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

Letter from a worker in Kiev, and a reply

David North

Dear Friends,

One week ago I received from you a package with copies of the Bulletin of the Fourth International (No. 1-3, 1990) and the pamphlet The World Crisis of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. Unfortunately, the package was severely damaged (by the postal workers or the KGB?), and I do not know whether there were other books, a letter or something else in it.

I have read the documents you sent me with huge interest, because 99.9% of the population in our country either don’t know anything about L.D. Trotsky and Trotskyism or they repeat the phrases that were brought to life during the Stalin years.

The mildest terms were “renegades” and “enemy of the people.” But why talk about this? History will prove anyway who was right and who wasn’t.

I agree with many of the theoretical documents of the Fourth International. At the same time, while reading the documents, a lot of questions came up which are not answered in the writings that were sent to me. They relate to the following:

In what way is the program of the permanent world revolution supposed to be put into practice in the future? Is there going to be a series of armed uprisings, like, for example, in the 1917 Russian Revolution or in the subsequent revolutions in Hungary and Bavaria, or is the bourgeoisie going to lose its power following an electoral victory of the revolutionary party in parliament?

What will be the fate of the representatives of the ruling classes, the bourgeoisie and other nonproletarian and counterrevolutionary layers (this will be a significant layer of the population, of about 5% to 15%) in the event of a world revolution? Are they going to be eliminated, deported to concentration camps or reeducated with methods of force?

What will be the structure of the state apparatus of a revolutionary state? How is it possible to prevent that apparatus from becoming bureaucratized, that revolutionaries do not transform themselves into “Red Landlords,” as was the case with the pro-Stalinist regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe?

Are the factories, the land, etc. supposed to become state property or the property of single collectives of toilers?

Was there any time or any country in which the ideas of L.D. Trotsky and his supporters was put into practice at least for a short period of time?

After a long period of Stalinist rule, which was hidden behind the facade of communism and socialism, about two-thirds of the population in our country and in many Eastern European countries developed a negative reaction to terms such as “socialism” and “communism.” Many people think that there is a paradise on earth in the USA, the FRG or other highly developed capitalist countries and that the revolutionaries there are just a few weird thinking people, who try to whip up unrest among the toilers instead of enjoying their lives. For this reason it would be very good if you could report more often in your Russian-language issues of the Bulletin about the life of the common people in the highly developed capitalist countries by using concrete examples. Important would also be the publication of the works by Leon Trotsky, his comrades and his successors.

In my opinion, the Bulletin should not only be a theoretical organ of the Fourth International. Please publish recommendations for the building of sections of the Fourth International in the USSR. You should also include a letters section from your readers. Also I recommend small pieces of literature, like novels, short stories and poems.

It would be very nice to purchase the books from Labor Publications which you offer, but the ads do not really belong there, because less than 1% of the Soviet citizens have any US dollars. Usually these are business people of the shadow economy and prostitutes who work for hard currency and have no interest in that kind of literature.

Please publish not only contact addresses in the USA, FRG and Australia, but also of Trotskyist organizations in the USSR and Eastern Europe. I am, for example, interested in the Trotskyist movement in Poland.

I wish you a lot of success.

Sincerely,

A. K.

P.S. I am also sending you an article about L.D. Trotsky from the newspaper Moscow News.

Reply from David North

April 11, 1991

Dear Comrade:

Thank you for your recent letter. We are pleased to learn that you have received the package of literature that we sent you, although it seems that the authorities availed themselves of the opportunity to study the enclosed materials before delivering it to its proper destination.

Allow me to answer the points which you raise in your letter of March 3.

It is not possible to predict with certainty the precise form through which the program of the permanent revolution will be finally actualized. Let me first of all state that the Fourth International does not conceive of the world socialist revolution as a single and simultaneous international uprising. The specific forms and tempo of the revolutionary workers movement will differ in accordance with the specific conditions existing in different countries. However, in all countries the victory of the socialist proletariat will depend upon its complete political independence from the parties of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie.

