International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1990): 50 years since the assassination of Trotsky

David North lectures at the Moscow Historical Archival Institute

In November 1989, David North, the national secretary of the Workers League, travelled to the Soviet Union on behalf of the International Committee of the Fourth International. In the course of his two-week visit, he was able to meet with trade unionists, students and socialist activists in Moscow and Leningrad. Most of them knew little, if anything at all, about the writings of Leon Trotsky and the political program of the Fourth International. This was not because of a lack of interest on their part. Rather, it is the product of the brutal repression which the Stalinist regime has directed against the Trotskyist movement for more than six decades. Even today, when the Soviet regime can no longer repeat the monstrous lies of the past—i.e., that Trotsky was a counterrevolutionary, an agent of imperialism, etc.—attempts are still made to misrepresent and discredit the ideas of Trotskyism and the program of the Fourth International.

The intense interest in the history and program of the Fourth International was indicated by the decision of the faculty of the Moscow Historical Archival Institute to invite David North to lecture on “The Future of Socialism: The Trotskyist Perspective.” The lecture, given on the afternoon of November 13, 1989, was attended by teachers, students, trade union activists and members of the general public. Upon the conclusion of his lecture, students asked Comrade North to attend a seminar on “scientific communism” to further explain Trotsky’s views on Marxism and socialism. This discussion was held on the afternoon of November 14.

Prior to his departure from Moscow, a journalist representing a “nonformal” socialist publication (i.e., a journal produced without the approval and independently of the government) requested that North answer questions about the origins and policies of the Fourth International. North interviewed two Soviet youth who are members of the Moscow Committee of New Socialists, a nonformal political organization. On November 8, he interviewed a Soviet historian whose specialty is the activity of nonformal political movements. Also included in this section is a letter North sent in February 1990 to a young socialist activist whom he met during his trip.

David North lecturing at the Moscow Historical Archival Institute.

Below is the text of the lecture delivered by North on November 13, 1989.

Comrade chairman, comrades and friends:

I would first of all like to bring the warmest greetings to all of you from both the Workers League in the United States and the International Committee of the Fourth International. Let me explain that the Workers League is a Trotskyist movement in the United States which is in political solidarity with the International Committee of the Fourth International. We are only in political solidarity, rather than formal members, because reactionary American laws do not permit the affiliation of the Trotskyists to an international organization. This law is known as the Voorhis Act in the United States. However, despite this, we collaborate as closely as possible with our cothinkers in the Fourth International; and I am speaking today on their behalf. I would like to express for myself and my comrades our appreciation to the faculty and others who have made this lecture possible.

The title of this lecture is “The Future of Socialism: The Trotskyist Perspective.” But I am sure you will understand that in order to discuss the future, it is necessary to dwell at considerable length on the past. Because how can one discuss socialism today without dealing with the many controversies that confront the socialist movement? And, of course, when we discuss the future of socialism, we are discussing the fate of the October Revolution—an event which is of world significance and which has had a profound effect on the working class of every country. Much of this past, particularly in the Soviet Union, is still shrouded in mystery and falsification. The very fact that I am here with you today demonstrates that great progress has been made. The old lies against Trotsky have been totally discredited. The lies that he was a fascist agent, an enemy of Lenin, an opponent of the October Revolution—all these lies are no longer believed by a single honest person.

But regrettably, as these old lies are withdrawn, new lies emerge. And if not lies, distortions and half-truths, and they, too, play a very dangerous role. What is the character of these falsifications? It is the falsification that says, “Yes, it is true that Trotsky played an important role in the revolution, he was one of the outstanding leaders of the Red Army, he was a great orator, a great writer—but yet, there wasn’t really any fundamental difference between Trotsky and Stalin. It was simply a dispute over power; and that had Trotsky defeated Stalin, not very much would have been different in the development of the Soviet Union. After all, Trotsky and Stalin were both Marxists and socialists.”

The essence of this position, which identifies the victims with those who murdered them, the logical outcome of this position is the repudiation of the October Revolution itself—that the October Revolution led to nothing but a bloodbath, that the Bolsheviks plunged the country into despair, and that there is nothing valuable in the heritage of Bolshevism. I read the translation of an article by a Soviet academician whose name, I believe, is Tsipko, and his position is very close to that which I have described. It is the presentation of Stalinism as, somehow, the inevitable outcome of the October Revolution. Ironically, this position becomes an apology for Stalinism, and an apology for the bureaucracy which it represented. Because those who are familiar with the October Revolution, who are familiar with the passionate struggles that were waged inside the Soviet Communist Party in the aftermath of the October Revolution, recognize in the struggle waged by the Left Opposition, and in the struggle waged by Lenin in the closing days of his life, the real heritage of October.

