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

Workers Need a Revolutionary Internationalist Program

The Workers League held an emergency conference to “Mobilize Labor against Government and Corporate Attacks” in Detroit on April 1. This is the political report explaining the crisis of perspective and program confronting the working class.

Comrade chairman, comrades and friends:

The conference which we are holding today has been called to mobilize the working class against the attacks of the government and corporations. We are meeting at a time when workers all over the country are confronted with an unprecedented assault on their working conditions, living standards and basic democratic rights. Not since the first decades of this century—that is, before the construction of the CIO—has there been such a ruthless mobilization of corporate and state power against the working class. Strikebreaking and union busting have become the new national pastime of the employers. The methods used by the capitalists and the state to destroy the resistance of workers to the drive to lower wages, eliminate benefits, destroy jobs and, in general, intensify the exploitation of the working class include constant on-the-job intimidation, murder and state repression.

There is a war going on in this country; but, as John Reed said in 1913 during the historic Paterson strike, it’s being waged only by one side—the capitalists against the workers. On those relatively rare occasions when the trade union bureaucrats agree to sanction a strike, workers are arrested, thrown into jail, dragged into court on trumped up charges, and convicted and put away for decades. And those are the lucky ones. The less fortunate are run over by scabs or hit with bullets fired from ambush by hired killers.

More than two years ago, the Workers League warned that the jailing and conviction of four A.T. Massey miners in Kentucky represented a new stage in the capitalist class’s war against the labor movement. We said that if this frame-up was not resisted by the trade unions, it would set a precedent—like the destruction of PATCO in 1981—for a wave of repression and violence directed against the most militant section of workers. We have been proven correct.

The chairman has already referred to the escalating record of class war violence. Given what has happened in the course of the last six months—the arrest of scores of striking construction workers, the murder of Edward Horgan, the murder of John McCoy, the murder of Robert Waterhouse—the first question which should be raised today is why is this the only meeting that has been called by any section of the labor movement to demand action against these attacks and in defense of those who have been its victims? Why have there not been conferences, demonstrations, rallies and strikes from one end of this country to the other demanding the release of those militants in jail, the arrest of the scabs and hired killers responsible for the shedding of workers’ blood? Why has there been so little response to a wave of violence unprecedented in the modem history of the labor movement?

The answer is to be found not in the lack of militancy on the part of the working class. Indeed, the very conditions which we have already described demonstrate the combativity of the working class and its willingness to make sacrifices. Neither John McCoy, Edward Horgan nor Robert Waterhouse are dead because they weren’t prepared to fight and make sacrifices for their class. The problem is not with the working class, but with its leadership. These vicious attacks on the working class go unanswered because the bureaucrats who dominate the trade unions are traitors and cowards who are little more than the hired agents of the capitalist class inside the labor movement.

For more than a decade, millions of workers have seen how the bureaucrats of the AFL-CIO, UAW, United Mine Workers and all the other unions have sabotaged every struggle against the shutdown of factories and mines and have collaborated with the bosses to transform the unions into appendages of corporate management. The last decade is littered with the wreckage of unions whose strikes were betrayed by Lane Kirkland and his associates—from PATCO and Phelps Dodge and Hormel, from Continental and Eastern, from Massey and Pittston, to Greyhound in 1983 and Greyhound in 1990, to name only a few.

These betrayals have brought the trade union movement to the brink of destruction. All the gains won by the working class as a result of its heroic struggle to establish industrial unions are now faced with the threat of liquidation.

To the extent that the bureaucrats attempt to justify their policies, they do so by claiming that the class struggle is out of date, that it is foolish for workers to make unreasonable demands, and that the interests of the working class are best served by making sacrifices in order to strengthen the competitive position of American capitalism on the world market. They deny that the working class has any independent interests that conflict with those of the employers, and, waving the American flag and shouting protectionist slogans, the bureaucrats offer their services as recruiting sergeants for American imperialism in the next world war against Japan or Germany.

The fact that this is the only conference that has been called to mobilize the working class in defense of its jobs, living standards and basic rights proves two things: first, the defense of the labor movement today requires nothing less than a political insurrection of the working class against the entire rotten structure of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy; and second, in the course of the struggle to drive the bureaucrats out of the trade unions, it is necessary to rejuvenate the labor movement with revolutionary socialist policies. Indeed, the program of socialist revolution is the only alternative which provides the working class with the means to defend its interests against the catastrophe which capitalism is now preparing for the overwhelming mass of mankind.

