This is the final draft of the perspectives resolution adopted by the Workers League at its Fourteenth National Congress in February 1990.
A New Period of Social Revolution
The political explosions which have staggered the Stalinist regimes in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania in the final months of 1989 have ushered in a period of violent revolutionary class struggles, not only in Eastern Europe, but on a world scale. All of the historical contradictions of the imperialist epoch, which in the first half of this century produced a series of revolutions and two world wars, are erupting at the outset of the 1990s. History has brought humanity before the alternative of world socialist revolution or capitalist barbarism.
The working class is at the crossroads. Either it smashes the bureaucratic agencies of imperialism within the workers movement—Stalinism, social democracy, the AFL-CIO leadership in the United States—breaks with their nationalist programs and marshals its forces consciously on the basis of the program of world socialist revolution, or all of the gains which it has made in over a century of bitter class struggles will be destroyed. The inevitable price of such defeats at the hands of imperialism would be the eruption of a third world imperialist war, a nuclear holocaust which would destroy human civilization. History is vindicating the basic precept on which the Fourth International was founded: “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership” (Transitional Program, p.2).
Nowhere is the crisis of proletarian leadership more sharply posed than in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The revolt of the working class against the parasitic and corrupt Stalinist bureaucracies, signaled at the opening of the 1980s by the upsurge of the Polish workers in the Solidarity movement, exploded in 1989 first in China, then in the mass anti-Stalinist upheavals in the final months of the year in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania. Mass demonstrations and strikes erupted as well in Bulgaria, Hungary and Yugoslavia, and the first stage of the political revolution of the Soviet working class came with the powerful strikes by the miners in the summer of 1989.
History is once again moving at a blinding speed, and the vastly accelerated tempo of events is itself the mark of a revolutionary period. The extended time span in which molecular changes in the economic base of society accumulated, and politics appeared to move at a glacial pace, has given way to an era characterized by frenetic changes and upheavals, in which the profound subterranean shifts have broken through the surface of political life. Fundamental class antagonisms, contained for decades beneath various political and state structures, have exploded into the open, and all of the contending social forces entering into battle have begun to advance openly the programs that correspond to their economic interests. This open clash of antagonistic class forces is the essential characteristic of a revolutionary period.
In the Stalinist countries, the irreconcilable conflict between the working class and the petty-bourgeois agencies of world imperialism, including the Stalinist bureaucracy itself, has broken through the bureaucratic dictatorships under which these class contradictions were suppressed. In the capitalist countries a symmetrical process is under way. There the war of capital versus labor is breaking through the stultifying conventions of bourgeois democracy, in which the capitalist class exercises its dictatorship behind the facade of parliamentarianism and the posturing of its political stooges recruited from the middle class.
The disintegration of the Eastern European regimes cannot be explained apart from the development of world economy as a whole. The social upheavals in Eastern Europe reveal not only the crisis of Stalinism; they are the most advanced political expression of the general crisis of world imperialism. The Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe were an essential part of the political framework established at the end of World War II by imperialism, with the collaboration of Stalinism, to suppress the proletarian revolution. The collapse of these regimes signals the breakdown of the entire postwar order.
The capitalist equilibrium established at the end of the Second World War has been blown apart fundamentally by profound changes at the economic base of society, revolutionary developments in the productive forces which accelerated over the past 20 years and matured in the decade of the 1980s. The breakthroughs in science and technology associated with the development of the microchip and integrated circuits have produced a revolution in the fields of computerization and telecommunications. As a result production is being altered today as radically as it was in the last century by the introduction of steam and then electricity. Such profound developments in the productive base of society inevitably produce great social upheavals in the political superstructure.
The most important outcome of this technological transformation, and the most revolutionary factor in the world today, is the vast and unprecedented global integration of production. Giant multinational corporations coordinate production on a worldwide basis, locating plants in many countries and on different continents. A measure of the increasing role of transnational production in the world economy is the fact that over 40 percent of world trade today is conducted between multinational corporations and their subsidiaries and branches. In the auto industry, one of the most highly integrated on a world scale, it is commonplace to speak of the “world car,” a vehicle assembled from components manufactured in many countries.
The technological revolution is transforming the forms and methods of the productive process. A competitive position in the world market requires a mastery of semiconductor and computer technology, which is then the basis of a whole host of new industries, involving computerization of design and manufacturing. Existing mass production industries are being transformed as well. For example, the world market for auto-related electronics products is expected to double by the mid-1990s. Associated with these changes in the forms of production is the global integration of the world financial and credit system. The bourgeoisie now speaks of the advent of borderless capital markets. The crash of October 1987 demonstrated that the world’s capital markets are more closely integrated than ever before and economic events in one part of the globe are transmitted to the rest of the world virtually instantaneously. The frantic wave of mergers and leveraged buyouts of the 1980s was the response of the bourgeoisie to these profound changes in the world economy. Multinational corporations based in one country were driven to buy out or establish links with others across oceans and continents in order to have access to the increasingly international market and to position themselves in the sharply intensified competitive struggle.
The domination of the world economy over the national economies is more pervasive today than ever before. No country can insulate itself from the influence and pressure of the world market. The connections and interactions between all economic processes are so intimate and complex that there no longer exist any purely national economic phenomena. Moreover the vast resources in capital, technology and organization required to utilize and develop the productive forces on an international scale are beyond the scope of even the largest national economy.
The growth of multinational corporations, the advent of instantaneous communication on a world scale, the emergence of an international capital market, all these developments of the last two decades have intensified to a historically unprecedented degree the fundamental contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the outmoded social relations of capitalism. Global production has come into the most violent conflict with the system of rival nation-states upon which capitalist private ownership of the means of production is based.
The Breakdown of the Postwar Order
Twice in the twentieth century this basic contradiction gave rise to devastating imperialist wars, which culminated in revolutionary movements of the working class that called into question the very survival of the bourgeois order. Had it not been for the betrayals of social democracy and Stalinism, capitalism would have been overthrown by the working class. But, with the assistance of its agents in the international workers movement, imperialism was given a breathing space after 1945. The postwar imperialist order was, in the final analysis, an attempt to suppress the contradictions of the capitalist system within a political and economic framework dominated by US imperialism. The shattering of the postwar equilibrium expresses the rebellion of the world economy against the strangulating nation-state framework.
In 1945 US imperialism exercised unchallenged economic, political and military supremacy over all its imperialist rivals. Its “allies,” Britain and France, bankrupted and devastated by the war, were compelled to liquidate their colonial empires, ceding these territories to economic control by the United States under nominally independent regimes of the native bourgeoisie. Germany and Japan, the defeated powers, were occupied, placed for a time under US military administration, and relegated to a subordinate international political and military role for four decades. The United States took on the role of global policeman for imperialism against the struggles of the international working class and the masses in the oppressed semicolonial countries, while exerting unrelenting military and economic pressure on the Soviet Union through the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.
The postwar settlement was only made possible by the collaboration of the Soviet bureaucracy under Stalin, which agreed on the division of Europe to divide the proletariat, especially the German proletariat, and suppress the socialist revolution. In Western Europe, the Stalinist parties, at the Kremlin’s instructions, worked to reestablish the capitalist state structures in France, Italy and West Germany. In Eastern Europe, occupied by the victorious Soviet Red Army, Stalin’s perspective was the creation of “buffer states,” bourgeois regimes which would preserve capitalist relations but adopt a pro-Soviet foreign policy. Only after the launching of the Marshall Plan and stepped-up imperialist pressure on Eastern Europe did the Soviet bureaucracy expropriate the capitalists and establish nationalized economies, not by mobilizing the working class, but by military-bureaucratic means, suppressing any independent initiative by the masses. The disintegration of the regimes in Eastern Europe signifies the failure, not of socialism or Marxism, as the propagandists of the bourgeoisie claim, but rather the mortal crisis of Stalinism, the greatest enemy of socialism and Marxism, and the major prop of imperialism for six decades.
The economic developments of the last 45 years, culminating in the rapid changes of the 1980s, have undermined the foundations of the postwar settlement, both in the imperialist centers and in the Stalinist-ruled countries. The shattering of the old equilibrium reveals itself primarily in two forms which, however different in appearance, are intimately connected: first, the breakup of the old political and economic relations between the major imperialist powers; second, the disintegration of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe.
The unchallenged domination of American imperialism has been shattered, with the economic decline of the United States, the rise of its old adversaries, Japan and Germany, and the intensification of interimperialist antagonisms. Mammoth trade and budget deficits have transformed the United States in the course of the 1980s from the world’s biggest creditor nation into the world’s biggest debtor. The postwar institutions through which the imperialist powers maintained international economic coordination, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, are now the battlefields for conflict between the major imperialist powers.
The world market is fracturing into continental trading blocs, with the US-Canada free trade pact establishing a North American common market; the agreement on formation of a single European market in 1992, in which Germany would play the preeminent role; and the efforts by Japanese capital to dominate the Asian-Pacific region. Trade conflicts have broken out along the battle lines of World War II. Corporate bosses in Detroit, Tokyo and Frankfurt speak the language of jingoist frenzy. Thus Chrysler Motors Chairman Bennett Bidwell branded Japan a “centrally orchestrated, totally committed economic aggressor,” while Sony boss Akio Morita blamed the decline of US industry on racial inferiority. World capitalism has not only ended the postwar period, it has entered into a new prewar period, in which the mounting and insoluble conflicts among the rival imperialist powers lead inexorably to a third imperialist war, which threatens the annihilation of mankind in a nuclear holocaust.
The collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe is the most advanced political expression of the breakup of the postwar order under the pressure of the intensifying world economic crisis. The Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe are the apotheosis of nationally isolated economies, based on the reactionary Stalinist program of “socialism in one country.” The integration of the world economy over the past two decades has made the bankruptcy of the Stalinist program of nationally self-sufficient economies increasingly obvious, and both the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries, far from catching up with and surpassing the imperialist economies, have fallen further behind as the computer and the microchip revolutionized production. The demise of the regimes in Eastern Europe represents the breaking of the imperialist chain at its weakest links.
The clearest example of this economic crisis is in East Germany, the most advanced of the Warsaw Pact economies, particularly as reflected in the trade between East and West Germany. Between 1968 and 1985 trade between the two German states increased at an average rate of 11 percent a year. But this trend has been reversed since 1985, with a decline of 8 percent in 1986, 1.7 percent in 1987 and 2 percent in 1988. This is mainly because of the very sharp gap that has opened up in the technological development between East Germany and its major capitalist competitors, especially the newly industrialized countries of the Pacific rim, such as Taiwan and South Korea. The East German share of machine exports to OECD countries was 3.9 percent in 1973, but now has fallen below 1 percent, while machine exports from the newly industrialized countries have greatly increased. Taiwan now exports 20 times more machine industrial products than East Germany.
The breakup of the East European regimes is a profoundly destabilizing factor in relations between the imperialist powers. The competitive war between American, Japanese and German imperialism for control of markets and sources of cheap labor is intensified by the mad scramble to carve out economic spheres of influence within Eastern Europe. Once more, the imperialist bourgeoisie is face to face with such explosive and intractable issues as the “German problem,” the national conflicts in the Balkans, and the overall instability which made Eastern Europe the flashpoint of both World War I and World War II.
The response of the Stalinist bureaucracies to the crisis of the nationally-isolated economies of the USSR, Eastern Europe and China has been to form an open alliance with imperialism for the restoration of capitalist property relations, the integration of these countries into the structure of world capitalism and the liquidation of the gains of the working class. The consequence of this policy is already being felt by the working class in the form of massive price increases, the elimination of subsidies, the shutdown of factories and the creation of mass unemployment.
The Working Class and the Global Economy
This assault against the nationalized property relations in the USSR and Eastern Europe reveals another consequence of the revolutionary transformation in the global process of production—the universal crisis of the international labor movement which has produced a drastic deterioration of the social position of the working class. To the extent that the organizations of the proletariat are based on a national-reformist, rather than an international-revolutionary program, they are incapable of defending any of the past gains of the working class. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes and the parallel crisis of the trade unions in western Europe and the United States are the historical demonstration of the complete bankruptcy of all national programs within the working class movement.
The national-reformist policy of the social democratic bureaucracies has collapsed under the pressure of the world market. Social democratic governments throughout Western Europe and in Australia and New Zealand have become the instruments of brutal austerity programs, the dismantling of social reforms and outright smashing of trade unions. In Sweden, the 50-year experiment in welfare-state capitalism has ended in an explosion of class conflict, with a wave of strikes and the lockout of 50,000 bank workers. The social democratic government of Ingvar Carlson threatened to impose a two-year freeze on wages, accompanied by the outlawing of strikes.
The advent of global production has rendered the traditional forms of trade union organization obsolete. Unions guided by a reformist and nationalist perspective are condemned by history to impotence, under conditions in which multinational corporations can shift production from one country, or one continent, to another in search of higher profits. The technological revolution has been accompanied not only by a deepening crisis of imperialism, but a drastic decline in the membership and effectiveness of the Stalinist, social democratic and reformist trade unions and political parties around the world. One example of this tendency is the astonishing decline of the AFL-CIO, whose membership as a percentage of the national work force has been cut in half since the 1950s.
All national programs are invariably based on the collaboration of the labor bureaucracies with “their” ruling classes in the systematic lowering of workers living standards to strengthen the position of “their” capitalist country in the world market. The catchword for this labor-management gang-up against the working class is “competitiveness.” It entails the renunciation of the very conception that the working class has any interests independent of those of the bourgeoisie. It involves the proliferation of union-management structures at every level to strangle any independent organization of the working class. This is the reactionary program of corporatism—the total integration of the trade unions into the structure of corporate management and the capitalist state, for the purpose of the complete subordination of the working class to the requirements of finance capital.
