English
International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International 1991: Oppose imperialist war and colonialism!

The Fight for Trotskyism and the Perspectives of the Berlin World Conference

David North

The following report was delivered by Workers League National Secretary David North to an aggregate meeting of the membership of the Socialist Labour League, Australian section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, held June 30, 1991 in Sydney. The Workers League is the forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States.

Comrade chairman, comrades, thank you very much for your warm greetings, and permit me to bring to you the warmest greetings both from the International Committee of the Fourth International and from the Central Committee of the Workers League.

We value very much the opportunity to hold this discussion with the comrades of the Socialist Labour League, and as the chairman has indicated, this meeting today is part of a series of discussions which have been held over the last two weeks with other sections of the International Committee—the International Communist Party in Britain and the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter in Germany. And now we are meeting here as part of a series of discussions and preparing the international conference which will be held this coming November in Berlin.

I would like to begin my remarks by reading a brief passage from the writings of Leon Trotsky on the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. This particular article was written in August 1910:

Two aspects need to be distinguished in what is known as the Eastern Question: first, it is a question of the relations between the nations and states of the Balkan Peninsula; second, it is a question of the conflicting interests and intrigues of the European capitalist powers in the Balkans....

The Balkan Peninsula, which is approximately as big as Germany, but has only about one-third as many inhabitants (22 million), is divided between six independent states: Greece, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro, together with the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Dalmatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina....

The frontiers between the dwarf states of the Balkan Peninsula were drawn not in accordance with national conditions or national demands, but as a result of wars, diplomatic intrigues and dynastic interests. The Great Powers—in the first place, Russia and Austria—have always had a direct interest in setting the Balkan peoples and states against each other and then, when they have weakened one another, subjecting them to their economic and political influence. The petty dynasties ruling in these ‘broken pieces’ of the Balkan Peninsula have served and continue to serve as levers for European diplomatic intrigues. And this entire mechanism, founded on violence and perfidy, constitutes a huge burden weighing upon the Balkan peoples, holding back their economic and cultural development....

This peninsula, richly endowed by nature, is senselessly split up into little bits; people and goods moving about in it constantly come up against the prickly hedges of state frontiers, and this cutting of nations and states into many strips renders impossible the formation of a single Balkan market, which could provide the basis for a great development of Balkan industry and culture....

The only way out of the national and state chaos and the bloody confusion of Balkan life is a union of all the peoples of the peninsula in a single economic and political entity, on the basis of national autonomy of the constituent parts. Only within the framework of a single Balkan state can the Serbs of Macedonia, the sanjak, Serbia, and Montenegro be united in a single national-cultural community, enjoying at the same time the advantages of a Balkan common market. Only the united Balkan peoples can give a real rebuff to the shameless pretensions of tsarism and European imperialism.

State unity of the Balkan Peninsula can be achieved in two ways: either from above, by expanding one Balkan state, whichever proves strongest, at the expense of the weaker ones—this is the road of wars of extermination and oppression of weak nations, a road that consolidates monarchism and militarism; or from below, through the peoples themselves coming together—this is the road of revolution, the road that means overthrowing the Balkan dynasties and unfurling the banner of a Balkan federal republic.

These words were written 81 years ago. And when one reads them, one recalls the old proverb “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Perhaps this passage illustrates what the International Committee means when it says that the conference we have called in Berlin has not been called simply to answer and respond to the latest outrages of imperialism in the Persian Gulf, or even to reply to the deteriorating conditions of life of workers all over the world, produced by the onset of the current recession. Of course, these events would in themselves be sufficient justification to hold an international conference. But the tasks before the conference are far greater.

We have called this conference not only to reply to the immediate problems of the working class, but in order to set about resolving the great unanswered and uncompleted tasks which have confronted the working class in the course of this century. Here we are in 1991, and yet the issues which confront the working class today are essentially the same as those which it faced at the beginning of the century with the emergence of imperialism as a world system.

After two world wars in which tens of millions of people perished—wars waged over markets, over control of raw materials, access to valuable resources—once again mankind is threatened with a catastrophic world conflict. The events which are now taking place in Yugoslavia demonstrate very poignantly that no fundamental question of the imperialist epoch can be resolved short of the world socialist revolution. The problems which confronted the Balkan people at the beginning of the century remain unsolved.

Once again the Serbs are pitted against the Croats and against the Slovenians. After 45 years of Stalinist rule, the entire peninsula confronts the prospect of fratricidal war which would result in the ruination of the entire population. And their grievances are being exploited by various imperialist powers, who seek not to liberate the Balkan people, but to subjugate them.

We have called this conference because the time has come for the Fourth International to present its program to the international working class, under conditions where this program will find an audience among workers who are coming to realize that there is no way out of the chaos of world capitalism.

In preparing this conference we have the task of analyzing the objective problems which arise out of the contradictions of world capitalism and their political reflection in the development of revolutionary leadership within the working class.

The present world crisis is not simply conjunctural or cyclical. One reads every day in the press statements by the heads of states, finance ministers, that the economic crisis is being brought directly under control, that the downturn is temporary and an upturn is just around the comer.

As a matter of fact, all talk about the end of recession, an upturn, these have become rather abstract technical terms of virtually no interest to the working class. Because the fact of the matter is that the present recession only continues the protracted downturn in the living standards and social conditions of workers in the most advanced countries for well over a decade. And indeed the conditions of the masses in the backward countries have reached the point of being, in the most literal sense of the word, unbearable, unlivable.

We would not attempt to dispute with economists who claim that this recession is to some extent the operation of the business cycle. The crisis of overproduction periodically rears its head and this is part of the process through which capitalism purges itself of its own previous excesses. But there is much more involved in this crisis than a crisis of a business cycle, a cyclical downturn. We are at a nodal point in world history. It is not a question of the operation of the business cycle, but of a fundamental turn in the world historic situation.