In advancing this program of socialist revolution, we are well aware of the fact that a deafening campaign of worldwide dimensions is now underway, which is proclaiming the death of socialism and declaring that there now exists no alternative to capitalism. The events now taking place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are being held up as proof that “socialism” has failed and that the workers in these countries want nothing more than to live under capitalism. The propaganda being blared over television and radio and being poured over the pages of countless newspapers and journals remind one of the old adage: A lie can travel around the world before truth can get its shoes on. And, in this age of global and instantaneous communications, Mark Twain’s adage is being demonstrated as never before. Televised disinformation and lies by the thousands are being beamed by satellites into the homes of millions of people all over the world.

Neither the Workers League nor the International Committee has, as yet, satellites at our disposal. But we have truth on our side, and though it’s a slow-starter, it is ultimately more powerful and persuasive than the lies it has to combat.

The first lie that has to be answered is the claim that the collapse of the Stalinist regimes represents the death of socialism. The regimes which have collapsed or are in the process of collapsing never were socialist. The Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China have been ruled by bureaucracies whose programs and practices have been diametrically opposed to the fundamental teachings of Marxism and the essential principles of socialism. The great Marxists who led the Russian Revolution of October 1917 insisted that the victory of socialism was only possible through the unified international struggle of the world proletariat against capitalism. At the time of the revolution, Russia was an extremely backward country. The vast majority of its population consisted of peasants. But the development of socialism is only possible on the basis of the most advanced industry and scientific technology. While the revolution could create the initial conditions for the industrial transformation of Soviet Russia and the social and cultural elevation of its impoverished and illiterate masses, the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Trotsky insisted that the development of the Soviet Union into a socialist society was inextricably linked to the successes of the international working class, especially in the advanced countries, and the eventual overthrow of capitalism on a world scale.

This revolutionary internationalist program came under attack within the Soviet Union by a growing bureaucratic caste led by Stalin, who in 1924 advanced the reactionary anti-Marxist perspective of building socialism in a single country. That is, he advanced a program which claimed that socialism could be achieved in economically backward Soviet Russia regardless of the fate of the international class struggle.

The Trotskyist movement, representing genuine Marxism, developed in a struggle against the reactionary nationalist program of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Formed in 1923 as the Left Opposition to fight against the bureaucracy’s usurpation of power and its suppression of workers’ democracy, the Trotskyist movement has continuously insisted that the so-called theory of “socialism in one country” was a betrayal of socialism and the historic interests of the Soviet and international working class. From the mid-1920s until his assassination at the hands of a Stalinist agent in 1940, Trotsky continually insisted that the survival of the USSR and its development toward socialism depended upon the victory of the working class in a number of advanced capitalist countries. In The Revolution Betrayed, written in 1936, Trotsky defined the USSR as a “transitional society” whose fate was undecided. A “backslide to capitalism,” he wrote, “is wholly possible.... More than ever the fate of the October Revolution is bound up now with the fate of Europe and of the whole world.”

All the bourgeois pundits of the media readily admit that they were taken completely by surprise by the events in the USSR and Eastern Europe. But the Trotskyist movement analyzed long ago, with the aid of the Marxist method, the contradictions of Soviet society; and this analysis has proved to be astonishingly far-sighted. We might add that the International Committee and the Workers League adopted an international resolution in August 1988 which anticipated the upheavals which began in 1989.

A corollary of the ignorant and malicious claim that the crisis of Stalinism in the USSR and Eastern Europe represents the death of socialism is the claim that the superiority of capitalism has been decisively proven. We might ask, superior over what? What is lacking in all these triumphal proclamations is an explanation of why the Stalinist regimes have collapsed and what this crisis actually signifies. It is absolutely essential for the work of this conference that the world implications of the events in Eastern Europe be clearly understood.

The crisis which has erupted in Eastern Europe is not merely a crisis of the Stalinist regimes—it is a crisis of the entire world capitalism system. What has collapsed in Eastern Europe is not only a number of police-state regimes which were justifiably hated by the working class, but also the entire post-World War II structure of imperialism upon which the stability and expansion of capitalism over the last 40 years has depended.

Only by looking beyond the superficial headlines and simplistic formulae which now appear in the press and media is it possible to understand the more profound causes and implications of the events in Eastern Europe and their relation to the world situation. The breakdown of regimes which had existed for more than 40 years must have profound causes which are rooted in the economic structure of the world economy.

The International Committee has during the past few years repeatedly drawn attention to the revolutionary implications of the developments in microchip and computer technology which underlie the global integration of production. The vast expansion of multinational corporations and transnational production, combined with the perpetual and instantaneous international movement of capital, has to an unprecedented degree linked all the continents and countries of the globe into inseparably interconnected components of a single world economy. In turn, this has produced a tremendous intensification of the basic and most explosive contradiction of the imperialist epoch—that is, the conflict between the world economy and the historically-outmoded nation-state system in which the capitalist system is rooted.

