Fourth International 1992: The end of the Soviet Union

Resolution 2: The Struggle against Imperialist War and Colonialism

This resolution was adopted at the World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism, held in Berlin on November 16-17, 1991 under the auspices of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

The World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism calls upon the international working class to mobilize against the new imperialist world order of war, poverty and colonial enslavement being imposed by the leaders of the world bourgeoisie and unify its struggles on the basis of the program of proletarian internationalism carried forward by the International Committee of the Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution. There is no time to lose in building up this struggle and in forging the revolutionary leadership to spearhead it as once again the historic crisis of the bankrupt capitalist system poses the question of the future of mankind as socialism or barbarism.

In issuing the call for this conference in its statement of May Day 1991, the International Committee of the Fourth International warned that the gulf war marked a new eruption of imperialist barbarism in which “all the great historical and political tasks that confronted the working class and the oppressed masses at the beginning of the twentieth century are now posed in their starkest form.” The resolution explained that, despite all the efforts made to suppress them, the basic contradictions of the world capitalism system—between social production and private ownership, and the world character of production and the nation-state system—were building towards an explosion.

There can be no doubt but that the events of the past six months have vindicated this assessment. In Iraq, where hundreds of thousands died directly as a result of the imperialist onslaught, hundreds of thousands more, above all children, are dying from the effects of malnutrition and disease caused by the destruction of the social and economic infrastructure by the bombardment and the UN-imposed sanctions. In the space of just six months, a whole people has been returned to medieval conditions and worse.

Just as the war against Iraq served notice that a new period of colonialism and imperialist barbarism had erupted, so the war in the Balkans must ring out as a warning to the international working class.

In little more than four months, thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless, while whole towns and villages have been flattened by a daily bombardment. The fate of the city of Dubrovnik hangs in the balance, standing as a warning as to what lies ahead everywhere as the priceless heritage of hundreds of years of human culture is now threatened with instant destruction.

The imperialist war against Iraq marked the beginning of a new drive by imperialism to re-subjugate the colonies of yesterday in the drive to acquire sources of cheap raw materials, access to “cheap labor” and markets. For US imperialism, the war was a desperate attempt to assert its domination over the Middle East, to the ever-greater exclusion of its imperialist rivals. The so-called Middle East “peace conference” convened by US imperialism is the beginning of a new carve-up of the region. With the Soviet bureaucracy acting as the “waiter on the tables,” US imperialism aims to use the conference “process”—a mixture of military threats, intimidation and bribery—to secure tighter control of the entire region to the exclusion of its European and Japanese , rivals, grabbing control of vital resources.

All the imperialist powers took part in the gulf war and in the subsequent operations in the north of the country on the understanding that this meant international recognition of their own colonial program. And so it has proved. In the aftermath of the war, French and Belgian troops have been dispatched to Central Africa to protect the interests of the former colonial powers. Likewise, the troops of Italian imperialism, which has always sought to rule areas of the Balkans bordering the Adriatic, has troops stationed in Albania—for the first time since Mussolini’s forces were driven out in 1943. US forces have also been stationed on the Indian subcontinent for the first time in history.

Just as took place in the war against Iraq, the United Nations is functioning as the organizing center for this renewed drive for imperialist conquest and colonial enslavement. Little more than a decade and a half after they were driven out, the imperialist powers are organizing a new carve-up of Indochina through the so-called Cambodia peace accords. For the first time, the UN will actually take over the government of a country as it forms the administration of Cambodia, with troops supplied from the imperialist powers. The whole of the Southeast Asian region—the fastest growing outlet of Japanese investment funds—is fast becoming a battleground, as the imperialist powers seek access to ever-cheaper sources of labor.

Likewise, intense conflicts are developing in Eastern Europe. In the Balkans, German imperialism favors independence and recognition of Croatia, as it pushes back into its historical spheres of influence. French imperialism and the US on the other hand have been more inclined to back a stronger Serbia in order to check German ambitions.

In the conflicts over markets and spheres of influence, the outlines of a new imperialist world war are hardening and taking shape. The European bourgeoisie, which twice in the space of just three decades plunged the population into death and destruction, has maintained that it has found the way to overcome these conflicts through the single market and political union. But the whole process has turned into a raging battle between the imperialist powers, as all the old historical wounds open up in the aftermath of the collapse of the Stalinist regimes and the breakdown of the postwar arrangements.