The globalization of production and the decline in the world position of American capitalism have meant an end to the relatively privileged position of the American working class. It now faces the same barbaric conditions of mass poverty and political repression that American imperialism has long inflicted on its victims in the oppressed nations of Latin America, Asia and Africa. The American bourgeoisie can no longer tolerate even reformist trade unions that in any way represent the independent interest of the working class. Nor can it coexist with the social reforms which it granted in the past under the pressure of the working class. Wall Street, with the full collaboration of the trade union bureaucracy, is systematically closing the “wages gap” between the working class in the United States and the working class of countries such as Japan, and is determined to reduce the living standards of American Workers to the starvation level of their class brothers in Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan.
The revolution in the forms and methods of production, so long as its takes place within the framework of capitalist property relations, results in the intensified exploitation of the working class and gives a powerful impulse to the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. The Changes in technology and the development of new industries change the composition of the working class, but they do not alter the form of appropriation of surplus value, which is still pumped out of the working class by the capitalists. Indeed, the vast capital investments required for the utilization of computer and microchip technology increase the proportion of constant capital (expenditures for the purchase of machinery and equipment) to variable capital (expenditures for the purchase of labor power). As this ratio increases, the capitalist is compelled to intensify his exploitation of the working class in order to maintain his rate of profit.
Trapped within the obsolete social relations of capitalism, the enormous advances in the forms and methods of production only exacerbate the inherent anarchy of capitalism, intensifying the struggle of rival imperialist powers for markets and profits, driving them inexorably along the road of imperialist war. Each imperialist antagonist is impelled to brutally attack the living standards and trade unions and intensify the rate of exploitation of “its” working class. Alongside the most earthshaking advances in technology capitalism produces growing impoverishment and misery for the working class on the one side, and unheard of parasitism and luxury for the ruling class on the other. The conflict of the productive forces with the capitalist mode of production takes the form of an industrial and financial crisis of “overproduction” of commodities, intensified by an uncontrolled growth of debt and leading inevitably to a general economic collapse.
All the bourgeois political pundits who would claim that socialism and Marxism have been refuted by the crisis of Stalinism leave out of their calculations one thing—the working class. The historical issue that is up for resolution is not, as the cynical apologists of capitalism define it, the “fate of socialism,” but rather the fate of the working class. Those who proclaim the demise of socialism offer no alternative to the working class at a time when its living standards in all capitalist countries are deteriorating, the conditions of exploitation are intensifying, and the use of state repression against the working class is becoming more and more common. The reformist spokesmen for capitalism once defended the profit system by claiming that it could overcome exploitation, poverty and all of the other horrors of capitalism. They declared the profit system could achieve the social goals associated with socialism, and only 25 years ago launched the Great Society and the War on Poverty. Today all such reformist pretenses have been abandoned, as the social crisis in the imperialist centers deepens. Canadian Manufacturers Association Chairman David Vice recently summed up the position of the imperialist bourgeoisie as follows: “We need to embrace the principle that every dollar siphoned off to support an artificial level of security or a standard of living that is not justified by competitive performance can only undermine the economy and weaken us in our battles in the global economy.”
As Marx and Engels explained over 130 years ago in their elaboration of the materialist conception of history, profound changes in the productive forces inevitably produce the most far-reaching changes in the political superstructure: “At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing social relations of production, or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change in the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed.” (“Preface to the Critique of Political Economy,” Selected Works, pp. 182-83) This is precisely the international revolutionary process that has erupted today. And the extended period in which the world socialist revolution was derailed as a result of the betrayals of Stalinism and social democracy and the fundamental contradictions of world capitalism were regulated within the postwar structure has made the resurgence of this revolutionary process all the more explosive.
Imperialism is driven to establish a new equilibrium on the ashes of the old postwar order. But history has demonstrated at the expense of tens of millions slaughtered in two world imperialist wars this century that the conflicting interests of rival nationally-based gangs of imperialists cannot be settled peacefully. The collapse of the postwar settlement has proven that even the most powerful imperialist nation cannot overcome the fundamental contradiction between the world economy and the nation-state system. The former vanquished powers, Germany and Japan, cannot and will not continue to accept a position of political and military inferiority to American imperialism under conditions in which their relative economic power has been drastically altered. Similarly, the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe is history’s verdict on the nationalist solution to the crisis of capitalism advanced by Stalinism, the notion that socialism can be built simply on the basis of the resources of isolated nationalized economies, and without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat on a world scale.
The capitalist system can only restore its equilibrium through depression, fascism and world war. This is ultimately the nationalist “solution” to the crisis gripping society. The global scale of production based on the revolutionary advances in science and technology requires for its rational and progressive development the tearing down of the national borders of the capitalist state system and the liberation of the productive forces from the fetters of private ownership and production for profit. The working class is the only social force whose historic interests correspond not to the outmoded nation-state system, but to the development of man’s productive forces on a world scale. It is the only international class and therefore the only class which can avert the social catastrophe being prepared by imperialism and raise the whole material and cultural level of society to a new level. The working class must impose its own solution to the crisis by means of the world socialist revolution.
This is not an automatic process. It would be one-sided and dangerous to focus merely on the purely “objective” side of events, as if the breakdown of the East European regimes and the emergence of a new revolutionary era proceed entirely apart from the class struggle and the conscious clash of political forces. The present crisis carries with it the danger that, without the building of a revolutionary leadership, the working class can be thrown back catastrophically. In Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, as in the imperialist and the backward capitalist countries, what is posed is not only the disintegration of the old labor bureaucracies, but also the destruction of all of the social gains won by the working class.
The initial stages of this revolutionary explosion in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have exposed the dangers confronting the working class, which arise from its lack of a revolutionary program and leadership. Imperialism, the Stalinist bureaucracy and their petty-bourgeois “democratic” agents are moving rapidly to liquidate the nationalized property and remnants of centralized planning in each of these countries, restore capitalist private ownership and subject the working class to the most barbaric forms of exploitation. They are dismantling state-owned industry, along with the system of social benefits built up since the Second World War, and systematically impoverishing the vast majority of workers.
The working class is being driven by the most powerful objective forces into struggle against these reactionary petty-bourgeois elements. Already strikes have broken out in Poland, East Germany and Hungary against the price rises and layoffs. But the counterrevolutionary danger cannot be averted simply on the basis of the spontaneous movement of the working class. Four decades of Stalinist repression and corruption in Eastern Europe and six decades of its bureaucratic misrule within the Soviet Union and counterrevolutionary collaboration with imperialism internationally have profoundly disoriented the working class. To the extent that the crimes of Stalinism have discredited socialism in the eyes of many workers in Eastern Europe who mistakenly identify Stalinism with socialism, the working class is in danger of being politically disarmed in the face of a counterrevolutionary conspiracy of imperialism, Stalinism and the petty-bourgeois “democrats.” The dangers that face the working class in Eastern Europe and the USSR arise from the fact that the disintegration of the Stalinist regimes has proceeded much more rapidly than the development of revolutionary consciousness in the proletariat.
These momentous events heighten the responsibility of the conscious vanguard organized in the International Committee of the Fourth International and the Workers League to raise the political level of the mass movement of the working class in accordance with the tasks dictated by history. In this new period of revolutionary struggle, the subjective factor of the revolutionary party assumes immense significance. In a very direct and practical sense, the fate of the working class in every country depends upon the political struggle mounted by the ICFI and its sections. In his critique of the 1928 Comintern Draft Program, Trotsky wrote: “The role of the subjective factor in a period of slow, organic development can remain quite a subordinate one. Then diverse proverbs of gradualism arise, as: ‘slow but sure,’ and ‘one must not kick against the pricks,’ and so forth, which epitomize all the tactical wisdom of an organic epoch that abhorred ‘leaping over stages.’ But as soon as the objective prerequisites have matured, the key to the whole historical process passes into the hands of the subjective factor, that is, the party. Opportunism which consciously or unconsciously thrives upon the inspiration of the past epoch, always tends to underestimate the role of the subjective factor, that is, the importance of the party and of revolutionary leadership” (The Third International After Lenin, New Park, p. 64).
The historical issues can be posed as follows: will the political revolution in the Stalinist countries develop more rapidly than the restoration of capitalism? Will the socialist revolution in the capitalist countries develop more rapidly than the imperialist drive to World War III? Trotsky posed the same issue in different words 50 years ago: “The question consequently stands as follows: Will objective historical necessity in the long run cut a path for itself in the consciousness of the vanguard of the working class ... will a genuine revolutionary leadership be formed capable of leading the proletariat to the conquest of power?” His answer was: “The Fourth International has replied in the affirmative to this question, not only through the text of its program, but also through the very fact of its existence” (In Defense of Marxism, New Park, p. 15). The International Committee of the Fourth International, conscious that its program embodies the historical interests of the working class, must today “cut a path” into the consciousness of the proletarian vanguard.
The recognition of the enormous danger confronting the working class supplies at the same time the key to surmounting it. The International Committee of the Fourth International and the Workers League must conduct an unyielding struggle for the only program that expresses the objective interests of the working class, the program of world socialist revolution, against all forms of temporary confusion and backward moods within the masses. Our responsibility is first and foremost to tell the working class the truth—that unless it takes the road of international socialist revolution, which includes the political revolution in the Stalinist countries, it faces a catastrophe. This struggle will require great determination and patience, political firmness and resourcefulness, and, above all, an uncompromising struggle for the principles of Trotskyism against all forms of nationalism and opportunism. But it will evoke a powerful response in the working class, in the first instance among its most advanced representatives, and create the political conditions for the working class as a whole to break free of all the agencies of imperialism—Stalinism, social democracy, the trade union bureaucracies, the petty-bourgeois “democrats”—consciously reject their nationalist and pro-capitalist programs, and return to the path of socialist revolution.
From the standpoint of the historical struggle of the Marxist movement, the collapse of the East European regimes and the turn of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy to restorationist policies mark a watershed in the struggle for revolutionary Marxism against all forms of national opportunism. The Stalinist regimes have their origins in a fundamental programmatic break from Marxism in the 1920s by a section of the Bolshevik Party leadership led by Stalin, which reflected the reactionary interests of the emerging Soviet bureaucracy. The Stalinist faction counterposed to the program of international socialist revolution, the basis of the October 1917 Revolution, the program of building socialism in a single country. This was a specific form of national opportunism and was, as Trotsky pointed out, a throwback to the old national opportunism which had produced the betrayal of the Second International. There is a profound connection between the national opportunism of the Stalinist bureaucracy and that which predominates in the labor movement of every single country. This historical struggle for revolutionary Marxism against all forms of national opportunism is the basis of the work of the Fourth International, led by the International Committee, in every country. The International Committee of the Fourth International and the Workers League constitute the only force which fights for the program of world socialist revolution today. Our movement represents the only alternative for the working class to the rotting and discredited agencies of imperialism.
The 1990s is the decade of Trotskyism and the Fourth International, the conscious political expression of the world historical, revolutionary role of the proletariat. The breakdown of the capitalist world order has placed on the agenda historic tasks which can be accomplished only through the conquest of power by the international working class. The building of a new international party is an objective historical necessity for the working class. The transformation in the world political situation is the driving force of a fundamentally changed relationship between the working class and the International Committee of the Fourth International. The crisis of world imperialism and its chief agency, Stalinism, means the intersection of the Trotskyist program of world socialist revolution with the movement of millions of workers. All of the objective conditions are rapidly emerging for the International Committee and the Workers League in the United States to smash the Stalinist and reformist agencies of imperialism and resolve the crisis of leadership in the working class.
The Struggle against Opportunism
The decade of the 1980s, written off simply as a period of reaction by political impressionists and skeptics, must be understood historically as the period in which revolutionary changes in technology and the productive forces prepared the political explosions of the 1990s. Moreover, this decade provided the working class two indispensable benefits. First, it undermined the decades-long division between the working class of the capitalist and Stalinist countries of Europe. The symbolic significance of the crumbling of the Berlin Wall is the creation of the conditions for the first time in 45 years for the unification not only of the German working class, but the working class of all of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with the working class in Western Europe and the other advanced capitalist countries. Second, the 1980s exposed the bankrupt and treacherous character of all the traditional leaderships of the working class.
The 1980s was at the same time a period of the most intense political and ideological struggle for revolutionary perspective and program, conducted by the International Committee of the Fourth International and the Workers League against Stalinism and Pabloite revisionism, and culminating in the 1985-86 split with the renegades of the British Workers Revolutionary Party. This was the essential preparation of the world leadership of the Fourth International to win the leadership of the masses of workers who are entering into struggle against imperialism and Stalinism.
The protracted political and ideological struggle of the International Committee against Pabloite opportunism has reached a new stage, in which the fundamental issues of Marxist principle and program at its root assume burning significance for millions of workers. It is highly significant that the very political questions that were clarified in the course of the struggle of the International Committee against the national opportunists of the British WRP—internationalism versus nationalism, the primacy of Marxist strategy and program over tactics, the social and political foundations of Pabloite opportunism, the nature of the Stalinist “deformed workers states”
these are the very questions which have assumed a life-and-death, practical import for the struggles of the working class under conditions of the eruption of the crisis of Stalinism from China to Eastern Europe and the USSR. It is no exaggeration to state that the very existence of sections of the International Committee which today have the most immediate political responsibility for the fate of the working class—such as in Germany
would be highly problematical had it not been for the victorious struggle waged by the International Committee and the Workers League in defense of Trotskyist program and principle, beginning in 1982. Because this struggle was waged and has been deepened in the political work of the ICFI since the 1985-86 split, the world Trotskyist movement enters this new revolutionary period enormously clarified and strengthened.
