The following report was given to the Fourth National Congress of the Workers League, held February 17-19, 1989 in Detroit. The report gave a Marxist assessment of the first stages of the breakup of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, examining the dangers facing the working class of capitalist restoration and the responsibility of the International Committee to raise the consciousness of the working class and make it aware of Its historic tasks.
Comrade chairman, comrades:
Nearly 18 months have passed since the Workers League held its last national congress. When we met at the end of August 1988, we discussed and adopted as the basis of our party’s political work the Perspectives Resolution of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Now, as we begin the work of the 14th Congress, it is appropriate that we first of all ask ourselves whether this document has been vindicated by events, whether the objective developments within the sphere of world economy and the international class struggle have corresponded to our theoretical calculations and political projections.
By any objective criteria, it is undeniable that the perspectives resolution not only identified and analyzed the essential features of the world crisis of capitalism, it also anticipated to a remarkable degree the main lines of both economic and political developments. At a time when the leaders of the most powerful capitalist states frankly admit that the eruptions in Eastern Europe took them completely by surprise and that no one could have foreseen the sudden collapse of the entire political and economic framework of the postwar era, we have a right to contradict these rather shortsighted representatives of imperialism. Utilizing the method of dialectical and historical materialism and on the basis of the vast accumulated theoretical capital of the Marxist movement, the International Committee of the Fourth International was able to see both further and deeper than all the richly endowed capitalist think tanks hired by the bourgeoisie to work out imperialist strategy. This fact alone is a crushing refutation of the claims, born of class malice and ignorance, that Marxism is dead.
As this 14th Congress begins its deliberations, the revolutionary upheavals anticipated in our international resolution have already begun. The postwar era—characterized by the restabilization of capitalism and the management, if not suppression, of its fundamental economic and political contradictions—has definitively broken down. The task confronting this Congress is to further concretize our analysis of the objective forces underlying this decisive breakdown of all the political and economic foundations of the postwar period; to ascertain and estimate the present relation between the main class forces in an extremely fluid and fast moving situation; and to grasp the far-reaching political implications of this new epoch of capitalist disequilibrium and revolutionary class struggle for the international proletariat and its Marxist vanguard.
It is of the greatest historical importance that every comrade understand the significance of the work of the International Committee in this new situation. The profound connection between the struggle which the International Committee has conducted in defense of the program of the Fourth International against all forms of opportunist revisionism and the objective course of the class struggle itself should be clear to all those who have studied and reflected upon the history of this movement. In 1953, the International Committee was formed to defend the program and even the physical existence of the Fourth International against a liquidationist tendency that proclaimed Stalinism to be the wave of the future and which glorified the regimes set up in Eastern Europe as proof of the revolutionary capacities of the Soviet bureaucracy. According to Pablo and Mandel, the essential impulse and leadership for the socialist revolution would be provided by the Stalinist bureaucracy and they further maintained that the police-state regimes established by the Kremlin in Eastern Europe were the historically necessary forms through which socialism would be realized in the course of several centuries!
The formation of the International Committee in November 1953 was the response of orthodox Trotskyists to this monstrous perversion and betrayal of the program upon which the Fourth International had been founded in September 1938. Now, amidst the wreckage of these bureaucratic regimes, it is clear that the perspectives of the Pabloites were, in the final analysis, an attempt to subordinate the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat to the basic political relations central to the postwar restabilization of capitalism—that is, the counterrevolutionary alliance between Stalinism and imperialism.
As comrades know, the International Committee itself came under the pressure of hostile class forces, whose crystallized expression was the leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party. In 1982, the Workers League began a struggle against the attempt of Healy, Banda and Slaughter to liquidate the International Committee. In 1985, this struggle was joined by the majority of sections within the ICFI and by a substantial minority representing the politically healthy and proletarian elements within the Workers Revolutionary Party itself. In the period following the split in the WRP leadership, the Slaughter-Banda faction did everything it could to complete what it had previously failed to accomplish with Healy—to destroy the International Committee. On the eve of its split with the International Committee on February 8, 1986—which it carried out with the aid of the London police, who were called to the premises of the WRP congress to prevent supporters of the ICFI from attending—the WRP published a document by Banda which called for the burial of the ICFI “forthwith.” I must admit that we shall be eternally indebted to Michael Banda for writing that document—it was, one might say, one of his most important contributions to the cause of Trotskyism, even if he didn’t plan it that way. For by writing that document, he encouraged us to probe more deeply into the history of the Fourth International and study the origins of the International Committee.
Out of that study, we arrived at a more profound understanding of the historical context within which opportunism had developed inside the Fourth International and in that way we were able to clarify the essential political and theoretical issues involved in the struggle against Pabloism. A substantial portion of The Heritage We Defend deals with the “buffer states” discussion and the nature of the regimes established in Eastern Europe by the Soviet bureaucracy after the war. In reviewing that discussion, we were also redefining the attitude of the International Committee to that very crucial theoretical controversy. That was only three years ago, and it might have seemed to many that the issues with which we were dealing were arcane, if not entirely irrelevant. This was certainly the attitude of Healy’s disciple, Sheila Torrance. A member of her faction of the WRP, Ray Athow, wrote: “Proceeding from the past to the present North is mainly concerned with seeking ‘correct’ perspectives for situations long ago. His 500-page tome, ‘The Heritage We Defend’ epitomizes this. Workers, peasants and youth seeking a ‘manual of action* in the advanced countries or in the semi-colonial nations, will find only a ‘catalogue of truisms’ and subjective distortions.” Certainly, no member of our movement would have taken such an attitude, which typifies the ignorant middle class radical who is entirely disinterested in the historical experiences of the international Marxist movement in which our program and principles are grounded. Nevertheless, comrades might have felt that the issues involved in the “buffer state” discussion were, for the most part, of interest from a historical and methodological standpoint, but did not have any direct contemporary and practical significance.