All those who seek to lump together Stalin and his victims, that is, who lump together the bureaucracy with those who opposed it, fail to answer the fundamental question: Why did the bureaucracy find it so necessary to murder countless thousands of Lenin’s closest comrades? And they make no attempt to examine the political issues which separated the Left Opposition from the Stalinists. In this way, they seek to make it impossible for the present generation of socialists to discover their real continuity to the October Revolution.

I would like to summarize as briefly as possible the major issues that were involved in the struggle of the Left Opposition. To do this I must emphasize the most fundamental point in the perspectives of the October Revolution. Those who took power in October 1917 never looked upon the Russian Revolution as a purely Russian event. They never believed that the taking of power in Russia could by itself produce the victory of socialism. They believed that the October Revolution was only the first shot in the world socialist revolution; and that the development of socialism in the Soviet Union was bound up with the international class struggle and the victory of the international working class. Those of you who have studied Marx carefully know that he anticipated that the socialist revolution would begin in an advanced capitalist country. The formula was, I believe, first the English revolution, then the French and then the German. But the dialectic of historical development was more complex. Indeed, it was Trotsky and Gelfand-Parvus who first foresaw the possibility that the working class could come to power in a backward country first.

Why was this? As Trotsky first explained in his theory of permanent revolution, which was his analysis of the lessons of the 1905 Revolution, in countries with a belated bourgeois development, such as Russia, under conditions of the world development of imperialism and the development of the class struggle on an international scale, the tasks of the democratic revolution as they had been traditionally defined in the experiences of the European working class—the wiping out of feudal relations and national unification—would have to be carried out by the revolutionary proletariat. Indeed, in the course of carrying through these revolutionary tasks, the working class would be compelled to go over to socialist methods of economic development. However, it would confront the reality of the underdeveloped economic foundations upon which this socialist development was to take place. Therefore, the revolution in Russia would have to seek the support of the international working class.

Despite the many controversies which arose between Lenin and Trotsky prior to 1917, this was the perspective that underlay Lenin’s “April Theses.” It was on this basis that the Bolsheviks took power in October. They saw the revolution as the beginning of an international socialist revolution which the Bolsheviks had to do everything to encourage and support. I would like to illustrate this with an example with which you are all familiar—the famous dispute at Brest-Litovsk. There was certainly a difference between Lenin and Trotsky. But it is more important to understand the specific agreement which they had on the question of Brest-Litovsk. There was a disagreement on tactics, but an agreement on principle. Trotsky proposed to utilize the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk to propagandize against the imperialist war and appeal to the German working class. Lenin was skeptical about the viability of that tactic under conditions in which the Soviets faced an immediate military threat from the German army. But he did not question the underlying principle which motivated the tactic suggested by Trotsky—that is, to do everything possible to encourage the development of the German revolution. Indeed, it was Lenin who said that he was prepared to sacrifice the Russian Revolution in the interest of the German revolution.

As it turned out, in October-November 1918, a revolution did break out in Germany. This revolution was betrayed by the social democracy; and having learned the lesson of 1917, the German bourgeoisie murdered the leaders of the Spartacus uprising, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. If there is anyone here who has illusions about the democratic and pacifist character of social democratic leaders when they face the proletarian revolution, you would be wise to study the history of the Spartacus uprising.

The defeat of the German revolution imposed isolation upon Soviet Russia. Along with that was the terrible devastation of the civil war. Despite the ultimate Bolshevik victory—in the face of the intervention of virtually every major imperialist power, including the United States—the economic situation was quite terrible. This compelled the Bolshevik Party, after a brief experiment with War Communism, to adopt the policies of the NEP. The NEP was seen as a necessary retreat until the development of the international working class would make possible a more direct advance to socialist construction. It was not seen as a permanent aspect of party policy.

Now it is very important to examine the character of the state that emerged from the October Revolution; and the origins of the bureaucracy which ultimately destroyed the Bolshevik Party. The state that issued from October had a dual character. It was socialist to the extent that the state defended the property relations established on the basis of the 1917 Revolution. But it would be too simplistic to define the state as socialist. The state had an antithetical character. It was bourgeois to the extent that it defended inequality in distribution. In other words, there existed social production, but bourgeois forms of distribution—bourgeois to the extent that distribution was carried out in accordance with a capitalist measure of value and therefore unequally. This was inevitable in a country dominated by terrible scarcity.