By removing much of Central and Southeastern Europe from direct imperialist control, Stalinist domination of the region and the Cold War provided a vital mechanism for regulating the conflicts between the European powers, under the overriding control of US imperialism. This system, which suppressed but never eliminated the interimperialist conflicts, has disintegrated. A new period of conflict has erupted in which the national conflicts of Central and Southeastern Europe are fueling the rivalries between the major imperialist powers.

So deep are the tensions that France and Germany did not even discuss with their ally Britain the formation of a Franco-German military force operating outside of NATO. The crisis of British imperialism, in continuous decline since 1914, has provoked a deep split within the bourgeoisie, as one section seeks to balance US imperialism against Germany, while an opposed wing considers that only by entering the new arrangements can the interests of British imperialism be protected.

US imperialism likewise is determined that the collapse of the Stalinist regimes does not mean the end of its involvement, with Bush directly challenging the European powers to declare that the US should get out. While the Cold War order has collapsed, the NATO alliance may still provide a mechanism for the imperialist powers of the West to organize possible military intervention in Central Europe and in the Soviet Union as the national conflicts intensify.

The imposition of sanctions by the EC, backed up the US, against Yugoslavia are the prelude to military intervention and the division of Yugoslavia into spheres of influences, if not outright protectorates of the various imperialist powers.

The eruption of all the historical conflicts and antagonisms is no less explosive in the Asia-Pacific region in the aftermath of the gulf war. Whereas for US imperialism, the war was a means of using its military might to try to arrest its economic decline against its rivals, the conclusion drawn by the leaders of Japanese imperialism is that military force is now needed to maintain what has been conquered through the market.

In his maiden policy speech, the newly appointed Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa declared that a “tremendous upheaval,” the likes of which “only occur once every several centuries,” was taking place in the world as he pledged to introduce laws enabling the Japanese government to send troops overseas, without the approval of the parliament.

Japanese imperialism is looking to Cambodia—the pivot point for its plans to “reorganize” Indochina—to provide the first sphere of operations for its troops, under the cover of the United Nations.

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, the flunkeys of the capitalist ruling classes around the world proclaimed the triumph of the capitalist market and the end of socialism. But two years on it is clear, as the ICFI insisted, that the collapse of Stalinism was the sharpest expression of the historic crisis of imperialism and its nation-state system. Today, it is capitalism which is breaking down internationally under the impact of the worst recession since the Depression of the 1930s.

At the center of the world crisis is the United States. The economic “recovery” which was pledged by the Bush administration has not taken place and the economy continues to slide further into recession, despite continuous cuts in interest rates in an attempt to revive it.

The world recession is not merely the product of a downturn in the business cycle from which there will be a revival, but is the expression of a systemic crisis of world capitalism. The recession takes place under transformed world conditions. For the first time since 1917, the United States is a debtor nation, the world’s biggest debtor. This means that the US monetary authorities cannot do as they have in the past and print more dollars to counteract recession. The dollar cannot operate as a law unto itself, and the US financial system is far more vulnerable to the pressures exerted by its rivals as the stock market collapses of 1987 and 1989 showed.

Furthermore, the deterioration of the world economy is bringing a deepening of the recession in the United States. In France unemployment has reached 2.7 million, or 9.4 percent of the work force. The German economy is facing massive problems caused by the costs of reunification, while in Britain unemployment has increased to 2.4 million over the past year.

Japanese capitalism cannot provide a substitute for the dollar. Following the collapse of the stock market in 1990, Japanese overseas investment has registered a sharp decline as money is pulled back to try to counter the effects of the growing financial crisis at home. Major firms have announced profit losses and the growth rate has sharply declined and is about to record negative figures.

Just as the extremities often show the most acute signs of a disease of the heart, the devastating unemployment rates of 15 percent and 10.2 percent in Australia and New Zealand—the highest levels since the 1930s—show the depth of the slump worldwide.

The development of slump takes place under vastly transformed conditions from those which applied in the last world recession of 1982-83. Then, under conditions where the United States was still the world’s major creditor nation, it was still possible to achieve some coordinated policies between the major capitalist powers. But the onset of slump now deepens the antagonisms which have developed throughout the last decade. The G-7 mechanisms, established in the early 1970s in the aftermath of the oil price shock and the development of world recession, have steadily disintegrated to the point where the imperialist powers are unable to develop a coordinated response to meet the financial crisis. US imperialism pursues a low interest rate policy in order to meet its domestic needs, while Germany has demanded increases in interest rates to try and contain the threat of inflation caused by the vast expansion of capital used to mount the takeover of East Germany.