That is, we stand between two eras of world development. We are all familiar with Marx’s statement when the mode of production comes into conflict with the existing social relations, an era of social revolution emerges. Now we can trace this development historically, if only in a very brief outline, in the following way:

In reviewing the historical development of modem capitalism, we can define very specific periods of its political development. It is generally agreed that 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution, marks the opening up of the modem era. The previous development of capitalist relations in Europe, and in particular France, undermined the foundations of the old feudal system in France, and led to the eruption of the great French Revolution, inaugurating a period of intense revolutionary activity throughout Europe—the French Revolution, then the wars of conquest by Napoleon, which did so much to tear up the old structure of feudal Europe.

This period of revolutionary upheaval continued roughly to 1815, when the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo brought to a close the heroic period of the French Revolution and its aftermath, and ushered in a period of political reaction, under the domination of what was known as the Quadruple Alliance.

This period of political equilibrium under the reactionary settlement of the Quadruple Alliance persisted for a number of decades, roughly from 1815 to 1848. And it was during this period of political equilibrium, on the basis of the reactionary settlement of the Congress of Vienna, that the old order preserved itself, of course, with certain necessary adjustments. But to some extent it was a last gasp attempt to hold on to the old world, which had been so powerfully challenged by the French Revolution.

Yet economic development proceeded very rapidly. Industry expanded and the economic foundations of the old regime were gradually undermined.

In 1847, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, in which they theoretically anticipated the coming revolutionary storm, focusing on the emerging revolutionary role of the new class in society—the proletariat. In 1848 the great revolutions in Europe erupted, and though they were defeated, 1848 ushered in a period of protracted political upheaval in Europe and internationally, during which the foundations of the modem day state system were laid down. This was the period of the wars between France and Germany, between Germany and Denmark, Germany and Austria, the wars of liberation in Italy, the American Civil War—of national revolutions, which was brought to a close with the uprising of the Parisian working class, the establishment of the Commune, which was crushed in May 1871. The defeat of the working class and the conclusion of the period of national state consolidation in Europe and in North America, including the establishment of the Canadian Dominion in 1867, opened up a new period of political equilibrium.

We might date this from 1871 all the way to 1914. In this period one saw the emergence of a new economic order, characterized by the growing power of finance capital, the expansion of capitalist relations into Asia and Africa on the basis of colonial domination. This period of equilibrium broke down amidst the struggles of competing imperialist states, against the pressure of intensifying class struggle, with the outbreak of the First World War.

Nineteen fourteen to 1945 was the period of the greatest disequilibrium and social eruption in world history—two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, countless upheavals and uprisings, the movement of the Chinese and Asian masses, the struggle for Indian independence. All of these movements took place within the framework of the complete shattering of the old relations which had persisted prior to 1914. We refer to this in the resolution of the International Committee as a period in which there was a prolonged and protracted meltdown of the world capitalist order.

It was not really until the end of the Second World War that a new equilibrium was created, an equilibrium which as we explain in the resolution depended upon the collaboration of the Stalinists with imperialism in creating the political conditions for the restabilization of capitalism and the postwar economic expansion. This period lasted from 1945-46 until 1989. It has now broken down and set into motion a protracted period of crisis and struggle.

Bush speaks of a new world order. I doubt that he’s a man of great historic perspective, but the terminology itself indicates a recognition that the old world order has broken down. A new one must be erected. But between the breakdown of the old post-world war order and the creation of a new world order is a period of protracted struggle between classes and states.

The question is, on what basis will a new equilibrium be created? Will it be created on the basis of wars, the destruction of millions of people? Will the imperialists create this new equilibrium on the basis of the enslavement of hundreds of millions all over the world, or will the new equilibrium emerge out of the unification of the working class on a world scale to put an end to the bloody chaos of capitalism? That is the great issue which we confront.

We are entering into a period of the most profound struggles. These struggles can end in only one of two ways: either in new wars which will lead to the destruction of mankind or in the overthrow of the imperialist system and the creation of a new progressive and harmonious basis for the development of the resources of our planet. This, in short, is the political situation. Why do all the old questions reemerge, the questions of national state antagonisms which appeared to be forgotten and buried with the past? Precisely because under imperialism these questions cannot be solved, they can only be suppressed.

The antagonisms between states cannot be resolved because imperialism is a system based on the struggle of groups of national capitalists for markets, for access to sources of cheap labor and so on. This is the situation which the working class confronts. In 1914 when the old world order broke down, the working class was unprepared. The working class had created great and powerful parties, particularly in Europe and above all in Germany. These parties had warned that the contradictions of imperialism were heading in the direction of war. Yet when the war came, virtually all these old parties capitulated to imperialism, and the opportunism which had been developing in these parties found its expression in this historic betrayal of the working class.

But out of that war came the Russian Revolution. There, the struggle which had been waged by the Bolsheviks against opportunism had prepared a cadre which was able to act upon the conditions created by the war, and direct the working class for the successful struggle for power.

When we consider the present period, we’re concerned with this fundamental issue. In the present period of upheavals and conflicts, will there be a leadership capable of directing the struggles of the working class for the conquest of power?

This meeting, all the work of the International Committee, is directed towards preparing precisely such a leadership. We believe that the conditions now exist for this struggle to be taken to a successful conclusion. We’re not simply saying this as some sort of abstract or rhetorical gesture of confidence. In fact, it’s based on our evaluation of the objective relationship between tendencies within the working class. We have stated in a number of documents, and in this resolution as well, that the relationship between the Fourth International and the working class has changed. We have made these points and this has been greeted within our ranks, or at least amongst certain sections of our membership, with a certain amount of skepticism.