Here we come to a decisive issue in understanding the origins of the bureaucracy. Where there is scarcity and generalized want, it is necessary to develop a special apparatus for the distribution of scarce goods. In other words, the bureaucracy arose as a sort of necessary “social gendarme”—the “policeman of inequality.” It decided who got what. But as you all know, those who are in charge of doling out the rations never forget their own share. They always make sure that at the end of the day, there is more on their plate than on someone else’s.

If one considers the terrible backwardness of Soviet society at the time, dominated by scarcity—not only scarcity of luxuries, but scarcity of necessities—then you can understand the material basis for the development of bureaucracy. It confirmed the old saying of Marx in The German Ideology, quoted by Trotsky, where there is generalized want the old crap will arise.

It is one thing to recognize the social inevitability of bureaucracy. But it is another thing to assume that the bureaucracy necessarily had to dominate society. Involved here is another question: that of the relation between the party and the bureaucracy. Was the bureaucracy to dominate the party and the working class, or was the party and the working class to dominate the bureaucracy? Who was to control whom?

Objective conditions became increasingly unfavorable for the working class and the most conscious elements in the Bolshevik Party who were aware of the threat posed by the growth of bureaucracy. The working class of 1921, 1922 and 1923 was not the same as the working class which had existed in 1917. The proletariat had been decimated by the civil war. Many of the most class-conscious elements were dead. Industry itself was in a state of devastation; and many of the workers who had been recruited into the factories were politically inexperienced, hungry and apathetic. Moreover, many workers who had been active Bolsheviks were drawn into the growing bureaucracy. Many of the revolutionary workers of 1917 had become state officials. In addition to this, in the course of the NEP, there was a huge influx of old tsarist officials, petty-bourgeois functionaries and right-wing Mensheviks into the state apparatus. By 1922 Lenin had become increasingly conscious of these processes, and in 1923 Trotsky raised the danger of the growth of the state and party bureaucracy in his famous articles on the “New Course.” This bureaucracy was the real material base for the growing power of Stalin.

It is necessary to explain the relationship between the growth of the bureaucracy and the international situation. In the late spring, summer and autumn of 1923, a revolutionary situation developed in Germany. This gave rise to a tremendous amount of enthusiasm in the Soviet working class, inspired by the belief that the German working class would, at long last, come to power. However, there was political disorientation and confusion in the German Communist Party—caused to some extent by the deepening crisis inside the Soviet Communist Party. This led to the defeat of the German Revolution in 1923, and this had a profound effect on the Soviet working class and on future developments inside the Soviet Communist Party.

This found its expression in the articulation of an entirely new theory by Stalin and Bukharin—that is, the theory of “socialism in one country.” The advancing of this theory in October 1924 was a turning point in the history of the Soviet Communist Party and the international communist movement. This was a fundamental revision of everything Marxism and Bolshevism had stood for. For the first time, the position was advanced that socialism could be developed within Russia by itself, despite the material backwardness of Soviet society. It had been ABC to every Marxist that the development of socialism could only be realized on the basis of the highest development of industry and agriculture. Now it was advanced by Stalin and Bukharin that simply on the basis of Russian resources, socialism could be developed. This theory appealed to the bureaucracy, to a nationalist outlook which corresponded to its growing preoccupation with the defense of its material privileges. As Trotsky said, the outlook of the bureaucrat was “Not everything for the world revolution—what about something for me!” This was why the position of “socialism in one country” struck such a powerful chord within the bureaucracy.

The far-reaching international implications of this position were expressed by Stalin. He said that socialism could be built in the Soviet Union as long as there is no imperialist intervention from the outside. Trotsky warned that this position meant that the Communist International was to be transformed into little more than an instrument of Soviet foreign policy—that is, from being an instrument for the development of international revolutionary parties and the promotion of international revolution, the Communist International was to be transformed into an instrument adapting itself to the immediate diplomatic needs of the Soviet regime.

Almost immediately, this led to defeats of the international working class. Let me give you two important examples. In 1926 there was a growing militant movement of the British working class, which was to culminate in the British general strike, a historic event in the history of the British labor movement However, Stalin had been promoting the Anglo-Russian Committee because they had found some “friends” within the leading strata of the British labor bureaucracy. Although it was not openly said, Stalin’s idea was that these influential bureaucrats would be important in developing improved relations between the Soviet Union and imperialist Britain. So the British Communist Party was instructed by the Stabilized Comintern to promote these influential bureaucrats. What was the outcome of this policy? When the British general strike began in May 1926, the British Communist Party was supporting these treacherous leaders. That is, it was pursuing a policy opposite to that of the Bolsheviks in relation to the Mensheviks in 1917. The right-wing leaders called off the general strike and it was defeated, thus inflicting a devastating blow to the British and European labor movement.

