to expropriate the bourgeoisie and create another workers’ state in Nicaragua.
The worst crime was China’s alliance with US imperialism from the mid-1970s to the 1991 destruction of the USSR, which helped enormously in the defeat. The earlier wars between Vietnam and Cambodia, which also involved an invasion of Vietnam by China, were part of the same criminal inter-Stalinist rivalry. The regime in Cuba, less firmly connected to the worst cynicism of Stalinism, engaged in a greater proportion of supportable actions, from its intervention in Angola to defeat apartheid South Africa in 1976, to even today with its medical assistance overseas to combat Covid-19. But it was not immune from reactionary interventions, particularly in horn of Africa where both Cuba and the USSR backed the Ethiopian Derg regime, whose ‘socialist’ phrases were mixed with a virulent ethnic nationalism and waged ethnic wars against other ethnic groups in that region.
The first phase of the cold war that began in 1945 ended with the US withdrawal in Saigon in 1975. During that phase there was a trend towards the territorial reduction of capitalism. With the second phase of the cold war, this trend first stopped and then reversed, culminating in the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. One of the greatest ironies is that since capitalist restoration, and the regression of the former USSR and China from deformed workers states to non-imperialist capitalist powers under the gun of imperialism, the current Eurasian unity between China and Russia is the greatest threat to US hegemony over the globe. Ironically and unfortunately, a kind of united front of these two countries only came into existence after the fall of the Stalinist bureaucracies.
The Transitional Programme is our programme, and this document is a manifestation of the same programme as the 1938 text. We do not need a new programme, just an updated concretisation of the same epochal call to arms, which is what a programme actually is. The core of the transitional programme is embodied in this passage:
“Classical Social Democracy, functioning in an epoch of progressive capitalism, divided its program into two parts independent of each other: the minimum program which limited itself to reforms within the framework of bourgeois society, and the maximum program which promised substitution of socialism for capitalism in the indefinite future. Between the minimum and the maximum program no bridge existed. And indeed Social Democracy has no need of such a bridge, since the word ‘socialism’ is used only for holiday speechifying. The Comintern has set out to follow the path of Social Democracy in an epoch of decaying capitalism: when, in general, there can be no discussion of systematic social reforms and the raising of the masses’ living standards; when every serious demand of the proletariat and even every serious demand of the petty bourgeoisie inevitably reaches beyond the limits of capitalist property relations and of the bourgeois state.
“The strategic task of the Fourth International lies not in reforming capitalism but in its overthrow. Its political aim is the conquest of power by the proletariat for the purpose of expropriating the bourgeoisie. However, the achievement of this strategic task is unthinkable without the most considered attention to all, even small and partial, questions of tactics. All sections of the proletariat, all its layers, occupations and groups should be drawn into the revolutionary movement. The present epoch is distinguished not for the fact that it frees the revolutionary party from day-to-day work but because it permits this work to be carried on indissolubly with the actual tasks of the revolution.
“The Fourth International does not discard the program of the old ‘minimal’ demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective. Insofar as the old, partial, “minimal” demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism – and this occurs at each step – the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old “minimal program” is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution.
For all the economic expansion of the 1950s and 1960s, it was still a period of social revolution, albeit severely deformed social revolutions led by non-proletarian, petty-bourgeois Stalinist and left-nationalist populist forces. These forces were able to temporarily prevail because of a profoundly contradictory historical situation where the stability of world capitalism had been disturbed by two imperialist World Wars and the Russian Revolution of 1917, the greatest event so far in human history, a working-class social revolution led by forces whose programme aimed consciously to overthrow capitalism over the entire planet.
d) An epoch of wars, revolutions, and counterrevolutions
A key element of our programme is the entire section of the 1938 text titled The USSR and the Problems of the Transitional Epoch in which is laid out the need to defend the degenerated USSR from imperialism and counterrevolution from within, the nature of the bureaucracy as a petty-bourgeois caste on top of the workers state that threatened the liquidation of planned economy, and the need for a political revolution to install a regime of soviet democracy and revolutionary internationalism, to save the revolution from destruction. The entire programmatic content of this remains valid, not just to the USSR but to all the deformed workers states created in its image, though the circumstances of its application have obviously changed radically since.
These Stalinist forces were not able to sustain the revolutions they led. The fall of Saigon in April 1975 seemed at the time like the greatest victory of the third-world radical Stalinists over US imperialism, as the US forces left in a great hurry, desperately evacuating their native functionaries and collaborators off the roof of the US Embassy. But this was both the high-point and the beginning of the end. Because unlike the Bolsheviks, these Stalinists did not have a world-revolutionary vision. And far worse than that, their political forebears, the Stalin regime itself, had devoted enormous amounts of effort to slaughtering those who did have a world-revolutionary vision and programme, the Bolshevik-Leninists, the Trotskyist Left Opposition within Russia, the partisans of the Fourth International.
With the victory of the short-lived deformed social revolutions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (the latter being undoubtedly the most grotesque Stalinist excrescence of all, with its primitivist, xenophobic slaughter of the urban population and of anyone connected with Vietnam), Stalinist forces controlled almost a third of the globe. If the forces in command of those ‘post-capitalist’ states had been world revolutionaries, proletarian internationalists, then the world bourgeoisie would have been in terminal crisis. But the appearance was deceptive; because these Stalinists did not have a world revolutionary outlook and indeed because the world revolutionary outlook and programme, dubbed as ‘Trotskyism’, was regarded as anathema, they were in fact ideologically sitting ducks for a world-wide counterrevolutionary outlook, capitalist neo-liberalism. Within just over a decade of the fall of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City had fallen again, to capitalist restoration from within, as the Vietnamese Communist Party adopted a programme of privatisation and marketisation, topped off with the call for a stock market in Vietnam. This was to happen to most of the Stalinist regimes, until today there are only two bona-fide deformed workers states remaining, in Cuba and North Korea.
Regarding these surviving deformed workers states, their defence against counterrevolution, from within and without, and imperialist attack is one of the most important tasks of Trotskyists today. As the Transitional Programme noted in the context of World War 2:
“… not all countries of the world are imperialist countries. On the contrary, the majority are victims of imperialism. Some of the colonial or semi-colonial countries will undoubtedly attempt to utilize the war in order to cast off the yoke of slavery. Their war will be not imperialist but liberating. It will be the duty of the international proletariat to aid the oppressed countries in their war against the oppressors. The same duty applies in regard to aiding the USSR, or whatever other workers’ government might arise before the war or during the war. The defeat of every imperialist government in the struggle with the workers’ state or with a colonial country is the lesser evil. “
Despite being left in a dire state of isolation due to the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and the resulting cut-off of aid, Cuba has against the odds managed to survive as a workers state until now, though the commitment of the regime to maintaining a collectivised economy into the future is most doubtful. Although it has engaged in repeated rounds of ‘opening up’ of its economy to foreign capital, including since 2014 allowing wholly-owned foreign business enterprises in Cuba (Spain and Holland are notable sources of investment). Cuba, along with North Korea, still has no stock exchange, and overseas investment is not allowed to take over its extensive healthcare and public services more generally, at least now.
Cuba’s health care, and literacy of its population, is why it is still referred to as ‘the poorest first world country’ and that is down to the deformed workers state that was established in 1960. Cuban overseas aid is thus massively out of proportion to its size, from aid to Venezuela, both military and to the Chavista regime’s own social reforms, which do not go anywhere as far as Cuba of course, to even being able to send substantial medical aid to stricken countries in Europe, such as Italy and Spain, during the Covid pandemic. For all these reasons defence of Cuba against imperialism and any attempt at counterrevolution from within, which could conceivably happen particularly now that Raul Castro is no longer around, is a key task of our movement.
North Korea is the other surviving deformed workers state, and in some ways appears the polar opposite of Cuba’s relative openness. For North Korea is in effect a Stalinist monarchy; the succession as head of state has been hereditary through three generations now. Its official ideology has long been Juche, or self-reliance, codifying an extreme form of autarchy that makes the regime’s political and economic isolation into a virtue. The regime has many of the features of a rather strange cult. There have however been limited forms of ‘opening up’ economically at times with joint ventures with firms in South Korea, China, and sporadically elsewhere.
It is not clear whether the regime might be tempted to a further opening up to overseas capital, but aside from the megalomaniacal Stalinist-type ideology of the regime, objectively it is very much possible because of the material poverty and isolation of the country. The commitment of the bureaucracy long term to collectivised property can no more be guaranteed than that of Vietnam. However as only half-a-country in an unresolved national conflict, in a state of ‘demilitarization’ (not peace) with the United States itself, North Korea has good reason to fear imperialist attack. We defend its right to develop nuclear weapons to defend itself against imperialism and are opposed to it negotiating away its nuclear capability, which could lead to it being subjugated like Libya. We defend its collectivised economy against counterrevolution from within or without.
But the only hope for further socialist development of Cuba or North Korea is for the Stalinist regimes to be replaced with revolutionary internationalist leadership through working class political revolution.
A key feature of the world situation in the 21st Century, particularly since the financial crisis and near collapse of 2007-9, is the shaking of the equilibrium of the pillars of world capitalism, the dramatic deterioration of the power of the West and the United States. Another peculiarity of this moment, which combines with the crisis of imperialist domination is the growth of the influence of a bloc composed of dependent capitalist countries, semi-colonies and workers states, as rivals of the USA.
The aforementioned dependent capitalist powers include two former workers states, Russia and China. These two great nations are supported by smaller semi-colonial countries that are also in conflict with imperialism, such as Iran and Venezuela. On this multinational front are also the two remaining deformed workers states, North Korea and Cuba. They are all the target of imperialist economic sanctions. Some, like Cuba, have been under sanctions for more than 70 years. Others, like Iran, have been under sanctions for 40 years.
”In the sphere of inter-state relations the disruption of equilibrium means war or – in a weaker form – tariff war, economic war, or blockade. Capitalism thus possesses a dynamic equilibrium, one which is always in the process of either disruption or restoration. But at the same time this equilibrium has a great power of resistance, the best proof of which is the fact that the capitalist world has not toppled to this day.”Leon Trotsky, Report on the World Economic Crisis and the New Tasks of the Communist International, June 1921
Key to our programme today is the defence of these opponent powers of Western imperialism against imperialist attack, and of course regarding the deformed workers states, defence of them against capitalist restoration whether from within or without. These considerations overlay our entire analysis and response to such imperialist actions.
The crisis sparked the shake-up of imperialist domination and simultaneously concentrated capital in the hands of an even smaller handful of banks, monopolies and billionaires. This concentration of power in the hands of financial capital promoted a right-wing turn in globally dominant bourgeois thinking, encouraged fascist tendencies, promoted bourgeois leaders such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Scott Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte, Matteo Salvini, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán. Fascism is a watchdog of financial capital set to terrorize the proletariat in times of crisis, to force it to submit to austerity and slavery regimes. To this end, it regiments, recruits for the state forces of the enraged petit-bourgeoisie and demoralized gangs of the lumpemproletariat, human beings that financial capital itself led to despair and fury. These trends that rely on strong material bases of capital concentration have not cooled with the replacement of one or the other of these leaders.
e) The System of Transitional Demands
Having dealt substantially with the legacy of the Russian Revolution, and both the advances and defeats for the world revolution up until now, we now turn to the core of our programme. As was explained in the 1938 text:
“The strategic task of the next period – a pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda and organization – consists in overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard (the confusion and disappointment of the older generation, the inexperience of the younger generation). It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”
We cannot simply mechanically repeat the same set of demands in all economic conditions irrespective of time, place, and the concrete economic conjuncture. Transitional demands are many and varied, what they have in common is the attempt to find a bridge between the everyday economic and indeed political and democratic demands of today, and the revolution itself. Given that the political and economic convulsions decaying capitalism imposes are many and varied, transitional demands likewise have to be formulated for a variety of crises and situations. Not all transitional demands have as their starting point the level of economics. Some can concern matters of relations between states.
For instance, Trotsky called for a United States of Europe in a famous 1923 essay. The problem of the fragmentation and Balkanisation of Europe can only be fully resolved under socialism, as today’s experience of the capitalist European Union shows. But in that period, after WWI, Versailles and events such as the French occupation of the Ruhr caused fear across Europe that division of Europe might cause it to collapse into bloody chaos. The demand for European unity, which posed the need to abolish the rival imperial powers in Europe, was felt by millions, as a demand that did not start from that for socialism but pointed towards the need for it. That was a transitional demand. There are situations where some such demands are irrelevant: demands such as sliding scales of wages, or of hours, which aim to address the suffering of the masses in an economic slump, had no relevance, at least in the advanced countries, in the kind of rapid capitalist expansion that took place in the 30 years after WWII. Some who were influenced by Trotsky’s schema of the stagnation of the productive forces tried desperately to cling to these demands, and as a result only succeeded in practice in degrading their politics to the level of tailing trade union militancy in boom conditions, precisely in the situation where improvements do not necessarily point beyond capitalism. But some of these demands are strikingly relevant today, such as the demand for a great public works plan to fight unemployment as we face economic slump triggered off by the Covid-19 Pandemic, itself a product of global heating and the destruction of the biosphere caused by the decaying capitalist mode of production.