The International Committee was founded in struggle against Pabloism, a petty bourgeois tendency which had capitulated to the postwar settlement between imperialism and Stalinism and, on that basis, rejected the entire historical and internationalist perspective of Marxism. The Workers League itself is a product of this international struggle for Trotskyist program and principle against Pabloite opportunism. With the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe it is more clear than ever that the whole perspective of Pabloism was nothing more than an adaptation to the temporary domination of the working class movement by the bureaucratic agencies of imperialism, Stalinism, social democracy and the AFL-CIO. Pablo proclaimed just 40 years ago that the establishment of the so-called people’s democracies in Eastern Europe represented the transition to socialism. He said that these rotten police dictatorships were the necessary form which the development of socialism would take for centuries. The International Committee condemned this fundamental abandonment of Marxism and rejection of the revolutionary role of the working class. The ICFI alone has defended the basic Marxist proposition that the road to socialism is only possible on the basis of a proletarian revolution. Workers states cannot be established by means of bureaucratic manipulations from the top. Nor is socialism simply a question of administrative or police-military changes in the forms of property. It is a question of the revolutionary mobilization of the class-conscious working class.
This is precisely the historic significance of the Fourth International and the struggle that the ICFI has waged for nearly four decades against Pabloite revisionism. The political conquests of the International Committee from this struggle, above all the struggle against the resurgence of Pabloism within the ICFI under the opportunist leadership of the British WRP, have created the firmest political and organizational foundations for establishing the ICFI as the world party of the revolutionary working class. The International Committee’s political work has developed enormously both in terms of its analysis and the elaboration of its policies in the imperialist centers, the oppressed nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Stalinist-ruled countries; and in the expansion of its influence in the international working class, including its interventions into the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
At the time of the 1953 split with Pabloism, and again when the ICFI split with the renegade Socialist Workers Party, only a small minority within the Trotskyist movement took up the struggle in defense of principle against the opportunists. Today the relationship of forces is shifting in favor of revolutionary Marxism and against opportunism, and this reflects a profound shift in class relations. The Pabloites can no longer masquerade as revolutionary Marxists, or even Trotskyists. Instead, they are compelled to appear before the working class, like Ernest Mandel in his notorious trip to East Berlin, as the open defenders of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its policies of capitalist restoration.
The central perspective of the Workers League is the fight for the international unification of the working class through the construction of the International Committee of the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution. The development of a fighting unity of workers of all countries based on an international revolutionary strategy for the overthrow of capitalism, the dismantling of the nation-state system and the establishment of a world socialist economy is not some utopian fantasy: it is a burning, practical necessity.
The development of a globally-integrated economy, uniting workers in many countries in a single process of production, creates the conditions for this international unification of the working class. Thus, when Ford workers struck at the Dagenham complex in Britain in February 1988, the company was forced to shut plants in West Germany, Spain and Belgium because of parts shortages. At the same time, Ford workers were on strike in Taiwan and Mexico. In the spring of 1989, longshoremen were on strike in Britain, India, Japan and Brazil. This objective unity of the struggles of the American and international working class must find its conscious expression in the development of a new revolutionary strategy for the labor movement. The working class cannot allow the bourgeoisie and its agents in the labor bureaucracy to pit workers in one country against another. The struggle against the multinational corporations requires that the American working class systematically organize the scope of its struggles beyond the national borders and coordinate its actions, industrial and political, with those of its class brothers in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The task of the Workers League is to arm the coming upsurge of the working class with the revolutionary socialist and internationalist perspective it requires to carry through the struggle for workers power and socialism. This is the basis of all the policies fought for by the Workers League in the American working class, including its struggle for the political independence of the working class through the demand for the building of a mass Labor Party to establish a workers government and carry out socialist policies. The Workers League must organize and lead a rank-and-file rebellion to drive the pro-capitalist bureaucracy out of the labor movement and replace it with a revolutionary Marxist leadership. This can be carried out only insofar as the Workers League intervenes indefatigably and fights to win the leadership of the struggles of the working class, demonstrates in practice the correctness of its policies and the caliber of its leadership, and wins into its ranks the most class-conscious and courageous representatives of the working class, that is, its vanguard elements.
The Crisis of Stalinism and the Program of Political Revolution
The Soviet Union, and the state property forms established through the expropriation of the landlords and capitalists of Russia in 1917, today face their greatest threat since the invasion of the Nazi armies 50 years ago. In many ways, the present danger is even more grave. Half a century later, the bureaucratic degeneration has reached a far more advanced stage. The most powerful sections of the Stalinist ruling caste, which more than 60 years ago usurped political power from the Soviet workers and smashed the Communist Party of Lenin and Trotsky, no longer see their privileges as being bound up with their parasitic relations to state property. Rather, they seek to transform themselves into a new capitalist ruling class through the restoration of private property. In pursuit of this counterrevolutionary goal, they are directly aligned with imperialism and the most reactionary sections of the native petty bourgeoisie.
The bureaucracy has embarked on the dismantling of the remaining conquests of the October Revolution in response to the threat of its revolutionary overthrow at the hands of the working class. The faction of the Kremlin oligarchy headed by Gorbachev took the restorationist road in a conscious attempt to preempt a revolutionary movement of the Soviet working class in the aftermath of the revolt of the Polish workers in the Solidarity movement of the early 1980s. Gorbachev has encouraged the pro-imperialist petty-bourgeois forces in Eastern Europe and bourgeois separatist elements among the Soviet Union’s national minorities, and carried out a wrecking operation to disrupt the Soviet economy. The powerful strike of Soviet miners in the summer of 1989 marked a turning point in the crisis of the Soviet bureaucracy. The leadership under Gorbachev has responded to this, and every other expression of working class opposition by accelerating the drive to uproot and destroy the planned economy.
Trotsky’s indictment of the Stalinist bureaucracy over 50 years ago as “the gravedigger of the revolution” and the major agency of imperialism within the international workers movement is today vindicated in the most palpable way, as is the prognosis he presented in the Transitional Program for the future of the Soviet Union: “Either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back to capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to socialism.” Having destroyed the soviet democracy established by the October Revolution, replaced it with a totalitarian dictatorship, and organized catastrophic defeats of the international working class, the bureaucracy now seeks to carry out its final betrayal—the liquidation of the Soviet Union and its transformation into a political and economic colony of world imperialism.
The Gorbachev leadership functions as the fifth column of world imperialism inside the Soviet and international working class. It is consciously committed to obliterating any connection between the Soviet Union and the October Revolution. As Gorbachev said to the February 1990 plenum of the CPSU Central Committee, “We should abandon everything that led to the isolation of the socialist countries from the mainstream of world civilization.” The imperialists do not conceal the fact that they consider Gorbachev “their man” inside the USSR. When Time magazine named Gorbachev its “man of the decade” it quoted a Bush adviser who gloated: “I would be hard pressed to see how a CIA mole planted in Moscow would be acting differently...” So confident is US imperialism in the allegiance of their lackey Gorbachev, it took the extraordinary step of publicly supporting an incursion of Soviet troops into Romania after the overthrow of Ceausescu, in the event that it became necessary to suppress the masses and restore “law and order,” and then gave official support to the massacre of civilians in Azerbaijan.
The October 1917 Revolution which established the first workers state in history and marked the beginning of the world socialist revolution remains the greatest event in world history. Despite the monstrous crimes of Stalinism and the enormous distortions introduced into the planned economy by Stalin and his successors, the remaining conquests of that epoch-making overturn—the nationalized property and the surviving structure of the planned economy—are historic conquests of the international working class and must be defended by every section of the proletariat, including the American working class. The defense of the Soviet Union is possible only through the mobilization of the working class in the capitalist countries for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the mobilization of the Soviet working class for the overthrow of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy through a political revolution. Every day the bureaucracy remains in power it further undermines the foundations of the nationalized economy and brings closer the danger of capitalist restoration.
In Gorbachev’s foreign policy, the bureaucracy’s drive to convert itself into a bourgeois class finds its most developed expression. The elaboration of the theory of “socialism in one country” by Stalin and Bukharin in 1924 marked the beginning of the bureaucracy’s open repudiation of the perspective of world socialist revolution upon which the program of Bolshevism had been based. By the 1930s, the Stalinist bureaucracy had become transformed into a conscious agency of imperialism in the international workers movement. In practice, this meant that the bureaucracy cynically manipulated and betrayed the revolutionary struggles of the international workers movement in the interests of its own deals with the bourgeoisie. The local Stalinist parties, acting as the political agents of the Soviet regime, mobilized the working class in their countries not to overthrow capitalism but to pressure the bourgeoisie to arrive at agreements favorable to the Kremlin bureaucrats. To the extent that the bureaucracy identified its own privileges with the defense of the property relations established in October 1917, the Kremlin was for the defense of the USSR. But it conducted this defense in a way which sabotaged the international workers struggles and, in the long term, weakened the USSR.
Today the bureaucracy no longer defends the Soviet Union even in this limited and distorted sense. It no longer identifies its social interests with the defense of the nationalized property relations of the USSR against imperialism. The bureaucracy’s foreign policy is driven entirely by its fear of the working class. In 1917 Kerensky’s provisional government was prepared to surrender Petrograd to German imperialism in order to prevent the proletarian revolution. Today, the Gorbachev regime backs the dissolution of the GDR into a reunited capitalist Germany in order to obtain the support of German imperialism against the Soviet working class. It makes unilateral concessions to US imperialism while the Bush administration continues its nuclear weapons buildup. From the military standpoint, the foreign policy of the Kremlin has left the Soviet Union virtually defenseless.
The eruptions in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union represent the most powerful vindication of the entire historical perspective of Trotskyism, and the decades-long struggle of the Fourth International against Stalinism and its revisionist appendages. At the most fundamental level, Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism was the defense of the proletarian internationalist perspective upon which scientific socialism has been grounded since the issuing of the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels nearly 150 years ago. As Trotsky insisted, there are two irreconcilably opposed programmatic lines in the international working class movement: the revolutionary internationalist perspective of permanent revolution, the basis of the October Revolution and the founding of the Third (Communist) International, and the nationalist program of “socialism in one country,” first advanced by Stalin and Bukharin after Lenin’s death.
The conventional wisdom of bourgeois analysts is that “no one could have predicted” the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, but it is a historical fact that in 1936, in The Revolution Betrayed, Leon Trotsky elaborated his profound Marxist analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a parasitic caste whose domination of the working class was a temporary and exceptional product of the isolation of the first workers state and the defeats of the wave of revolutionary struggles internationally which followed the October Revolution. He explained the irreconcilable conflict between the bureaucracy, the counterrevolutionary agency of world imperialism inside the USSR, and the Soviet working class. As Trotsky predicted at the founding of the Fourth International in 1938, the onrush of great events is leaving “not one stone upon another” of the outlived and rotten Stalinist and reformist bureaucracies in the labor movement.
The International Committee of the Fourth International has defended Trotsky’s analysis of the counterrevolutionary nature of Stalinism and the necessity of political revolution since its foundation in 1953. The ICFI characterized the postwar settlement as a counterrevolutionary agreement between imperialism and Stalinism at the expense of the international working class, and the states which were established in Eastern Europe as unviable and transitory. In its 1966 manifesto, the Third Congress of the International Committee declared: “The Europe which came out of the second imperialist war is even less viable than the Europe resulting from the first imperialist war. The mosaic of European states has not disappeared. In Western and in Eastern Europe it is maintained both by the bourgeoisie and by the Kremlin bureaucracy and the satellite bureaucracies. To this has been added the division of Germany into two, cutting into the living flesh of the German working class. This mosaic of states, and the division of Europe into two, is incompatible with the development of productive forces.... The Kremlin bureaucracy has no solution. All that it can hope for is to prolong indefinitely a status quo which is impossible in the long run” (Documents from the Third Conference of the International Committee, (p. 63).
In its perspectives resolution adopted in August 1988, a year before the eruption of the political revolution in Eastern Europe, the International Committee declared: “The polarization of Soviet society between the working class and the parasitic bureaucracy has reached a level of unprecedented intensity. All the essential elements of a revolutionary situation—a nationwide crisis affecting all layers of society, the inability of the ruling circles to rule in the old way, and the unwillingness of the ruled to accept the existing conditions—are rapidly maturing in the USSR. Seeking a way out of the crisis through the integration of the Soviet economy into the structure of world capitalism and the expansion of capitalist relations within the USSR itself, Gorbachev’s policies threaten the nationalized property relations and the principle of state planning, which are the chief conquests of the Bolshevik Revolution. Inevitably, the impact of Gorbachev’s perestroika program will be the eruption of a revolutionary movement of the Soviet working class to defend the foundations of the planned economy” (The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International, p.4).
The progressive nature of nationalized property and central planning as compared to capitalist private ownership of the means of production and the anarchy of the capitalist market has been demonstrated in the considerable advances in industry, technology and the living standards of the working class achieved in the Soviet Union, and even in the bureaucratic regimes of Eastern Europe, despite the deformations caused by the parasitic and plundering role of the Stalinist bureaucracies and the isolation from the world market resulting from their counterrevolutionary, nationalist policies. But as Trotsky explained in The Revolution Betrayed, the very economic growth of the Soviet Union, its increasing industrialization and the growing sophistication of its economy, made the impact of world economy upon the economic life of the USSR that much greater.