As it has turned out, these old historical disputes within the Fourth International, with which we became familiar by studying documents whose pages were yellow and brittle with age, have acquired the most burning immediacy! It is impossible to work out a correct attitude to the revolutionary events in Eastern Europe without understanding the origins and nature of these “deformed workers’ states.” How, then, is one to explain this now evident coincidence between the theoretical and historical issues raised by the struggle against revisionism and the concrete political questions posed by the present revolutionary upheavals? The answer to this question was provided in theoretical terms long ago by Marx himself. He explained that the theoretical struggle of the revolutionary party is one of the superstructural forms through which man consciously fights out the social contradictions produced by the material transformation of the economic conditions of production. There is no question but that the struggle conducted by the International Committee against opportunism has been the most profound and conscious expression of the objective striving of the proletariat to reconstruct society on a communist foundation.
It has been precisely through its difficult and protracted struggle against all forms of opportunism in the workers’ movement that the International Committee has defined itself as a revolutionary proletarian tendency. A Marxist tendency develops its roots in the proletariat and becomes a mass workers’ party not on the basis of so-called mass recruitment campaigns, but through a decades-long struggle to defend and develop the program of the world socialist revolution. It grows by differentiating its program from that of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois organizations; and through that differentiation clarifies and elaborates the strategical and tactical line of the working class as the sole consistently revolutionary force in capitalist society. This process of programmatic and ideological purification, which the opportunists habitually denounce as “sectarianism,” is a truly creative work which transforms the revolutionary party into a powerful attractive force around which the conscious vanguard elements in the working class coalesce, thereby forming the indestructible foundation of a mass revolutionary party.
When we have reviewed the experience of the struggle against the WRP renegades, we have frequently pointed out that the great advantage possessed by the Workers League in 1985 was that we arrived at the Clapham headquarters in the midst of the WRP crisis having already worked out the basic theoretical and political problems relating to the degeneration of the WRP. We were in a position to put before the ICFI a clear record of struggle against the WRP’s opportunism and an analysis of both the source of the political crisis and the political tendencies present inside that organization.
We also made the point that the same advantages would come into play when the International Committee was confronted with a big political break in the objective situation. Healy used to ask the question: “How do you prepare for an explosion?” The problem was, he really didn’t know. His idea of preparing for a political explosion was to acquire material resources—presses, delivery trucks, actors and actresses, motor bikes, fast cars, security devices, antennas, short wave radios, youth centers, movie-making equipment, buildings, etc. Healy believed that when the explosion came, all of these powerful resources would be set into motion. Only two things were missing from Healy’s arsenal—first, the ability to make a Marxist analysis and second, a revolutionary political line! Thus, while he was out acquiring resources, Healy failed to notice the explosive tensions building up in his own organization. And when the explosion finally hit the WRP, it wasn’t the explosion he had expected. All the vast resources proved to be nothing more than secondhand goods destined for the auction block!
The International Committee has prepared for the political explosion through a process of political clarification; and now that the explosion has started, we understand that our fundamental task is to analyze the political situation and the relation of class forces, define the strategic and tactical line of the proletariat, win the most advanced elements of the proletariat to the banner of the Fourth International, and on the basis of its Marxist program organize the struggle of the working class for power.
The revised draft resolution is not the product of just a few weeks’ work. It is, in the most direct sense, the culmination of the struggle to rearm the International Committee that began when we rejected the false and opportunist line of the 10th and final ICFI Congress organized by the impostors of the WRP. (I would suggest that comrades find the time to review the section in How the Workers Revolutionary Party Betrayed Trotskyism which analyzes the perspectives resolution of that 10th Congress.) All the basic themes of the analysis developed by the ICFI over the last four years are developed and concretized in this resolution. But the content of this development and concretization is a wealth of new material that arises from a fresh analysis of the vast changes in the objective situation over the last six months.
In examining this document, comrades also have the opportunity to refer to the transcripts of political committee discussions at which the earlier drafts were reviewed and criticized. And now, in initiating the discussion on this document, I would like to place emphasis on a number of points which I consider to be crucial.
First, the breakdown of the regimes in Eastern Europe is not merely a crisis of Stalinism, but the outcome of the crisis of imperialism as a world system. The breakup of these regimes are only the most spectacular expression to date of the increasingly explosive contradiction between the globalization of production and integration of the world economy on the one hand and the nation-state system on the other. It is this fundamental contradiction—whose development has been accelerated by spectacular advances in technology—that lies at the base of the disintegration of the postwar order, of which the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe had been a crucial part. The Stalinist regimes have collapsed like a house of cards because they were based on economies that were the most extreme, and therefore most untenable, expression of an attempt to develop economy on a national basis.
But the pressure of the world economy, which has had such a devastating effect upon the nationally-isolated economies of Eastern Europe, is having a no less shattering impact upon the political and economic relations of the major imperialist powers. The old capitalist equilibrium that prevailed during the postwar era, which depended upon the hegemonic role of American imperialism, has now been shattered; and a new equilibrium cannot be reestablished without a violent restructuring of political and economic relations among the major imperialist powers. A global imperialist pecking order based on the now defunct hegemony of US imperialism and the definition of Germany and Japan as vanquished powers can no longer be sustained. The recently concluded Ottawa negotiations dealing with the expected reunification of Germany amounted to a tacit acknowledgment that the “Four Powers,” the four occupying powers—the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union—are simply not in a position to determine, let alone dictate, the terms and conditions of reunification.