The 1938 text raised the demand for sliding scales of wages and hours. Wages should rise with inflation as a right, with the calculations done by committees of workers and their spouses and partners, through mass organisations, to ensure no capitalist swindling and loss of real wages. Likewise, available working hours should be divided up among all workers, with no loss of pay. This means a demand for decent living standards for all, the right to employment, irrespective of the capitalists’ claims about their ability to pay. The latter is particularly relevant with the pandemic and slump: the capitalist system created this problem and capital must pay for all of it … no worker should suffer loss of job or income as the price for protecting the safety of themselves and their families. No victim of unemployment should be allowed to starve … all must be incorporated into the working class as a collective:
“Property owners and their lawyers will prove the ‘unrealizability’ of these demands. Smaller, especially ruined capitalists, in addition will refer to their account ledgers. The workers categorically denounce such conclusions and references. The question is not one of a “normal” collision between opposing material interests. The question is one of guarding the proletariat from decay, demoralization and ruin. The question is one of life or death of the only creative and progressive class, and by that token of the future of mankind. If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. ‘Realizability’ or ‘unrealizability’ is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”
Our programme, both today and at the foundation of our movement, is clear about the responsibility of our militants to the mass organisations of the working class:
“The Bolshevik-Leninist stands in the front-line trenches of all kinds of struggles, even when they involve only the most modest material interests or democratic rights of the working class. He takes active part in mass trade unions for the purpose of strengthening them and raising their spirit of militancy. He fights uncompromisingly against any attempt to subordinate the unions to the bourgeois state and bind the proletariat to ‘compulsory arbitration’ and every other form of police guardianship – not only fascist but also ‘democratic.’ Only on the basis of such work within the trade unions is successful struggle possible against the reformists, including those of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Sectarian attempts to build or preserve small ‘revolutionary’ unions, as a second edition of the party, signify in actuality the renouncing of the struggle for leadership of the working class. It is necessary to establish this firm rule: self-isolation of the capitulationist variety from mass trade unions, which is tantamount to a betrayal of the revolution, is incompatible with membership in the Fourth International.
“At the same time, the Fourth International resolutely rejects and condemns trade union fetishism, equally characteristic of trade unionists and syndicalists.
“Therefore, the sections of the Fourth International should always strive not only to renew the top leadership of the trade unions, boldly and resolutely in critical moments advancing new militant leaders in place of routine functionaries and careerists, but also to create in all possible instances independent militant organizations corresponding more closely to the tasks of mass struggle against bourgeois society; and, if necessary, not flinching even in the face of a direct break with the conservative apparatus of the trade unions. If it be criminal to turn one’s back on mass organizations for the sake of fostering sectarian factions, it is no less so passively to tolerate subordination of the revolutionary mass movement to the control of openly reactionary or disguised conservative (‘progressive’) bureaucratic cliques. Trade unions are not ends in themselves; they are but means along the road to proletarian revolution.”
This is our programmatic approach to the mass organisations of our class, whether in the circumstances of 1938, where the Spanish Revolution had not been finally overcome and the enormous upsurge of the French proletariat in June 1936 was still a recent memory that terrified the bourgeoisie, or today, where we face neo-liberal reaction and the rise of right-wing populism, driven by the discontent of backward sections of the working class where the advanced sections have for the moment been stymied and beaten down. The trend towards the rise of the populist right is not completely contradictory to the rise of the Eurasian pole, as demonstrated by the flirtation of the current governments of the Philippines, Egypt, Turkey, El Salvador and the Myanmar dictatorship, with China and Russia. Various trends from the Eurasian pole, the rise of an alternative bourgeois wave to imperialism can be combined with right-wing populism, even now, after the return to power of the postmodern liberal wing of imperialism.
The precise rhythms of the class struggle cannot be determined in advance, but the domination of reaction does not, despite the delusions of its proponents, have an unlimited life. The advanced elements of the working class and oppressed will find their voice and history tells us that when mass struggles do erupt, more advanced forms of working-class organisation than trade unions will emerge. In conditions of capitalist decay, every serious upsurge of the masses comes up against the limits of capitalist property relations. As happened in the widespread use of sit-down strikes, or factory seizures, in Italy after the end of WWI, and in the United States during the rise of industrial unionism in the 1930s after the Great Depression:
“Sit-down strikes, the latest expression of this kind of initiative, go beyond the limits of ‘normal’ capitalist procedure. Independently of the demands of the strikers, the temporary seizure of factories deals a blow to the idol, capitalist property. Every sit-down strike poses in a practical manner the question of who is boss of the factory: the capitalist or the workers?”
“If the sit-down strike raises this question episodically, the factory committee gives it organized expression. Elected by all the factory employees, the factory committee immediately creates a counterweight to the will of the administration.”
Factory or workplace committees thus challenge the domination and unlimited property rights of the owners of those, usually large, workplaces. But as soon as the workers challenge the bosses’ prerogative to determine pay, and who is employed, the question of capitalist economics comes to the fore as the bosses plead that the workers’ demands are impossible…
“The actual relationship existing between the exploiters and the democratic ‘controllers’ is best characterized by the fact that the gentlemen ‘reformers’ stop short in pious trepidation before the threshold of the trusts and their business ‘secrets.’ Here the principle of ‘non-interference’ with business dominates. The accounts kept between the individual capitalist and society remain the secret of the capitalist: they are not the concern of society. The motivation offered for the principle of business ‘secrets’ is ostensibly, as in the epoch of liberal capitalism, that of free competition.
“In reality, the trusts keep no secrets from one another. The business secrets of the present epoch are part of a persistent plot of monopoly capitalism against the interests of society. Projects for limiting the autocracy of ‘economic royalists’ will continue to be pathetic farces as long as private owners of the social means of production can hide from producers and consumers the machinations of exploitation, robbery and fraud. The abolition of ‘business secrets’ is the first step toward actual control of industry.”
“Workers no less than capitalists have the right to know the ‘secrets’ of the factory, of the trust, of the whole branch of industry, of the national economy as a whole.
“The immediate tasks of workers’ control should be to explain the debits and credits of society, beginning with individual business undertakings; to determine the actual share of the national income appropriated by individual capitalists and by the exploiters as a whole; to expose the behind-the-scenes deals and swindles of banks and trusts; finally, to reveal to all members of society that unconscionable squandering of human labour which is the result of capitalist anarchy and the naked pursuit of profits.” (P16)
f) The globalisation of capitalism and its threats to humanity
Increasingly today, with the globalisation of capital, privatisation of formerly state industries into the hands of transnational giant corporations, and the migration of industrial jobs to lower wage countries, this may prove insufficient to really pin down and control capital on a national basis. In the 21st century, the north-south direction of capital transfer did not predominate, but the continuity of transferring from the West to the East in the transfer of investments, following the movement of global labour arbitrage. And after 2013, the capital transfer movement started to take on a new and diverse sense, with the creation of the new silk route through China, the One Belt, One Road program. The need for international forms of labour organisation, not just trade unions but also organs of workers control, is likely to become apparent in the circumstances of a major working-class upsurge.
This is also necessitated by another crucial problem confronting the global proletariat today: the strong likelihood, indeed certainty, of ‘natural disasters’ that could be quite catastrophic resulting from the destruction and degradation of the biosphere by the capitalist mode of production. The Covid-19 pandemic is a prime example of this. In the context of the pandemic, the key demand is that capitalism should pay for the entire costs of protecting the working class from the pandemic and its economic costs, of maintaining workers in safe conditions, of sick leave, homeworking, or full payment while unable to work for the duration of the pandemic, under workers control.
In future, there are likely to be further disasters caused by capitalist environmental degradation, from fires to floods to the possibilities of some parts of the world becoming uninhabitable due to heat, or flooding. The Covid-19 Pandemic is a result of capitalist despoilation of the environment and a terrible by- product of its wanton exploitation of nature. Its apparent origin in China is no doubt a by-product of the commodification of that society through capitalist restoration, but such despoilation of nature, which creates risks of spill-over biological events that can do enormous harm to humanity, are possible in many places. Nature is being degraded by capitalism all over the world. This pandemic and the risk of other health disasters have proved that capital’s public and private health systems are useless to protect the very conditions of maintenance of the capitalist system, and under the current conditions the organic growth of humanity will be threatened, and this requires that workers begin to nationalize and control the entire health system and the pharmaceutical industry internationally.
There is a desperate need to accelerate the conversion of industry from fossil fuels and the likes to renewables, possibly through the intermediate use of sources of nuclear energy in some forms. All these things, from disaster relief to the migration of parts of the world proletariat to safer locations to rapid technological change, pose the necessity for workers control and independent organs of workers power, such as soviets, to oversee and force the changes necessary to ensure human survival. More detailed programmes of demands need to be worked out on these questions and the movements and institutions created though class-conscious revolutionary activity, to implement them.
National solutions to these problems are utopian if not reactionary and this again underlines why our programme must be broadened out from the national to the international and indeed global plane. The climate agreements and the market for the purchase of carbon credits have proven useless and reactionary and have widened the inequality between the metropolises and the semi-colonies. They favoured financial speculation and were only possible thanks to the reduction of industrial productive activity in the western countries due to the global arbitrage of the work that transferred great part of global production from west to east. Furthermore, it does not work: the preservation of forests that was supposed to result from this arrangement in many cases either did not happen at all or resulted in ‘leakage’: deforestation being displaced to other locations. A 2015 study concluded that 75% of credits issued would likely not represent significant reductions, and that if countries had cut pollution, instead of offsetting, global CO2 emissions in that period would have been 600 million tonnes lower. (see https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-48369790) There is no central authority to coordinate and enforce these programmes: ecological problems require international planning for their solution. Carbon-trading schemes are a doubly reactionary, imperialist way out of the ecological crisis. The need for a workers’ international that can win the masses is palpable to address these vital questions for the world proletariat.
The migration of employment is part of a further development of the regime of classic finance capital addressed above, i.e., the fusion of banking and industrial capital. Indeed, we are now in a new period of development of imperialist capitalism, which is quite different again from the post WWII period dominated by the clash between hegemonic US imperialism and the deformed and degenerated workers states. Since the 1970s, we have seen development of a new strategy by imperialism, neoliberalism, that has wrought major changes on the world economy and on the structure of the world proletariat, and which therefore must once again bring about a major adjustment in the strategic vision of Marxists, and the leadership they aim to bring to the masses internationally, comparably great to the adjustment that was necessary in our understanding in the aftermath of the Second Imperialist World War.
The long boom that persisted from the 1940s to the late 1960s and early 1970s, ended in a major crisis of profitability for the capitalist system in the imperialist heartlands (see graphic).
That gave rise to major class struggles in several European countries, including most notably France in May 1968, Italy in 1969, and somewhat later, in the early 1970s, Britain, as well as significant industrial militancy in the United States. This dovetailed and interacted with the radicalisation among workers and students that grew out of the Vietnam war. However, the working class was kept in check by Social Democracy and Stalinism and given the inability of the fragmented and flawed Trotskyist movement to create a coherent alterative, the bourgeoisie overcame the immediate threat and embarked on a new strategy to stabilise its system. Part of this strategy, driven not only by profitability but also by politics, involved the systematic hollowing out of industry through the relocation of production away from strategic working-class populations. This needs to be addressed here because the changes that have taken place are crucial for the concrete, contemporary application of our programme.
This was the dawning of the current historical period of neo-liberalism, which is not an aberration but an adjustment of imperialist strategy to cope with the continued fall in the rate of profit within the traditional industrial capitalist economies of the main, traditional imperialist countries. A resurgence of dictatorial political repression against the working class and peoples oppressed by imperialism was fundamental as foundation for the primitive neoliberal accumulation of capital. The Chilean dictatorship, where the country was transformed into a laboratory of the Chicago Boys, after the political defeat of the coup d’etat came the physical defeat of the murder and torture of tens of thousands of social fighters; the dictatorships in Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil (although, in the latter case, neoliberalism was delayed by a decade thanks to the victories of workers’ strikes against the dictatorship between 1970 and 1980); the victory of Great Britain over Argentina in the Falklands war, the main war between imperialism and the oppressed countries of the 20th century in Latin America; as well as the defeats of crucial strikes by air traffic controllers in the US and miners in Great Britain.