At the same time, there was a huge revolutionary movement in China. Stalin had developed relations with Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Kuomintang, the bourgeois nationalist movement. The Left Opposition fought against the policy of subordination to the bourgeois nationalists, and warned that it would lead to a devastating defeat of the working class because Chiang Kai-shek would inevitably turn on the Chinese proletariat. That is precisely what happened. Chiang Kai-shek turned on the working class, massacred the Communists, and the Chinese revolution was set back for years.

The point is this: the international defeats of the working class strengthened the Stalinist bureaucracy; and this process was culminated in the defeat of the German working class by Hitler in 1933—a defeat which set the stage for the Second World War, and a defeat for which the German Communist Party and the Stalinist Comintern were principally responsible. I hope it will soon be possible for you to read the writings of Trotsky between 1930 and 1933 on the danger of fascism in Germany. There will be no doubt in your mind that if the policies he called for had been adopted by the German Communist Party, Hitler would have been defeated. But at that time, Trotsky was in exile on the island of Prinkipo, off the coast of Istanbul.

In the aftermath of the defeat of German working class by Hitler, there was a transformation in the nature of Soviet foreign policy. After 1933, the conscious policy of the Soviet bureaucracy became opposition to international revolution. It openly adopted a policy of international collaboration with imperialism. While it could be said that prior to 1933 the defeats of the international working class had been the product of the errors and mistakes of the Stalinist policy, after 1933 it became an entirely conscious policy. The most terrible example of this was the Spanish Revolution, in which Stalinist agents of the GPU murdered all those working class and revolutionary opponents of Stalin’s policy of collaboration with the bourgeois popular front government. Stalin opposed the social revolution in Spain because he feared that it would disrupt his efforts to develop a political alliance with French and British imperialism. It is well known in the West that one of the reasons for the Moscow Trials and the murder of Zinoviev, Kamenev and other leading Bolsheviks was to assure the international bourgeoisie that the Soviet Union had completely broken with its revolutionary past. You should know that the Moscow Trials was greeted very favorably in much of the Western bourgeois press.

To bring this historical review to a conclusion, let me explain Trotsky’s analysis of the nature of the Soviet Stalinist regime. Trotsky condemned the Soviet bureaucracy as a counterrevolutionary agency of imperialism. But he insisted that the bureaucracy was not a ruling class, but a caste. In the Marxist sense, a class is a social organism that occupies a historically necessary relationship to and is the expression of definite forms of property. Civilization has known such classes as the slaveowners, the feudal lords and the modem bourgeoisie. However, the Soviet bureaucracy, in this specific sense, does not represent a new class. Bureaucracies have existed in different forms throughout the history of class society. In the USSR, the bureaucracy is a malignant organism which developed under very specific conditions—that is, it usurped power from the working class due to the delay of the world revolution. In defining the class character of the Soviet state, Trotsky maintained that the proletarian dictatorship remained, albeit in an extremely degenerated form. The property relations established in 1917 had not been overthrown. But to say that the nationalized property relations had not been overthrown did not mean that the Soviet Union was socialist. Trotsky defined the USSR as a “transitional society,” neither capitalist nor socialist. He said that a reversion to capitalism was entirely possible, that is, it was still possible for the bureaucratic regime to produce such a degree of degeneration that capitalism would be restored in the USSR. Moreover, in this process of restoration the bureaucracy would itself play a decisive and criminal role. The very fact the bureaucracy was not a class meant that it occupied a very tenuous position in Soviet society. Thus, there existed the striving of the bureaucracy to root its privileged position in firmer foundations, that is, in new forms of property.

Thus, Trotsky insisted that the development of the Soviet Union toward socialism required a political revolution against the bureaucracy. The working class would have to suppress the bureaucracy and regain control over this apparatus. Genuine Soviet democracy would have to be revived, and on this basis, the conditions would have to be created for the genuine development of socialism. The bureaucracy would have to be driven out of the soviets. The trade unions would have to be liberated from bureaucratic control. And democratic decisions over the organization of production would have to be made by the working class, not the bureaucrats.

But this political revolution was bound up with the international situation because the ultimate fate of the Soviet Union would be decided on a world scale. Trotsky said that it was impossible to evaluate the development of Soviet economy simply on a national basis. It was not enough to trace, as the Stalinists like to do, the level of industrial production year by year. As we say in the West, there are three types of lies—lies, damned lies and statistics. And the Stalinists are specialists at using falsified statistics to cover up their mismanagement of the economy. But far more important than rates of national development is a comparative examination of the development of capitalist and Soviet industry. And the most important question is the productivity of labor. Trotsky said that imperialist armies are a threat to the Soviet Union, but an even greater threat are cheap Western goods. And precisely for this reason, the development of the Soviet Union toward socialism is unthinkable without access to the world market, the international division of labor and advanced technology. But how is that to be realized? From the standpoint of the Soviet working class, the only possibility is on the basis of an international revolutionary policy.