These comrades note the small forces of our movement, the limited number of cadre, and say, how can we claim there is a fundamental change in the relationship between the Fourth International and the working class, isn’t this an exaggeration?

Now I’d like to recall that we first made this analysis before the events in Eastern Europe. Those who would have based an evaluation of the relationship of the forces within the working class on a purely quantitative assessment would have had to say that the influence of our movement is very limited, that the great powerful parties within the working class remain those of Stalinism and social democracy. Then came the events of 1989.

If we take the events of the twentieth century as our frame of reference, we can perhaps consider more carefully the fundamental question of the relationship between Marxism and opportunism in the working class. In 1934 Trotsky wrote a document entitled “War and the Fourth International” in which he warned that the defeat of the German working class was setting the stage for another and even more terrible imperialist war. At that time, when he wrote that document, conditions confronting the Trotskyist movement were exceptionally difficult.

The greatest difficulty was that throughout the world, masses of workers looked to the Communist Party for revolutionary leadership. The Communist parties, dominated by the Soviet bureaucracy, had just carried out the greatest betrayal of the working class in history. The German working class had been crushed by the Nazis. And yet the Communist parties, and certainly the Soviet Communist Party, still enjoyed immense prestige within the working class.

It was not at all clear to even the more advanced sections of the working class that the Stalinist parties represented not a force for socialist revolution, but in fact the greatest obstacle to the struggle of the working class against capitalism. In 1936 in France, when the great wave of sitdown strikes erupted, the Communist Party was in a position to bring those sit-down strikes under control, betray them, and create conditions of political demoralization within the working class, which facilitated the coming to power in 1940 of Petain, in the opening stages of the Second World War.

In Spain there took place in July 1936, in response to the attempted coup of Generalissimo Franco, a great movement of the Spanish working class. Spontaneously the Spanish workers seized the arms and nearly succeeded in the opening days of that conflict in defeating the fascist coup. But through the intervention of the Soviet bureaucracy, the struggles of the Spanish working class were subordinated to the popular front led by Azana. The Soviet bureaucracy sent its agents into Spain to systematically destroy the revolutionary leadership within the working class. This led to the suppression of the uprising of the workers in Catalan, and guaranteed the victory of Franco.

In that period, despite the correct theoretical analysis made by the Fourth International, despite the warnings issued by Trotsky from exile in Mexico, the Soviet bureaucracy was able to exert its political influence to disorient and mislead workers, and in that way use all the prestige of the October Revolution to betray the working class. It might be difficult for comrades to grasp that today, but 50 years ago, when workers in Spain or in France, or in Britain, or in any number of countries, joined the Communist Party, they did so because they believed the leadership of that Communist Party was preparing the way for socialist revolution. And so the role of Stalinism was to politically disorient, mislead and betray the working class. That was what made possible the eruption of the Second World War.

Stalinism carried out the liquidation of the remaining cadre of the October Revolution within the Soviet Union, and in August 1940 succeeded in murdering Leon Trotsky in Mexico. Then in the course of the war, the Stalinists did everything in their power to collaborate with the fascists in annihilating the Trotskyist resistance forces within Europe.

At the end of the Second World War, there was again, as Trotsky had anticipated, a powerful movement of the working class. In France, the bourgeois state had virtually disintegrated. The same was true in Italy. Partisans organized within the Communist Party virtually controlled these countries. Yet again Stalinism utilized the prestige of the October Revolution, the additional prestige obtained through the victory of the Soviet army over the fascists, not for the purpose of overthrowing capitalism, but of rebuilding the capitalist state.

This is what created the political foundations for the restoration of capitalist equilibrium in the aftermath of the Second World War, without which the Marshall Plan, the Bretton Woods arrangements, the expansion of world trade would not have been possible. In that period Stalinism had great influence within the international workers movement, and this was true not only in Europe, but in Asia, where the Stalinist party of Mao Tse-tung was in the leadership of the mass movement against Chiang Kaishek. The fact the Stalinists were in the leadership of these mass movements accorded to them great influence, and this was felt even within the Trotskyist movement itself.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, there emerged a new form of opportunism within the Fourth International. Pabloism was an adaptation to the influence of Stalinism in the international workers movement, and even more fundamentally, an adaptation to the political relations created at the end of the Second World War. It was a political perspective which sought not to mobilize the working class independently of the Stalinist parties, of the bourgeois nationalists, but basically to subordinate the working class to the political framework of the postwar order.

By 1951 this opportunism had become sufficiently powerful within the Fourth International for a set of revisionist documents to be adopted at the Third World Congress. By 1952 Pablo was emboldened to expel the leadership of the French section of the Fourth International because it refused to liquidate its forces into the Communist Party. By 1953, Pablo and Mandel were undertaking to liquidate the existing sections of the Fourth International all over the world.

Finally, and somewhat belatedly, when Cannon came to realize the real implications of this revisionism, he undertook a struggle against it. In November 1953, he issued an “Open Letter,” calling upon Trotskyists all over the world to expel the Pabloites from their ranks.

Perhaps Cannon thought at the time that once a political analysis was presented, with all the authority which he commanded within the Fourth International, it would be possible to quickly defeat this opportunism within the Fourth International. But this was not to be the case. It was not because of the subjective weakness of individuals, but because of the general world situation was unfavorable to the revolutionary elements.

Opportunism always has deep roots within the social relations of society. The predominance of opportunism was based on the strength of the postwar capitalist boom and the residual power of the old bureaucracies within the working class. Granted, these bureaucracies were already showing signs of weakness, but it was not yet sufficient for the revolutionary forces to break through and obtain a mass base in the working class. At any rate, the growth of opportunism farther isolated the revolutionary elements and compounded their difficulties.