A key feature of this has been the large-scale deindustrialisation of some of the oldest capitalist economies, particularly the United States and Britain, and to a lesser degree parts of the European Union, and the now decades-long relocation of industrial jobs to mainly Asian countries on the periphery of the world system where labour is far cheaper. This was not a generalised shift of employment to the ‘Global South’ or the ‘Third World’ but a more specific regional shift, in a combined and unequal fashion between Europe (from an imperialist, capitalist tradition) and Asia (from a pre-capitalist tradition or from former workers’ states sometimes maintained under the centralized control of communist parties). There has been a major shift of industries from textiles and clothing to coal and steel production, to hi-tech and computer manufacture, to call centres and technical support in a range of technologies, to low-wage economies such as China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, various South-East Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, as well as parts of Eastern Europe. This has come to encompass, over those decades, many millions of industrial and related jobs moving from the imperialist countries, a major shift in the location and nature of the world proletariat (This graphic video, though highly problematic for Marxists due to its inclusion of imperialist Japan and unclarity as to whether it catalogues wealth and growth on a per capita or aggregate basis, shows something of the dynamic of neoliberal growth in Asia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUg3mp7Xfyc)
The driving force of this is cheap labour. And one reason why the labour of these workers, who are in many cases doing work that was once done by much better paid workers in advanced, imperialist countries who have been dispensed with, is so important, is what the British Marxist author John Smith, author of Imperialism in the 21st Century, calls ‘global labour arbitrage’: a system whereby labour-power is systematically paid less that the customary value of labour-power in earlier periods of capitalism. This is maintained by exploiting differences of development between the imperialist countries and these semi-colonial countries, including differences in values of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ currencies.
In Capital Marx talked about two characteristic methods of capitalism to reduce the share of variable capital (i.e., workers’ wages) in the price of commodities: Absolute Surplus Value (the lengthening of the working day) and Relative Surplus Value (the cheapening of the prices of the means of subsistence that workers depend upon to reproduce their means of life). Both of these are obviously involved in the changed production process in the neoliberal period: indeed, the lengthening of the working day is rife in the special export zones in poor countries to which much production has been relocated, and the flow of cheap commodities into the imperialist countries from capitalism’s cheap labour zones is key to maintaining relative social peace in these imperialist countries. But there is a third method of reducing the share of variable capital that figures only marginally in Marx’s Capital: the reduction of the price of labour power below its historical value through simply paying workers less. That third technique of increasing the rate of profit has been massively expanded in today’s neo-liberal capitalism and is the dominant method today by which imperialist capital maintains itself.
A characteristic method of exploitation of this relatively new layer of the global working class is through outsourcing: not even the traditional method of imperialist capital exports where imperialist monopolies ran subsidiaries in poor countries who were therefore linked organisationally both to a parent company and to its workforce in the home countries of imperialism. This put some pressure on imperialist corporations to make concessions on pay, working conditions etc, with their subsidiaries. However, ‘home-grown’ companies in the semi-colonial countries who act as outsourced sub-contractors are formally and legally separate bodies, not subsidiaries. Imperialist monopolies who outsource work to them do not export and invest capital in a subsidiary, but rather make a commercial transaction with a separate employer.
Though the entire labour and production process is planned and dictated by the imperialist ‘lead company’ and the importation of partially manufactured parts for further work organised by the ‘lead’ is central to the production process, they seek the lowest price from the contractor. Hence such outsourcing arrangements are the driving force of appalling labour conditions in numerous countries in the Global South, where the Special Export Zone, where labour rights are virtually non-existent and often largely female workers work the kind of exploitative hours in unsafe and often deadly conditions that were regarded as scandalous in Britain in the Victorian era. As a result of this, the “Workshop of the World” has shifted from initially Britain, then to several highly industrialised imperialist rivals in the 20th Century and is now shifting again to a variety of Global South countries, including places like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and above all China, whose post-Mao and particularly post-1989 industrialisation has been hugely boosted by this global shift of production.
The whole point of this shift of production is to exploit the much lower price of labour power, or its lower local value in terms of historical socio-economic development and the local class struggle, in semi-colonial countries, to massively cheapen the labour element of crucial commodities that are sold in the imperialist countries, both raising the rate of profit and also cheapening the price of key, means of subsistence of workers in the imperialist countries, again allowing the price of labour power to fall in relative terms, thus again raising the rate of surplus-value and indirectly therefore the rate of profit.
The net result of this is a systematic and much enhanced transfer of value from a labour force in poor, semi-colonial countries, employed, directly and increasingly indirectly, through outsourced intermediaries, to imperialist capital, which has thus downgraded the status and hence the social power of the traditional industrial proletariat of the imperialist countries themselves. Surplus value is sucked out of this workforce and part of this surplus is even taxed by imperialist governments as value seemingly generated at home by the companies concerned. Thus, surplus value generated by workers abroad is used indirectly to provide a social wage and buffer for increasingly pauperised and lumpenised layers of the former industrial working class in imperialist countries.
Another facet of this is a limited increase in immigration into the imperialist countries from the same underdeveloped, semi-colonial countries. This consists of two components: highly skilled labour that the imperialists are keen to encourage to migrate to reap the benefits of skills whose creation and training they have not had to pay for, and a layer of unskilled workers in menial work, that it would often be too socially provocative and impractical to attempt to force upon ‘home grown’ workers.
The skilled layer, for obvious reasons, are allowed a significant level of privilege by the bourgeoisie. The unskilled layer is treated brutally, and subject to all sorts of increasingly onerous restrictions and frequent abuses. In fact, this is a microcosm of what really makes the whole system practicable for the bourgeoisie. The only means available of keeping the price of labour power down for its increasingly globalised, outsourced workforce, is by a system of systematic global segregation of the Global South workforce that the imperialist bourgeoisie are superexploiting to keep up the rate of profit. This involves above all draconian immigration controls, enforced brutally, a system of global apartheid whose whole point is to maintain the huge differential between the price of labour power where it is bought and the actual value it produces, which is realised in the imperialist countries at approximately the kind of levels that are customary in those countries.
Opposition to that system of globalised labour apartheid, and to all immigration controls in the imperialist countries therefore is a strategic question of the world revolution. It is in the class interest of all workers to destroy the system of global apartheid, that gives the imperialist bourgeoisie the whip hand over the working class both in the ‘Special Export Zones’ and the like in the Global South, and in the imperialist countries. Backward-looking anti-immigrant movements such as Brexit, Trumpism, and the like, which exploit the decline of the social power of the proletariat of the imperialist world and its nostalgia for its once-privileged status, and direct hatred against immigrant workers and workers in the Global South, are not in any sense opponents of neoliberalism but the worst enemies of the world proletariat.
All this provides the material basis for the phenomenon of financialisation, a modification of finance capital also caused by the further fall of the rate of profit, which as Marx explained is inherent to the capitalist mode of production and a key contradiction that means the system itself is historically unviable. This has also produced major changes in the social democratic bureaucracies: the new social democracy from the 1980s onwards is different from the social democracy of the 30 glorious years, before the workers’ defeats in the West and the global arbitrage of labour. Financialization made social democracy less social and very neoliberal.
Falling profit rates is what is behind the widespread privatisation of sections of the economy that were previous considered untouchable, such as elements of the state: police, prisons, probation services and the like in imperialist countries. The export of productive jobs to low wage countries is also designed above all to squeeze every possible morsel of surplus-value out of the working class. ‘Creative’ financial products that depend on asset bubbles, particularly in housing and also stock markets, to create ‘new’ streams of revenue for the ruling class rooted in fictitious capital, capital mortgaged against hope-for future profits, are now strategically key to the ruling class’s economics. And when these novelties fail, as in the 2007-09 Credit Crunch crisis, they bring about huge economic and political shocks to the system, not merely on a national scale, but rather globally.
This gives rise to the necessity of a broader emphasis and thrust to some of the demands in the 1938 text that address crises on a national level. A key demand is for programmes of public works, logically following from the demands directed at preserving the working class from inflation and unemployment, leading to workers control:
”The struggle against unemployment is not to be considered without the calling for a broad and bold organization of public works. But public works can have a continuous and progressive significance for society, as for the unemployed themselves, only when they are made part of a general plan worked out to cover a considerable number of years. Within the framework of this plan, the workers would demand resumption, as public utilities, of work in private businesses closed as a result of the crisis. Workers’ control in such case: would be replaced by direct workers’ management.
“The working out of even the most elementary economic plan – from the point of view of the exploited, not the exploiters – is impossible without workers’ control, that is, without the penetration of the workers’ eye into all open and concealed springs of capitalist economy. Committees representing individual business enterprises should meet at conference to choose corresponding committees of trusts, whole branches of industry, economic regions and finally, of national industry as a whole. Thus, workers’ control becomes a school for planned economy. On the basis of the experience of control, the proletariat will prepare itself for direct management of nationalized industry when the hour for that eventuality strikes.”
Such demands today cannot but be affected by such phenomena as the migration of employment to low wage economies, and large-scale migration of workers from such lower wage economies to imperialist countries, which are twin phenomena of capitalism in the early 21st Century. We need to find ways to fight for such things across international lines, for public works controlled by internationally organised labour to attack the power of a capital which is much more internationalised today. We need to promote international labour organisation, oppose all forms of protectionism and especially labour protectionism in the imperialist countries, all forms of chauvinism and anti-migrant agitation. We do however recognise the right of workers states and dependent countries to use protectionist measures to defend themselves against imperialist economic warfare.
It is still a key part of our programme to call for the expropriation of separate groups of capitalists:
“The socialist program of expropriation, i.e., of political overthrow of the bourgeoisie and liquidation of its economic domination, should in no case during the present transitional period hinder us from advancing, when the occasion warrants, the demand for the expropriation of several key branches of industry vital for national existence or of the most parasitic group of the bourgeoisie.
“Thus, in answer to the pathetic jeremiads of the gentlemen democrats about the dictatorship of the ‘60 Families’ of the United States or the ‘200 Families’ of France, we counterpose the demand for the expropriation of those 60 or 200 feudalistic capitalist overlords.”
“The necessity of advancing the slogan of expropriation in the course of daily agitation in partial form, and not only in our propaganda in its more comprehensive aspects, is dictated by the fact that different branches of industry are on different levels of development, occupy a different place in the life of society, and pass through different stages of the class struggle. Only a general revolutionary upsurge of the proletariat can place the complete expropriation of the bourgeoisie on the order of the day. The task of transitional demands is to prepare the proletariat to solve this problem.” (P18)
Today, when joint stock companies, and ownership of shares by financial institutions like pension funds are widespread, globalised corporations have tended to replace ‘family’ types of capitalist ownership. It is also necessary to raise such demands in the context of globalisation: for expropriation across national lines. If a key part of the productive workforce of a monopoly in a Western country is located in China or India, for instance, a move to expropriate such a monopoly has a massive impact on the class struggle in those countries and across the world, and currently neither political nor labour organisation is remotely adequate for that. Indeed, this gap makes such struggles appear remote and utopian. The reactionary result of such lack of international labour organisation has been the hitching of the proletariat to reactionary nationalist demagogy, which attacks and undermines all workers.
Similar considerations must be taken account of in demanding the expropriation of banks and credit systems:
“It is impossible to take a single serious step in the struggle against monopolistic despotism and capitalistic anarchy – which supplement one another in their work of destruction – if the commanding posts of banks are left in the hands of predatory capitalists. In order to create a unified system of investments and credits, along a rational plan corresponding to the interests of the entire people, it is necessary to merge all the banks into a single national institution. Only the expropriation of the private banks and the concentration of the entire credit system in the hands of the state will provide the latter with the necessary actual, i.e., material resources – and not merely paper and bureaucratic resources – for economic planning.
“The expropriation of the banks in no case implies the expropriation of bank deposits. On the contrary, the single state bank will be able to create much more favorable conditions for the small depositors than could the private banks. In the same way, only the state bank can establish for farmers, tradesmen and small merchants conditions of favorable, that is, cheap credit. Even more important, however, is the circumstance that the entire economy – first and foremost large-scale industry and transport directed by a single financial staff, will serve the vital interests of the workers and all other toilers.