This fundamental contradiction was the source of the massive political and social convulsions that characterized the first half of the twentieth century. When it comes to history, the bourgeois pundits seem to suffer from selective amnesia. They seem to have forgotten a number of details of capitalist development during the 31 years between 1914 and 1945. Let us remind them. The First World War and its aftermath led to 25 million deaths. The world depression of 1929-32 led to a collapse of world trade, the utter impoverishment of millions, and prepared the economic ground for fascism and the eruption of World War II, which, between 1939 and 1945, led to the death of more than 50 million people in Europe and Asia.

These eruptions were the product of the conflict between the development of the world economy and the historically outmoded nation-state system. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the imperialists together with the Stalinists sought to create a new political and economic framework within which these explosive antagonisms could be contained. The agreements worked out between the United States and Britain, on the one hand, and Soviet Union, on the other, were aimed essentially at creating a new equilibrium that would guarantee the political and economic stability of the world capitalist order. Whatever the concessions made by Roosevelt, Truman and Churchill to Stalin, these were small compared to the Soviet Union’s agreement to accept the restoration of capitalism in Western Europe. The imperialists for their part welcomed the division of Germany, as that temporarily solved the problem which had produced two world wars. And similarly, the imperialists were not entirely adverse to allowing the Soviet Union to police the Eastern European trouble spots whose chronic instability also played an important role in triggering World Wars I and II.

The regimes created by the Soviet bureaucracy in Eastern Europe were based on the same nationalist economic policy practiced by the Kremlin bureaucracy. Despite the fact that the nationalization of industry and central planning did initially produce considerable economic development, the artificial isolation of Eastern Europe from the international division of labor and its inability to draw upon the resources of the world market produced grotesque distortions in every sphere of its economy.

It is the enormous growth of the world economy that lies behind the breakdown of the Eastern European regimes. To the extent that these regimes were the most extreme expression of economic nationalism, they have become the first victims of the immense pressure exerted by the world economy on all its interconnected national subdivisions. In fact, the very industrial development and increasing complexity of the East European economies—especially that of East Germany—made them more, rather than less, dependent upon the world market. It is neither the nationalized property forms nor the limited existence of central planning that has blocked the economic development of Eastern Europe; it is, rather, the strangulating effects of nationalist autarky that has produced the present crisis.

But the pressure of the world economy is not only being exerted against Eastern Europe. It is having a no less profound and destabilizing effect upon the capitalist states. This is the reason why the same national rivalries which led to two world wars are once again emerging. The worsening trade and political conflicts between the United States and Germany, the United States and Japan, between Britain and Germany, all express the rebellion of the world economy against the old nation-state form. The period of relative harmony between the major imperialist powers has come to an end. In the serious financial and political journals of the bourgeoisie—those not intended for mass consumption—it is possible to find many warnings that there exists a real danger that the worsening economic antagonisms between the United States and its economic rivals will degenerate into a full-scale trade war and eventually into a military conflict. Some commentators have noted that it is far more difficult to manage the economic tensions between rival capitalist powers than the political conflicts which arose between the US and the USSR during the so-called cold war.

It may be fashionable to declare that Marxism is out of date, but there is no book that is more timely today, next to Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed, than Lenin’s classic study on imperialism, written some 74 years ago. At a time when the US and Japan are arguing over who will dominate key industries, when the expected unification of Germany is reviving old disputes over what power will dominate Europe, when old political alliances which were formed after World War II are breaking down and when the more serious representatives of the bourgeoisie express fear over the long-term implications of worsening economic rivalries, the analysis of Lenin is being vindicated once again. He insisted that imperialism, by its very nature, cannot preserve world peace. The alliances which are formed between the imperialist powers, he explained “are inevitably nothing more than a ‘truce’ in periods between wars. Peaceful alliances prepare the grounds for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars.” That is being demonstrated once again today.

The alliances which grew out of World War II are breaking down and the intensifying struggle for domination of the world market is preparing the grounds for World War III.

As the historic contradiction between the world economy and nation-state system is undermining the stability of world capitalism, this same contradiction is having the most devastating impact on the working class movement in every country. The days in which the labor movements of different countries could win certain improvements in the conditions of workers on the basis of national reform programs are over. Not only is it impossible to build socialism in an isolated country; it is impossible to defend the reforms won in the past by workers in the capitalist countries on the basis of a national program. Under conditions of intense economic competition, the bourgeoisie of every country strives to strengthen its position against its rivals. Multinational corporations scour the globe to pay the lowest wages possible; and, in turn, use their ability to produce cheaply overseas to drive down the wages and living standards of the workers in their own country.