Whether or not the socialist revolution assumes a violent form, or, more precisely, the actual degree of the violence, will depend upon the interaction of national and international conditions and, of course, on the level of political consciousness and organization in the working class. It is not impossible to conceive of conditions in which the working class could come to power with a minimum of political violence. Such a possibility existed in France in May-June 1968, when a political general strike embracing 10,000,000 workers completely paralyzed the capitalist regime of General de Gaulle. The red flag flew above hundreds of factories that had been seized by the French workers. For several crucial weeks, the political and military apparatus of one of the most powerful imperialist states virtually disintegrated.

That the bourgeois regime survived is due almost entirely to the efforts of the French Communist Party, which made clear its opposition to the overthrow of the bourgeois government. The Stalinist leaders devoted all their energies to ending the strikes and factory occupations. After several weeks, the revolutionary situation passed and the government of de Gaulle recovered its nerve.

As you will have read in the resolution of the International Committee, The World Crisis of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, the late 1960s and early 1970s were characterized by the greatest mass upsurge of the international working class since the end of World War I. There is no doubt that if the French working class had come to power in 1968, it would have changed the course of world history.

At any rate, to confront matters as they now stand, while especially favorable conditions may keep to a minimum the level of violence required by the working class to take power, there could be no greater political mistake than to believe that the socialist revolution can be realized through the results of a bourgeois election. As history has already demonstrated—most notably in Chile in 1973—the bourgeoisie will not accept the loss of state power democratically.

As to the fate of the bourgeoisie in the aftermath of a successful socialist revolution, that, too, depends on the specific conditions surrounding the conquest of power by the working class. Any genuine socialist would sincerely hope that the revolution will claim as few lives as possible—including the lives of those from the former ruling class. Certainly, it would not be the aim of the victorious working class to visit senseless and bloody vengeance upon individuals solely because of their social origins. As for the millions of individuals who belong to nonproletarian social layers, the socialist revolution cannot be victorious without winning a substantial section of these forces to the side of the working class. Moreover, in the aftermath of the socialist revolution, the knowledge and technical skills of those with experience in the rather complex methods of capitalist management and organization will play an important role in the economic development of the new society during the protracted transitional stage.

In considering the nature of the future social revolutions, one must always bear in mind that the conditions that will prevail in the United States, Britain or Germany—which have already achieved a very high level of economic development—will be very different than those which existed in backward Russia in 1917.

As for the state form that will exist in the aftermath of the revolution, the Fourth International envisages a soviet-type of transitional state—that is, a state based on democratically-elected workers councils representing the entire working class. Of course, there exists no automatic guarantee against the degeneration of such councils; but it is wrong to assume that such a degeneration is inevitable. The degeneration of the Soviet state was the product of specific historical conditions—above all, the backwardness of the Russian economy and the protracted isolation of the Soviet Union due to the defeat of the proletarian revolution in Western Europe. The material conditions which would confront the working class after seizing power in the United States, Japan or Western Europe would be radically different from those which Russian workers faced in 1917. Moreover, and this is not an unimportant fact, the international working class has passed through the experience of the Russian Revolution and its Stalinist degeneration. Undoubtedly, the working class, in possession of the high level of political consciousness without which the seizure of power could not have been achieved, will be highly vigilant in relation to its representatives and be on guard against all signs of bureaucratism and corruption.

In relation to the specific forms of property, experience has shown that the socialist government, in the aftermath of the revolution, must proceed very cautiously in this sphere. Naturally, the workers government will assume control of the banks and major industries. However, it is not likely that it will attempt the rapid nationalization of most medium- and small-sized enterprises. A more or less protracted period of “peaceful coexistence” between state and privately-owned enterprises will probably be necessary.

As for the operation of state-owned industry, there is no reason in principle why nationalization is incompatible with a considerable degree of local autonomy. The super-centralization insisted upon by Stalinism was determined not by economic imperatives but by the political interests of the bureaucratic parasites, who seek to control everything.

You write that the overwhelming majority of the USSR is convinced that their salvation lies in capitalism. If this is true, it is the most noxious outcome of the crimes of Stalinism, which has done everything in its power to discredit socialism. However, the illusions which may exist among broad sections of the Soviet people in the nature of capitalism will not survive actual contact with its reality.