“However, the state-ization of the banks will produce these favorable results only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.” (P19)
This is entirely correct, and it should be noted that during the 2007-09 near financial meltdown, the bourgeoisie of the United States even was compelled to temporarily nationalise some failing banks to prevent financial collapse. That would have been a key opportunity to demand expropriation of a dysfunctional, indeed highly dangerous system of financialised, chaotic capitalism that spread destruction around the world. Such an act would have had world-wide significance, it would have necessitated the expropriation of numerous subsidiaries, ‘partners’ and interlocking enterprises around the world, including many based in former deformed workers states. This again poses the issue that international working class political and class-struggle organisation is going to be key to struggles occasioned by ‘globalised’ capitalist parasitism and economic irrationality.
g) Working-Class Power, War and Revolution
The demand for the working class to eschew pacifism and fight for its class interests collectively and physically against its enemies is as key to the revolutionary programme today as it always was:
“The bourgeoisie is nowhere satisfied with the official police and army. In the United States even during ‘peaceful’ times the bourgeoisie maintains militarized battalions of scabs and privately armed thugs in factories. To this must now be added the various groups of American Nazis. The French bourgeoisie at the first approach of danger mobilized semi-legal and illegal fascist detachments, including such as are in the army. No sooner does the pressure of the English workers once again become stronger than immediately the fascist bands are doubled, trebled, increased tenfold to come out in bloody march against the workers. The bourgeoisie keeps itself most accurately informed about the fact that in the present epoch the class struggle irresistibly tends to transform itself into civil war. The examples of Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain and other countries taught considerably more to the magnates and lackeys of capital than to the official leaders of the proletariat.”
“Only armed workers’ detachments, who feel the support of tens of millions of toilers behind them, can successfully prevail against the fascist bands. The struggle against fascism does not start in the liberal editorial office but in the factory – and ends in the street. Scabs and private gunmen in factory plants are the basic nuclei of the fascist army. Strike pickets are the basic nuclei of the proletarian army. This is our point of departure. In connection with every strike and street demonstration, it is imperative to propagate the necessity of creating workers’ groups for self-defense. It is necessary to write this slogan into the program of the revolutionary wing of the trade unions. It is imperative wherever possible, beginning with the youth groups, to organize groups for self-defense, to drill and acquaint them with the use of arms.
“A new upsurge of the mass movement should serve not only to increase the number of these units but also to unite them according to neighborhoods, cities, regions. It is necessary to give organized expression to the valid hatred of the workers toward scabs and bands of gangsters and fascists. It is necessary to advance the slogan of a workers’ militia as the one serious guarantee for the inviolability of workers’ organizations, meetings and press.”
There is little to add to this except to note that there is a greater diversity of workplace today in many countries. Such bodies can be the locus for the working class to take power, as happened in the October Revolution. Armed formations must grow out of the masses or be adventurist and dangerous, but they may take on a variety of forms depending on the level of development of the country. We are not guerilliaists but we recognise that in some circumstances a mass-based militia can grow out of guerrilla-type formations when a country has already plunged into civil conflict.
The world proletariat has never been more sizeable and more potentially powerful. The World Bank now documents that there are around 3.4 billion total labour force worldwide, as compared to less than 2.4 billon in 1990 (see graphic above, at https://tinyurl.com/3t4vb5kv). And yet since 1975 there has been no takeover by workers or expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Indeed since 1989 the territory dominated by capitalism has expanded. The crisis of leadership, after the Stalinist political counterrevolution of the 1920s, took a leap in quality (one of its first manifestations was the rise of fascism and Nazism), and together with the accumulated political and ideological defeats, it set back the political organization of the workers, generating this current situation, whereby a part of the working class in the advanced countries is not only conservative, but reactionary. Capital has also learned and evolved in its mechanisms of social and ideological control over the working class.
There is also the phenomenon of cyber-warfare and cyber espionage. The fact is that the internet, the world-wide web and the proliferation of microprocessor-driven devices in many homes give unprecedented possibilities for surveillance both to repressive agencies of the various ruling classes around the world, as well as private tech companies and the like. Sophisticated spyware and artificial intelligence mean that many aspects of individuals political and personal life can be easily spied on and betrayed, which has enhanced the repressive power of the class enemy. It also increased the social control and psychic control of capital over work through the expansion of alienation of the working population, with new forms of exploitation of the workforce, extending the journey to almost 24 hours in which the worker is available for work through of the so-called “social networks”, and of more intense seduction of the mind with addiction induced through social networks. However, this is a problem that the workers movement has faced in the past, albeit from lower-tech means of surveillance and repression. Just as rival powers to the imperialists develop their own facilities for cyber-warfare which can be used against imperialism, working class and revolutionary movements, as part of building their own mass-based military organs, must gather together their own expertise in these matters, and use the best technologies and tools available to safeguard privacy and the personal security of our supporters.
The bourgeoisie itself periodically indulges in hysteria about how new encryption technologies are inaccessible to their organs of repression, which does indicate that this is not entirely one-sided and such abuses can be combatted, and must be. Just as the revolutionary communists include the printing press among their weapons in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, they must also incorporate, in the most varied possible ways and in an even more popular way, than the bourgeoisie, TV, the internet, applications in the class struggle , as the bourgeoisie already does for social control, for the psychic control of the working masses. They will always use technological and communicational tools to control us, the new generations of fighters will know how to use and should be encouraged to do so, these same tools adapted for the liberation of the mind, for the awakening of class consciousness, for the international communication of the fighters, for the revolutionary organisation.
The working class was never so big as a “class in itself” and never so small as a “class for itself”. This is possibly an unavoidable phase resulting from imperialist decline and the puncturing of a degree of labour-aristocratic consciousness among a layer of workers in imperialist countries who have suffered from the restructuring of the world proletariat. What is crucial is forging political unity of this hugely powerful world proletariat and counteracting the bourgeois populist and neo-liberal project to divide the proletariat along national lines. We must unite the proletariat to fight capital; we must not allow capital to incite the workers into conflicts with each other along national lines as the populists wish.
And this logically leads onto the question of our attitude to war. The 1938 text puts this sharply, and much within it resonates today:
“The bourgeoisie and its agents use the war question, more than any other, to deceive the people by means of abstractions, general formulas, lame phraseology: ‘neutrality,’ ‘collective defense,’ ‘arming for the defense of peace,’ ‘struggle against fascism,’ and so on. All such formulas reduce themselves in the end to the fact that the war question, i.e., the fate of the people, is left in the hands of the imperialists, their governing staffs, their diplomacy, their generals, with all their intrigues and plots against the people.
The Fourth International rejects with abhorrence all such abstractions which play the same role in the democratic camp as in the fascist: ‘honor’ ‘blood,’ ‘race.’ But abhorrence is not enough. It is imperative to help the masses discern, by means of verifying criteria, slogans and demands, the concrete essence of fraudulent abstractions.
”’Disarmament?’ – But the entire question revolves around who will disarm whom. The only disarmament which can avert or end war is the disarmament of the bourgeoisie by the workers. But to disarm the bourgeoisie, the workers must arm themselves.
”’Neutrality?’ – But the proletariat is nothing like neutral in the war between Japan and China, or a war between Germany and the USSR. ‘Then what is meant Is the defense of China and the USSR?’ Of course! But not by the imperialists who will strangle both China and the USSR.
”’Defense of the Fatherland?’ – But by this abstraction, the bourgeoisie understands the defense of its profits and plunder. We stand ready to defend the fatherland from foreign capitalists, if we first bind our own (capitalists) hand and foot and hinder them from attacking foreign fatherlands; if the workers and the farmers of our country become its real masters, if the wealth of the country be transferred from the hands of a tiny minority to the hands of the people; if the army becomes a weapon of the exploited instead of the exploiters.
It is necessary to interpret these fundamental ideas by breaking them up into more concrete and partial ones, dependent upon the course of events and the orientation of thought of the masses. In addition, it is necessary to differentiate strictly between the pacifism of the diplomat, professor, journalist, and the pacifism of the carpenter, agricultural worker, and the charwoman. In one case, pacifism is a screen for imperialism; in the other, it is the confused expression of distrust in imperialism. When the small farmer or worker speaks about the defense of the fatherland, he means defense of his home, his family and other similar families from invasion, bombs and poison gas. The capitalist and his journalist understand by the defense of the fatherland the seizure of colonies and markets, the predatory increase of the ‘national’ share of world income. Bourgeois pacifism and patriotism are shot through with deceit. In the pacifism and even patriotism of the oppressed, there are elements which reflect on the one hand a hatred of destructive war, and on the other a clinging to what they believe to be their own good – elements which we must know how to seize upon in order to draw the requisite conclusions. (p24-5)
War, or rather the struggle against war, is the mother of revolution. And the struggle against imperialist war, as well as the struggle against other consequences of capitalist decay such as climate degradation/global heating which pose an equally destructive threat to the future of humanity as imperialist war, can be the mother of a revolutionary movement against the capitalist system. This needs to be posed sharply by the revolutionary internationalists to the leaders of the existing workers organisations around the world:
“The central task of the Fourth International consists in freeing the proletariat from the old leadership, whose conservatism is in complete contradiction to the catastrophic eruptions of disintegrating capitalism and represents the chief obstacle to historical progress. The chief accusation which the Fourth International advances against the traditional organizations of the proletariat is the fact that they do not wish to tear themselves away from the political semi-corpse of the bourgeoisie. Under these conditions the demand, systematically addressed to the old leadership: ‘Break with the bourgeoisie, take the power!’ is an extremely important weapon for exposing the treacherous character of the parties and organizations of the Second, Third and Amsterdam Internationals. The slogan, ‘workers’ and farmers’ government,’ is thus acceptable to us only in the sense that it had in 1917 with the Bolsheviks, i.e., as an anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist slogan…”
“It is impossible in advance to foresee what will be the concrete stages of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses. The sections of the Fourth International should critically orient themselves at each new stage and advance such slogans as will aid the striving of the workers for independent politics, deepen the class struggle of these politics, destroy reformist and pacifist illusions, strengthen the connection of the vanguard with the masses, and prepare the revolutionary conquest of power.” (P30-31)
All these demands are part of a system, that aim at raising up the proletariat as an independent force to the level of being capable of becoming the rulers of society. The logical conclusion of the independent struggles of the working class against the economic depredations of capital, for control over their own conditions of work, against physical threats such as fascism, against imperialist war and the threat of ruination of the environment itself in which we live, culminate in the need for more generalised organs of workers power: workers councils or soviets:
“Ever new layers of the oppressed will raise their heads and come forward with their demands. Millions of toil-worn ‘little men,’ to whom the reformist leaders never gave a thought, will begin to pound insistently on the doors of the workers’ organizations. The unemployed will join the movement. The agricultural workers, the ruined and semi-ruined farmers, the oppressed of the cities, the women workers, housewives, proletarianized layers of the intelligentsia – all of these will seek unity and leadership.
“How are the different demands and forms of struggle to be harmonized, even if only within the limits of one city? History has already answered this question: through soviets. These will unite the representatives of all the fighting groups. For this purpose, no one has yet proposed a different form of organization; indeed, it would hardly be possible to think up a better one. Soviets are not limited to an a priori party program. They throw open their doors to all the exploited. Through these doors pass representatives of all strata, drawn into the general current of the struggle. The organization, broadening out together with the movement, is renewed again and again in its womb. All political currents of the proletariat can struggle for leadership of the soviets on the basis of the widest democracy. The slogan of soviets, therefore, crowns the program of transitional demands.
“Soviets can arise only at the time when the mass movement enters into an openly revolutionary stage. From the first moment of their appearance, the soviets, acting as a pivot around which millions of toilers are united in their struggle against the exploiters, become competitors and opponents of local authorities and then of the central government. If the factory committee creates a dual power in the factory, then the soviets initiate a period of dual power in the country.
“Dual power in its turn is the culminating point of the transitional period. Two regimes, the bourgeois and the proletarian, are irreconcilably opposed to each other. Conflict between them is inevitable. The fate of society depends on the outcome. Should the revolution be defeated, the fascist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie will follow. In the case of victory, the power of the soviets, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist reconstruction of society, will arise.” (p32-33)
Even Soviets are not a sufficient condition for the working class to gain power. In the 1917 October revolution, the actual insurrection was organised through the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. It was only so organised once the Bolsheviks were confident that they had gained majority support in the Soviets on a national level. But by its very nature, for reasons of military security, the organisation of the actual seizure of power through insurrection could not be put formally to the relevant Soviet bodies before the insurrection was successful and had placed power into the hands of these bodies. It was driven by the leadership of the Bolsheviks and could only be so as putting this to the vote in the heterogenous Soviets would have revealed the planned seizure of power to the class enemy. This, as the crowning point of the revolutionary programme, as Lenin put it in State and Revolution, is where insurrection becomes an art.
h) Permanent Revolution and the Anti-Imperialist United Front
The section in the 1938 text on Backward Countries and the Programme of Transitional Demands is comparatively brief and focusses mainly on the lessons to be drawn from the aborted Chinese revolution of 1926-7, on the need for a revolution based on workers soviets, as the leader of the oppressed nation, being counterposed to the policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy in subordinating the proletariat to bourgeois nationalism in the form of the Kuomintang, and then to ‘democratic’ imperialism. The Fourth International in its founding programme thus upheld the programme of permanent revolution, which was generalised by Trotsky from the experience of the Russian revolution precisely as a result of the experience of China in the 1920s, which demonstrated that any halfway-house position that falls short of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leading force, and looks to other non-proletarian forces, such the Kuomintang and then the ‘left’ Kuomintang, can only lead to the shipwreck of the revolution.