By the mid-1950s, the Socialist Workers Party, which had spearheaded the struggle against the Pabloite opportunists, was itself succumbing to the revisionism which it had opposed in 1953. By 1963 the Socialist Workers Party reunited with the Pabloites to form the United Secretariat. That reunification was opposed by the International Committee, under the leadership of the Socialist Labour League in Britain. But despite this very important struggle, it was not long before conceptions very similar to those of the Pabloites began to develop within the Socialist Labour League and to produce a protracted degeneration which led ultimately to the transformation of the Workers Revolutionary Party into a Pabloite organization.

When we recall the situation which existed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it appeared that opportunism had apparently conquered the International Committee. Trotskyism was reduced within the International Committee into something approaching a semilegal tendency. Efforts to oppose this line took place under conditions in which sections of the International Committee were isolated from one another. For example in 1971, Comrade Keerthi made very correct criticisms of the political adaptation of the Socialist Labour League of England to the policies of Indira Gandhi in India, and yet these criticisms were never known to any other section of the International Committee until after the split of 1985.

In 1982 when I asked Mike Banda if he would give me the address of the Revolutionary Communist League in Colombo, he claimed that he couldn’t find it, knowing fall well that if I had the address, I would make attempts to contact the comrades of the Sri Lankan section of the International Committee.

In 1982 the Workers League advanced very detailed criticisms, but we were a minority of one, as we were again in 1983-84, when we formulated detailed criticisms of the policies of the Workers Revolutionary Party. In 1985 the situation was radically transformed within the International Committee. Now it is possible to understand what it was that led to the sharp change in the relationship of forces between Trotskyism and opportunism within the International Committee.

Cliff Slaughter has recently written that the crisis within the Soviet bureaucracy took him by surprise. That’s about the only honest thing he has said in the last 20 years. He and the other leaders of the Workers Revolutionary Party were basing themselves on their conception of the strength of the Soviet bureaucracy. The Trotskyist elements in the International Committee were basing themselves on the conception that Stalinism was in crisis. The struggle in the International Committee between 1982 and 1985 was not between individuals; it was a struggle between different social tendencies—between a Marxist element basing itself on the revolutionary role of the working class and those who were basing themselves on the bureaucracies.

To understand the essential reason for the tremendous weakness of Slaughter, Healy and Banda—despite their control of the apparatus of the International Committee—and why the relation of forces changed so suddenly, one has only to look back at what was actually taking place in the world between 1982 and 1985. That was the period of the most intense crisis of the Soviet bureaucracy, between the death of Brezhnev and the accession of Gorbachev. The politics of those who based themselves on the bureaucracy proved to be completely unviable.

That is what accounts for the abrupt changes which took place in 1985. The opportunist perspective disintegrated. Indeed, if one considers today what has happened in the struggle of the International Committee against the opportunist renegades, one has inevitably to refer back to this fundamental process. Slaughter really believed in 1985 that if he allied the WRP with the Stalinists and with the Pabloites that he would create some sort of political juggernaut that would destroy the International Committee.

I recall very well one day one of their minions looked at us and said: “Don’t forget, we’re still the biggest section in the International Committee.” And Slaughter said to me: “You’re going to have to talk to us.” But he was basing himself on relations which had completely changed. All that is rational is real and all that is real is rational. Therefore, all that is unreal is irrational. Slaughter’s politics were “unreal,” in the sense that they were based on a completely incorrect assessment of the objective relationship between social forces. The working class was moving against the bureaucracy—yes, without a leadership—and the bureaucracies were breaking down. And that is what is the source of the present crisis of all the opportunist organizations. If they’re demoralized today, it’s not because they perceive in the present situation the definitive defeat of the working class and the socialist perspective. Rather, they are demoralized because the collapse of the bureaucracies has destroyed one of the principal means through which the class struggle of the working class was kept within definite limits.

The real weakness of the petty bourgeoisie emerges in the face of the developing struggle between the two great class forces, the working class and the bourgeoisie.

That is why the relationship of Marxism to the working class is radically transformed. We are by no means underestimating the great political challenges which confront the International Committee, but one thing must be recognized. Nowhere in the world does Stalinism have the slightest political credibility. It does not have the stranglehold that enabled it in the past to mislead and betray the struggles of the working class. The working class may be confused and disoriented, but it has come to learn that Stalinism is its mortal enemy. The Stalinists will not be in a position to carry out the type of betrayals which led to the catastrophes of the 1930s.

Let us review the more recent period. I am not suggesting that the years of equilibrium were placid years, by any means. These are relative terms. You might say equilibrium predominated, but even there, there were of course great struggles, which pressed against the framework of the postwar settlement. Let us consider for example, 1968, to which we have referred in previous documents. There were certainly powerful movements of the working class and definite signs that the postwar framework was breaking down. Yet it was still possible in 1968 for the Stalinists to bring under control the movement of the French working class, to liquidate the great general strike, which was the largest in the history of Europe, into an electoral campaign which did nothing more than assure the survival of De Gaulle.

We must add that the predominance of opportunism within the Fourth International greatly weakened the ability of the Trotskyist elements to penetrate that movement. We paid a tremendous price for the betrayals of Pabloism. But what is the situation today? First of all, the International Committee won a smashing victory over opportunism within its ranks. Who would have predicted in 1985 that within just a few years, the control of the opportunists within all of our organizations would be so completely liquidated? Indeed what has happened to the organizations within the IC which opposed the majority?