And these basic issues are the fundamental questions that confront the Soviet Union today. What we see today in the Soviet Union is the complete collapse of the bankrupt policy of “socialism in one country.” The claim that socialism could be built within the state boundaries of the USSR has been totally discredited. This collapse of the nationalist strategy of the Stalinists has been accelerated by the vast technological transformations that have taken place in the world economy over the last 15 years. As the rates of Soviet development continue to plunge, the gap between the West and the Soviet Union becomes ever greater. There is no one today who will defend the perspective of national autarchy without being laughed out of the room.

But the question is, how is the Soviet Union to obtain access to the world market, to the international division of labor and advanced technology? We believe that there is only one of two ways: either through the integration of the Soviet Union into the structure of world imperialism—that is, to place the Soviet Union under the whip of the International Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, and other organs of imperialist economic domination, in short, through the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union—or, through the unified international revolutionary struggle of the working class.

Sixty-five years after the issue was first raised, it is still the decisive question. “Socialism in one country” now means capitalist restoration and a horrifying decline in the cultural and social level of the Soviet Union. The only alternative is international revolution.

It is the opinion of the International Committee that the policies being pursued by the present Soviet government are aimed at the integration of the Soviet Union into the structure of world imperialism. It is carrying out a policy that is in its logic restorationist. The policies of Gorbachev are the response of the most politically conscious sections of the bureaucracy to the crisis facing its regime. It is well aware of the fact that the crisis of the Soviet economy is creating the conditions for a revolutionary movement of the working class.

Consider this for a moment. Prior to the accession of Andropov, which is generally seen as the beginning of the reform movement of the Soviet regime, there was the huge upsurge of the Polish working class in Solidarity; and this made clear to the Soviet bureaucracy what was coming in the Soviet Union. In 1980-81 the Polish bureaucracy was almost without any social support. Therefore, the most intelligent and far-sighted sections of the Soviet bureaucracy realized that the Brezhnev gang had to go. It wasn’t hard to do—they only had to turn off Brezhnev’s life-support system. It was necessary for the Soviet bureaucracy to adopt another policy. You must understand that the Soviet bureaucracy fears the working class much more than it fears imperialism. It is for this reason that the aim of the Soviet bureaucracy is to develop ever closer economic and political ties with the imperialists against the working class. It is thus offering its services as future agents, managers and partners in ownership of Soviet industry. This is why there are all the discussions now going on about the necessity for changes in property forms—and, along with that, the glorification of capitalism and the attempt to conceal from the Soviet working class the real implications of a restoration of capitalism.

I would like to bring this report to a conclusion by addressing what is a decisive question: What are the prospects for an international revolutionary policy? What is the possibility of the Soviet Union obtaining access to the resources of the world economy on the basis of an international revolutionary program? Is this realistic?

I can only answer these questions by briefly explaining to you the character of the present international capitalist crisis. There is no doubt that there has taken place within the last 15 years a staggering technological development. The development of microchip technology has had global significance. It has without any question led to a vast transformation of production on a world scale. The advances in forms of communication that are the direct product of computerized technology has produced a level of economic integration unprecedented in world history. Corporations operate on a global scale. They exploit the resources of the globe as never before. There is an unprecedented mobility of capital. But along with this global integration of production is the intensified conflict of the national-state systems. Particularly under conditions of the decline of the postwar hegemony of the United States, what is coming to the forefront today are very serious inter-imperialist conflicts. As a matter of fact, it was not long ago that a leading bourgeois economist posed the question of whether or not Lenin would be proven correct on the inevitability of inter-imperialist conflicts producing wars.

This process also has a profound effect on the international working class. In every country, workers are finding that it is impossible to defend their living conditions on the basis of a purely national policy. Workers find that they are confronting corporations that can move production from country to country almost overnight. Therefore, it is becoming a matter of life and death for the working class to organize its struggles on an international scale. Take for example the implications of the changes now posed in the Soviet Union. German capitalists are speaking of the Soviet Union as a potential source of cheap labor and cheap raw materials. What does that mean for the German working class? The German working class and the Soviet working class are being driven into a common struggle. That is why the question of international revolution is a living question for the working class. That is why under these conditions, the building of an international revolutionary party is decisive. That is why we believe this is the period of the Fourth International.

Thank you very much.