The turn of every Stalinist bureaucracy, from Moscow to Peking, to restorationist policies represents a de facto acknowledgment of the collapse of the nationalist program of socialism in one country. There are only two roads by which these economies can overcome their national isolation: their integration into the structure of world capitalism, or the extension of nationalized property and central planning and the development of socialism on a world scale by means of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. The bureaucracy is organically incapable of taking the latter road, since its privileges and its rule as a parasitic caste are grounded on the defeats of the international working class and the continued isolation of the USSR, Eastern Europe and China. The policies of Gorbachev, which are inevitably being taken up by every other Stalinist regime, represent the turn by the dominant sections of the bureaucracy to the restorationist road.
The crimes of Stalin against the national sentiments of the peoples of the Soviet Union as well as those of Eastern Europe, combined with the crushing of any independent role of the working class, created a legacy of national resentment and strengthened bourgeois nationalist forces within the Soviet republics as well as Eastern Europe. The shift of the bureaucracy under Gorbachev to restorationist policies, to the dismantling of a centrally planned economy and the encouragement of bourgeois social elements, has meant a drastic exacerbation of the nationalities problem. Gorbachev’s policies have removed any economic basis for the maintenance of the Soviet Union as an integral unit. In the name of perestroika Gorbachev has encouraged local Stalinist bureaucrats and bourgeois elements in the various Soviet republics to forge their own links to foreign capital and whip up national animosities against neighboring republics in line with their competition for resources from Moscow and capital from the imperialist bourgeoisie. Moreover, Gorbachev has repudiated the socialist principle of class solidarity, thereby encouraging all of the reactionary forms of bourgeois ideology which divide the masses along national, religious and racial lines. The new constitution drafted by Gorbachev eliminated even formal lip-service to the right of the various nationalities within the USSR to self-determination. When the eruption of national indignation in Azerbaijan threatened the rule of the Kremlin oligarchy, he sent in the Red Army to carry out a bloody massacre.
In the 1930s Trotsky defended the slogan of an independent soviet Ukraine and explained the inseparable connection between the resolution of the national question within the USSR and the struggle against the national “socialist” program of Stalin and the return of the Soviet Union to the Bolshevik program of world socialist revolution. He wrote in his 1939 article “Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads:” “despite the giant step forward taken by the October Revolution in the domain of national relations, the isolated proletarian revolution in a backward country proved incapable of solving the national question, especially the Ukrainian question, which is, in its very essence, international in character. The Thermidorean reaction, crowned by the Bonapartist bureaucracy, has thrown the toiling masses far back in the national sphere as well” (Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40, Pathfinder, p. 47). The Workers League and the ICFI defend the right of the Azerbaijanis and all other oppressed nationalities within the USSR to secede and establish their independence. We do so in opposition both to the Stalinist bureaucracy and to the reactionary bourgeois nationalist elements within the various Soviet Republics, which seek to exploit the outrage of the working class against the Kremlin gangsters in order to establish the basis for their own exploitation of the workers under capitalist rule. We fight for the independent mobilization of the workers of all Soviet republics in a united struggle against the real enemy—the Kremlin bureaucracy and its imperialist backers. The overthrow of Stalinism and the restoration of proletarian democracy will create the conditions for strengthening the unity of all national sections of the Soviet working class.
The February 1990 plenum of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee marked a new stage in the drive by the Stalinist bureaucracy under Gorbachev to organize the overthrow of the nationalized property relations and all vestiges of the proletarian dictatorship established in 1917. The meeting was preceded by Gorbachev’s summit with Bush at Malta and his consultations with the Pope. It was stage-managed by Gorbachev in the closest consultation with US imperialism. Foreign Minister and Politburo member Eduard Shevardnadze met with US Secretary of State James Baker while the conference was still in progress and afterward cynically quipped to reporters, “It’s as if the secretary of state was mixing himself in our party affairs.” Two days after the plenum Baker was invited to address the Supreme Soviet where he demanded that the Soviet Union end all support to Cuba and Nicaragua.
The major actions taken—official sanction for bourgeois parties, the establishment of a Bonapartist presidency, the legalization of private ownership of the land, including inheritance rights—were all designed to build up the most reactionary petty-bourgeois elements in the cities and countryside and reinforce the state apparatus in preparation for a violent showdown with the Soviet working class. Imperialist heads of state and the capitalist media universally applauded the measures as a step toward a “multi-party democracy,” ignoring the continuing use of troops to terrorize the population of Azerbaijan in the aftermath of the massacre ordered by Gorbachev just two weeks before. The real content of the so-called democratization was indicated by assurances from top party officials to the New York Times that the new presidential powers granted to Gorbachev would include the right to unilaterally send troops into domestic “emergencies” and the right to decree economic changes.
No faction of the bureaucracy opposes the pro-capitalist policies of Gorbachev. The section around Ligachev, no less reactionary and hostile to the working class than Gorbachev, seeks only assurances that its privileges, hitherto bound up directly with the management of state enterprises, will be protected under a reversion to capitalist profiteering and the carve-up of the Soviet economy among the imperialist banks and multinational corporations. Whatever the internal squabbles and tactical differences among various factions within the bureaucracy, they are all united in their fear of the proletariat. The central committee plenum was held under the shadow of a growing movement of the Soviet workers. On the eve of the meeting it was reported that a strike wave in the Soviet Union had reached unprecedented proportions, with seven million work days lost over the past year, and unions, including those in the chemical industry, threatening new walkouts.
In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe the Stalinist bureaucrats and their petty-bourgeois allies drawn from the intelligentsia, the professions and the administrative apparatus are guided, not by some devotion to democratic principles, but rather by a frenzied hatred for the proletariat. These reactionary and egotistical social layers exhibit an apoplectic malice toward all of the social gains of the working class. They express in the sharpest form the class polarization between large sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the international proletariat, a universal phenomenon which embraces the capitalist countries as well as those under Stalinist rule, and is rooted in the breakup of the postwar order and the deepening crisis of world imperialism.
The reactionary ideology of these social layers is indicated in an internal memorandum submitted to Gorbachev by his closest advisers on the eve of the central committee plenum. It blamed the working class for what it called soviet society’s “contamination” by “an egalitarian psychology, an aggressive rejection of every manifestation of individuality, independence, personal initiative and the success which is linked to these.” It further declared the necessity “to stimulate in every way possible those layers of the population who are not afraid to survive on the basis of the work they do” and to “transform these individuals into a mass, that is to say, a social group.” The document continued: “The unity of the intelligentsia with both the party leadership and the state constitutes a unique and precious achievement. We are however in danger of seeing it collapse because of capitulation to the anti-intellectual blackmail by conservatives who put forward the ‘proletarian masses’.... At the end of the twentieth century, it is time to get rid of the mystification of the concept of a working class, for in the final analysis it signifies the prolongation, in another form, of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ We are closer to the twenty-first century than to the nineteenth when this type of reasoning was historically justified.”
As for the “democratic” sensibilities of the petty-bourgeois advocates of perestroika, typical are the arguments of two prominent state advisers to Gorbachev published in the fall of 1989, calling for his assumption of dictatorial powers against the working class. A. Migranyan and I. Klyamkin of the Institute of the World Socialist System were quoted in the magazine Literaturnaya Gazeta. Migranyan declared, “It would have been much better if our leader had strengthened his power in an administrative way, as took place in Hungary under Janos Kadar, or in China under Deng Xiaoping.” Klyamkin elaborated, “What if the reformer declares himself in favor of introducing the market? Can this be done by relying on the masses? Obviously not, since 80 percent of the population would not accept it.”
The counterrevolutionary lineup of Stalinism, petty-bourgeois “democracy” and revisionism that emerged in Poland established the pattern for the rest of the Stalinist-run countries of Eastern Europe. The right-wing Solidarity leadership suppressed a wave of strikes in 1988 against rising prices and worsening social conditions, and then assumed the leadership of a coalition government with the Stalinist butcher Jaruzelski when it became clear that the bureaucracy could no longer contain the rebellion of the working class. The leading figures in this betrayal, Walesa and Mazowiecki, had longstanding relations with the Catholic Church, and Jacek Kuron, chosen to head the labor ministry and oversee the destruction of living standards of the working class, was a close political collaborator of Pabloite revisionist leader Ernest Mandel, who had touted Kuron as a “Trotskyist.” The Solidarity-Stalinist coalition government on January 1, 1990 imposed the economic program dictated by the International Monetary Fund and within days prices for many necessities rose by 500 percent and unemployment jumped by 600 percent. In Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria the petty-bourgeois “democrats” have similarly sprung to the defense of the old Stalinist apparatus of repression in order to pursue the policy of capitalist restoration.
The program of capitalist restoration can only be carried out through state violence against the working class. For all the talk of replacing the dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy with “democracy,” the real fruits of glasnost are the new Soviet law outlawing strikes and the dispatch of 29,000 Soviet troops to bloodily suppress the national movement in Azerbaijan. In the East European countries the restoration of capitalism means, not the establishment of bourgeois parliamentary democracies, but the reimposition of fascist and military dictatorships such as those which ruled the region before World War II—Hitler in Germany, Pilsudski in Poland, Horthy in Hungary.
Stalinism and its petty-bourgeois allies, under enormous pressure from imperialism above and the threat of a revolutionary explosion from below, are rushing with breakneck speed to smash up state industry, dismantle any form of central planning and restore capitalist property relations. The counterrevolutionary efforts of imperialism and Stalinism in Eastern Europe are concentrated above all in East Germany, where the coalition regime of Stalinist hack Hans Modrow and the petty-bourgeois forces of the “round table” function as the direct agents of the Deutsche Bank and German imperialism. The “democrats” of the New Forum, with the support of the Pabloite revisionists in the United Left, hastened to the defense of the hated Stasi security police, physically ringing their offices to prevent crowds of workers from storming them. The first measure of the so-called government of national unity was the redoubling of the police and security forces at demonstrations. Then followed decrees slashing subsidies and raising prices.
These forces are moving to carry out the de facto liquidation of the GDR and reunification of Germany on a capitalist basis before the working class can grasp the implications of these measures and mobilize its forces to block them. In quick succession, Gorbachev and Modrow called for the reunification of Germany, and Modrow and West German Chancellor Kohl agreed to a monetary union, which means the complete subjugation of the East German economy to the very bankers and industrialists who imposed Hitlerite fascism. All of this was agreed to in advance of the fraudulent elections which were called to provide a smokescreen for an onslaught against the German workers, East and West. The trusted agents of world imperialism of the SPD, who betrayed the working class by supporting German imperialism in 1914, and saved the German bourgeoisie by murdering Luxemburg and Liebknecht and drowning the German revolution in blood in 1919, have been imported into the GDR to head up a new government after the elections and oversee some form of confederation, designed to serve as the political framework for repressing the working class and restoring capitalism in the East.
Under conditions where the working class in the imperialist countries has been betrayed and thrown back over the last decade, the workers of Eastern Europe do not yet see the proletarian revolutionary alternative to Stalinism. Had the breakdown of the Stalinist regimes coincided from the beginning with a mass upsurge of the working class in the capitalist West, the position of the working class in Eastern Europe and the USSR would have been vastly strengthened and the movement would have taken on a socialist character from the outset. The political conditions produced by the betrayals of the labor bureaucracies are being exploited by the imperialists, the petty-bourgeois “democrats” and the Stalinist bureaucrats, whose propaganda for capitalist restoration relies on two great lies: the identification of the Stalinist monstrosity with socialism, and the fantasy of a triumphant, prosperous and crisis-free capitalism in the West.
But it is one thing for imperialism and Stalinism to launch their restorationist plans. It is quite another to carry them through. The brutal reality of the economic and social policies behind the democratic demagogy will jolt the consciousness of the working class and drive it into massive struggles against its bogus “liberators.” In this situation the role of the International Committee of the Fourth International and its German section, the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter (BSA), is of decisive importance for the working class not only in Germany, but internationally. The BSA, the sole revolutionary opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy, is the only party that is fighting for a proletarian internationalist program against the counterrevolutionary conspiracy to reunify Germany on a capitalist basis. The BSA is calling on the working class of the GDR to defend all of the gains associated with the nationalized property, to fight the destruction of its jobs, social benefits and living standards. It advances the program of political revolution—the formation of genuine workers soviets to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy, establish a workers democracy, and purge the planned economy of the privileged parasites and bureaucrats.
The BSA’s programmatic statement for the building of a revolutionary, Trotskyist leadership to unite the workers of East and West Germany exposes the irreconcilably antagonistic class tendencies within the mass movement that erupted against the Stalinist regime: that of capitalist counterrevolution represented by the Stalinist bureaucrats in alliance with reactionary petty-bourgeois forces within the GDR and the capitalists of the West German Bundesrepublik, and that of the socialist revolution of the international working class, represented by the BSA and the ICFI. Against the capitalist reunification of Germany from “above,” the BSA is fighting for the revolutionary socialist reunification of Germany from “below,” as part of the struggle for the United Socialist States of Europe. Against the reactionary fraud of bourgeois democracy the BSA is fighting for the program of proletarian democracy and the conquest of power by the working class. In defending the gains of the German working class in the East, the BSA and ICFI do not defend the reactionary postwar division of Germany and Europe and the state boundaries drawn by imperialism and Stalinism in order to strangle the revolutionary movement of the working class. The nationalized property and the rudiments of a planned economy established in the East cannot be defended on the basis of the completely reactionary and economically unviable Stalinist program of “socialism in one country.” They can only be defended on the basis of the revolutionary mobilization of the working class in opposition to both Stalinism and imperialism and within the context of an international revolutionary program.