Thus, it is impossible for the workers of any one country to effectively fight internationally-organized capital on the basis of a purely national program. Precisely because workers in every country confront multinational organizations engaged in transnational production, the struggles of the working class cannot be effective, let alone successful, without the international unity of the working class in a common fight against internationally organized capital.

And this brings us to the essential message of this conference: the crisis confronting the working class, in the United States and internationally, is a crisis of perspective and it is a crisis of program. If the labor movement here and internationally is being thrown backwards, if the gains of past decades are being wiped out, if the specter of mass impoverishment haunts workers even in countries where a relatively high standard of living was the norm, it is because the old national programs upon which the labor movements have been traditionally based are exhausted and bankrupt. There does not exist a single country where the labor movement can insulate itself from the pressure of the world market and its impact on the national economy.

Let me give you an example which is particularly important. For decades, the social democrats of Sweden proclaimed that they had discovered a model “third way,” a brilliant compromise between capitalism and socialism, which reconciled the capitalists’ drive for profit with the social interests of the working class. Sweden boasted of the benefits available to the working class within the framework of its “welfare state.” The Swedish economists proclaimed that they had demonstrated that it was not necessary for the working class to take power and overthrow the capitalist system; rather, the system could be reformed to meet the interests and needs of the working class.

But within the last two months, the so-called Swedish miracle has collapsed. For years the competitive position of Swedish industry in the world market has been declining. Companies like Volvo are finding it increasingly difficult to stand up against the pressure being exerted by their competitors in Asia and Europe. So the Swedish bourgeoisie is now demanding that the welfare benefits be slashed and that wages be forced down. Almost overnight, class tensions have risen to the breaking point. Swedish workers are being told that they can’t be treated any differently than workers are treated in the United States. And if Swedish workers threaten to strike, they face the likelihood that their employers will shift production to countries where wages are much lower. In all likelihood, they will attempt to exploit the opportunities now being opened up in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

There is only one answer for the working class: it must adopt a new international program aimed at unifying the workers of the world on the basis of a revolutionary socialist program. There is no solution to the crisis confronting the working class except one based on a program which proceeds from the scientific recognition of both the primacy of the world economy and the international character of the working class. Thus, the real lines of battle within the labor movement of every country is between those who advance the program of socialist internationalism, and the reactionary bureaucrats who peddle the bankrupt slogan of nationalism and chauvinism. There is no middle road. Either the working class unifies its forces on an international scale and puts an end to the anarchy of capitalism; or capitalism will put an end to the working class and to civilization itself.

But can this be done? Are we not being told from all sides that socialism has failed, that it has been defeated, that the working class in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is rejecting socialism? Haven’t the recent election results in East Germany proved that the masses want capitalism?

There is no doubt that the crimes of Stalinism have disoriented the working class. To the extent that workers in Eastern Europe identify the police-state regimes with socialism, the socialist convictions of the working class have been undermined. Moreover, the Stalinist bureaucrats in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are the most fervent supporters of capitalist restoration. They are hoping that their privileged positions will be converted into capitalist directorships and that the privatization of industry will line their own pockets and endow them with new property rights. These reactionary traitors are doing everything in their power to encourage illusions in the capitalist system. Workers and middle class people in Eastern Europe, who really know nothing about the real conditions which confront the masses in the capitalist countries, are being told the most fantastic tales about the glories of free enterprise.

When I visited the Soviet Union and described the conditions which exist in Detroit, many of those with whom I spoke to simply found it impossible to believe. The Stalinist press seeks to convey the impression that the streets of American cities are lined with gold; that workers become prosperous by obtaining a job, where they encounter friendly employers who are more than willing to pay them what is required to lead a comfortable life. According to current Stalinist propaganda, America is a social utopia where the class conflict has been transcended by higher humanitarian principles. If poor people are to be found, that is the rare exception, to be explained as the product of the subjective failings of the lazy individuals.

What is being said in the Soviet Union is being proclaimed by the new regimes throughout Eastern Europe. Never in world history has there been such a massive campaign of deception and misinformation mounted against the working class.

The claim that capitalism has triumphed would be far more persuasive if there was any indication that the profit system was really making headway in improving the conditions of life for the vast majority of the world’s population. But what is the reality? What blessings are being bestowed by capitalism upon the masses of toiling humanity? Allow me to describe the conditions which exist in India, a country with a population of approximately 800 million people, that is, one-sixth of the world’s total population. Its economy is organized along capitalist lines, and the adoption of Reaganite policies during the past decade has led to the vast enrichment of the bourgeoisie and a privileged strata of the middle class.