There are many more questions involving backward and undeveloped countries that we must address today. The break-up of the European colonial empires and the rise of US imperialism to be the world imperialist hegemon in the period after World War two produced a more complex set of questions to be addressed, as in many cases the US did not, and does not, operate through formal colonialism but through proxy forces that carry out its will to a degree at arms-length. Also the collapse of Stalinism, and the reversion back to capitalism from the early 1990s of a whole swathe of backward countries, in Eastern Europe and Asia in particular, has given birth to a whole new series of questions involving dependent or at least less advanced capitalist countries that were formerly deformed or degenerated workers states. These include such countries as Russia, China, Vietnam (and its satellites such as Laos and Cambodia).
Both Russia and China are important world powers with all the status that comes from that, including a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This was originally the result of their growth in economic and military power when they were degenerated/deformed workers states. Russia was an important European power, usually for reaction, before the 1917 revolution, but its ascent to the status of a world power was a result of that revolution even if much of its rise was under the regime of a Thermidorian bureaucracy, not revolutionary internationalists such as Lenin and Trotsky. The counterrevolution in the USSR had ruinous consequences for the Soviet working class: a depression more ruinous than the Great Depression in the capitalist world in the early 1930s. Life expectancy fell by around 5 years in the early 1990s. But the nascent Russian bourgeoisie pulled back from neoliberalism under Putin, whose regime is conservative, nationalist, and deeply antithetical to socialism, but also at odds with neoliberalism.
China prior to its deformed social revolution in 1949 was in a state of paralysis, its territory divided by regional warlords and torn apart into imperialist spheres of influence, including with parts of its territory being seized by rival imperialists such as Britain, the US and Japan. The 1949 peasant- based social revolution led by Mao’s guerrilla army successfully unified the country and, despite numerous Stalinist irrationalities including the Great Leap Forward fiasco and famine, and the Cultural Revolution, grew economically and politically to become an important power, though secondary to the USSR. After the Sino-Soviet split at the beginning of the 1960s the regimes of Mao and Deng first covertly, while spouting ultra-radical rhetoric, and then later overtly, allied themselves with NATO and US imperialism and essentially helped imperialism to crack the USSR Stalinist regime through external military and economic pressure. This unleashed a neo-liberal led counterrevolution which destroyed the workers state in the USSR in 1991, and as a sequel, a more controlled capitalist restoration under the control of the increasingly overtly pro-capitalist bureaucratic regime in China which reached its decisive point in 1992.
However today, when its bureaucratic regime has given birth to a new bourgeoisie whose base of support is in part in the adapted state apparatus of what was a deformed workers state, China has outgrown Russia economically and in its de facto alliance with Putin’s Russia, it is by far the most economically (though so far not militarily) powerful of the two. China appears to have grown considerably more economically powerful since the counterrevolution because its form of capitalism has both taken advantage of the regime of global labour arbitrage that the imperialists put in place in the neo-liberal period, while at the same time kept the imperialists away from the core of the Chinese economy through strict state regulation.
Many of imperialism’s most strategically important corporations have found themselves dependent on China’s huge but educated workforce and China has become known as the world’s ‘workshop’, as was said about Britain at the time of the 19th Century industrial revolution. The economic growth this controlled interaction with neoliberalism has produced led to the peculiar situation in the great neoliberal Financial Crisis of 2007-10 that the sheer size of China, and the monetary resources this generated for the Chinese bourgeoisie, meant that its funds made it a crucial creditor for the US in mitigating some of the worst elements of the near collapse, and hence for imperialism/capitalism more generally. Hence a paradoxical result of the regime of global labour arbitrage is that imperialism has become economically dependent in some ways on some of its victims.
This relationship somewhat resembles Hegel’s concept of the Dialectic of the Master and the Slave (in The Phenomenology of Spirit): At first, a slave is considered worthless and dependent, then, through work, the master becomes dependent on the slave. The slave’s interest is in ending the master and thus ceasing to be a slave; but the master cannot exist without the slave and therefore cannot free the slave. China’s blocs with Russia and sometimes other powerful non-imperialist nations, despite the counterrevolutions that created the current situation, nevertheless have the effect of challenging, or at least disrupting, US-led imperialist domination of the world.
Both Russia and China should be regarded as developing or semi-colonial type countries quantitatively more powerful, but qualitatively similar to other important ex-colonial countries such as Brazil, India and South Africa, some of which they banded together with in blocs of important non-imperialist capitalist countries such as BRICS, beginning around 2010. BRICS is for now at least a dead letter since the imperialist coups and sponsored reaction that brought to power the neoliberal far right in Brazil, India and South Africa. But it has been eclipsed by another, looser but more militant block of recalcitrant bourgeois regimes encompassing Russia, Syria under Assad, Iran, Venezuela, Russian allies such as the East of Ukraine and Belarus, and sometimes encompassing the remaining two deformed workers states, Cuba and North Korea. Perhaps in future this may include Bolivia. This bloc has been a significant force in the world as evidenced by the defeat of US imperialism and its Zionist ally at Aleppo at the end of 2017. These blocs themselves constitute a form of anti-imperialist resistance, of a lower order to that typified by the Vietnamese struggle after WWII, let alone those led by the Bolsheviks after 1917, but nevertheless they represent a progressive resistance of oppressed nations against imperialism that revolutionaries are obliged to take sides with.
Other ex-workers states such as Vietnam should be regarded as smaller versions of the same phenomenon: a new form of powerful non-imperialist capitalist power that paradoxically is a by-product of the Russian revolution, its contradictory extension and the collapse of that extension. The existence of this hybrid form of ‘communist’ capitalism is an anomaly caused by the delay of the world revolution and is not a systemic alternative to imperialist capitalism. However, it is capable of causing considerable problems to the imperialists and, understanding its hybrid character, imperialist hostility to Russia and China is barely diminished from the period when they were bureaucratised workers states.
One other crucial post World War II development is the creation of Israel, a new transplanted imperialist formation in the Middle East, that expropriated the Palestinian Arab people of their homeland and through mass expulsion and sporadic massacres, turned around three quarters of them into stateless refugees. The reactionary role of Zionism today is completely at odds with the progressive, vanguard role that Jewish intellectuals and militants played in revolutionary and democratic movements against feudalism in Europe, and in the early socialist and communist movements, which was itself a product of the universal ethos of the Jews as a qualitatively more internationalised population than any of their contemporaries in the period of bourgeois revolutions and the early period of the workers movement. This progressive history was negated by the extermination of many of the progressive, anti-Zionist and revolutionary Jews by Nazi anti-Semitism in WWII, which allowed Zionism, as a reactionary, imperialist solution to the historical oppression of the Jews, to become dominant. The Palestinian Arab question is one of the most explosive and crucial national questions on the planet. The slow-motion Zionist genocide of the Palestinians, which could easily escalate, is symbolised by the repeated butchery of the people of Gaza and the ongoing annexation of the West Bank. Paradoxically, this has much in common with the persecution of the Jews by anti-Semites in Europe that the Zionists exploited and made use of many desperate European Jews as cannon fodder for their racist colonial endeavour at the time of Israel’s foundation. The demand for the full right to return of the Palestinian Arabs and the replacement of Israel with a multi-ethnic workers state of Palestine ruled by the Arab majority is a basic democratic demand and the concrete expression of the Permanent Revolution. It can only be achieved with the revolutionary aid of the Arab, Persian, Turkish and other working classes of the whole Middle Eastern region.
Israel has a unique relationship with the traditional imperialist powers particularly in North America and Europe, by virtue of the Jewish-Zionist caste within the bourgeoisies of those countries. The overrepresentation of Jews among the bourgeoisie in the diaspora imperialist countries, a product of their long pre-capitalist role as a commodity- and money-trading people-class under the natural, non-commodity based economy of feudalism, gave birth through a convulsive and contradictory process in the 20th Century, to powerful Zionist factions of the imperialist bourgeoisie in those countries that regard Israel as their own imperialist state, just as much as the state of the countries in which they reside. This is a unique, though fragile and unwieldy, imperialist formation that gives Israel much more clout than its size and population relative to its imperialist allies, such as the US, would seem to indicate. This has produced an additional complexity in the politics of the Middle East, and because of its relationships with imperialism in general, to the struggle against imperialism itself. This has particularly become important since the collapse of Stalinism, though perhaps its importance was not fully appreciated prior to that.
Zionism also has played a deeply reactionary role in attacking the workers movement in the old imperialist countries. A case in point is the Zionist-led campaign in Britain to bring down the left Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn between 2015 and 2019 with a massive McCarthy style media-based witchhunt based on phoney accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’, which the weak Corbyn leadership capitulated to. It is a matter of basic self-defence of the workers movement that Marxists should fight for the exclusion of supporters of political Zionism from all working-class organisations. The labour movement should be educated to regard political Zionists as fundamentally similar to Neo-Nazis.
The 1938 text pointed to the basic position of the Fourth International on conflicts between the imperialists and oppressed semi-colonial countries:
“… not all countries of the world are imperialist countries. On the contrary, the majority are victims of imperialism. Some of the colonial or semi-colonial countries will undoubtedly attempt to utilize the war in order to cast off the yoke of slavery. Their war will be not imperialist but liberating. It will be the duty of the international proletariat to aid the oppressed countries in their war against the oppressors.”
This was manifested most clearly in support of the Trotskyist movement for the liberating wars of Ethiopia, led by the pre-capitalist, slave-owning Emperor Haile Selassie, against colonisation by Mussolini’s Italy, and of China even under the bourgeois Kuomintang against Japanese colonialism. Trotsky himself clarified this with his example of a war between ‘democratic’ Britain and a ‘fascist’ Brazil:
“In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of ‘fascist’ Brazil against ‘democratic’ Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!”https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/09/liberation.htm
And this was theorised with devastating clarity in another passage by Trotsky:
“The internal regime in the colonial and semicolonial countries has a predominantly bourgeois character. But the pressure of foreign imperialism so alters and distorts the economic and political structure of these countries that the national bourgeoisie (even in the politically independent countries of South America) only partly reaches the height of a ruling class. The pressure of imperialism on backward countries does not, it is true, change their basic social character since the oppressor and oppressed represent only different levels of development in one and the same bourgeois society. Nevertheless the difference between England and India, Japan and China, the United States and Mexico is so big that we strictly differentiate between oppressor and oppressed bourgeois countries and we consider it our duty to support the latter against the former. The bourgeoisie of colonial and semi-colonial countries is a semi-ruling, semi-oppressed class.” .Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State? November 1937
More recent manifestations of this question, which is the theoretical basis of the anti-imperialist united front, inextricably linked with the programme of permanent revolution, involve direct wars between semi-colonial countries and ‘democratic’ imperialism, as Trotsky laid out.
For instance, the Malvinas war in 1982, no doubt diversionary in its aim by a tottering ultra-right dictatorship in Argentina, was a clear case when the duty of revolutionaries was to defend semi-colonial Argentina, despite its ‘fascist’ regime. The war was fought over islands with rich natural resources which belong to the masses of South America, notwithstanding the presence of a couple of thousand British colonists. Equally important, the victory of Thatcher, with her ‘democratic’ imperialist British nationalism, was a key episode in the rise of neoliberalism, which has been the prime ideological pole of bourgeois counterrevolution in this phase of imperialist capitalism. A defeat for Thatcher and British imperialism would have been very much in the interest of the world proletariat.
An equally clear example of the same thing was in the two Iraq wars, in 1991 and 2003, where both in the initial UN-backed war to ‘liberate’ Kuwait, and then the outright invasion and occupation of Iraq by Bush and Blair, Iraqi armed resistance, including by the regime of Saddam Hussein, was clearly in the interest of the world proletariat and it was the duty of Trotskyists to use whatever political means available to promote the defence of Iraq and the defeat of the imperialist forces, including the Zionist forces who played a major role in pushing for these wars.
But there are many more complex situations where imperialism uses proxies instead of its own military forces. This has become such a key component of imperialist strategy that a crude position of drawing an absolute distinction between the imperialist armed forces and forces that nominally appear independent, as is practiced by some trends who claim to be ‘anti-revisionist’, amounts to taking no side between imperialism and the formations that imperialism is working hard to overthrow.