The working class in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union stands before what will prove to be a protracted and bitter struggle, the ultimate outcome of which will not be decided in a few months. The stage is set for the further development of the revolutionary crisis in which the social forces which were temporarily united on the basis of vague democratic demands directed against the discredited Stalinist regimes will define themselves more clearly. This must lead to a rapid parting of the ways between the working class and the petty-bourgeois democrats who in the initial stages have dominated the mass movements. Moreover, the issue will not be settled simply within the confines of Eastern Europe, but rather on the global scale of the class struggle. There is going to be an intensification of class conflict on a scale unprecedented in world history, and an ever greater interaction between the struggles of the working class in the Stalinist countries and those in the advanced imperialist centers as well as in the backward capitalist countries.
The perspective of the Workers League and the ICFI allows neither petty-bourgeois defeatism and pessimism, nor, what is the opposite side of the same coin, objectivist complacency. Our movement, the only revolutionary Marxist tendency, is faced with a protracted and difficult struggle to clarify the working class and arm it politically for the decisive struggles into which it is entering, under conditions in which the forces of reaction have been able to temporarily gain the initiative. But the enormous strength of the ICFI in this situation is the fact that, in contrast to spontaneously prevailing moods, its program is based on a scientific grasp of the objective logic of the world economic crisis and the class struggle. The inevitable revolutionary confrontations of the working class with the Stalinist bureaucracy and its petty-bourgeois allies and with the capitalists in Western Europe will swiftly and forcefully give the workers the opportunity to become convinced of the correctness of the program of the ICFI. By winning the most advanced and best elements in the working class and carrying out the intransigent and patient work of training them as revolutionary cadres today, the ICFI will win the masses tomorrow.
The Threat of Imperialist War
The drastic shift in the relative economic positions of American, Japanese and German imperialism has produced an extreme disequilibrium between their actual economic might and the positions they hold within the political and financial institutions of world imperialism, as well as their relative military might. Inexorably the United States, Japan and Germany are being driven into a new global military conflict. The character of this war, as that of the two previous world wars, would be imperialist. It would be a war of plunder fought, not for the defense of “democracy” or any similar abstraction, but for the redivision of the world between rival nationally-based groups of banks and corporations.
A recent article in the American bourgeois journal Foreign Affairs assessed the present relationship between the major imperialist powers: “Tokyo and Bonn could be responsible for some of America’s biggest headaches in the coming years. Each could present Washington with almost intractable problems deriving from their domestic drives, and in some important cases their interests could converge in opposition to America’s needs.” Citing the huge Japanese financial surpluses, the author writes, “it is almost impossible to conceive where such power will lead—how many industries will be dominated by Japanese firms; how much clout Japan will have in the IMF, World Bank and other organizations; what kind of political influence will accompany Japan’s economic penetration of all global markets.”
American imperialism is inexorably turning to the use of military force to defend a world position which it no longer has the economic resources to sustain. This combination of economic weakness and military strength is an explosive mixture, and it underlies the increasingly reckless and adventurist character of US foreign policy. The invasion of Panama signals a violent eruption of US imperialism on a global scale. It is a desperate attempt to reassert American domination over all of Latin America, a region that has been the object of imperialist oppression and super-exploitation for 100 years. It is a clear warning that US imperialism intends to fight to preserve its domination of its traditional semi-colonial “backyard,” and that it cannot tolerate even the limited independence of one of its own stooges, a right-wing general on the payroll of the CIA for two decades. US domination of Latin America is threatened by the growing movement of the working class throughout the region against bankrupt, debt-ridden bourgeois regimes. The Latin American working class will not accept the barbaric measures which are required to insure the repayment of debts to the American banks and the continued extraction of imperialist superprofits for American multinational corporations. No less threatening from the standpoint of Wall Street is the increasing penetration of Japanese and West European capital in the region. The invasion of Panama was a warning to the principal rivals of US imperialism, in Europe and Asia, that despite its economic decline, the United States still possesses decisive military advantages.
For more than 40 years, US imperialism has sought to use the auspices of institutions like the United Nations and the Organization of American States to give a multilateral cover for its role as the world policeman for imperialism, in interventions such as the invasion of Korea in 1950, the occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1965, and even the brutal seizure of Grenada in 1983. But in Panama, the United States moved in without the slightest attempt to disguise the unilateral character of its intervention, and in complete disregard for the condemnation of the attack by virtually every Latin American state, to say nothing of Japan and Western Europe.
The invasion of Panama exposes the folly of the pacifist nostrums being spread by the Stalinist bureaucracy under Mikhail Gorbachev. Far from resulting in a more peaceful and reasonable imperialism, the abandonment of even the pretense of an anti-imperialist policy by the Kremlin Stalinists has encouraged the United States to use military force with even greater alacrity. Imperialist war cannot be prevented by diplomacy, “peace” treaties or agreements for the reduction of nuclear weapons.
The interests of the international working class are irreconcilably opposed to those of all the rival imperialist powers. The Workers League and the International Committee fight against all forms of national chauvinism, for the international unity of the working class. This means that in each of the centers of world imperialism, the working class must oppose and work for the defeat of the military adventures of its “own” ruling class. Only the intervention of the working class, fighting on the basis of the program of world socialist revolution and under the leadership of the Fourth International, can prevent this historic catastrophe.
The Oppressed Masses of Africa, Asia and Latin America
The greatest indictment of world imperialism lies in the unspeakable conditions facing the bulk of humanity in the oppressed nations of Africa, Latin America and Asia. From the national development schemes based upon “import substitution” of the 1960s to the brutal “structural adjustment” programs and “export strategies” being dictated by the IMF and the World Bank to these same nations today, capitalism has proven utterly incapable of providing a road out of backwardness and misery for the working masses. According to the estimates of the imperialist lending agencies themselves, the number of human beings living under conditions described as “absolute poverty,” facing starvation and disease and living in self-constructed hovels without the minimum conditions of water and sanitation, has risen to well over one billion.
The sweeping changes which have taken place in the world economy and technology, characterized by the increasing global integration of production, have only served to widen the chasm between the handful of oppressor, exploiting, privileged nations and the great bulk of oppressed and dependent nations. This contradiction, one of the most basic features of the imperialist order, remains an essential driving force of the world socialist revolution today. The parasitic nature of imperialism has never been so transparent. Bank lending to the so-called Third World has fallen from a high of $91.5 billion in 1981 to only $8.8 billion in 1989, the latter being the highest figure for the past five years. The rate of investment as a percentage of Gross National Product in Latin America has fallen from 23.7 between 1974 and 1980 to only 14.2 in 1988. Even the trickle of foreign capital investment is expected to dry up as the imperialists seek to exploit the outlets offered by the capitalist restorationist programs being implemented in Eastern Europe.
Since 1984, the world debt crisis has turned the oppressed countries into net exporters of capital to the advanced capitalist nations, a process which has been described as a “Marshall Plan in reverse.” In 1989, the net outflow from the impoverished countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia reached $52 billion. This is the amount by which interest payments and service fees on a foreign debt which can never be repaid is now exceeding the minuscule amount of new credits being conceded by the imperialist banks. Between 1982 and 1988, the outflow of funds from Latin America alone totaled $178.7 billion.
This tribute exacted by imperialist capital is being paid for through the literal starvation of masses of people. In a recent World Bank report on the grave situation facing the 45 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, with a total population of 450 million people, it was admitted that, “In general, Africans today are almost as poor as they were 30 years ago.” That is, for many of these countries, conditions are as bad or worse than before the end of colonialism, the formal granting of national independence which left their economies still crushed under the weight of imperialist oppression and which consummated none of the historic tasks of national liberation.
According to the International Labor Organization, only 10 percent of Africa’s 250 million labor force is employed in the formal sector. Some 50 countries, the majority of them in Africa, register per capita income levels of $590 or less per year. Over the past 25 years, the gap between per capita income in the advanced capitalist and the oppressed countries has grown dramatically. By 1985, the average income in the advanced capitalist countries was 13 times greater than those in the oppressed nations of Africa, Latin America and Asia. The per capita incomes of the five wealthiest nations are 117 times higher than those of the five poorest—Chad ($90-a-year), Mali ($130), Ethiopia ($110), Nepal ($140) and Bangladesh ($170). In Latin America, conditions are little better. In Mexico, as elsewhere, the working masses have seen their real income cut in half since the explosion of the debt crisis in 1982. Hyperinflation has swept through much of the continent, with Nicaragua setting a new record of 14,295 percent in 1988. Similarly, in Argentina, the cost of living soared by 120 percent in the month of December 1989 alone.
Successive austerity programs drafted by the servile national bourgeoisie under the instructions of the IMF and the Wall Street banks have only served to deepen the indebtedness of these countries, while driving down living standards and raising social polarization to an intolerable level. Repeatedly, the deprivation of the masses has sparked spontaneous revolts of the workers and peasants, such as the February 1989 rebellion by the Venezuelan masses against the starvation program of Carlos Andres Perez, in which over 300 people were gunned down by troops.
These countries are not only oppressed by imperialism, but increasingly have become an economic battleground in the ferocious competition between the rival imperialist powers seeking control of markets, resources and sources of cheap labor. Recently a consortium of Japanese-based multinationals offered to purchase the entire external debt of Brazil in return for exclusive rights to the country’s gold resources. At the same time, the division of the world economy into three major trading blocs has increasingly meant economic marginalization for many of the oppressed nations. The growth of protectionism and the increasing threat of a Fortress America and Fortress Europe have had their harshest impact first in these countries under conditions in which prices for their raw material exports continue to fall to the lowest levels since the Great Depression. While developments in technology have made it increasingly possible for multinational corporations to establish assembly plants in the most backward of the oppressed countries—from Haiti to the Philippines—these facilities offer no solution to the historic crisis of the oppressed nations. Taking the form of off-shore production platforms, these assembly plants are generally completely isolated from the national economies, with parts and materials imported by the foreign capitalist owners and finished products exported back to the imperialist markets.
The turn by the Stalinist bureaucracy under Gorbachev to restorationist policies has been accompanied by the renunciation of even the pretense of a “socialist” or “anti-imperialist” foreign policy. Stalinism long ago betrayed the struggle of the oppressed masses against imperialism and subordinated the interests of the international working class to its diplomatic maneuvers with imperialism, on the basis of the reactionary nationalist program of “socialism in one country,” “peaceful coexistence” and “detente.” However, in so far as the bureaucracy saw its privileges as bound up with the nationalized property established by the October Revolution, it was compelled, in the interests of national defense, to provide minimal economic and military assistance to backward countries and insurgent movements in the colonial and former colonial countries. Such aid was always directed to suppressing the independent revolutionary movement of the working class in these countries and bolstering the treacherous native bourgeoisie. Today, however, the Soviet bureaucracy has established a direct alliance with world imperialism in pursuit of its goal of transforming itself into a new capitalist class within the Soviet Union, and, as a result, has abandoned the so-called Third World entirely to the rapacious plundering of the imperialist banks and multinational corporations. As the US invasion of Panama demonstrates, American imperialism is confident it can intervene militarily to reinforce its domination of oppressed nations without fear of retaliation from the Soviet Union. Washington has already been assured by the Gorbachev leadership that, as far as the Kremlin is concerned, US imperialism can move against Nicaragua and Cuba with impunity.
As a party which conducts its political work in the center of world imperialism, a special responsibility falls upon the Workers League to champion the cause of all oppressed nations, especially those of Latin America and the Caribbean, where Yankee imperialism began and still seeks to exercise hegemonic tyranny. While the Workers League unconditionally defends these nations against imperialism, it cannot do this by solidarizing with the bourgeois governments of these countries nor by giving political support to the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nationalist organizations within them. Standing for the defeat of US imperialism in any war which it wages against an oppressed nation in Latin America or anywhere else in the world, the Workers League seeks to forge its unity with the working class of these countries. Even the most radical variants of petty-bourgeois nationalism have proven their inability and unwillingness to wage a consistent struggle against imperialism. The past year has seen the Palestine Liberation Organization explicitly renounce its own basic democratic program and accept the legitimacy of the Zionist state of Israel while the Nicaraguan Sandinistas have engaged in direct negotiations with the US-financed contra mercenaries and joined with the other Central American bourgeois governments in declaring their support for the death squad regime in El Salvador.
The proletariat alone is capable of leading the oppressed masses in defeating imperialism and freeing their nations from backwardness and misery in unity with the workers of the US and the world. Parties must be built in these countries based on the fundamental strategy of permanent revolution, that in the epoch of imperialism the national democratic tasks of self-determination and liberation from the imperialist yoke can be achieved only through the proletarian revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as part of the world socialist revolution.
The Workers League, recognizing that the defeat of US imperialism is the combined task first and foremost of the workers of the US and their class brothers in Latin America, must spare no effort in assisting the construction of such parties throughout the region, as sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International. The unprecedented mobility of capital and the advent of transnational production, has the most profound revolutionary implications for the working class, having created conditions as never before for uniting the struggles of the workers in imperialist centers with those of the workers and oppressed in the backward countries.