They’ve broken up, they’ve gone through countless splits, they are all without any influence within the working class. What became of Phil Sandford, who promised to show the Socialist Labour League the way out of the wilderness on the basis of opportunism? Where is he today? What forces does he command in the working class? Who is interested in what he has to say? The same situation persists all over the world. What has Slaughter been able to construct and build? He’s gone from split to split. He has to change his line virtually every other month. And now he finds himself as the spokesman and representative of the demoralized petty bourgeois. It’s pathetic.

Let us consider the position of the Pabloite organizations. What has become of the great Professor Ernest Mandel, the man who has made a political career of serving as the attorney for every Stalinist scoundrel in the world? In November 1989 the real significance of Pabloism was established for all time. Just several days after the comrades of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter had intervened in a mass demonstration of East German workers against the Honecker and Krenz regime, Mandel was called into East Germany to issue a public denunciation of “outside agitators of the BSA,” who were interfering with the affairs of East Germany. Then he played a critical role in helping the Stalinists organize the means through which they could carry through the unification of Germany on a capitalist basis.

But where do the Pabloites stand today? This is what they have written in their most recent document. It comes out of their world congress which they held in February 1991. They say: “The Fourth International does not pretend to have a definite or complete answer to the new and harrowing problems facing humanity. It will discuss these problems with anyone who is disposed to enter into such a discussion.”

Why do they exist? He says openly he has no program, he has no answers. That’s Mandel’s “Fourth International.” In fact it demonstrates quite clearly the collapse of the whole opportunist perspective and its political agenda. It’s under these conditions that the International Committee is in a position, historically speaking, to assert its authority in the international working class movement. Comrades tend to be very much weighed down by the practical problems they confront in each day’s work. They often lose sight of the broader historical processes. They consider the great tasks and say how will we have the forces to confront them? How will it be possible for our movement to take the leadership of the working class?

I think perhaps the most powerful answer to this question is provided by reference to the relationship which has been developed between the International Committee and sections of workers and intellectuals in the Soviet Union. Now we have so far made only two trips to the USSR, one trip in November 1989, and another trip in September-October 1990. During the second trip, which was made by Comrade Beams, the opportunity arose for him to be interviewed in a Kiev newspaper. As a result of that interview, the International Committee began receiving scores of letters from workers and intellectuals who had read that interview. We were able to develop a correspondence with these sections of workers and students. At the same time, previous contacts which had been made in the first trip also resulted in correspondence. We have been sending out over the last year and a half, issues of the Russian-language Bulletin of the Fourth International.

One might say that the work we have done is of a very limited character—a few trips and mainly correspondence. But it is quite clear that this has evoked a very powerful response within the Soviet working class. We now, for example, have learned that one letter that was written in reply to a letter from Vorkuta was received and it was posted in all the mines of the region. It became the subject of considerable debate. We receive letters now from all over the Soviet Union. Somehow the correspondence we have sent finds its way far beyond the locations to which the documents were sent.

I want to read to you extracts from just a few of the letters we have received. I’ll be frank, I have great difficulty keeping up with the correspondence, and this loose leaf contains only that correspondence which has arrived in the last two to three months, nothing before that.

This letter comes from Kiev:

Respected Editors of the Bulletin of the Fourth International,

I am sincerely grateful for your letter, and especially for the article of L.D. Trotsky. The restoration to us of this powerful thinker and ardent revolutionist is the unavoidable and happy result of the social development of the USSR. Even a few years ago the name of Trotsky meant something only to a few thousand surviving participants of the revolution and civil war, who had like my grandfather, heard Trotsky addressing the soldiers of the Red Army a few times in 1919 and 1920. He has on a number of occasions told me how, after an address by the Chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the hungry, badly-trained and badly-ordered regiments of the Red Army would overcome their fatigue and fear, and go on to fight the White Guards and the interventionists. But for the great majority of the citizens of the USSR, Trotsky was and still is a participant in capitalist opposition, an enemy of Lenin, Communism, according to the pro-Stalinist dogmatics; or a Zionist Mason, enemy of the Russian people, according to the Black Hundreds. It is a paradox.

Indiscriminately negating the personality, the views and the activity of L.D. Trotsky, his enemies only confirm the topicality and current import of his views. This is logical. Neither the Stalinist Brezhnevist CPSU with its party bureaucracy, nor the neo-Liberals, who express the views of the bourgeoisie, can or will solve the deep needs of the masses of toilers in the USSR. As such a sharp reaction of both party rightists and of Black Hundred rightists to the very name of L.D. Trotsky, as today the restoration in the USSR of such a historic figure of L.D. Trotsky means the truth about the history of the revolution and the civil war, and his restoration as a political thinker and founder of the Fourth International, this is a struggle for the realization of both the revolutionary proletariat and also the all-human values, the strengthening of ties with the world labor movement.

Today in the USSR and throughout the world there are sharp changes, happy mirages and deep failures. The forms of life in the struggle at the beginning of the twentieth century have changed externally, but the deeply rooted problems remain the same. Hence each restored word of truth is of an unalloyed benefit. I thank you again for the letter, and wish you success in your activity. I hope that our correspondence continues.

I’ll read another letter that has arrived:

Hello, respected comrades,

I thank you very much for the documents and materials sent to me. I learnt a lot from them, things that were completely out of reach for me, since our press almost never pays any attention to the past. And there are even cases when different publications present one of the events from the past in a different way, and then you never know who to believe, and how it was in reality.

I hate the Stalinist regime and everything connected with it. Of course, had Lenin lived another 20 years, then perhaps everything would have been different now. I support the goals, the aims and the program of the Fourth International, since in order to build Communism, in the building of which I believe, and that is why I joined the ranks of the Communist Party of the Ukraine, it is necessary for all the countries of the earth to be socialist, and it will be this way. Socialism will destroy capitalism, as capitalism destroyed feudalism.