As the document correctly states in Paragraph 12, “The postwar imperialist order was, in the final analysis, an attempt to suppress the contradictions of the capitalist system within a political and economic framework dominated by US imperialism.” Now, the breakup of that equilibrium reopens the Pandora’s box of economic and political rivalries that produced within the space of 25 years, between 1914 and 1939, the eruption of two world wars which proved to be the greatest and most terrible conflagrations in history. For all the gloating of the bourgeois media over the “collapse of communism,” the more thoughtful representatives of the ruling class are profoundly troubled by the drift of events. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, an article entitled “Capitalism in Conflict” begins with the following gloomy assessment:
“Future historians may choose 1989 as the year the cold war between capitalism and communism ended and a new conflict began within capitalism. They may argue that it was in 1989 that America and the West turned from containing the Soviet Union to containing Japan.... If the old cold war was a competition driven by the race for military superiority, the quest for economic and technological domination will propel the new competition” (vol. 69, no. 1, p. 172).
The current issue of another leading bourgeois publication, World Policy Journal, carries a lead article on US-Japanese relations. It begins: “We are witnessing the end of one cold war and, tragically, the possible beginning of another. As America’s historic fears of a Soviet Communist threat recede, new fears of a Japan bent on world economic domination are coming to the fore” (winter 1989-90, p. 1).
The document stresses the “symmetry” of the developments in Eastern Europe and the imperialist countries, which reflects the common global source of the different though interconnected forms of their crisis. The symmetry is expressed not only in the destabilization of the old political and economic relations. We place particular emphasis on the implications of the crisis on the international workers’ movement, within both the imperialist countries and those ruled, or ruled until recently, by the Stalinist bureaucracies.
It is precisely the analysis of this profound relationship between the crisis of world imperialism and the forms of its reflection within the different branches of the international workers’ movement that is of such decisive significance to the political orientation of the Fourth International and its sections. I wish to call special attention to the section entitled “The Working Class and the Global Economy.” We state in Paragraph 22:
This assault against the nationalized property relations in the USSR and Eastern Europe reveals another consequence of the revolutionary transformation in the global process of production—the universal crisis of the international labor movement which has produced a drastic deterioration of the social position of the working class. To the extent that the organizations of the proletariat are based on a national reformist, rather than international revolutionary program, they are incapable of defending any of the past gains of the working class. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes and the parallel crisis of the trade unions in Western Europe and the United States are the historical demonstration of the complete bankruptcy of all national programs within the working class movement.
The concept expressed in this paragraph is absolutely central to our entire analysis; and yet it is precisely the concept which has been the most difficult to formulate and understand. First, to the extent that comrades tend to think in purely empirical terms, they may find it hard to accept that the development of apparently different phenomena, that is, the crisis of the working class in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the crisis of the workers in the advanced capitalist centers should be traced to a common source—particularly one that is identified through a process of theoretical and historical analysis. But that is not the only problem that disturbs them—and here we come to the most basic issues confronting the International Committee. How are we to define the events in Eastern Europe? If, on the one hand, we speak of the breakup of the Stalinist regimes as an expression of the crisis of imperialism as a world system, why are we equating the dissolution of these regimes with the decay of the labor movement in the United States? Are we not contradicting ourselves? Does it not seem that we are unable to decide whether the fall of the Stalinist regimes is revolutionary or counterrevolutionary?
There is a profound connection between a formal and nondialectical conception of the events in Eastern Europe and the type of objectivism that we discussed in the course of preparing the perspectives resolutions of the BSA and the Workers League. An objectivist position inevitably expresses an attempt to evade the concrete responsibilities posed to the revolutionary party. It seeks to appraise political events on the basis of purely “objective” criteria, i.e., excluding all factors that relate to the intervention of the element of consciousness in the political process, above all, the intervention of the revolutionary party itself. But political events—and especially revolutions, which are the greatest of all political events—cannot be examined in such a way. As Marxists, we learned in our kindergarten years that revolutions develop on the basis of objective contradictions rooted in the economic organization of society. And yet, we progress beyond kindergarten to understand the more complex relation between objective and subjective factors. Indeed, we come to learn, once we study the history of the Russian Revolution, that there comes a time when the subjective factor becomes the most critical of all in determining the course of history. How did Trotsky illustrate this fact in his great History of the Russian Revolution? He wrote: “Besides the factories, barracks, villages, the fronts and the soviets, the revolution had another laboratory: the brain of Lenin” (History of the Russian Revolution, p. 975). Thus, Trotsky, the greatest master of historical materialism, considered Lenin’s subjective consciousness to be a decisive factor in the victory of the Russian Revolution.
According to Trotsky, there are three premises for a proletarian revolution. The first is a necessary level of development of the productive forces to make the transition from capitalism to socialism feasible. The second is a class whose objective interests lie with the realization of such a revolutionary transformation. The third premise is the existence of a conscious desire within the revolutionary class to carry out the overthrow of capitalism. It is entirely possible for the first two factors to exist, but in the absence of the third premise, the revolution will not be achieved.