This has arisen in many parts of the world. Key examples include Hong Kong and Ukraine, where the movements that claim to be ‘democratic’ and reflect the will of the population of those countries and regions have in fact acted clearly as proxies of imperialism in seeking to overthrow or weaken recalcitrant regimes, even capitalist ones.
Hong Kong, the former British colony ‘leased’ from China through extortion during the 19th Century opium war, was handed back to Chinese control in 1999 when the lease ran out. It was supposed to be run according to some democratic reforms that Britain granted specially to use as a weapon against China when it was handed over. For most of British rule it was run like any other colony: autocratically. Thus, the stage is set for the attempted neoliberal colour revolution. The extradition law and the internal security laws that China passed were contested by a pro-Western protest movement that itself has demonstrated considerable degrees of thuggery. But the strategic aim of this was to spread such neoliberal agitation into China itself, and in that they seem to have failed. Good! We defend China against such a neoliberal colour revolution, whose only aim can be to overthrow the halfway house statified variant of capitalism in China, and subordinate China to imperialism and its neoliberal project. We defend China against that.
The conflict in Ukraine is fundamentally about imperialist hostility to Russia, the drive to subordinate even post-Soviet Russia to imperialism. The Maidan movement that seized power in 2013 aimed at drawing Ukraine into both the EU and NATO, in complete violation of undertakings given to the last leader of the USSR, Gorbachev, that such expansion would not take place. It has taken place as first former East European states such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary joined NATO and the EU, followed by the former USSR Baltic republics Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Ukraine and Maidan were a further extension of that: the coup brought to power open Nazis, supporters of the late Nazi collaborator Stephan Bandera, whose OUN slaughtered Jews and Communists with abandon under the protection of Hitler’s armies during WWII.
These fascists particularly threatened the mainly Russian-speaking population of the Donbass and other similar regions in the East of Ukraine with national oppression and worse. The massacre at the Union House in Odessa in May 2014, where 46 activists were murdered, illustrated what the fascists stand for. The Russian speaking population centred around the Donbass revolted and set up their own separate republics, with a degree of Russian support. We defend their struggle as a resistance to national oppression by NATO imperialism, a resistance against open fascism, and not least a defence of Russia against further imperialist encirclement.
The August 2020 election in Belarus, where the regime of Alexander Lukashenko almost certainly did fix the elections against a pro-Western bourgeois opposition, that had been emboldened by the advance of NATO almost to the outskirts of St Petersburg, posed again the question of opposition to imperialist advance and its ‘colour revolutions’, and attempts to use ‘hybrid wars’, a strategy of destabilisation, pseudo-democratic political offensives and economic sanctions and pressure to overthrow regimes that are obstacles to its world domination. These must be resisted. Lukashenko’s regime opted out of the economic shock treatment that devastated Russia under Yeltsin, and maintains a higher level of state ownership, even though it is not possible to argue as some do that Lukashenko’s regime remained a workers’ state. It resembles more China, the adaptations it made to the counterrevolutionary wave, making decisive capitulations to the restorationist wave while using its remaining bureaucratic power to avoid becoming an outright puppet of neo-liberal imperialism. As in the Ukraine, we regard Lukashenko, the ally of Russia, as the lesser evil to the pro-Western opposition that showed its real nature by its use of Red-and-White symbolism of an artificial, pro-Nazi pseudo-Byelorussian nationalism that was always out of place in a country whose traditional national sentiments, unlike Ukraine, were usually closely aligned with Russia.
h.i) Middle East/West Asia
The Middle East, and South and West Asia, are other key areas where these issues are posed very sharply. The Arab Spring, which was initially a spontaneous revolutionary upsurge of the Arab masses against various despotic regimes in these semi-colonial countries, unfortunately developed with a very low level of socialist or anti-imperialist consciousness and was easily co-opted by the imperialists where it suited them to do so and crushed where it did not. Originating in a popular revolt in Tunisia, it rapidly spread across the Arab world notably to Egypt, Libya, and Syria. In Egypt it brought to power the Muslim Brotherhood, the old Islamist movement through the first freely elected president in Egypt’s history. His rule raised expectations, both of some serious improvement in the masses’ conditions and some break with the servile relationship of Egypt with imperialism and Zionism. Those illusions were frustrated: Morsi’s regime did open up the border with Gaza and take a pro-Palestinian stance, but it also showed signs of evolving into yet another neo-liberal despotism this time with an ‘Islamic’ covering. The imperialists and Zionists ruthlessly organised a coup, with apparent popular support, and after just over a year the bloodthirsty Sisi dictatorship ended the brief period of formal democracy in Egypt. It is elementary that Marxists should defend Morsi and the Egyptian masses against such a coup: to its shame, much of the Egyptian left did the opposite and backed the coup, ironically in the name of ‘democracy’.
A prime objective of imperialist policy in the Middle East is to buttress and support Israel against any possible challenge from a movement or regime among the semi-colonial Arab/Muslim states with which it shares the region. This is what drove the exploitation of the Arab Spring to reconquer and subjugate Libya and then Syria. In Libya, the imperialists made use of reactionary monarchists and elements of Al Qaeda jihadists to overthrow Qadhafi when the opportunity arose. The imperialists are completely pragmatic about this as previously they made use of Qadhafi against the same jihadists during their own ‘war on terror’ when they were seeking to conquer Afghanistan, using ‘extraordinary rendition’ to kidnap people they later supported so that Qadhafi’s police regime could torture them and extract information.
In the middle of 2011, Britain, and France, with logistical support from US Imperialism, intervened directly in Libya under ‘humanitarian’ UN cover to destroy the Qadhafi regime and kill its leader, plunging Libya into chaos and bloodletting that persists to this day. As Marxists, we defended the Libyan regime against imperialism despite not supporting Qadhafi politically, which is our principled position on any imperialist or proxy war against an indigenous force in a semi-colonial country resisting imperialist conquest and domination. Libya showed that the alleged absolute distinction between the activities of imperialist proxies and direct imperialist domination are elastic and dynamic, and determining what is really going on cannot be deduced by a simplistic formula: the situation must be seriously studied to determine what is really happening.
The imperialists also attempted to do the same to Syria. Even though in the initial stages the revolt was a genuine popular demand for democratic elections, like the movements in Tunisia and Egypt, it was rapidly taken over by imperialist-backed extreme jihadists, similar to those that fought the USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s. There was a plentiful supply of those in Syria because the destruction of Iraq after the 2003 invasion had spilled over into Syria, in part through the Islamic State movement, which grew as a reaction to the barbaric imperialist destruction of Fallujah at the end of 2004, where radioactive weapons were used against the civilian population. The jihadist movements that grew out of that were both dangerous to the imperialists in a visceral sense and also utterly pragmatic, prepared to sell themselves to the imperialists and even Zionists – the relations at times of Islamic State to Israel have been particularly dubious – to attack other, more immediate enemies such as Assad.
The main axis of the Anti-Imperialist United Front in Syria revolves around defence of the Assad regime against a concrete attempt to overthrow it by imperialism, when the imperialists and jihadists like Al Nusra, the official Al Qaeda group in Syria, joined with elements of Islamic State and at times with the support of the Erdogan regime in Turkey, sought to overthrow Assad through civil war. Such was the level of murderous sectarianism stirred up by this jihad, against Christians, Shia, Yazidis, Kurds, and other minority groups that the Assad regime, a secular despotism whose leaders are mainly secularised Alawites (a minority Shi’a confessional group) came to be rightly seen as a lesser evil by most Syrians. The intervention of Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement in the Syrian civil war has been largely progressive and led to positive gains such as the 2016 liberation of Aleppo, one of Syria’s most important cities, from the murderous sectarian jihadists.
Though there has been a degree of ambiguity in Russian intervention because of its realpolitik relations with Erdogan’s Turkey, whose main purpose in its interventions has been to suppress Kurdish nationalists, in particularly the Popular Protection Units (YPG), which are a sister movement of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Turkish Kurdistan that the Turkish state regards as one of its most dangerous enemies, presaging the breakup of Turkey.
We defend the right to self-determination of the Kurds in Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, and we defend the YPG stronghold particularly in Rojava against the barbaric chauvinists/clericalists of Islamic State, and against Erdogan’s 2020 incursions that have the support of US imperialism and appear to have been tacitly given the green light by Putin. That does not mean that we endorse, or even defend, every bloc made by the YPG. Earlier in the Syrian civil war when the YPG was receiving US aid and fighting against Assad as part of the US’ own meddling in Syria, we were opposed to the YPG even though we continued to support the right of the Kurds to self-determination.
Our position is to defend all forces in semi-colonies that are attacked by imperialism or forces that are demonstrably acting as its proxies, no matter what their formal ideology, whether secular or Islamist. Thus, when the Islamic State itself came under armed direct attack from imperialism in the Autumn of 2014, we were for their defence against imperialism also, while giving them no political support and indeed denouncing their murderous attack on Yazidis, secular Kurds, etc. We firmly defend the Palestinians under their Sunni Islamist leadership Hamas, elected in 2005 in the only free election ever allowed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, from Zionism and imperialism.
And we defend Shia-Islamist ruled Iran against imperialism and Zionism and attempts by imperialist-proxy forces at regime change, which are continually being threatened in this period, despite again giving this regime no political support. The Shia Islamist regime came to power by dint of a genuine popular revolutionary movement, an uprising against the regime of the Shah that was indeed an imperialist proxy, put in power through an overthrow of Iran’s elected nationalist president Mosaddeq in 1953 after his government nationalised the Anglo-Persian oil company (i.e., BP). Even the generally pro-imperialist Wikipedia acknowledged that “his government was overthrown in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état orchestrated by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom’s MI6.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Mosaddegh).
This is why the Iranian revolution, even led by Khomeini and the Shia clergy, demanded firm support against the imperialist puppet Shah and why the regime that grew out of that, for all its often-conservative features, is hated by imperialism today. That should never have shaded over into political support, into promoting the ‘revolutionary’ ideology of Khomeini, as was the case with some liquidationist fake-Trotskyists such as many in the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, among others. Trotskyists refuse to give political support to the likes of Khomeini no matter how great their mass support, as the democratic questions in semi-colonial countries such as Iran that are examples of combined and uneven development, where elements of pre-capitalist oppression are intertwined with capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression, can be resolved only with the proletariat in power. But nor are we neutral in such conflicts, as implied in the reactionary third-campist slogan ‘Down with the Shah! Down with the Mullahs!” raised by the Spartacists in 1978-9, which baldly equated the anti-imperialist mass movement behind Khomeini with imperialism’s satraps.
The Indian subcontinent is also a key area of struggle, including the repression of independence fighters in Kashmir by the reactionary Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) regime in India and the ever- present danger of war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, which would be a regional disaster. The new Indian citizenship law created by Modi, which has the potential to deprive tens or even hundreds of millions of non-Hindus, mainly Muslims, of citizenship, has a logic that could even prove genocidal on a huge scale, and that may prove to be the intention behind it.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has been particularly devastating in India, where it has been exploited in a murderously sectarian manner by Modi, and in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The impoverishment of the masses, such as Bangladeshi tea and textile workers, in the Indian subcontinent by the pandemic and its knock-on effects is nightmarish and is highly likely to result in huge social struggles when the pandemic itself eventually recedes.
h.ii) South America
South America, and indeed the entire semi-colonial American super-continent South of the Rio Grande, dominated by Spanish and Portuguese-speakers admixed with peoples with native cultures and in many countries, particularly Brazil, a large black population whose ancestors were abducted from Africa as slaves, is likewise a key region of the world for the struggle against imperialism and for socialism. The Cuban Revolution, and to a lesser degree the Nicaraguan Revolution in the 1980s were the highest expressions of the class struggle in the Western Hemisphere so far. Though even in the case of Cuba it did not, in common with most of Europe and Asia, rise to the level of the Russian revolution of 1917 and see the class-conscious proletariat seize and hold power consciously and in its own name, as a class for itself. However, the potential for this is palpable due to the high level of class-consciousness present on the Latin American left and in the working class of the super-continent.
We have already dealt at some length with the issues posed by the Cuban Revolution in the introductory parts of this manifesto, so we will not repeat this here. The Nicaraguan Revolution should be regarded as broadly the same as the Cuban in its driving forces, but aborted, due to the refusal of the left-populist Sandinista leadership, very much under pressure from their Cuban comrades and the Stalinist leaderships of the former Soviet bloc, to expropriate the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie, even when it was up to its collective neck in the Contra war to overthrow the revolution. The Sandinistas meekly allowed themselves to be pushed aside in a election whose terms were dictated by US imperialism, defeated by an opposition massively funded by the US, under economic and military duress in terms of sanctions and military blockade by the US, so their refusal to expropriate the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie amounted to political suicide.