As for the Soviet Union now, one thing is clear—that the capitalists want to dismember and embourgeoisify the USSR, the only outpost of socialism on our planet. The All-Union referendum of March 17 will probably dismember the USSR, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and some other republics. But those republics which remain in the Union must be socialist. In the USSR the Fourth International has not yet found many adherents. What is the cause of it, as I see, is that many people know very little about Trotsky, about his works and in general, about his life.

He was maligned in all kinds of ways throughout our history. Dirt was poured on him, while Stalin was praised. Or they didn’t even talk about him at all. I shall in the future support the program and aims of the Fourth International. And those means I have I shall use to acquaint people who are interested in this, who want to live in the USSR, and under socialism. Goodbye, I wish you fruitful work for the benefits of workers and peasants.

Respectfully.

Here is another letter. This one is in English, so the language is somewhat stilted:

Dear David,

I got your letter two days ago, many thanks. I am pleased that you continue to research the situation in our country. It’s deep. I agree with you in the most. This is wonderful, that our views on the events of perestroika coincide, when I live in Russia and you live in the USA. Perhaps the essence of the matter can be understood from afar, even better, and of course, you are a professional politician.

However, you helped me to realize the situation, to argue with my opponents, to explain many facts of the political life to my friends. In my mind, the following part of your letter is excellent: ‘While Gorbachev is a leader of the bourgeois restorationist faction within the bureaucracy, Yeltsin is presently the leader of the emerging Russian comprador bourgeoisie.’ It’s a key for understanding the so-called struggle between Gorbachev and Yeltsin.

Second, your letters are a moral support. Try to understand, it’s very difficult to live in a disrupted society, where everybody is under the danger of losing the last. It’s difficult to live in the chaos of perestroika, especially if you are not guilty. All are becoming enemies. Everybody thinks about himself only.

Well, that is what is happening in our town. The situation is tangled. The local soviet presents a conglomeration of different forces—right, left, Communist, Democrats, etc., but really it’s a struggle between the CPSU bureaucracy and a comprador bourgeoisie. The last even uses yesterday’s ‘lefts,’ dissidents to demonstrate their democratism—for example, some of them work at the local Soviet newspaper. This is a lie, a deception. The people, the workers, are forgotten. Next year in the region, there will be about 63,000 unemployed. All the goods are very expensive. Imagine—good shoes cost double the sum of the worker’s wages.

I agree with you, it’s possible to speak about corporatization—and the local soviets can do nothing. They have no real power, and can’t defend the interests of the simple people. On the contrary, they serve as a screen, a guard.

That is my point of view, and now I have some questions. First, may I translate for publication in the town newspaper your letters?

Second, do you want to get our newspapers? If you do, I can send them. I ask you to write the letters in English, in this way I can understand it better. As for me, I’ll write sometimes in English, sometimes in Russian. That’s all, thanks a lot, waiting for your news.

Here is a letter from Kirov, about 400 miles north of Moscow:

Respected friends and cothinkers,

I write to you in the hope to set up contact, so that we can communicate with friends and followers of the great Trotsky. I have been interested for a long time in the theoretical heritage of Lev Davidovich, but regrettably in our country, even his name was forbidden. And if it was used, then only in a negative sense.

Trotsky has now been rehabilitated, but his theoretical heritage is not available to us in full. I shall be happy if you will help me with material by L.D. Trotsky, and also material about him. I await your letters.

Here is another letter:

Hello, respected members of the Fourth International,

I received your first letter, and immediately took up a pen. I inform you that the package of the ‘Bulletin of the Fourth International’ has not been received yet, but I do not lose hope that it will reach me intact. But even the stuff you have already sent me leaves an indelible impression. I am referring to Trotsky’s last letter to the USSR. Having read it, I well understand why people who distributed it back then paid for it with their lives.

Furthermore, the letter is quite topical, no less today than 50 years ago, because people are subjected even today to the gigantic process of the lies and falsifications, and our perestroika democrats are quite successful in this. Just listen to the Congress of People’s Deputies, just look at the level of lying, demagogy, in the speeches of the so-called people’s representatives.

These are no longer just weak streams of falsehoods, as in the past, these are whole oceans. This is an obvious large-scale attack of the bourgeoisie on the toilers, on the working class. I think you are well informed about the current situation and I shall not expand in detail. We are talking of the rebirth of capitalism, the domination of a bourgeois oligarchy in a particularly cruel and crudescent form. Already the mass consciousness had been prepared for the establishment of capitalism. Preparations for capitalism are made from day to day, but this does not mean that everyone likes the situation.

Many people, seeing our difficult life, but not having yet succumbed to the sweet songs of the perestroika nightingales, think: ‘Are we moving in the right direction? Is socialism so bad?’ The problem is that neither in the USSR nor in the rest of the world, there has not yet been real socialism. The attempt to build it was smothered by Stalin, Bukharin during the mid-twenties. But the perestroika historians don’t tell the truth about this. The whole of the October Revolution is presented as the result of some dark forces, and the so-called Yid-Mason conspiracy, or a wild Russian insurrection.

Officially, the government supports October, but in fact they are mainly concerned with the speediest possible resurrection of capitalism, covering themselves with a verbal tapestry like ‘all human values,’ ‘market economy,’ etc. There is really no limit to human hypocrisy. Well, I don’t want to go on and on about this in this letter. I don’t want to waste your time on the reading of similar tales, it is better to get more concrete.