For the working class, the integration of the world market means that conditions in the oppressor countries cannot be walled off from those in the oppressed. While the vast wealth extracted from the colonies and semi-colonies has always gone into the profits of the banks and corporations, in the past a portion could be used to grant concessions to a privileged layer within the working class of the imperialist countries. Today, the worker in the US is being told that he must bring his wages into line with those of workers in Asia or Latin America in order to remain competitive on a world labor market. And the capitalist can back up their demands with the threat to move production facilities from the imperialist countries to Mexico, Thailand or any number of cheap labor reserves in the oppressed nations. This development of the world crisis has now made both possible and urgently necessary the conscious unification of the struggles of the North American proletariat and those of the proletariat and peasantry in Latin America and internationally on a scale never before possible. This means building the International Committee of the Fourth International as the leadership of the world socialist revolution.
American Capitalism in Decay
The most obvious indicators of the decline of American capitalism are the balance of trade deficit and federal budget deficit. The federal budget deficit ballooned to over $200 billion in 1983 and has remained between $150 billion and $200 billion each year. The national debt more than doubled under the Reagan administration, rising from under $1 trillion—the accumulated deficits of all previous administrations back to 1789—to more than $2 trillion. It is expected to hit $3 trillion under Bush in 1990.
This massive indebtedness means that the functioning of the American government, its industry and banking system are economically dependent on its competitors, especially Germany and Japan. The record stock market crash of October 19, 1987 marked the further decline in Wall Street’s world position relative to its rivals, especially Japan. Since the fall of 1987, the Tokyo stock exchange has by far surpassed Wall Street as the world’s largest stock market. The stock market crash of October 13, 1989 was directly precipitated by hostile moves on the part of Bonn and Tokyo to protect their currencies against a rise in the dollar, and the refusal of the major Japanese banks to join in the financing of the leveraged buyout of United Air Lines.
Between 1981 and 1986 the US share of world exports slumped from over 20 percent to 13.8 percent, while imports surged, fueled by the consumer spending boom which followed the slump of 1981-83. The US balance of trade deficit, considered a major economic problem in 1982 when it was $36 billion, more than tripled in the next three years, and has remained above $110 billion a year from 1985 on. This financial hemorrhage transformed the United States from a net creditor of nearly $100 billion in 1980 to a net debtor of more than $500 billion by the end of 1989. The trade deficit is concentrated in the manufacturing industries—auto, steel, electronics, heavy equipment—where American capitalism is most vulnerable. In many areas of basic industry, US production has fallen in absolute terms.
In auto production, the US share of world production has fallen from 79 percent in 1950, to 28 percent in 1970, when European production exceeded that of the United States, and 24 percent in 1980, when Japan passed the US total as well. Today the US share of world auto output is barely 20 percent. The overall share of the Big Three in the US market has fallen from 84 percent to 69 percent in this decade, with GM’s share plunging from 46 percent in 1980 to 35 percent in 1989, and below 32 percent in November 1989. In steel, the US share of world production fell from 39.3 percent in 1955 to 16.4 percent in 1975 to 8.4 percent in 1984. The actual output of raw steel fell to 81,606,000 tons in 1986, down 38 percent from the postwar high in 1970. US production of other key metals also declined, with copper production in 1986 down 27 percent, lead production down 38 percent and zinc production down 67 percent. US production of cotton, wool and artificial fibers has also fallen as a percentage of world production, and the United States has lost its position as the preeminent producer of the most advanced noncellulosic fibers.
Even these figures mask the true extent of the decline of American industry, since a larger and larger proportion of domestic production is by companies owned by foreign rather than US capitalists. Foreign ownership of US assets doubled in the 1980s, rising from 6.1 percent in 1980 to 12.7 percent in 1988. The huge outflow of dollars to pay for the balance of trade deficit led to an influx of dollars held by foreign capitalists, who bought up factories, real estate, stocks and bonds. In 1980, the total direct foreign investment in US plants and equipment was $54 billion, while ownership of corporate stock and debt was $53 billion. By 1988, these figures had risen to $262 billion and $345 billion respectively.
Some industries have been completely or partially transformed by the surge of foreign capital. Between 1980 and 1988, the percentage of the chemical industry controlled by foreign-owned companies rose from 20 percent to 45 percent. Over similar periods, foreign ownership rose from 12 percent to 50 percent in the stone, clay and glass industry, from zero to 40 percent in the rubber industry, from 6 percent to 21 percent in primary metals, from 12 percent to 15 percent in petroleum and coal, from 5 percent to 12 percent in printing and publishing, from 5 percent to 11 percent in electrical machinery, and from 4 percent to 10 percent in food and tobacco. In 1980, no Japanese automobiles were manufactured in the United States. In 1990, Japanese transplants will account for 10 percent of the industry, and an estimated 12-15 percent of capacity in 1991. Japanese transplants have raised capacity four-fold since 1982, while Big Three auto makers have cut capacity by 3 percent in the same period.
The hallmark of American capitalism in the 1980s has been parasitism on a gargantuan scale, with vast fortunes being made, not from new technology and the development of the productive forces, but from ever more elaborate forms of manipulation of paper assets. The wave of leveraged buyouts and mergers has been the most obvious form of a speculative orgy in which vast amounts of capital have been raised through the inflation of stock and bond values, and huge interest payments on loans, independent of and, in most cases, at the direct expense of the productive capacity of the merged or bought-out companies. Inevitably the price for such speculative transactions is paid by the workers, in the form of mass layoffs, pay cuts, speedup and union busting.
The rise in the national debt was only a portion of the vast increase in all forms of indebtedness, by corporations, individuals and all levels of government, from $4.1 trillion in 1979 to more than $8.2 trillion in 1986, and close to $10 trillion today. Consumer debt in 1989 is 80 percent of GNP, compared to 62 percent in 1984 and 65 percent at the end of the 1981-82 recession. In 1983-86, during the so-called economic recovery, corporate debt increased by $483.4 billion while corporate stock equity declined by $226.1 billion, meaning that American companies were more and more dependent on short-term credit, and more and more vulnerable to the next recession. Interest payments by the federal government to the American and international banks have been the fastest-growing portion of the federal budget.
While vast profits have been made in Wall Street takeover bids, Pentagon contracting and outright swindling of savings and loan institutions and government agencies like HUD, the US financial system continues to deteriorate. Bank failures have skyrocketed geometrically, from an average of a dozen a year in the 1970s to a high of more than 200 in 1988 and 1989. The biggest bailout of all is the rescue of the savings and loan institutions, estimated at more than $300 billion—more than the entire foreign debt of any country but the United States.
The speculative boom of the 1980s has marked a level of parasitism far beyond what Lenin described in his analysis of imperialism in 1915, when he characterized imperialism as the stage of moribund capitalism. Parasitism signifies the accumulation of paper values, and profits based on such values, separated from the production of real value, which can be derived only from the extraction of surplus value from the exploitation of the labor power of the working class at the point of production. The vast edifice of such paper values represents a claim on the surplus value to be extracted from workers in the future. This means a brutal intensification of the rate of exploitation of the working class. But no degree of exploitation can generate sufficient real value to back the mountains of paper values generated by means of uncontrolled speculation. Inevitably the entire financial house of cards must come tumbling down in the form of a collapse of the stock markets and banking systems, and a new Depression which wipes out large sections of the productive forces along with the paper values.
Social Polarization in the United States
The Reagan “economic recovery” produced a record number both of millionaires and of homeless people. After six years of recovery—and at the onset of a new and more devastating recession—the crowds are greater than ever at the homeless shelters and soup kitchens in every major city. The social polarization of the 1980s is demonstrated by the shares of national income received by each fifth of the population, as recorded in the 1980 census and subsequent studies. The changes, between 1980 and 1988 in the income percentage collected by each fifth of the population were:
Highest Fifth: 41.6 (1980), 44.0 (1988)
Second Fifth: 24.3 (1980), 24.0 (1988)
Middle Fifth: 17.5 (1980), 16.7 (1988)
Second lowest Fifth: 11.6 (1980), 10.7 (1988)
Lowest: 5.1 (1980), 4.6 (1988)
This chart shows the vast disparity in income which prevails in the United States, with the wealthiest 20 percent—essentially the ruling class and the most privileged sections of the middle class—monopolizing nearly half the national income, ten times the income of the poorest 20 percent—those on welfare, the unemployed, the disabled, and millions living in poverty.
Real wage levels for American workers have fallen steadily since the postwar peak in 1972, and now are at the level of the early 1960s. The 1980s saw a sharp fall in living standards during the 1981-83 recession, and then a slower slide during the so-called recovery. For younger people, real income fell even more sharply. As incomes fell, both the number and the percentage of people living below the official government poverty line has increased. The percentage of people living in poverty rose from 11.7 percent in 1979 to 13.1 percent in 1988, and the total number of poor people rose from 24.5 million to 31.9 million. Throughout the decade, the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress collaborated to keep the minimum wage frozen at the ludicrous level of $3.35 an hour. The result was that by 1987 there were 1.9 million workers with full-time, year-round jobs who earned less than the official poverty level, $11,611 for a family of four.
The starkest expression of social decay in America is the growth of homelessness. In every major city there are tens of thousands of people who inhabit bus or subway stations, steam tunnels, doorways, abandoned buildings or live in shacks, tents or cars. Every winter cold wave brings dozens of victims of death by freezing. The explosion in homelessness is not merely the result of economic slump. It is the direct result of the budget cuts in housing programs, the looting of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the destruction of low-income housing through the gentrification of many urban residential areas. The anarchy of capitalist production is clearly manifested in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of units of low-income housing over the last ten years, while billions have been squandered on the real estate boom, building high rise offices, many of which stand virtually empty. In New York City in the 1980s, while the homeless population swelled to nearly 100,000, commercial developers have built 45 million square feet of new office space in Manhattan alone, and not a single unit of low-cost housing. The slide into a new round of slump will add millions to the army of homeless.
While the most advanced medical techniques and facilities are available in the United States—for those who can afford them—the vast majority of American workers have less access to decent health care than workers in any other major capitalist country. Thirty-seven million people have neither health insurance nor coverage by Medicare and Medicaid, meaning that they have no guaranteed access to doctors and hospitals unless they pay cash. Cuts in Medicare and Medicaid have forced the closure of hundreds of US hospitals, cutting off medical services in many rural and inner-city areas. The effects of both deteriorating medical care and worsening diet can be seen throughout the US population. In comparison with Canada, Britain, Japan, Sweden and West Germany, the US has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rate. Infant mortality rates are above 30 per thousand births in many neighborhoods of cities such as Washington, DC and Detroit, equal to Third World levels.
One of the most important measures of a society is its treatment of children and youth. The decay of American capitalism has its crudest impact on the new generation. Child poverty has risen even more rapidly than for adults, from 20.5 percent to 23.3 percent between 1980 and 1988. Twelve million children, 20 percent of the total, have no health care insurance. Some 40 percent of US children under four years old have not been immunized against common childhood diseases. Only one government “service” for children is on the increase—state custody in foster homes, juvenile detention centers and mental health facilities, where nearly half a million children now live. That figure is expected to reach 840,000 by 1995 if the trend continues. The number of children committed to juvenile detention centers rose 27 percent from 1979 to 1987, while the number in mental health facilities soared 60 percent in a similar period. Reports of abused or neglected children rose 82 percent to 2.2 million between 1981 and 1988.
Retired workers also face mounting attacks on their living standards, signaled by the swift elimination of catastrophic care coverage for Medicare recipients in the fall of 1989, the first time that a major program for the elderly has been eliminated since Social Security was first established in 1935. Even at present levels, Social Security insures only a retirement of abject poverty, and millions of retired workers remain dependent on employer-funded pension plans which are in mounting financial difficulty. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has been forced to pick up so many underfunded pension plans that the agency is running a $4 billion deficit. Since the passage of the ERISA law providing federal backing to private pension plans in 1974, more than 1,345 plans have been terminated, forcing the PBGC to take over benefit payments to 355,000 workers, frequently at reduced levels.
The United States was the major capitalist country with the least developed social welfare state, even in the heyday of the postwar boom. What little social “safety net” existed was quickly shredded in the 1980s by the combination of bipartisan budget cuts and the deepest recession since the 1930s. While the number of poor children rose 26 percent between 1978 and 1986, welfare payments through AFDC fell 26 percent during the same period. 40 percent of children living in poverty are not eligible for AFDC welfare payments today, compared to 16 percent in 1973. Similar declines can be demonstrated in every social welfare program. The percentage of unemployed workers eligible for unemployment compensation has fallen from over 75 percent in the 1973-75 recession to 50 percent in 1980 to 31.5 percent in 1988, as benefit restrictions were tightened and the average period of unemployment lengthened to far beyond the statutory limit of 26 weeks of compensation. At the same time, compensation levels fell further behind average wages, dropping to 35 percent of the average weekly wage in 1988.
The Threat of State Repression
Side by side with mounting poverty and social inequality goes the buildup of the state apparatus, the body of armed men which enforces the class domination of big business. Spending on police, both public and private, rose from $27.7 billion to $47.2 billion between 1979 and 1986. Between 1970 and 1988, the number of local, state and federal policemen rose from 400,000 to 670,000. The number of private police and security guards rocketed from under 50,000 to 480,000, bringing the total number of police in the United States to 1.15 million. At the same time, the number of prisoners in city, state and federal jails passed the one million mark in 1989, and construction of new prisons is the largest “growth industry” in many states.
The real content of bourgeois democracy as the dictatorship of the capitalist class over the vast majority of exploited workers is emerging in this social crisis more clearly than ever. Huge majorities in Congress ratify gargantuan financial payoffs to the wealthy—cuts in tax rates, the savings and loan bailout—while solemnly pronouncing that “there is no money” for vital social programs. The two-party system is controlled and manipulated by Wall Street, while the vast majority of working people are politically disenfranchised.