The collapse of the Stalinist regimes adds to the global crisis of world capitalism. Where once these regions could have provided a market for Western goods, that is completely impossible today. Indeed, the collapse of the Soviet Union, once considered one of the safest investment outlets, threatens to fuel the financial crisis of world capitalism, with Germany alone faced with default on outstanding loans of around $35 billion.

The GATT system of free trade has all but broken down with the failure of the so-called Uruguay Round, culminating a decade of growing protectionist measures. The development of world slump can only intensify the conflicts between the imperialist powers, accelerating the drive towards imperialist war. It is not a question of the subjective desires of the leaders of the imperialist states, but of the objective effects of the collapse of the postwar order of world capitalism which has unleashed social and economic contradictions beyond their control.

On the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor and the opening of the war in the Pacific, relations between the United States and Japan have never been so strained. Despite all the measures undertaken over the past five years, the trade gap between the US and Japan is still running at around $50 billion per year. In Europe the fierce competition and trade war in the computer, car and electronics industry have seen the eruption of antiJapanese measures, with the French Prime Minister Cresson denouncing Japan as “ants” who want to conquer the world and “take us over.” Not since the 1930s and the build-up to World War II has such language been used between the imperialist powers, signifying that all the historical contradictions of world capitalism are exploding once again.

The struggle of the working class against imperialist war must be based on a scientific and historical analysis of the strategic experiences of the international proletariat throughout the twentieth century. The great lesson of this history is that the struggle against imperialist war is the struggle to resolve the crisis of leadership of the working class—the only class which can overcome the historic crisis of capitalism through the overthrow of the outmoded and reactionary nation-state system. Today this means building the Fourth International.

As the May Day manifesto of the ICFI explained, the gulf war “laid bare the utter worthlessness of the traditional labor parties and trade union organizations of the working class,” as the social democratic and Stalinist labor bureaucracies supported the actions of “their” governments. “All the old organizations of the officially-sanctioned labor movement, staffed by thousands of lethargic petty-bourgeois functionaries, have been completely transformed into appendages of the capitalist state. In terms of their practice and even their official programs, the political distinctions between the Stalinists, social democrats and official bourgeois parties have been virtually obliterated.”

This collapse of the old organizations of the labor movement is the outcome of the historical bankruptcy of all national-based programs. In assessing these experiences, class-conscious workers everywhere must turn to the lessons of Yugoslavia. The plunging of the workers and youth into a reactionary fratricidal war is the ultimate outcome of the nationalist program of the Stalinist bureaucrats and gangsters of the republics. The rise of nationalist agitation in Yugoslavia and the diversion of the anger and fears of the population over the deepening crisis of the economy does not signify the strength of this reactionary ideology, but the historic crisis of working class leadership, made even more acute by the collapse of all the traditional organizations of the labor movement.

But the nationalist leaders of the official union and labor movements in every country are no different. The outcome of all their nationalist programs is the same everywhere—the subordination of the working class to the preparations for war.

This world conference of workers calls on the working class everywhere to fight against the outpourings of racism and chauvinism and drive the perpetrators out of the labor movement. Only the Fourth International, led by the International Committee, fights under the slogan “Workers of the World, Unite.”

The protracted struggle of the Fourth International against Stalinism and Pabloite opportunism for the program of Trotskyism, which has led to the convening of the Berlin conference, is meeting up with a growing movement of the working class itself.

The self-serving pronouncements by the international bourgeoisie about the triumph of capitalism have turned into a sick joke. Now the deepening social crisis is demonstrating to millions of people that it is capitalism which has failed. In the midst of a deepening social polarization, a growing militancy can be seen in the working class. Strikes have taken place in France and Italy, miners have carried out occupations in Germany. General strikes have taken place in South Africa and in sections of the labor movement in Australia. A new upsurge by the working class has begun, marking the initial stages of an international revolutionary crisis.

This is the significance of the protracted struggle waged by the International Committee. The program of Trotskyism is now intersecting with the developing struggles of the working class itself, providing the conditions for the political authority of the Fourth International, under the leadership of the IC, to be established in the advanced sections of the international working class, and thereby creating the conditions for the construction of the World Party of Socialist Revolution which Trotsky envisaged.