I have recently bought the book Stalin School of Falsification for about ten rubles. This book is not large in volume, but it is quite full in content. In it I have found many refutations of the sins which are, even today, ascribed to Trotskyism. One such widely held ‘sin’ is the supposed wish of Trotsky to create labor armies and to use them as a means of reeducating the petty-bourgeois classes. Trotsky decisively refutes this accusation, and reminds us that the call to create the labor armies was made in 1921, during the period of war communism, and was later rejected, as not corresponding to the times.

In general, this work of Trotsky demolishes the greater part of the falsifications of the epigones. It is sad that the book was published in the USSR in 1990, not at the time it was written. I imagine that the same applies to many other works of Lev Davidovich. Not so long ago, in 1983, during lectures on the history of the CPSU, I was told that the book Lessons of October slanderously falsifies the content and the meaning of the October Revolution. Perhaps if we were to go by the so-called short course in the History of the Communist Party, it was really thus.

Now, I would like to say a few words about practical work. The realization of the world communist revolution is not so simple. It won’t happen naturally, like the rising of the sun. What is needed is a strong movement of the proletarian vanguard, which can lead behind it the rest of the worker masses. For that is needed a revolutionary workers party. As far as I know, there are already some Trotskyists here. I read your leaflet and the letters you write Trotskyists, workers struggle. It is issued not by a party yet, but by a movement preceding a party. I learned from it the primary form of organization will be the revolutionary proletarian cell. But all the same, information given is too sparse to be able to judge about the direction of practical work.

In conclusion, I want to thank you for advice on the classic works to be studied. One can still find the works of Lenin, Marx and Engels in the libraries; as for Plekhanov, it is more difficult. But I shall search out all the works you have suggested.

Finally, for the end of this letter, I would like to share with you my observations on the common attitude on the idea of world revolution. I have had many conversations with friends and acquaintances about the various political tendencies, including Trotskyism. It is sad that the overwhelming majority are skeptical towards the communist idea. As an argument they like to cite the sad situation of our country, that is ‘See, to what these communists have led us.’ When I try to prove the absurdity of equating the idea of world communism with our catastrophe, I get labelled as a utopian, or even worse. I’d just like to finish. I wish you good health and wait for an answer, with revolutionary greetings.

Finally, I’ll just read you a letter that arrived while I was in Australia and comrades in the States relayed it here. This is sent from the city of Barnaul, in Western Siberia, the city to which Christian Rakovsky was exiled.

Hello, respected members of the Fourth International, hello, Comrade North,

I am writing from the faraway wild depths of Russia, but the real truth of the history of the USSR has reached even here. Truth, which is so needed, especially here in the major industrial area, although far from the center. I work as a mechanical engineer for the Multiplied and Polygraph Technology. I am young, hot-blooded, I have initiative. The horoscope justifies my date of birth.

And of course, I could not keep the secret of the Fourth International to myself. In the Design bureau, where I work, I showed this valuable example of your activity and of the workers movement in Europe and die USA to other simple workers and engineers. The majority of workers, and in general, simple people, agreed with the conclusion presented by your organization. It is not important what it is you have there—some party or society, the major thing is that now we have not our Soviet Socialist political organization of the CPSU, but an honest, and inflexible workers newspaper-journal.

Since I maintain copying technology, I wanted to copy a Bulletin. But those at the top found out about it, our political bosses and the director. They did not want to give up power. Using this power, especially if they are Communist, they have a possibility to smother the workers, who are subordinated to them, and believing in the power of the CPSU, remain unpunished themselves. I’ve had to part with my job, but I don’t give up, I am full of optimism, and I am hopeful about this region in the Soviet section of the Fourth International. I think that a great number of the toilers in Siberia will definitely want to learn about the activity and ideas of L.D. Trotsky and will support the organization of Trotskyists. After all the only thing we know are the sayings, ‘You’re lying like Trotsky.’ Now we see that everything was just the opposite. There come stories of how the Stalinists presented everything in a falsified manner.

I ask you very much to advise me now, in a period of perestroika and economic and political instability, to bring the information about your activity to many hundreds of Siberians. We are particularly interested in everything that touches on our region Siberia. That is because over there in Moscow, they are deciding about something, but there is nothing coming here to be learned. I am eagerly awaiting a reply and if possible, would very much appreciate getting number 2 June 1990, and number 3 September 1990 of the ‘Bulletin of the Fourth International.’ I shall be thankful if you will also send me other information about the activity of the Fourth International. Goodbye.

Well, comrades, I think these letters really are a vindication not only of our immediate analysis, but of course of the whole activity of the Fourth International. When Trotsky wrote his final letter to the workers of the USSR, in February 1940, he realized there was only a small possibility that this letter would even arrive, and that at any rate, anyone who had been found with such a letter, would have been shot right away. Now today, some 50 years after the death of Trotsky, his ideas and the program of the Fourth International are extending, as we have seen, to the farthest reaches of the Soviet Union.

We are basing our work on the recognition that the problems which confront the working class internationally are not going to be decided quickly. We face before us a protracted and difficult struggle, but don’t believe for a moment that capitalism is going to be restored in the Soviet Union overnight, or anywhere else, without provoking mass struggles by the working class. The Russian Revolution has not said its last word. Indeed the letters we receive are a far more accurate expression of the level of social consciousness in the USSR than what you read day after day in the bourgeois press, in which the picture is presented that masses of people in the Soviet Union are simply waiting with bated breath for the re-establishment of capitalism. It’s going to be nothing like that. We are going to be able to construct within the Soviet Union one of the most powerful sections of the International Committee.

A comrade from the International Committee is traveling to the Soviet Union next week. Many of these correspondents will be visited and spoken to. We will do everything we can to bring a delegation of workers, youth and intellectuals from the Soviet Union to the conference in Berlin.