The state machine is itself the breeding ground for attacks on democratic rights. The Iran-Contra affair revealed how far the preparations for military-police dictatorship in the United States have already advanced. Lt. Col. Oliver North, the prototype of the fascist-minded military officers who head death squads in Latin America, drafted plans for the suspension of constitutional rights and the declaration of martial law in the United States, in the event of widespread domestic opposition to a war by US imperialism, including the establishment of concentration camps for opponents of US government policy. There is no doubt that these contingency plans are being refined and elaborated as part of the invasion of Panama.
The attack on democratic rights is the inevitable consequence of the eruption of US militarism. Just as Wall Street can no longer tolerate the slightest display of independence in its international sphere of influence, it can no longer afford the luxury of democratic forms of rule at home. The ruling class must use the same methods to deal with its domestic enemies as with its international opponents. Significantly, the Army general in charge of “mopping up” operations in Panama City, in explaining the difficulties being encountered by US troops, compared the resistance there to the 1967 Detroit riot.
The coverup of the Iran-Contra affair, with its secret paramilitary operations utilizing the resources of a vast “state within the state,” demonstrated that the institutions of bourgeois democracy—Congress, the court system, the special prosecutor, etc.—are not the defenders of the democratic rights of the working class, but coconspirators against these rights, which were won in bitter class struggle over more than a century. As the bourgeoisie moves further and further to the right, the tendencies to Bonapartist and extraconstitutional rule will become more and more pronounced.
The onslaught of the capitalist state against democratic rights is most flagrant in the ongoing attacks on the labor movement. In the space of five months, three workers were murdered by police and scabs in major struggles of the labor movement: Edward Horgan, run over by a scab on August 14 in the NYNEX strike; Roger Hell, arrested on frame-up charges in the construction workers struggle in International Falls, Minnesota, was strangled in his jail cell October 30; John McCoy, a miner on strike for five years at A.T. Massey, was shot to death January 16 while picketing a scab coal company. Nine miners on strike at Milbum Collieries have been framed up and threatened with virtual life terms. Thousands of miners have been arrested in the Pittston strike, with Virginia state troopers enforcing a police state so brutal that one local sheriff warned that it would produce a mass rebellion. The refusal of the Louisiana authorities to release Gary Tyler, the 31-year-old victim of a patently racist frame-up who has already spent 15 years in Angola State Penitentiary, is part of the ruling class’s policy of whipping up racism and encouraging the growth of the most reactionary and fascistic forces.
American Labor Movement
The American labor movement faces a crisis of historic proportions. The AFL-CIO bureaucracy is responsible for a decade of betrayals and defeats which have brought the labor movement to the brink of destruction. Beginning with the Chrysler bailout and concessions contract a decade ago, the bureaucrats have collaborated with the corporations and the government to make the working class pay the price for the decay of American capitalism. It has isolated and sabotaged every struggle of the working class, from the PATCO strike of 1981 to the strikes at Eastern and Pittston in 1989. The list of major straggles in the 1980s which have been defeated because of the treachery of the trade union bureaucracy includes Phelps Dodge, Continental Airlines and Greyhound in 1983; A.T. Massey in 1984-85; United Airlines, Pan American Airlines, the Chicago Tribune, Hormel, and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel in 1985-86; TWA, Colt Firearms, USX Steel, IBP and Patrick Cudahy in 1986-87; John Morrell and International Paper in 1987-88. To this list must be added countless local strikes which ended in wage cuts and concessions or the destruction of the unions and the replacement of the strikers by scabs.
Throughout the 1980s the bureaucracy’s policy of betrayal has had two basic aspects: the industrial isolation of every section of the working class that enters into straggle, and the political subordination of these straggles to its alliance with the Democratic Party. Labor Department strike statistics released in 1989 graphically prove that the bureaucracy has systematically intervened to suppress the straggle of the working class. The Labor Department reported that the number of major strikes, involving 1,000 or more workers, dropped in 1988 to 40, the lowest in the 41 years since the government began compiling the figures. Calling the drop in strikes a change of “historic proportions,” a Labor Department spokesman pointed out that the average number of such strikes per year has declined in every decade since the 1950s.
Even more significant, the number of strikes continued to plunge between 1985 and 1988, declining from an average of 88 from 1981 through 1985, to 69 in 1986, 46 in 1987, and 40 in 1988. Whereas in every previous period, a return to economic expansion and profitability and a decline in unemployment have been accompanied by a rise in the level of industrial struggles, as the working class fought to recoup the erosion in its living standards, the so-called Reagan recovery, which saw record profits in one industry after another, has not produced a reversal in the policy of the bureaucracy. On the contrary, the bureaucrats have demanded even greater sacrifices in the name of making American capitalism competitive in the worldwide struggle against its capitalist rivals.
These statistics bring sharply into focus the experience of the past decade. From the standpoint of the history of the American labor movement, the 1980s has been one of the most explosive decades in history. The low figures on the number of strikes did not reflect a period of class peace, but the role of the bureaucracy in suppressing and sabotaging the class struggle. When strikes broke out despite the bureaucratic straitjacket, they were of a very different character than most of the strikes and union organizing campaigns of the postwar period—bitter and protracted confrontations in which the employers hired scabs, replaced and fired strikers, and employed gun-thugs and police to carry out violent attacks on picket lines.
The impact of the bureaucracy’s betrayals on the labor movement has been disastrous. Union membership as a percentage of the nonfarm civilian work force has plummeted to 16.8 percent, compared to 35.5 percent in 1945 and 33.2 percent in 1955, the year of the AFL-CIO merger. More than 10 million workers have lost their jobs over the past decade alone, as plant closures and mass layoffs have devastated steel, coal, auto, rubber, meatpacking, telecommunications, transport and virtually every other industry. Between 1978 and 1988 UAW membership at the Big Three fell 30 percent. In UAW President Owen Bieber’s report to the 1989 UAW constitutional convention, the bureaucracy projected that by 1992 its total membership in the auto industry will have declined by another 207,000, bringing its loss since 1978 to 54 percent. Over 500,000 members of the United Steelworkers have lost their jobs in the 1980s, and USWA membership in the basic steel industry has declined from 450,000 to 167,000, a drop of 63 percent. UMWA membership has declined by over 50 percent since the 111-day coal strike in 1977-78.
Throughout basic industry, scab production has taken root and flourished, while the percentage of unionized labor has fallen sharply. In the mines, the UMWA today accounts for less than 33 percent of coal production. Nonunion production represents nearly two-thirds of auto parts production, and for the first time in nearly 50 years a large section of auto assembly is nonunion. Solidarity House’s pro-management policies have so discredited the union that the UAW lost its drive to organize the Nissan plant in Tennessee by a two-to-one margin.
The bureaucracy has abandoned the tradition no contract, no work, spits on the sanctity of the picket line and opposes strike action even when companies rip up contracts and impose concessions. One of the greatest conquests of the labor movement—the national master contract—is a thing of the past in auto, steel, mining, trucking, meatpacking, rubber, telecommunications and every other major industry. The unions have given up the most basic gains of past decades: the annual wage increase, COLA, uniform wage rates, seniority rights, work rules, job classifications, health and safety protection. They are abandoning employer-paid health benefits. Elementary conquests of the working class achieved even prior to the formation of the mass industrial unions—such as the eight-hour day, child labor safeguards, the ban on at-home sweatshop labor, and even a legal minimum wage—are being handed back to the employers.
At the same time the factories are being transformed into industrial concentration camps, in which workers are driven to an early grave by the brutal level of speedup. The rate of injuries in industrial accidents has risen by more than 50 percent in the last 25 years. Over the past four years there has been a 57 percent jump in injuries among underground coal miners. The result is a vast increase in the rate of exploitation of the working class in the United States, to the point
where the steel bosses boast that they can produce steel more cheaply in the US than they can import it from Taiwan. The UAW leadership reports with pride the indices of its treachery: factory output per employee-hour in the auto industry up by 28 percent over the past decade, labor cost per unit produced down by 4.6 percent. Ford Motor Company’s rate of return on investment went from 3 percent in the early 1980s to over 12 percent in 1988. The increase in the rate of exploitation in the mines has been, if anything, even more dramatic. West Virginia coal operators reported a 20-year high output in 1988 of 144.5 million tons. This means that almost as much coal was mined in 1988 as in 1968, by a work force that had declined by 41 percent.
The quantitative accumulation of betrayals and defeats and the ever-expanding web of labor-management collaboration have produced a qualitative transformation in the relationship of the bureaucracy to the ruling class on the one side, and the working class on the other. The union leadership, from the highest levels of the AFL-CIO down to the local union officials, is being fully integrated into the structure of corporate management. The union bureaucracy today seeks to demonstrate to the employers its value as an apparatus for disciplining the work force, with a section of union bureaucrats transformed directly into corporate executives and managers, who receive lucrative kickbacks from the brutalization and impoverishment of the workers they supposedly represent.
The transformed role of the trade union bureaucracy has been expressed most clearly in the Eastern strike and the attempt of the pilots’ leadership to engineer a so-called workers buyout of United Airlines. At Eastern the leadership of the unions in no sense negotiated to defend the jobs, wages and benefits of the workers. From the beginning it bargained on its own behalf, seeking to protect its privileges and gain posts in corporate management. The bureaucrats sought to use the strike as a bargaining chip to bring in a new owner who would agree to use them as part of management to police the work force. As an inducement, the IAM, ALPA and TWU bureaucrats offered some $400 million in concessions, nearly double those demanded by Eastern boss Frank Lorenzo, plus $75 million in union pension funds. When these efforts failed, the ALPA and TWU bureaucrats, with the backing of the AFL-CIO and connivance of the IAM leadership, called off their sympathy strikes and completed their betrayal of the Eastern Machinists.
At United, the ALPA bureaucrats entered into the kind of deal they were seeking at Eastern. In addition to an immediate pay cut of 10 percent, an increase in flight hours, a cut in vacation days, increased out of pocket costs for workers’ medical care, sweeping work rule changes to boost productivity, and the use of $200 million in pilots’ pension funds to help finance the buyout, the agreement included a no-strike clause plus the guarantee that United pilots would cross the picket lines of all other unions.
The turn of the trade union bureaucracy to both corporatism and the most ferocious forms of economic nationalism and chauvinism is the direct translation within the labor movement of the needs of American imperialism. Cutting American workers off from their class brothers all over the world, the economic nationalism of the bureaucracy blocks all forms of international trade union solidarity. Already international unions like the UAW, which once represented workers from the United States and Canada, have fractured along national lines, because of the reactionary policies of the bureaucrats on both sides of the border. The bureaucracy’s policies pit union against union, workers at one company against workers at another, and within the same company, workers in different regions, plants or even departments against each other. Its logic is the complete atomization of the working class. At the same time the bureaucracy helps stoke up antagonism between black, Hispanic and white workers within the United States, with its anti-immigrant and anti-foreign demagogy, encouraging the growth of the most right-wing racist and fascistic forces.
The new wave of mergers in the labor movement in the 1980s, with the UAW, Teamsters and United Mine Workers affiliating or reaffiliating with the AFL-CIO, had nothing to do with the unification of the working class for the purpose of waging a struggle against the class enemy. It signified rather the rallying by the bureaucracy of its forces in the face of the growing threat of a rank-and-file insurrection from below. In this case the instincts of the bureaucracy for its self-preservation were correct. Following the unmistakable signs of an emerging working class rebellion against the Social Democratic labor bureaucracies in Australia, France and Britain and the explosions of working class revolt which have brought the Stalinist bureaucracies of Eastern Europe to the point of collapse, the next bureaucratic prop of capitalist rule established at the end of World War II to crumble in the face of a working class rebellion will be the AFL-CIO bureaucracy.
The AFL-CIO bureaucrats are direct collaborators in the crimes of US imperialism against the working class all over the world. The 1989 AFL-CIO Convention was devoted to celebrating the role of Lane Kirkland and the rest of the imperialist agents in the union leadership in aiding the plans of Wall Street to inflict the most barbaric attacks on the working class of Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe and restore unfettered capitalist exploitation in these countries. Through such labor-CIA fronts as the American Institute for Free Labor Development, the African American Labor Center and the Asian American Free Labor Institute, they act to undermine the labor movements in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and prop up pro-US right-wing dictatorships.
The growing interimperialist economic and trade warfare is leading inevitably, as it did twice before in this century, to a shooting war between the rival national gangs of capitalist gangsters. The ferocious national chauvinism of the bureaucracy shows that it is seeking to chain the working class to the war chariot of American imperialism. Their final betrayal goes beyond even their collaboration in the destruction of the unions and living standards, as they line up to become recruiting sergeants for the imperialist war machine, and turn the younger generation of the working class into cannon fodder in behalf of Wall Street’s international interests.
The Coming Revolutionary Upsurge
All of the bureaucracy’s treachery, however, is powerless to restore vitality to moribund American capitalism. Its historical decline continues and accelerates, creating conditions for unprecedented revolutionary struggles within the United States. The onset of recession in the auto industry, spreading to every sector of the economy, will drive the attack on jobs, wages, social programs, trade union and democratic rights to a fever pitch. At the same time, it will fuel the growing indignation of millions of workers to the point of a social explosion, and this mass movement will take the form of a rank-and-file rebellion against the bankrupt trade union leadership.