Despite the peculiarities of the social structure in Eastern Europe and the fact that we are dealing with the potential for political, rather than social, revolution, it is clear that these general premises are no less essential. Moreover, as the entire social structure and existing property forms have already definitively established that the first two objective premises do exist, we are concerned only with establishing the relationship of the third, that is, the subjective premise to the overall political situation in Eastern Europe and the USSR.
It is precisely here that we confront, in all its acuteness, the crisis of leadership in the working class. In “purely” objective terms, the state of affairs in Eastern Europe and the USSR is entirely revolutionary. The breakdown of the Stalinist regimes is the product of global contradictions that create conditions for the seizure of power by the working class in the USSR, Eastern Europe and a renewal of the struggle to establish and redevelop the economy on a socialist foundation. One might also add that revolutionary conditions are emerging very rapidly within the imperialist centers. But the contradictions of capitalism and its agencies do not automatically produce the socialist and political revolution. If the working class is not prepared, if it lacks the necessary leadership, if it shies away from the struggle, if it, for whatever reasons, rejects the appeals and program of the revolutionary party, it will be defeated—no matter how massive the objective contradictions of capitalism and its political agencies. That is, if the working class is for whatever reasons unable to take the power, those contradictions will find their resolution along counterrevolutionary, rather than revolutionary lines.
We are neither denying the revolutionary character of the situation in Eastern Europe nor evincing a pessimistic attitude. Rather, we are providing a Marxist assessment of the political situation as it has developed in the first stage of the breakup of the Stalinist regimes. As is stated in Paragraphs 33 through 38:
33. It would be one-sided and dangerous to focus merely on the purely ‘objective’ side of events, as if the breakdown of the East European regimes and the emergence of a new revolutionary era proceed entirely apart from the class struggle and the clash of political forces. The present crisis carries with it the danger that, without the building of a revolutionary leadership, the working class can be thrown back catastrophically. In Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, as in the imperialist and the backward capitalist countries, what is posed is not only the disintegration of the old labor bureaucracies, but also the destruction of all of the social gains won by the working class.
34. The initial stages of this revolutionary explosion in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have exposed the dangers confronting the working class, which arise from its lack of a revolutionary program and leadership. Imperialism, the Stalinist bureaucracy and their petty-bourgeois ‘democratic’ agents are moving rapidly to liquidate the nationalized property and remnants of centralized planning in each of these countries, restore capitalist private ownership and subject the working class to the most barbaric forms of exploitation. They are dismantling state-owned industry, along with the system of social benefits built up since the Second World War, and systematically impoverishing the vast majority of workers.
35. The working class is being driven by the most powerful objective forces into struggle against these reactionary petty-bourgeois elements. Already strikes have broken out in Poland, East Germany and Hungary against the price rises and layoffs. But the counterrevolutionary danger cannot be averted simply on the basis of the spontaneous movement of the working class. Four decades of Stalinist repression and corruption in Eastern Europe and six decades of its bureaucratic misrule within the Soviet Union and counterrevolutionary collaboration with imperialism internationally have profoundly disoriented the working class. To the extent that the crimes of Stalinism have discredited socialism in the eyes of many workers in Eastern Europe who mistakenly identify Stalinism with socialism, the working class is in danger of being politically disarmed in the face of a counterrevolutionary conspiracy of imperialism, Stalinism and the petty-bourgeois ‘democrats.’ The dangers that face the working class in Eastern Europe and the USSR arise from the fact that the disintegration of the Stalinist regimes has proceeded much more rapidly than the development of revolutionary consciousness in the proletariat
36. These momentous events heighten the responsibility of the conscious vanguard organized in the International Committee of the Fourth International and the Workers League to raise the political level of the mass movement of the working class in accordance with the tasks dictated by history. In this new period of revolutionary struggle, the subjective factor of the revolutionary party assumes immense significance. In a very direct and practical sense, the fate of the working class in every country depends upon the political struggle mounted by the ICFI and its sections. In his critique of the 1928 Comintern Draft Program Trotsky wrote: ‘The role of the subjective factor in a period of slow, organic development can remain quite a subordinate one. Then diverse proverbs of gradualism arise, as: “slow but sure,” and “one must not kick against the pricks,” and so forth, which epitomize all the tactical wisdom of an organic epoch that abhorred “leaping over stages.” But as soon as the objective prerequisites have matured, the key to the whole historical process passes into the hands of the subjective factor, that is, the party. Opportunism which consciously or unconsciously thrives upon the inspiration of the past epoch, always tends to underestimate the role of the subjective factor, that is, the importance of the party and of revolutionary leadership” (The Third International After Lenin, New Park, p. 64).
37. The historical issues can be posed as follows: will the political revolution in the Stalinist countries develop more rapidly than the restoration of capitalism? Will the socialist revolution in the capitalist countries develop more rapidly than the imperialist drive to World War HI? Trotsky posed the same issue in different words 50 years ago: ‘The question consequently stands as follows: Will objective historical necessity in the long run cut a path for itself in the consciousness of the vanguard of the working class ... will a genuine revolutionary leadership be formed capable of leading the proletariat to the conquest of power?’ His answer was: ‘The Fourth International has replied in the affirmative to this question, not only through the text of its program, but also through the very fact of its existence’ (In Defence of Marxism, New Park, p. 15). The International Committee of the Fourth International, conscious that its program embodies the historical interests of the working class, must today ‘cut a path’ into the consciousness of the proletarian vanguard.