However, the Sandinistas at least politically excluded the bourgeoisie from control of the state for several years. They had their own armed forces, that had militarily defeated the existing Somoza National Guard and thus had the possibility of expropriating the bourgeoisie. They chose not to do so. But left-populist movements since, such as those in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, tried to work and institute reforms through the existing states and thus never rose even to the level of the Sandinistas. This underlines, again, the need for the programme of Permanent Revolution, for the proletariat under the leadership of conscious Bolshevik internationalists, to place itself at the head of the masses over crucial democratic questions, which can only be genuinely addressed under working class rule, the dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the broader oppressed masses: peasants/campesinos, semi-proletarians etc.
The coming to power of Hugo Chavez and his ‘Bolivarian’ revolution in 1999 appeared to create an invigorated left in South America. However, this new left was seriously marked by the collapse of Stalinism and sought merely to win power within existing state structures, and to adopt them for its own reformist purposes. Chavez effectively came to power by a left-wing military coup: and three years later he was briefly arrested when a failed coup was attempted by overtly pro-US elements within the Venezuelan military. The programme of Chavismo in power was social-democratic, not in any sense communist; capital was not expropriated. Rather a series of social and economic reforms were undertaken, redistribution of wealth through taxation, expansion of public services and literary programmes, workplace self-management and the founding of cooperatives, funded by high oil revenues in conditions of an oil boom. When the oil boom ran out, the populist regime began to be economically destabilised, in large measure because of economic warfare from the imperialists. The death of Chavez and the passage to his successor Maduro has not rearmed the populists, rather they are stuck in the situation where they have a real degree of popular support because of reforms that benefit the poor, but they are even less able to expropriate the bourgeoisie than the Sandinistas because they have maintained the bourgeois state intact, and indeed Chavismo is part of that state.
So while we defend the Maduro government against imperialism and the blatant ‘regime change’ scam of Guaido, the US Puppet ‘president’ the US is trying to use to bring down Maduro, and while recognising the obvious socialist aspirations and illusions of many of its supporters, we counterpose the need for a revolutionary party based on the permanent revolution to the reformist, populist illusions of those who support Chavismo, and all those movements inspired by it, such as in Bolivia and Ecuador.
The left-populist government of Evo Morales in Bolivia has had a more fragile and turbulent history. It came to power in 2005 in the wake of Chavez’s radicalism and represented a major shift to the left in Bolivian politics: Morales is an indigenous trade union activist and reformist socialist, leader of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) who was earlier a leader of the coca growing rural workers who play a major role in Bolivia. In 2019 a coup and electoral fraud masterminded by the US tycoon Elon Musk overthrew Morales, the indigenous president, and was accompanied by a bloody massacre of oppressed indigenous peoples. The motive being robbery of Bolivian lithium for Musk’s Tesla electric cars, an indicator that ‘Green’ capitalism is just as imperialist as the old fossil fuel variety. The overthrow of Morales backfired spectacularly, however, as in October 2020, with Morales still in exile, the candidate of MAS, Luis Arce, swept the election on the first round, signifying that the masses were not prepared to tolerate the imperialist-organised coup regime. However welcome this blow against imperialist schemes, the reformist populism of MAS still threatens further dangers for the masses as the bourgeoisie, as under Morales, will not be expropriated and will be able to strike back again when it judges the time to be right,
The left populist government of Rafael Correa in Ecuador was much easier for the imperialists to remove, as Correa’s chosen successor, Moreno, turned traitor and moved rapidly to the right. One key indicator of this was the handing over of Julian Assange, whom Correa had given asylum to in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for several years, to the British government for possible extradition to the US.
In Brazil the popular front governments led by the social democratic Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT – Workers Party) Presidents Lula and then Dilma Rousseff, which were not in the same left populist category as Chavismo etc, but had carried out neoliberal policies for many years, were nevertheless considered too soft and worker-friendly by the Brazilian right, who orchestrated a constitutional coup to remove Rousseff from office, put Lula in jail on bogus corruption charges, and install ultimately the far right neo-Nazi Bolsonaro as President. If Morales’ removal was the doing of Musk, that of the PT leaders was the doing of the arch neoliberal Koch brothers.
Bolsonaro’s genocidal programme towards indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin is a major threat to world ecology and thus to the future of humanity. His ruinous rule during the pandemic has left 90 million workers unemployed, in a country where only 12% of the workforce is unionised. This epitomises some serious objective barriers to the advance of the proletariat that can be overcome only by an independent class programme. But the coup against the PT was still an imperialist proxy attack on a semi-colonial country and something to be resisted, by means of independent class politics in the overall strategic perspective of permanent revolution.
Other examples of such things were the coup in Honduras in 2009, that removed a left populist ally of Hugo Chavez, Manuel Zelaya, for instituting what was in fact an extremely timid measure: a non-binding referendum on whether to hold another binding referendum on whether to convene a constitutional convention to reform the Honduran constitution. He was overthrown and sent into exile by a collaboration of the army and the courts. Likewise, the liberation theologist President Lugo of Paraguay, seen as an ally of Ecuador under Correa, was also impeached from power in 2012 for restricting the power of agribusiness. Such was part of the counter-offensive of imperialism against the left populists.
This summary of the recent historical period in Latin America is not comprehensive, and nor could it be. It provides pointers to what the working class and the oppressed in that region are up against and why the Latin American groups that support the LCFI are so important in fighting for a revolutionary programme and an independent working-class movement that can really lead to liberation, going qualitatively further than the Castroites, the Sandinistas and the Chavista-model of left populists have been able to do in the last historical period.
There are parts of the world we have not addressed in depth, such as Africa and parts of East Asia. At the moment we do not have the resources to do this, though obviously as we grow as a tendency, we would hope to develop our analysis and interaction with the working-class movement there also.
i) Marxism and the Struggle Against Special Oppression
The 1938 text contains a brief section titled Open the Road to the Woman Worker! Open the Road to the Youth!, which lays out an important perspective:
“Opportunist organizations by their very nature concentrate their chief attention on the top layers of the working class and therefore ignore both the youth and the women workers. The decay of capitalism, however, deals its heaviest blows to the woman as a wage earner and as a housewife. The sections of the Fourth International should seek bases of support among the most exploited layers of the working class; consequently, among the women workers. Here they will find inexhaustible stores of devotion, selflessness and readiness to sacrifice.”
This touches on some crucial questions that the Marxist movement has periodically been confronted with, and which have become increasingly important since the Second World War, because of struggles and a popular awakening about them.
Questions of oppression that do not simply and mechanically follow from capitalist exploitation, but which have a greater degree of complexity, loom large in politics today and demand to be addressed by Marxists. The oppression of women and youth, racial and national oppression, of religious groups in various societies, and the oppression of homosexuals and other ‘deviant’ sexual minorities, all demand to be addressed by the Trotskyist movement today in some detail. We must spell out our programmatic views on this not least because many potentially revolutionary militants are first radicalised by the experience of such oppression, and a failure to address this means that non-Marxist trends will expand their influence among such layers at the expense of the conscious Marxist tendency.
The Marxist movement has always been aware of the importance of such questions, as Lenin made clear in a famous quote from What is to be Done?:
“the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/iii.htm
This is the centre of our programme: the proletariat as the unifying force for all struggles against oppression. The failure of the working-class movement to act in the manner Lenin advocated above has led the growth of various forms of politics that protest oppression based on the various identities of groups that experience oppression: as women, as blacks, as gays, as transsexuals, etc. Such political movements are entirely natural, and the Marxist movement has to be extremely sensitive to such forms of oppression and elaborate its own, independent strategies to combat them, as part of acting as the class-conscious element aiming to lead the proletariat to fulfil its historic mission as the universal liberator
At the same time, we must recognise that there are forms of identity politics that have been subsumed by neoliberalism and seek to exploit questions involving oppression in the service of imperialism and reaction. Examples are the use of a supposed struggle against women’s’ subordination being used to justify wars against Muslim countries, or ‘pinkwashing’ as a propaganda ploy to justify Zionism where an allegedly more liberal attitude to homosexuals is used to justify the ethnic cleansing of supposedly homophobic Palestinians. Such forms of reactionary identity politics need to be combatted outright.
Apart from that, we see middle-class and ruling-class feminism, personified by the likes of Hilary Clinton, as a force that is often used as a weapon against the working class left. Such as the denunciation of supporters of the social democrat Bernie Sanders for opposing Clinton in the name of deferring to ‘women’s representation’ – that is, ruling class women as opposed to militants who may happen to be male, but have roots in the labour movement. We did not support the campaign of Sanders, who was after all trying to become the Presidential candidate of the openly bourgeois Democratic Party. But this method often finds its way into actual labour movement organisations, such as continual fake accusations of ‘misogyny’ used to attack those criticising right-wing Labourites who happen to be female, such as Jess Phillips, as a subsidiary part of the witchhunt in Britain.
We insist in all situations that militants in the labour movement must be judged in terms of their politics, not their sex or other characteristics, while at the same time supporting special provision to encourage those from marginalised groups to actively participate in politics, particularly in the revolutionary movement. A movement that is, over a long period, overwhelmingly composed of people from the dominant ethnic or other groups is not in practice acting as the tribune of the oppressed and needs to find ways to rectify that urgently.
We appreciate the contributions of some of the theorists of ‘intersectionality’ in addressing distinct forms of oppression that derive from more than one source and produce unique double or triple forms of oppression. Such as the distinct oppression of black women which has a different manifestation from racism or women’s oppression taken separately. At the same time, we do not endorse the view that only the oppressed, acting autonomously, can liberate themselves that is common particularly in this period when the proletariat is not seen as the universal liberator by many sections of the oppressed. The absence of this perspective can lead to destructive conflicts between spokespeople for various oppressed groups that act to further divisions, not to lead to a united struggle against oppression. One manifestation of this is the clash between some feminists and those fighting for the rights of transsexuals, where those particular feminists assert that the very small minority of men that reject their gender at birth constitute a danger to women. We reject this divisive new form of bigotry as akin to a kind of weed that has grown up while the working class, as the potential unifying force for struggles against oppression, has been languishing in a state of semi-paralysis. Contemporary feminism is very diverse – there are many movements. Some are genuinely linked to the instinctive defence of the working class and its more oppressed sections; others are clearly oriented by imperialism to divide the family nucleus of the working class and to playing workers off against workers, seeing them as the main enemy, rather than capitalism. Groups like the Ukrainian FEMEN are the radical fascist variant of feminism and an imperialist instrument.
Women’s oppression is rooted in the nuclear family as explained by Engels in his pioneering work The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. We aim to overcome, not families in general, but the element of social compulsion and ‘family values’ authoritarianism under capitalism that reinforces a particular form of family life whose purpose is to reproduce labour power most cheaply for the purposes of capitalist exploitation. In this regard we are for a fight for social gains under capitalism that promote the equality of women, such as: equal pay, free 24-hour childcare, free access to contraception and abortion on demand, hand in hand with free healthcare for all, free availability of all kind of services and refuges to deal with domestic violence and abuse (which does not affect only women but does so disproportionately, a reflection of the social oppression of women).
We oppose all projects of regimentation regarding matters of sex and sexuality pushed by the defenders of the bourgeois family and echoed by some feminist trends, including demands for censorship of pornography and suppression of the rights of sex workers, either by outright criminalisation, or attempts to starve them through the criminalisation of clients. The oppressive aspects of the commercialisation of sex and sexuality can only be overcome through the abolition of capitalism and the poverty and desperation it generates; attempts to ‘solve’ such problems through state repression only increase oppression. We support the right of sex workers to unionise, as already happens to an extent in Britain through the International Union of Sex Workers, and for the profession to be regulated by the organised sex workers themselves. We demand full and free state provision of health, medicine, sanitary services, contraception and abortion services for sex workers, and state support – basic income and housing costs – irrespective of nationality, status etc, for them along with all other workers in the current pandemic.
We stand particularly on the exemplary work done by women revolutionaries in the Bolshevik Party itself, with its Communist women’s journal Rabotnitsa. This was continued and expanded by militants from Germany and Soviet Russia in the early years of the Russian Revolution and the Communist International to establish genuine communist work among women, as personified by Inessa Armand, Alexandra Kollontai and notably Clara Zetkin, whose work in establishing the Zhenotdel and its journal Kommunistka, aimed at creating a communist women’s movement directly linked to the wider communist movement for all the working class, was excellent.