But this development is not peculiar to the USSR. It reflects profound tendencies of objective development. The power of Trotsky was not the power of personality. His work was based on the most profound insight into the workings of social and economic development. We are fighting today for the unity of the international working class. That is the great concept which our movement embodies and brings to the working class.

We might say there are two principles in conflict in the world today—that of proletarian internationalism and the reactionary, backward concepts of communalism and chauvinism. Michael Banda, who set out to prove to us five years ago that the Fourth International should never have been founded, recently wrote an article in a Kurdish journal. He now has become a guru of the Kurdistan liberation movement:

“Separatism and secession is today the driving force of history, and true internationalism is the recognition of this principle.” According to Banda, the development of mankind is not for the unification of the human species, it’s not for the amalgamation of all nations and ethnic groups and races into a common human type. No, it’s quite the opposite. Humanity is to be broken down into various national and racial phyla, and there is no possibility of establishing the unity of mankind through the struggles of the working class. So instead it is necessary to glorify the division of mankind into different national, ethnic, racial, and zoological categories. That is the demoralization of the petty bourgeoisie.

We must assume that today Banda is hailing the slaughter that takes place in Yugoslavia, and he is presumably ordering the separatism and secession of other groups.

We are not indifferent to the question of national oppression, and we certainly do defend, where it is legitimate, the right of self-determination. That is to the extent that the struggle for that right is directed against imperialism and its forms of oppression. But we do not claim, and we do not accept, that the answer to such problems of oppression lies in the politics of separatism and secession. The source of all these problems in the world today is the oppression of all mankind by imperialism.

Consider this. Why is it that some 45 years after the establishment of the Tito state in Yugoslavia, we see the breakdown taking place? Banda was a great admirer of Marshal Tito. In fact at the time of the split in 1985-86, he hurled against the Trotskyist movement the accusations that it had been left behind by events, that it had not appreciated the greatness of Tito, of Mao Tse-tung, of Ho Chi Minh, and of course, Stalin himself.

Back in 1948, at the time of the split between Tito and the Soviet bureaucracy, when it was still not clear what direction the Titoist movement would take, the Fourth International made a very careful analysis of the whole period this opened for the Yugoslav Communist Party. It warned that the only viable road for the Yugoslavs if they really wished to carry through the struggle against Stalinism was to adopt the program of the Fourth International. In the discussion which took place on the problems of the Yugoslav revolution, the following was said, in a statement published by the SWP Political Committee, in August 1948:

The alternatives facing Yugoslavia, let alone the Tito regime, are to capitulate either to Washington or to the Kremlin—or to strike out on an independent road. This road can only be that of an Independent Workers and Peasants Socialist Yugoslavia, as the first step towards a Socialist Federation of the Balkan Nations. It can be achieved only through an appeal to and unity with the international working class. That is to say, it can be achieved only by Yugoslavia’s rallying to the banner of the European Socialist Revolution, and calling upon the international working class to aid her in the struggle both against the Kremlin oligarchy and American imperialism.

That was written 43 years ago. Was that perspective correct or was it not? As it turned out, Tito chose the path of accommodation both to imperialism and to the Soviet bureaucracy. He sought to do this based on the political relations of the Cold War. For a period of time, it seemed that Tito had achieved certain limited successes. He was able to fend off pressure from the Soviet bureaucracy. It appeared at the time that Tito had found some third way, or at least that’s what was claimed by the Pabloite opportunists, who were then holding up Tito as proof that what Deutscher called Trotsky’s “classical Marxism” was without validity in the present era.

The difference between Trotskyism and all these different varieties of opportunism is that they think in terms of weeks and months, perhaps a few years. We think in terms of decades and centuries. The warning which was written in 1948 is being tragically vindicated in the events now taking place in Yugoslavia, in the bloodshed in Slovenia, in the threat of war between Croatia and Serbia. In fact, it has been demonstrated very clearly that there is no alternative to the program we advance.

In conclusion, we are not going to give the slightest support either to the Slovenian nationalist leaders. They are all petty-bourgeois scoundrels, who are seeking nothing but a means of integrating themselves more closely into the imperialist structure at the expense of the Slovenian and Serbian working class. Nor is there anything progressive about the repressive measures of the Yugoslav regime. Its leaders represent sections of the Serbian bureaucracy and the Serbian petty bourgeoisie, who are seeking their own arrangements with imperialism.

Indeed, Trotsky said the following back in 1908 about the Balkan bourgeoisie:

“The Balkan bourgeoisie is politically sterile, cowardly, talentless, and rotten through and through with chauvinism.”

The same could be said of the Balkan Stalinists. Tudjman in Croatia, Milosevic in Serbia, and Kucan in Slovenia are nothing more than old Stalinist hacks, who served the bureaucracy for years.

We put before the working class another program entirely. We fight for the unification of the Balkan people, on the basis of an international socialist program. We don’t accommodate ourselves to the reactionary chauvinists of either side, because internationalism is the only viable program. We are not the apostles of separatism and secession. We fight for the amalgamation of the workers of the world into a single world party. That is what the Fourth International stands for. And indeed, we represent the objective tendencies of historical development. That’s the great power of our movement. The development of the world economy is integrating nations and peoples into a single economic productive unit, and our program articulates, in terms of the conscious struggle of the working class, this objective historical process.

Indeed, it is based on the recognition that the only social force which can bring mankind consciously into alignment with the objective development of the productive forces is the working class. That’s what is represented by our program. That is what is going to be defined in the conference which we are holding in Berlin. We are preparing this conference with the greatest confidence. Out of the chaos, bloodshed and violence produced by the breakdown of the old capitalist equilibrium will emerge a new working class vanguard which understands that only the program of the Fourth International shows the way forward.

It is on this basis, comrades, that we have to conduct the work in these coming months.