Those who are rich delight in staging feasts and extravagant weddings in five-star hotels.

But beyond these tiny oases of disgusting luxury, the masses live in a state of unspeakable poverty. They are ravaged by epidemics of cholera and malaria. It is estimated that 37 million children suffer from severe malnutrition. Seven million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. Every year 42,000 children in India become totally blind and 78,000 suffer from poor vision. Thirty percent of all pregnant women suffer from anemia, and 63 percent of all children under three suffer from anemia. Two hundred fifty million people in India consume less than three-fourths of the required calories; while 55 million consume less than one-half of what is considered the minimally needed calories per day.

India is just one example of the horrifying conditions that exist in the backward countries, in what is euphemistically called the “developing world.” Developing toward what? Take these backward countries. Forty thousand children die every day from malnutrition. Seven million children die every year from diarrheal dehydration. The World Health Organization estimates that about 500 million children do not get enough food. The infant mortality rate is on average 120 per 1,000 births. Forty million children in these countries are blind and 2.5 million lose their sight every year. Seventy-five percent of the world’s rural population lack access to clean water. Approximately 250 million children in the backward countries cannot get clean drinking water; and it is estimated that 25,000 people die every day simply because they cannot drink a glass of clean water! That is capitalism!

Now we hear that the bounties of capitalism are being introduced to Eastern Europe, and the first effects of these bounties have already been felt. In Poland, since January, the price of bread has leapt by 38 percent; the price of ham, 55 percent; the price of a telephone call, 100 percent. The cost of electricity is up 400 percent. Coal is up 600 percent.

We read in the capitalist press that the Polish government has eliminated the shortage problems. Food, they claim, is available in the stores. But the workers can’t buy anything, and that is the reality of capitalist restoration. There may be illusions among the masses. For decades they were lied to by the Stalinists. In general, Marxism suffered more persecution in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union than anywhere else in the world. The works of Trotsky were banned, and it was virtually impossible for the working class to orient itself on the basis of Marxism. And these are the conditions which have produced political disorientation. But whatever illusions which they have in capitalism will very rapidly be shattered. And the reaction of the masses, once they have grasped the real situation into which they have been plunged, will be equal in scale to the deception which is now being practiced against them.

As a Marxist party, we advance a scientific program. We are not political charlatans and political witch doctors. We tell the working class the truth and we base ourselves not on moods, but on the most objective processes in the world economy. We recognized in calling and preparing this conference that the crisis of leadership today is greater than ever. We cannot begin with the illusions, the confusion, the discouragement or the frustration of the masses, but with a scientific analysis and a program that expresses the objective interests of the working class. We understand that we confront a very difficult struggle. But we have a historical perspective. Mankind is marching forward, not backward. History develops through contradictions and man can only move forward by smashing through tremendous obstacles. It is the job of the most class-conscious elements within the working class, that is, the Trotskyists, to do what they have done for decades: to indicate the correct line of struggle for the working class. The explosive contradictions of world capitalism are maturing. And the surprises which overtook the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe will soon overtake imperialism in the advanced countries and in the backward countries, where the conditions of capitalism are already intolerable for the overwhelming majority of the population.

We are confident in the victory of our program because it alone shows the way forward for the working class. It is at this time that the struggle for this program assumes the greatest historical significance. It would be very easy if a scientific program always corresponded to the moods of the masses, but in that case, there would be no need for a party. If it was possible for masses of workers to instinctively understand the source of their oppression, if the inner contradictions of capitalism and their implications could be grasped spontaneously in the consciousness of workers, there would be no need for a party fighting on the basis of a scientific program. There is a contradiction between scientific thought and the spontaneous thought of masses of people. But in order to prepare for the future, it is necessary today to fight for a correct political line. It is our job to explain the nature of the crisis confronting the working class movement and restore the confidence of the working class in the viability of the socialist program. The objective contradictions of capitalism will drive the working class into revolutionary struggles; and we must prepare the vanguard forces, deeply rooted in the masses, who will provide the necessary leadership.

Whatever the illusions that now prevail in Eastern Europe, the capitalists will begin to show the working class in Europe what they can do. In fact, it has already started. The news today brings the report that the German banks have announced their plans for the conversion of the East German mark into the West German mark. It will mean an immediate slashing by one-half of the savings and pensions of the East German working class. And that’s only the beginning.

What we are outlining today is a scientific program, a program which must be fought for with confidence and conviction in the working class movement, and what we decide today and how we carry forward the perspectives of this conference into the working class will prepare the next stage of the revolutionary offensive of the working class.