38. The recognition of the enormous danger confronting the working class supplies at the same time the key to surmounting it. The International Committee of the Fourth International and the Workers League must conduct an unyielding struggle for the only program that expresses the objective interests of the working class, the program of world socialist revolution, against all forms of temporary confusion and backward moods within the masses. Our responsibility is first and foremost to tell the working class the truth—that unless it takes the road of international socialist revolution, which includes the political revolution in the Stalinist countries, it faces a catastrophe. This struggle will require great determination and patience, political firmness and resourcefulness, and, above all, an uncompromising struggle for the principles of Trotskyism against all forms of nationalism and opportunism. But it will evoke a powerful response in the working class, in the first instance among its most advanced representatives, and create the political conditions for the working class as a whole to break free of all the agencies of imperialism—Stalinism, social democracy, the trade union bureaucracies, the petty-bourgeois ‘democrats’—consciously reject their nationalist and procapitalist programs, and return to the path of socialist revolution.
We reject the conception that the sheer force of objective necessity will by itself cut that path to the consciousness of the working class. The intervention of the subjective element in this revolutionary situation is absolutely decisive. And those who simply seek to rest upon an abstractly defined objective situation—abstract because it excludes the conscious forces which operate within this objective situation, excludes an estimate of the given level of consciousness of the working class, fails to analyze the political tendencies which are presently dominant within this political situation, and therefore fails to work out the strategic and tactical line of the part—evince a complacency that, unless combated, becomes the handmaiden of future defeats.
To illustrate the practical significance of objectivism, let us review a few passages from the press of Sheila Torrance’s Workers Revolutionary Party. She says in the Newsline of November 16, 1989:
The workers of East Germany have made it very clear that they are not interested in becoming submerged into capitalist West Germany.
Now, how have they made it clear? In what program have they made it clear? How has this clarity been articulated? Without explaining anything, she goes on:
Only a few thousand East Germans have shown any intentions of moving west....” It is obvious that she certainly can’t count. She adds that “on Monday night’s mass demonstration in Leipzig only one banner could be seen calling for German reunification.” The fact that she ignores the presence of nationalist agitation is the surest expression of her own inner fear over the course of events. Rather than frankly confront the social and political contradictions that exist in East Germany, Torrance takes refuge from reality by pretending that they don’t exist. She goes on:
The East German events create the best conditions for the overthrow of the capitalist European Community, and the establishment of the socialist united Germany, through the political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy alongside the socialist revolution to put an end to capitalism.
How do they create the best conditions? What does she consider the “best conditions” to be? Then, Torrance concludes by proclaiming:
Build the International Committee of the Fourth International, to lead this struggle to victory.
What a monumental fraud! She calls habitually for the building of the International Committee of the Fourth International in Germany. But the Newsline never explains why the Torrance faction broke from the International Committee in October 1985—in fact, Torrance refused to even acknowledge the IC’s request for a formal discussion on the political position of her faction. Torrance broke from the existing section of the International Committee in Germany. At the time, Torrance was in a political alliance with Healy—an alliance based on the astonishing claim that Healy’s personal authority was absolute and unchallengeable. Within a year of that split, Healy’s degeneration culminated in his capitulation to Stalinism. Torrance prefers to remain silent on what would have been the fate of the German section of the ICFI had it joined her unprincipled and reactionary alliance with Healy, nor does Torrance attempt any political criticism of the political line of the BSA.
Let us return to the analysis of her Newsline. It says on November 21, 1989:
The Workers Revolutionary Party insists that what is developing in eastern and western Europe is not some new lease of life for capitalism but the working class of east and west joining hands in the social and political revolution to overthrow imperialism and its Stalinist servants.
This is why the decisive question of the hour is the building of sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International to lead the struggle for the Socialist United States of Europe.
Why does it follow from the events she describes so rapturously that it is necessary to build the International Committee of the Fourth International? From her description of events, everything seems to be going very well without us. Aside from her fraudulent references to the International Committee—from which she split and with which she has absolutely no political connection—Torrance offers no reason why the IC should be built.
Then she goes on to say in November 30, 1989 in an editorial entitled “Build the Fourth International in Eastern Europe”:
A Civic Forum-led coalition, like the Solidarity-led coalition in Poland with its anti-working class policy, will not equal the restoration of capitalism....
The bringing down of the Stalinist regime in Czechoslovakia was not achieved by Dubcek, Havel or the Civic Forum group but by young students, school youth and workers who took to the streets in defiance of threats of Stalinist violence.
Their interests do not lie in the restoration of the market economy but in the development of socialism. The Civic Forum is just the bourgeois democratic froth on the top.
The problem is that this “bourgeois democratic froth” presently holds state power. The fact that the forces now holding state power are seeking to use that power to restore capitalism and destroy state property is simply dismissed with a phrase—”bourgeois democratic froth.” Of course, the working class has not been decisively defeated and an enormous social conflict will be generated by the attempts of the Havel regime to institute capitalist policies. But the fact is that the Stalinist regime has not, in any sense of the term, been replaced by some form of workers’ power. The Stalinists have not been replaced by the armed workers, led by a Marxist party, but by a petty-bourgeois reactionary who openly supports the positions of American and European imperialism.