Particularly exemplary was the work done by Zhenotdel in seeking to draw desperately oppressed women from the Muslim Soviet East into the communist movement, though like much that was done in those days it was cut short by the degeneration of the revolution itself. This work was in complete contradiction to the post-WWII activities of the liquidationists, on the one hand, in tailing petit-bourgeois feminist trends which have often been very influential in movements fighting women’s oppression that communists rightly had to engage with, and the backwardness of some groups like the Healy tendency who simply capitulated to male chauvinism in the working class and ignored questions relating to women’s oppression. We note that in the 1970s the Spartacists did attempt to revive this form of communist women’s movement through the journal Women and Revolution, a creditable project that we salute, and aim to emulate.
Linked to women’s oppression by the oppressive ‘family values’ reaction that is endemic to capitalism, is the oppression of male and female homosexuals, and of transsexuals and others who do not fit neatly into gender/sex roles that are considered essential to social ‘order’. There have been some considerable advances in the rights of such minorities in imperialist countries and even outside of these in some places, though these have been placed under threat by the rise of right-wing populism. Also to be criticised is the commercialisation of such movements, and their co-option into support for the status quo based on the illusion that capitalism itself can assume liberatory forms, an assumption that has taken root because the isolation of many in such groups from the class struggle. Some bourgeois trends in the imperialist countries particularly appear to have shifted somewhat from traditional ‘family values’ moralism to a greater degree of ‘tolerance’ for sexual minorities, perhaps a result of a shift in the configuration of bourgeois elites from family-run monopolies to a more flexible, corporate model of organisation in contrast to the old family empires. This phenomenon and its causes need to be studied by Marxists. Irrespective of this we as communists fight for full legal equality for homosexuals and transsexuals in all spheres of life.
The oppression of youth is also deeply linked to the oppressive structure of the family. There need to be alternatives to allow youth to escape oppressive family circumstances and abuse, alternative accommodation as a right. In capitalist society, the alternative to oppressive family circumstances is often homelessness and vulnerability to other kinds of abuse. Youth must be able to escape moral guardianship from the bearers of oppressive, often but not only religious, belief systems regarding relationships but must also have access to means to protect themselves from other forms of abuse, specifically sexual abuse. Cases involving allegations of abuse must be investigated based on effective, real consent, for which there should be no penalisation. Guidelines on grounds of age, which always exist either formally or informally, and must by the nature of the subject, need to have sufficient flexibility to catch real cases of exploitation while again, not criminalising genuine relationships. Only experience will be able to perfect such things after capitalism is abolished, but we must fight for such demands in the here and now as part of fighting the oppression of youth.
Questions relating to racial, national, and communal oppression are also obligatory for communists to address. These questions must be addressed in imperialist oppressor countries, in semi-colonial countries, and also with the degenerated and deformed workers states, or countries where such forms of oppression have their roots in such now-defunct states. There is the oppression of immigrant-derived populations, of formerly enslaved populations, of minority religions, of long-standing national minority populations and whole nations contained, sometimes unwillingly, within larger states that claim to be multinational, and of populations that have historically had an itinerant or transnational character. Sometimes these various categories are intertwined. We cannot go through every possible example. We can only take up a few cases to illustrate some general programmatic principles.
Our guiding principle is that of the equality of all peoples, and democratic demands whose implementation would achieve that in practice. We are aware that many such questions have explosive implications for the stability and viability of some states, many of which are oppressive and deserve to be modified or overthrown in ways that organise those oppressive formations out of existence. That is often all to the good, as if there is a revolutionary movement in such situations with sufficient clarity, struggles against such forms of oppression can have a revolutionary logic that is directed against capitalism itself. In many situations, questions involving communal oppression have a revolutionary, or counterrevolutionary significance, the mobilisation of the oppressor population to defend oppression is directly the basis for counterrevolution. And in a small minority of cases, the role of a particular minority population can change its significance, so that in one set of circumstances something that has a revolutionary significance can have a directly opposite significance in a different situation.
The Jewish Question is one such question whose significance has been reversed. The oppression of Jews in late feudal society, because of the obsolescence of the economic function as commodity traders that they carried out when that system of natural economy was younger and more vigorous, spilled over into capitalist society and made Jews among the vanguard of social progress, democracy and socialism. The minority, reactionary colonial project of political Zionism gradually gained in strength only as progressive capitalism transformed itself into imperialism. Several decades of reaction, including the attempted genocide of the Jews by arch-imperialist forces that aimed above all at eliminating the socialist and democratic Jewish vanguard, have transformed the situation so much that the Zionist movement, which is now overwhelmingly dominant among Jews, is among the most oppressive and reactionary political movements and social formations on the face of the planet. In the early period of imperialist capitalism, the fight against the oppression and indeed mass murder of Jews by anti-Semites was an explosive question that determined which side of the barricades any political trend was located. As the 1938 text said:
“An uncompromising disclosure of the roots of race prejudice and all forms and shades of national arrogance and chauvinism, particularly anti-Semitism, should become part of the daily work of all sections of the Fourth International,as the most important part of the struggle against imperialism and war.”
Today, due to the inversion of the significance of the Jewish question brought about by Nazism and the Zionist movement that is complementary to it, an equally uncompromising struggle against racism and particularly the form of it embodied by political Zionism is obligatory. Political Zionism is a form of virulent racism which drives major imperialist wars, such as Iraq and Libya, which is hegemonic, thoroughly respectable, and not even recognised as racism by many. There are definitions in existence, which the imperialist bourgeoisie is highly likely to try to enforce as laws, that forbid the characterisation of political Zionism as racist as supposedly an ‘anti-Semitic’ characterisation. Thus, political Zionism has replaced anti-Semitism as a key, counterrevolutionary form of racism and tool of reaction, and the struggle against it is of the highest priority for revolutionaries today.
Related to the persecution of the Jews in the period when anti-Semitism was a potent force in imperialist politics was the persecution of Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers. Unlike the Jewish Question, this question has not changed. The struggle against anti-gypsy racism and bigotry is still as matter of high priority for Marxists where this question arises, particularly in Europe, East and West.
The oppression of Black populations, formerly taken from Africa and enslaved, is a hugely explosive and strategic question in the Americas, from the most powerful, most dangerous imperialist power in history, the United States, to the Caribbean basin, to Brazil, where a huge formerly enslaved population from Portuguese colonies in Africa also exists and suffers brutal oppression. The struggle for black liberation in the United States is one of the world’s most epic struggles for equality, from the Civil War in the 19th Century to the Civil Rights struggle against Jim Crow in the 1950s and 60s to today’s Black Lives Matter struggle against the purely capitalist oppression of the cops’ endemic murder and brutalisation of black people, which is a fundamental feature of the racial caste system deeply baked into American capitalism since the end of outright slavery.
The question of Black Liberation is a strategic question of the proletarian revolution in the US. A revolutionary party in the US must make it its highest priority to win fighters, cadres and leaders from the many courageous Black Activists who have the ability, with a programme that takes up the demands of other sections of the US working class, including oppressed recent immigrant populations such as Hispanics and working-class militants from the American white population, to lead the whole class.
In countries like Brazil, this question of racial oppression has a different dynamic because this semi-colonial country itself suffers oppression by imperialism. The liberation of the Black population from racial oppression therefore is an additional, strategic democratic question that must be incorporated into the specific manifestation of Permanent Revolution in Brazil, and countries like it that have similar complex multiple layers of oppression. Detailed programmes must be worked out to address these issues by our comrades in such countries.
Opposition to anti-immigrant bigotry, racism and xenophobia is also of strategic importance, in pretty much all the imperialist countries, from North America to Britain and the EU countries, to Japan where racism against migrant workers from Korea is an important issue. It is central to the struggle against the global labour arbitrage system that is characteristic of today’s neoliberal capitalism. Anti-immigrant xenophobia, particularly against European workers but impacting on all immigrant-derived populations in Britain, was a key driving force of Brexit, and one important reason why Marxists in Britain were obliged to oppose that political change. Another reason for opposing Brexit is that the imperial programme of the Brexiteers in Britain, of tearing down the meagre European integration that does exist in the EU, is flatly a reactionary programme in any case. We demand the unification of Europe under socialism, not the fragmentation of the EU under capitalism.
We oppose all immigration laws and controls in the imperialist countries which are all oppressor nations vis-à-vis migrant peoples from the Global South, many of whom are fleeing from the consequences of colonialism and post-colonial wars, proxy wars and atrocities. In general, we oppose immigration restrictions anywhere in the world, though we do recognise that for some oppressed peoples in semi-colonial countries, it may be necessary to protect themselves from predatory forms of migration, such as settler movements bent on conquest. The obvious example of this is Palestine.
Then there are authentic national questions, not involving any racial-caste issue, in both imperialist and non-imperialist countries. Examples in the advanced or imperialist capitalist world include Scotland in Britain, Quebec in Canada, and Catalonia in Spain. Examples in the semi-colonial world include most obviously the Kurdish question in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, or perhaps some of the national questions in Africa, such as Eritrea or South Sudan. In all cases we are opponents of national oppression and the forcible retention of peoples within states that they clearly do not consider embody their national rights. If a people clearly express the wish for independence, we will support it, and condemn all attempts to deny the right to separate once the separating nation has decided, and indeed support the right to the oppressed people to fight arms in hand for separation. However, the experience of the wars in Yugoslavia in the 90s shows that the principle of nationalities must be subordinated to the fight against imperialism.
But we do not generally advocate separation unless there is a very good reason to do so, i.e., unless relations between the working masses of the countries embroiled in the national conflict have been poisoned in such a way that the only way to defuse that hostility is to demand separation. That was Marx’s reasoning when he advocated the separation of Ireland from Britain in the mid-19th Century, and that criterion is a good one generally. Thus, while we defend the right of self-determination of Scotland, Quebec and Catalonia, there is no reason to demand separation. In fact, the motives of the nationalists may often be quite selfish, even based on a perceived greater level of wealth from the population they are separating from, as appears to be the case with Catalonia, for instance. But we still condemn all acts of oppression by the dominant power in preventing separation, such as the outrageous jailing of elected Catalan separatist leaders.
Likewise, with national struggles in semi-colonial countries. The Kurdish struggle in the Middle East is an epic struggle for liberation by a long submerged, oppressed people, and of course the Kurds have the right to a state. But there is another problem, in that many of the peoples who oppress the Kurds are also oppressed in various ways and such is the nature of national conflict and imperialist oppression and meddling in the region, that Kurdish nationalists have allied with imperialist forces that also oppress the Arab population in Syria, for example. The Kurds have the right to a state, but their nationalists do not have the right to do that. So, while we support the right of the Kurds to Kurdistan, we do not support their right to help the oppressors of the Arabs to oppress them as part of an unprincipled method of achieving it. Which if it were successful would place the Kurds in the position of being a satrap of imperialism, perhaps in a similar manner to what happened when the Albanians of Kosovo were ‘liberated’ by NATO in 1999. That is not our programme; it would be completely at odds with the permanent revolution.
The same is true with questions that involve national oppression in deformed workers states, which certainly existed in numerous manifestations in the Stalinist USSR and China. We oppose great Russian chauvinism, and Han Chinese chauvinism. In the USSR this was manifested in the Ukraine, in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, in the deportation of entire peoples such as Chechen and Crimean Tatars. We oppose all such national oppression. But we also oppose the utilisation of the crimes of the bureaucracy to bring about the downfall of a workers’ state, and we oppose actions of the nationalists of oppressed peoples to enlist imperialist ‘help’ to supposedly overcome their oppression by attacking the rights or social gains of other peoples.
This may be happening today with the issue of the Uighurs in Xinjiang province in China. It does appear that there is evidence of considerable Han Chauvinist oppression of this Turkic Muslim people by the Beijing rulers. But this is also being used as part of a drive towards imperialist aggression against China by US imperialism among others, who hate China because even though the deformed workers state there is no more, the bureaucratic capitalism that replaced is it still not subordinated to the imperialist world order. The imperialists do not care about anyone’s oppression, and particularly those of Muslim peoples as anyone remotely familiar with the Middle East will know. They do not care about Uighurs either, in fact given the chance they would be torturing and rendering them as they are accustomed to doing to other Muslim people. But they do care about regime change in China, and thus it is right to be utterly hostile to imperialism’s campaign to ‘support’ the Uighurs. A stronger revolutionary movement might be able to affect this kind of question independently, but at present the danger to China from imperialism must be at the forefront of our attitude.
In conclusion, this programme seeks to follow the method of historical materialism, as the 1938 document tried to follow, and in its thrust, notwithstanding the different concrete manifestations, is the same programme concretised for a different time. We can only quote a seminal passage in the 1938 text, that sums up what that programme was about, to sum up what this rendering is about also, in terms of its programmatic aims and aspirations:
“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s program on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives these are the rules of the Fourth International. It has shown that it could swim against the stream. The approaching historical wave will raise it on its crest.”