For decades the political development of the American working class was held back and the class struggle kept in check through the collaboration of the trade union bureaucracy and the relatively high living standards which were made possible by the US dominance of the world market. But today US imperialism seeks to regain its world position on the basis of the most ferocious assault on the working class, abandoning its decades-long policy of reformism and adopting policies of class warfare. The systematic impoverishment of the working class, carried out as the deliberate policy of the American bourgeoisie, will radicalize millions of workers in the coming period.
The first signs of this insurgency appeared in 1989, a year of bitter and protracted struggles, beginning with the Eastern Airlines strike in March, in which the bureaucracy has done everything in its power to suppress the growing resistance of the working class, but was unable to completely strangle one strike before the next confrontation between labor and capital erupted. Thus UMWA President Richard Trumka was compelled to call a selective strike against Pittston in April. Miners throughout the coal fields took matters into their own hands in June and carried out a wave of wildcat strikes in defiance of Trumka that virtually shut down the mines for a month. No sooner had the Trumka leadership succeeded in stamping out the wildcat than nearly 200,000 telephone workers were out on strike. Within a few weeks, hundreds of union construction workers and their supporters stormed a trailer camp for scabs at the Boise Cascade mill on the Canadian border in International Falls, Minnesota. The bureaucrats denounced the strikers as “animals,” but they were unable to crush their strike before the 50,000-strong IAM membership at Boeing walked out.
The working class is with increasing frequency defying the defeatist policies of the bureaucracy and seeking to mobilize its strength independently. Every such eruption, such as the Pittston and International Falls wildcats, has been met with the most ferocious repression on the part of the capitalist state, and the refusal of the union leadership to defend the victims of state frame-ups and violence. Thus the working class enters the 1990s, a new period of revolutionary struggle nationally and on a world scale, having gone through an entire decade of strategic experiences in which the reformist trade union bureaucracy has exposed itself before the rank and file as nothing but the police force of the employers and the government.
The very survival of the labor movement requires the repudiation of the nationalist and pro-capitalist program of the bureaucracy. This requires the organization of a rank-and-file insurrection to drive the fifth column bureaucrats out of the unions, and the construction of a new, revolutionary leadership from among the most class conscious sections of the working class. This is the immediate practical task which confronts the Workers League. The Workers League must fight for the ideas and program of proletarian internationalism and win the best elements of the working class for Trotskyism. The Workers League provides the organizational form through which the American workers can unite with their class brothers internationally—building the world party of socialist revolution, the Fourth International, led by the International Committee.
For a Labor Party and Workers Government
The basic program which the Workers League brings to the American working class is the program of world socialist revolution. Flowing from this perspective, the fight waged by the Workers League for the political independence of the working class through the building of a Labor Party based on a revolutionary socialist program is of enormous political importance. The bureaucracy’s suppression of the working class on the basis of a nationalist and corporatist policy is bound up inseparably with its political subordination of the labor movement to the bourgeoisie and its two-party system, primarily by means of its alliance with the Democratic Party. The Workers League fights for the building of a mass Labor Party to establish a workers’ government and socialist policies, as the central tactic for mobilizing the working class on the basis of the internationalist strategy of the Fourth International, of breaking the working class from the political tutelage of the bourgeoisie, and from the reformist and nationalist conceptions which it promotes in the working class through the medium of the bureaucracy and its various petty-bourgeois radical agencies.
In fighting for the building of a Labor Party based on socialist policies, the Workers League calls at the same time for the full industrial mobilization of the working class. To advance the fight for the combined industrial and political mobilization of the working class, we call for the convening of a Congress of Labor, with rank-and-file delegates from the unions, as well as representatives of the unorganized and unemployed workers and youth, to coordinate the struggles of the working class on a national scale, fight for their unity with the struggles of workers internationally, and launch an independent Labor Party based on a socialist program. The bureaucrats cite antilabor laws, the courts, the NLRB and escalating state repression against the labor movement as their excuse for abandoning any struggle against union busting, concessions and mass layoffs. Workers must draw the opposite conclusion. They must reject the bureaucracy’s treacherous policy of isolating every straggle, and fight instead to unleash the industrial power of the working class in mass picketing, factory occupations and the calling of a nationwide general strike against government-backed union busting.
While placing the demand for the building of a Labor Party on the AFL-CIO leadership, workers must have no illusions that the trade union bureaucracy will carry out a political break from the bourgeoisie. The establishment of a mass Labor Party to mobilize the working class on the basis of socialist policies is indissolubly bound up with an uncompromising straggle to expel the bureaucracy from the labor movement and build a new, revolutionary leadership.
The working class must make a clean break from every section of the Democratic Party, and every brand of capitalist politician. That includes the charlatan and middle class demagogue Jesse Jackson. Brought forward by the ruling class and boosted by sections of the trade union bureaucracy as a political lightning rod to divert the anger of the working class and keep it politically chained to the capitalist Democratic Party, Jackson, like every other Democratic politician, defends the interests of American imperialism around the world and at home. Under no conditions will the Workers League lend the slightest support to Jackson. In fact, the political mobilization of the working class to fight for its real interests is inseparable from an irreconcilable struggle to dispel whatever illusions exist among workers in Jackson and his so-called Rainbow Coalition.
The movement of significant sections of the trade union bureaucracy behind the 1988 presidential candidacy of Jackson within the Democratic Party, and the headlong rush of the revisionists and petty-bourgeois radicals to his support, already express in embryo the type of bourgeois third-party movement which could emerge as the social crisis deepens and the ruling class finds itself in need of a new lightning rod for mass discontent. Such a party, controlled by the bourgeoisie and dominated by a capitalist candidate, could even take the name “Labor Party.” In the aftermath of the election debacle for Dukakis and the Democrats, OCAW Secretary-Treasurer Anthony Mazzocchi, a left-talking Jackson supporter with close ties to petty-bourgeois radical outfits such as Labor Notes, Socialist Action and the SWP, publicly stated that the unions should consider forming a so-called Labor Party, behind Jackson and other Democratic Party liberals. The Workers League is opposed to the formation of a reformist Labor Party, such as the British Labour Party, the Australian Labor Party or the New Democratic Party in Canada. The formation of such a party will not represent a progressive step, but rather a new trap for the working class. Against those in the labor movement who advocate such a party, we insist on the building of a Labor Party based on a revolutionary socialist and internationalist program.
The Workers League opposes all conceptions of an electoral or parliamentary road to socialism. The working class can only undertake the construction of a socialist society by taking political power through a mass revolutionary movement to establish a workers government. A workers government would abolish the institutions of the capitalist state and establish a new form of state, a workers state, based on the democratically elected representatives of the working class, organized in workers councils, and defended by a workers militia controlled by trade unions which had been purged of the bureaucracy. This is the dictatorship of the proletariat, the democratic rule of the vast majority of workers and the suppression of the tiny minority of capitalist exploiters.
Petty-Bourgeois Agents of Imperialism
Every petty-bourgeois radical tendency that operates within the labor movement, from the Stalinist Communist Party and the police-controlled Socialist Workers Party to the host of pseudo-socialist groups such as Labor Notes, Spark, Workers World and Socialist Action, has in the course of the 1980s joined forces with the trade union bureaucracy in betraying the working class. They all promote in one form or another the reactionary nationalism of the bourgeoisie and the trade union bureaucracy, thus revealing their anti-working class social character and their political role as auxiliary agencies of imperialism.
In many cases, these groups have been directly integrated into the bureaucratic apparatus. In the UAW the radical groups are working with the New Directions faction of the bureaucracy, and in the Teamsters, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, run by former members of the now-defunct state capitalist International Socialists, has been tapped by the federal government to help in the replacement of the old clique of mafia gangsters in the union leadership with new servants of American imperialism.
The 1988 elections were a watershed in the polarization between the petty-bourgeois radicals and the working class. The opposed movement of these groups to the right, and of the working class to the left, was expressed most clearly in the 30 percent increase over 1984 in the vote for the Workers League presidential candidate, Ed Winn, and the fall in the vote for all of the other groups claiming to be socialist. The Communist Party for the first time in 20 years did not even run its own candidates, the better to support the Democrats. All of the other radical groups, whether they ran candidates or not, lined up behind the trade union bureaucracy’s campaign for the Democrats, supporting the petty-bourgeois demagogue Jesse Jackson and the Democrats’ eventual candidate, Michael Dukakis.
The sharpest expression of the polarization between the working class and these middle class tendencies is their unanimous support for the reactionary provocation against the labor movement carried out by the SWP in the form of the Mark Curtis defense campaign. All of them rush to the defense of an SWP leader who was caught in the act of raping a 15-year-old black working class youth and convicted on the basis of the testimony of the victim and her 11-year-old brother. Moreover, they use the Curtis case as the banner behind which they unite to denounce the Workers League as “outside the labor movement,” encouraging political and physical attacks on our movement by the forces of the capitalist state and the trade union bureaucracy.
In its public attack on the Workers League, warning the trade union bureaucracy that the revolutionary party will recruit and grow among workers hostile to the bureaucracy’s betrayals, the Socialist Workers Party has further revealed its role as an intelligence-gathering agency for US imperialism, directed against the workers movement. The more the working class breaks free of the bureaucratic straitjacket, the more the ruling class will turn to methods of violence and provocation against the revolutionary party. The mass of evidence of US government control of the SWP, accumulated through the investigation into Security and the Fourth International and the Gelfand case, must be used to alert the working class to the dangers of state spying and to drive the government agents out of the labor movement.
Build the Workers League!
The intersection of the worldwide radicalization of the working class and the struggle for revolutionary principles by the International Committee of the Fourth International is demonstrated in the growing response to the program of world socialist revolution as it is taken into the workers movement by the sections of the ICFI. In East Germany, the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter, German section of the ICFI, has won a mass audience for its call for the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy in a political revolution, and the unification of the German working class, East and West, in a common struggle for socialism. The BSA has exposed the role of the petty-bourgeois democrats like the New Forum, and the Pabloites, who join forces with the Stalinists on a program of capitalist restoration. In Sri Lanka, the Revolutionary Communist League is the only political force fighting for a united front of workers organizations to defend the working class against military and fascist violence. The RCL has won the leadership of important sections of workers, such as the Central Bank Employees Union. The Socialist Labour League, Australian section of the ICR, plays a decisive role in the upsurge of the working class against the trade union bureaucrats and the social-democratic traitors in the Australian Labor Party. The growing influence of the SLL in the labor movement was demonstrated in the 14-week occupation of the Cockatoo Island dockyard in Sydney.
The protracted struggle of the Workers League for revolutionary internationalism and Marxist principles, against the trade union bureaucracy and its middle class radical accomplices, has defined the party as the pole of attraction for the most class-conscious sections of the working class. In every major struggle of the labor movement in the 1980s, from the PATCO, strike to the strikes by Pittston miners and Eastern Airlines workers, the Workers League has intervened to warn workers of the treacherous role of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy and to provide a revolutionary alternative. At each point, the Workers League’s policies have been vindicated in the experience of the working class and have been recognized as correct by the most militant and politically conscious workers.
The more powerful the rebellion of the working class against the bureaucracy, the more it has responded to the revolutionary program of the Workers League. In June 1989, the Workers League intervened at a mass rally of miners and other trade unionists in Charleston, West Virginia, campaigning for a national miners’ strike to defend the Pittston miners. The following Monday, thousands of miners in the Charleston area began a wildcat strike which soon spread throughout the eastern coal fields. Similarly, the policies fought for by the Workers League have become the rallying point for construction workers in International Falls, miners fighting the frame-up of the Milburn Nine in southern West Virginia, and auto workers fighting the shutdown of the Chrysler Jefferson Avenue Assembly plant in Detroit
The enemies of the working class are acutely aware of the danger which they face from the growing support for the program of the Workers League. The response of the UMWA bureaucracy to the circulation of the Bulletin newspaper has been a campaign of physical violence against the Workers League. UMWA President Richard Trumka, in a newspaper interview during the wildcat strike, warned the mine bosses that if they succeeded in breaking the union in the Pittston strike, it would be revived in a revolutionary form. He said, “When it comes back, I think the form of union probably will be different. Its tolerance for injustice will be far less and its willingness to alibi for a system that we know doesn’t work will be nonexistent.” The Socialist Workers Party, acting as a political spotter for the capitalist state and the trade union bureaucracy, issued their warning in the Militant that as the working class radicalizes and turns against the bureaucratic traitors, the Workers League “will have influence in such situations, and they will recruit.”
The greatest fear of the ruling class—directly expressed both by Trumka and the govemment-controlled SWP—is that the explosive development of the class struggle is creating the conditions for the rapid growth of revolutionary consciousness in the working class, expressed in an influx of workers into the Workers League. Try as they might, however, neither the ruling class nor its agencies inside the labor movement can prevent the eruption of a mass movement of the American working class against capitalism. The chain-reaction collapse of seemingly all-powerful police-state regimes in Eastern Europe, in a matter of months, shows the enormous acceleration of the tempo of political developments under the impact of die world economic crisis of capitalism. The emergence of the American working class will change the political map of the United States—and the world—overnight.
The Workers League looks forward with the greatest confidence to the coming revolutionary movement of the working class. However, such a movement will not resolve the crisis of leadership in the working class spontaneously. Everything depends on the intervention of the Workers League to win the most class-conscious workers to the perspectives of the International Committee and to recruit and train them as Marxists. The greater the spontaneous revolt of the working class against the reactionary AFL-CIO bureaucracy, the more firmly the Workers League must conduct this struggle. By joining the Workers League, American workers will take their place, side by side with their class brothers internationally, in building the world party of socialist revolution.