Torrance attempts to cover up the real class relations which exist and the political dangers that confront the working class. While she says that the bringing down of the Stalinist regime in Czechoslovakia was not achieved by Dubcek and Havel, she doesn’t analyze the social forces behind its downfall, the program around which the anti-Stalinist movement was based, or what the relationship of the working class is to this movement
And then she says: “Their interests do not lie in the restoration of the market economy, but in the development of socialism.” Whose “interests” is she speaking of? Furthermore, aside from the fact that there exist social layers who quite openly advocate and identify their own interests with the restoration of capitalism—Havel is one of them—what about the level of social and political consciousness which presently exists in Czechoslovakia? What if there are hundreds of thousands of students and youth who, based on their experience with Stalinist “socialism,” are alienated from Marxism and filled with petty-bourgeois illusions in capitalist individualism and democracy? Again, Torrance does not concern herself with such question. It all doesn’t really matter. The sheer force of objective necessity will take care of everything.
The Newsline presented an editorial on December 7, 1989 called “The Time for Trotskyism”:
To the horror of all the ‘radical reformers’ who want to change Eastern Europe stage by stage over to capitalism, the East German working class is engaging in a revolutionary leap to settle accounts politically with the Stalinist bureaucracy.
All over East Germany, in Leipzig, Dresden and Erfurt, the masses have stormed the police stations of the security police to ensure that evidence of the corruption and parasitism of the Stalinist bureaucracy is not destroyed.
She failed to notice that it became clear to everybody who was politically conscious that many of the so-called “stormings” of Stasi headquarters were organized by the Stasi themselves. But that, after all, doesn’t really matter. This is all part of the great spontaneous mass movement, which one only has to glorify.
The East German working class is engaging in a political revolution to bum off the excrescence of Stalinism, as is the working class of the USSR, and as will the working class of Poland and Hungary.
The question of the hour is the building of sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International.
Again we ask: why is she calling for the International Committee when everything is proceeding so splendidly without a conscious Marxist leadership in the working class?
Now finally we have an editorial which was published on January 2, 1990: “1990—Year of World Socialist Revolution.” Then one gets really the perspective which underlies all of this.
“We send our greetings to the Palestinian masses of the Intifada, led by the PLO, and assure them that 1990, the year of world socialist revolution, will be the year when the occupying armies are driven out of Palestine, and the Palestinian state firmly won and established.”
I don’t know who told Torrance this. It doesn’t seem even to matter to her that this isn’t even the program of the PLO, which she’s hailing. By the way, Torrance doesn’t even consider the possibility that the position of the PLO has been undermined by the fact that all the regimes in Eastern Europe are now in the process of restoring diplomatic relations with Israel. Nor does she offer an assessment of the political consequences of Arafat’s abandonment of the principles enunciated in the PLO’s own charter. These concrete questions are all ignored. Torrance simply throws these phrases around, which sound very revolutionary, but simply have the effect of justifying her capitulation to bourgeois nationalism.
She goes on:
We send our greetings to the masses of Southern Africa, and to the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania in particular. We urge them to maintain their position for the stepping up of the armed struggle to smash the South African capitalist state and to return the land to its original owners.
We support their position that the only real negotiations with the apartheid regime can be the negotiations for its surrender in front of the African Socialist revolution.
We declare that this is the year for the building of sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International all over southern Africa.
Why? Since she’s confident that the only negotiations the PAC will be entering into are negotiations for the surrender of the apartheid regime, why do we want to add to this situation a section of the International Committee? She’s already proclaimed her full confidence in the PAC. Then she says:
But it is for the capitalist class in Western Europe, North America and Japan that the bell will toll in 1990 as the political revolutions that are sweeping eastern Europe are joined by mass revolutionary working class movements in the capitalist countries.
1990 will be the year when the revolutionary masses will humble the US giant in a way not seen since its defeat by the revolutionary masses of Vietnam. This time its defeats may well prove fatal for US imperialism.
Then she proclaims: “Now is the time for the building of the Trotskyist Party in the US to take full advantage of the weakness of US imperialism.” We appreciate her advice. And Torrance concludes:
1990 must see the British working class continuing the example of Rumania to bring down the Thatcher dictatorship that has sacked, starved and ruined many more peoples’ lives than Ceausescu ever did.
All this is the worst sort of middle class radical phrasemongering, which shouts empty slogans without bothering to confront a single problem facing the working class. I hear comrades laugh when I read these passages from the Newsline. This itself is an indication of the tremendous distance which we have traveled in the space of four years, because these are the type of documents which were being written year in and year out and being palmed off as Marxism by Healy, Banda and Slaughter.
This method was not invented by Torrance. It was used for years by Healy in the name of the abstract glorification of what he called the “undefeated strength of the working class” which was utilized to deny the crisis of leadership, fob off the responsibilities confronting the revolutionary party of the working class, and to justify—and this is the main point—opportunist alliances with tendencies and social forces hostile to the working class.
According to Torrance and Healy, who seems to be directing her politics from his grave, 1990 marks the beginning of about the forty-fifth consecutive year of an uninterrupted revolutionary offensive of the undefeated working class. If one accepts that, one has a difficult time explaining how, in spite of this undefeated forward offensive of the working class, we’ve reached the point where the crisis of the working class movement is greater than at any time since the end of the Second World War. The crisis confronting the Soviet Union is greater than any crisis it has faced since 1941, and indeed, in some ways the crisis is worse. So advanced is the degeneration of the Soviet regime that a military invasion of the USSR by imperialism would enjoy the active support of broad layers of the bureaucracy, if not of Gorbachev himself. The point we made earlier is now being absolutely vindicated: to the extent that the Stalinist bureaucracy no longer identifies its own material privileges with the property relations formed in 1917, they are by no means committed to those property relations and they are more than willing to collaborate with imperialism in directly introducing capitalism into the Soviet Union.