Not even a year ago, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Honecker regime, millions of East Germans were led to believe that unification with the capitalist West would bring them untold prosperity. In every city, from Berlin to Karl Marx Stadt, Chancellor Helmut Kohl was greeted as a savior as he called on the local population to place its faith in the deutsche mark. But it did not take long for the illusions to be dispelled. The deutsche mark brought in its train not prosperity, but mass unemployment. Every week has seen the shutdown of scores of factories. It is now estimated that 50 percent of the east German population will be without jobs by the middle of the coming summer. At the same time, prices have skyrocketed and social welfare programs which existed in the old GDR are being ruthlessly eliminated.

These facts are not presented as an apology for the Honecker regime. Indeed, its reactionary Stalinist politics paved the way for the reunification of Germany on a capitalist basis. However, the fate of the east German workers is a warning to the Soviet people: unless a powerful revolutionary party is forged in the working class, the collapse of Stalinism will lead to the restoration of capitalism, with all its horrifying social consequences.

From the reports which we receive, the social crisis in the Soviet Union is approaching a new climax. The government of Gorbachev is utterly discredited; and strikes embracing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of workers have erupted. The International Committee of the Fourth International salutes the courage of the masses of workers who have taken to the street.

In this situation, workers must bear in mind the lessons of the events in Eastern Europe. By no means must the workers allow the political initiative to fall into the hands of the petty-bourgeois elements who, in alliance with broad sections of the bureaucracy, are advocating a free market solution to the crisis. Rather, they should transform the strike committees into genuine workers soviets and assume full control over the political and economic life of the cities and regions in which they are active. A mass democratic movement of the working class, organized in genuine soviets (i.e., modeled on those of 1905 and 1917), can and must become the basis for the reorganization of production and distribution in the interests of the working class.

If there exist any workers who have illusions in the nature of capitalism, please call their attention to the conditions which exist in the United States. I would be interested to know if the Soviet press is reporting the state of the American economy. Is the Soviet press reporting that the United States is presently in the grips of a steadily worsening recession that is inflicting tremendous suffering on broad sections of the working class and petty bourgeoisie?

According to an article which appeared on April 7 in the New York Times, one of the leading capitalist newspapers in the United States, “The recession touches the vast majority of Americans in some way.... Fifty-eight percent said they knew someone well who was currently out of work.

Almost half said they were finding it harder to make ends meet.”

Citing a poll conducted by the newspaper, “Three out of 10 respondents, and half the blacks, said a family member had been out of work in the past year. One in five whites, and almost half the blacks, said they thought chances of a family member’s being laid off in the next year were high.”

It is well known that the architects of perestroika in the USSR consist of the most fervent admirers of Thatcher and Reagan. Ironically, within the United States and Britain, it is being seen more and more clearly that their orgiastic celebration of “free enterprise” merely set the stage for the present collapse.

We will follow your suggestion and in future issues of the Bulletin of the Fourth International we shall seek to publish more details relating to conditions of life in the United States and other capitalist countries. As you will see from the latest issue, we are already including a selection of letters from readers. We are also ready to publish contributions of a literary and artistic character.

In your first letter, you raised a question about the activity of our movement. The Workers League is the Trotskyist party in the United States which is in political solidarity with the International Committee of the Fourth International. Due to reactionary antisocialist laws in this country, we are not permitted to affiliate officially with the Fourth International.

There exist sections of the International Committee in Europe, Asia and Australia. In addition, we receive reports from cothinkers in countries all over the world.

At the present time, we do not have a section in Poland.

We are receiving a great amount of correspondence from the Soviet Union, and are initiating efforts to unify our supporters in a new section of the International Committee. We believe that the publication of the Bulletin of the Fourth International is an important step forward in establishing a firm theoretical and political basis for establishing a new revolutionary party of the Soviet working class.

With warmest regards,

David North on behalf of the editorial board of the Bulletin of the Fourth International