The essence of Gorbachev’s policy consists in directly utilizing and welcoming the pressure of imperialism against the working class. There is no other way one can interpret the way in which the Stalinist regime has welcomed and abetted the dismantling of the GDR and the creation of a unified imperialist Germany. It is one thing to fight for the revolutionary unification of the German working class, that is, the unification of Germany from below; it’s quite another to support and sanction and encourage the absorption of the GDR into an imperialist Germany, which once again will inevitably pose great dangers to the existence of the Soviet Union.
Our analysis of the Stalinist regime is also a crucial element within this document. The International Committee is the only tendency which has clearly and repeatedly established the procapitalist nature of Gorbachev’s policies. As far back as three years ago, when Banda was telling us that the fate of the Soviet Union had been decided, that there could be no return to capitalism, we were already pointing out that the logic of Gorbachev’s policies was fully restorationist. But even now, when it should be clear to anyone who can read that the Gorbachev leadership is working to reestablish capitalism—it has drafted laws which sanction the ownership of private property and the exploitation of labor, both by Russians and by the imperialists, and declare that all forms of property will be permitted—attempts are being made by the revisionists to deny this procapitalist policy.
Let me read to you, for example, what was said by Slaughter in the Workers Press of February 3. He, of course, has certain criticisms of Gorbachev, but then he says: “This does not at all mean that the bureaucracy as such consists of people who seek the restoration of capitalism. We are concerned with the historical-social role of this privileged caste.” Here we have the application of the objectivist method to the analysis of bureaucracy. “No harsh attacks on Gorbachev and his comrades. They are all very honorable men. It is impolite to suggest that Gorbachev and his fellow bureaucrats are so evil as to consider the restoration of capitalism. It’s only a question of the world historical role of the bureaucracy.”
What all this circumlocution amounts to is a cover for the conscious role of the bureaucracy and its leadership in the present situation. Let me point out that this is entirely in keeping with the objectivist method pursued by Slaughter.
He has an article entitled “A Specter Haunting Moscow.” In this statement—which was written after the central committee meeting which prepared the groundwork for the reestablishment of capitalist property and the repudiation of the dictatorship of the proletariat officially—there is not one word about the restoration of capitalism. And let me read the way in which the political situation is dealt with in this lead statement:
The Stalinist bureaucracy cannot solve these problems. Gorbachev wants to corral the mass discontent for his own factional purposes of eliminating the old guard and adapting more closely to capitalism.
What a cautious phrase: “adapting more closely.” This deceptive formulation conceals what is actually taking place. Slaughter’s position is essentially no different from that of Mandel, who claims that it is “absurd” to talk of Gorbachev seeking to restore capitalism in the Soviet Union. He is only “adapting more closely” to it!
And then: “The capitalists of Europe, America and Japan are interested in the super-exploitation of Russia’s workers and resources. That Gorbachev cannot see any perspective beyond this is the natural consequence of his being a product of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its power.” As if the problem is merely one of an inadequate perspective or faulty eyesight; and not that Gorbachev is the political representative of social layers that are striving to overthrow the workers’ state and reestablish capitalism.
Now what does he conclude? “Beyond Gorbachev, the working class will restore the workers’ councils, the soviets, as they were in 1917, organs of struggle and of workers’ power. This is the only answer. This is how the political revolution will unfold.”
Then he gives us a lengthy and detailed scenario for the unfolding of the political revolution: “Beginning with workers’ control of production, the factory committees will rapidly come to workers’ management of industry. These workers’ councils and factory committees, working bodies, not just talking shops or consultative bodies, will be the source and the base of all power in the country. All representatives at the local, regional and national level will be subject to recall.” And Slaughter just goes on and on in this vein. He becomes positively lyrical about the future.
The Soviet workers “will reach out to the mass of workers throughout the capitalist world, from southern Africa and Argentina, to India, and from Sri Lanka to Western Europe, America and Japan” and so on and so forth. Nowhere does he explain how the masses will get “beyond Gorbachev,” how this process of political revolution and revolutionary internationalism will be prepared and developed, and what political struggles will have to be passed through in order to create the conditions for the implementation of this program. In other words, his objectivism is essentially no different from the method employed by Torrance and the method which they’ve all worked with together prior to the split in 1985.
Our document and that of the BSA represent a milestone and a turning point in the development of the International Committee of the Fourth International. On the basis of the protracted work of political and theoretical preparation, we are directly and consciously assuming responsibility for the struggle to organize and lead the working class to power. We accept this responsibility and understand that it is our task to provide the working class with the sober and clear-headed appraisals which it needs. When you’re heading into battle, we must tell workers what is, point out the dangers, speak bluntly and not permit the slightest indulgence in politically-backward, impotent and self-deluding phrase-mongering. The perspectives and analysis we put forward is being carefully followed by ever-growing sections of the working class—in East Germany they number in the thousands—and they are the basis for practical initiatives. Within a very short space of time, the tendency which we first noted back in June 1989, that is, the growing coincidence between the revolutionary line of our party and the development of the class struggle itself, has placed our comrades in Germany in a situation where they are winning the attention of the most advanced sections of the working class.
In the recent days, we’ve addressed extremely successful meetings which have been organized by our party in Karl-Marx-Stadt and in Berlin. There is no question but that our movement is now getting a hearing in the working class. It is a political force to be reckoned with. It can neither be ignored by the Stalinists nor by the right-wing forces. And the most advanced sections of the working class are considering our arguments, even if they’re not always prepared to accept them. It is certainly becoming clear to these advanced sections of the working class that we are the one force which, while conducting a brutal struggle against the Stalinists, is determined to defend all the gains of the working class against the fire sale now being organized by the Stalinists of the material assets built up by the working class over the last 40 years.
A few days ago, the BSA held a meeting in the GDR. A group of right wingers came to try to disrupt our meeting and shout their right-wing slogans. Many of the workers were initially silent, because these right wingers have really been allowed to spread their reactionary pro-capitalist filth without being politically challenged. Our comrades took up a fight, drove these people out of the meeting, and the workers applauded enthusiastically. We revived the workers’ spirits. They saw that we are the only ones prepared to defend the working class and answer all the reactionary rubbish which identifies Stalinism with socialism, proclaims the “death of Marxism,” “the failure of economic planning” and asserts that capitalism is the wave of the future.
We are confident because we have confidence in our program. We can’t give any guarantees, except one: that we will fight for this program and fight for it in such a way that the working class can see the difference between our program and that of all the other tendencies. We take responsibility for ourselves. And we understand, as Comrade Uli Rippert said so well in his report to the BSA congress, that in fighting for this program, we do so not only in opposition to other tendencies, but also in opposition to the existing consciousness in the working class. We’re not looking for cheap popularity. We are seeking to educate the working class, to raise its level of political consciousness, and make the working class conscious of its historical tasks.
We have been correct to clearly warn the working class of the dangers we face, and to avoid any sort of idealization of the political situation that exists in Germany today. But in doing that, we’re not being pessimistic. Our analysis of the objective crisis of world imperialism as a system convinces us that there will be no shortage of revolutionary opportunities. The disequilibrium confronting capitalism will not be speedily restored. Our perspective is that we have before us an extended period of revolutionary upheaval. There will be, of course, ebbs and flows. There may be setbacks, some of them serious. But it is absolutely excluded that the historic issues arising out of the collapse of the postwar order can be settled rapidly. They can only be resolved on the arena of the international class struggle. The bourgeoisie has by no means yet defeated the working class and solved its problems. We concede nothing. We must acknowledge that in the initial struggles, the depth of the problems facing the working class have become very clear. The working class, disoriented by Stalinism, has not yet been able to take the political offensive and exploit the crisis to its own advantage. At the present time, the petty-bourgeois agents of international capital have the upper hand. But that will change. The intervention of our party, educating the working class, will prepare it to take stock of the situation and resume the offensive.
At the same time, we are conducting the struggle under conditions in which imperialism itself, for all its empty boasting, staggers from crisis to crisis. I read an article yesterday in the New York Times, in which the leading economic columnist Leonard Silk conceded that at the very moment of “capitalism’s triumph over communism,” there is a real danger that capitalism may collapse beneath the weight of unsustainable debts. Some triumph!
Our movement is based on a profound scientific understanding of the laws of history, and we are somewhat bemused by the rather pathetic and almost insane triumphalism of the bourgeoisie. Even in their claims of victory, we detect the signs of decay. In the old days, capitalism based its argument against socialism on the basis of claims that it could eliminate poverty. Bourgeois economists disputed Marx’s theory of the absolute impoverishment of the working class. They challenged his claims that society was becoming ever more polarized. The leading bourgeois revisionist theoreticians of capitalist reform, such as Bernstein, argued that capitalism was gradually assuming more and more of a socialist character.
But at the present stage of its degeneration, capitalism does not present itself as a world system which promises to raise the level of the masses and eliminate poverty. Far from it. It makes no such claim at all. In fact, those who support it in Eastern Europe openly come out with programs which call for the destruction of the living conditions of the masses. The “democratic” apostles of capitalism admit that the implementation of their program means the destruction of the conditions of the masses. This is itself the sharpest expression of the historical bankruptcy of the capitalist system.
Based on the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracies, the capitalist class really is under the illusion that it’s now in a position to reverse the whole course of world history. It wants to believe that the great working class victories of the twentieth century—the Russian Revolution, the building of industrial unions, the winning of social reforms by the working class—were all a historical aberration. As it approaches the abyss and on the eve of the greatest struggles in history, the bourgeoisie in this period dreams of raising its class dictatorship to heights that it has not known in a century. It is as if the bourgeoisie is striving to redress all the defeats suffered by the various ruling classes throughout history at the hands of the oppressed and exploited masses.
This world struggle will only be settled in the midst of the greatest battles in history. We are preparing the party and the working class for these battles. Our method of work in this situation must be the same as that called for by Lenin in 1917, when he insisted that the basic task of the Bolshevik Party was to explain to the masses the historical tasks posed by the imperialist war and the breakdown of the Russian regime, and to explain the policies of the Bolsheviks even under conditions when those policies were not immediately popular. We’re not expecting an easy struggle and easy victories. We’re not evaluating the development of our work in Germany simply on the fact that our sales are very high, that our section now can sell about as many papers as it has comrades available.
But we are not basing ourselves on superficial assessments. With this turn which the International Committee is making, we are drawing all the theoretical lessons and political lessons of the whole struggle which our movement has conducted against opportunism, because now we confront the opportunists not as simply political opponents who are polemicizing against us in their newspapers. They really are on the other side of the barricades. And that change in class relations is the surest sign that revolutionary conditions are now emerging in society on a world scale.
So, comrades, we wish to urge the acceptance of the perspectives resolution. We hope that there will be a very thorough and detailed discussion during the course of the next two days. And after the congress, we will develop the discussion, not only within party branches, but as broadly as possible within the working class itself.