In Defense of Marxism: In Defense of the Fourth International! by Roland Sheppard
German poster of Trotsky, shortly after the foundation of the Fourth International (February 1937)The politics and economy of world capitalism-its crises, its wars, and its unrelenting destruction of the environment-all have a global character. Never before has this been so plain as today. The revolutionary party that seeks to overturn capitalism must therefore also be organized on a global scale.
Just as socialism cannot be realized in one country without a world revolution, so no national revolutionary socialist movement can develop completely without being an integral part of a world party of socialist revolution.
The Fourth International was founded in 1938 by Leon Trotsky, who along with V. I. Lenin had led the world’s first successful socialist revolution in Russia in October 1917. Since Socialist Action was formed in 1983, it has based itself on the historic theoretical and programmatic conquests of the Fourth International; i.e., Permanent Revolution and the Transitional Program.
The leadership majority of the Fourth International has since the beginning of the 1980s steadily retreated from its founding principles to the point of supporting capitalist parties electorally and most recently supporting the occupation of East Timor by imperialist United Nations troops. These unprincipled actions are a betrayal of the basic program of the Fourth International.
The leadership majority of the Fourth International is proposing, among other qualitative changes in program, to “amend” the statutes of the Fourth International at the upcoming World Congress scheduled to be convened in 2001. The “amendments” proposed for action by the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International add up to nothing less than its liquidation as the nucleus of a mass World Party of Socialist Revolution.
Socialist Action, as a sympathizing section (Due to undemocratic laws in the United States, Socialist Action is prohibited from being a member of the Fourth International.) of the Fourth International, is opposing this course of action and is submitting the following counterposed document for action by the next World Congress. It constitutes a call for a reaffirmation of the founding theoretical, programmatic and organizational principles of the Fourth International.
Sound The Alarm!
The new statutes proposed by the United Secretariat (USEC) of the Fourth International (FI) represent a betrayal of the historic program of the FI for world revolution in the interests of the toiling masses of the world. Under the present statutes, the Fourth International, as direct heir of all that was revolutionary in the First, the Second, and the Third Internationals, stands on a program that has met the test of history:
…The Fourth International stands on the programmatic documents of the first four congresses of the Third International; the International Left Opposition; the Movement for the Fourth International; the Transitional Program adopted at its founding conference in 1938, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International; and the key documents of the world Trotskyist movement since then.
Under the proposed statutes with the removal of this platform, the FI will become a “pluralist” organization based upon regroupment on a general program for socialism-but not for socialist revolution! If the proposed statutes are approved, the Fourth International as the World Party of Socialist Revolution, will become completely liquidated.
In defense of the Fourth International and to reaffirm its historic program, Socialist Action proposes that the FI adopt the following preamble to the current statutes (an update of the preamble unanimously approved by the USEC in 1969.). We invite and encourage all members and sections of the Fourth International to join with us to halt the degeneration of the Fourth International!
Down with the proposed changes in the statutes! Defend the Program! Defend the Party of World Socialist Revolution! Long Live the Fourth International!
Preamble to the Statutes of the Fourth International
The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.
In advancing and defending the historic interests of the world proletariat, the Fourth International stands on the program and the organizational concepts of revolutionary Marxism represented in their time by the First, Second and Third Internationals.
The First International, founded in London in 1864, declared in the preamble to its Rules and Administrative Regulations, adopted in 1866:
“Considering … that the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves; that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties; and the abolition of all class rule:
That the economical subjection of the man of labor to the monopolizer of the means of labor, that is the sources of life, lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence;
That the economical emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means;
“That all efforts aiming at that great end have hitherto failed from want of solidarity between the manifold divisions of labor in each country, and from the absence of a fraternal bond of union between the working classes of different countries;
That the emancipation of labor is neither a local, nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern society exists, and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries;
That the present revival of the working classes in the most industrious [industrialized] countries of Europe, while it raises a new hope, gives solemn warning against a relapse into the old errors, and calls for the immediate combination of the still disconnected movements.
The First International was unable to attain the historic objective it had set out to achieve. Marx and Engels and their collaborators could not save the organization from disintegration due to the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871 and centrifugal tendencies set up by anarchist groupings within its ranks.
Nevertheless, the First International set an imperishable example in the task of uniting the working class on a worldwide scale in the struggle for a socialist society.
The banner and program of the First International were taken up by the Second International, founded in Paris in 1889 under the solemn pledge to carry on the work begun in 1864. In the following decades the Second International gave a socialist political education to great masses of workers, particularly in Europe, and established powerful parties in a number of countries.
But capitalism was still rising; and, with the opening of its imperialist stage, was able to broaden and intensify its exploitive system sufficiently to grant substantial reforms to the toiling masses in the industrially advanced countries.
Thus, primarily in the imperialist countries, a whole social layer appeared, the “labor aristocracy;” a stratum of workers imbued with illusions about reforming capitalism and winning socialism gradually by means of the ballot. Theoretical expression for these illusions was provided by revising Marxism.
The conservatism of the “labor aristocracy,” expressed by the right wing rooted in the bureaucracy of the organization, led to the degeneration of the Second International as a revolutionary formation. Upon the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the Second International proved to be a mere federation that broke up under the impact of the crisis.
The majority of the leaders of the national parties, composing the federation, betrayed the internationalist socialist program and their own solemn, oft-repeated pledges to oppose the war. Following World War I, they provided the decisive political support needed by their own capitalist classes to block the revolutionary upsurge of the working class throughout Europe in opposition to the costs of the war and inspired by the victory of the Russian Revolution in 1917 (The “Ten Days That Shook the World.”)
The Third International, founded in 1919 in Moscow, restored the principles of proletarian internationalism and revolutionary Marxism, applying them to the period of the death agony of capitalism. Its statutes declared:
The Communist International aims at armed struggle to overthrow the international bourgeoisie and to create an international republic of Soviets (councils) as the first stage on the road to complete liquidation of any government regime. The Communist International considers the dictatorship of the proletariat to be the only available means to save humanity from the horrors of capitalism. But the Communist International considers the power of Soviets to be the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat imposed by history.
The Communist International supports, completely and without reservation, the conquest of the great proletarian revolution in Russia, the first victorious socialist revolution in history, and calls on the world proletariat to take the same road. The Communist International pledges to support by every means within its capacity any socialist republic no matter where it is established.
But the Third International degenerated like the Second, although from quite different causes.
Due to its success in leading the first proletarian revolution, the Russian Communist Party became the dominant section of the Third International. Because this revolution occurred in a backward country where it was extremely difficult to repair the damages of the imperialist war and the following civil war, and to increase the productivity of the economy sufficiently in a short period to overcome the enormous shortages of consumers’ goods, a bureaucracy arose.
Due to the delay in and betrayal of the proletarian revolution in other countries and the growing political apathy of the Russian workers, the bureaucracy managed to usurp control of the Soviet state apparatus and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Through this control, the Third International was converted into an instrument limited to defending the narrow diplomatic interests of the Soviet bureaucracy at the expense of the broad interests of the world revolution.
The struggle against the Stalinist deformation of Lenin’s policies, begun on a national scale in Russia in 1923 by Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition, developed until 1928 when, as the International Left Opposition, it was extended on a worldwide scale under the name “International Communist League.”
Despite the bureaucratic expulsions carried out by the Stalinist faction against the oppositionists in all the sections of the Comintern, despite the jailings and murders in the USSR, the International Communist League held that it was still possible to reform the Comintern, viewing itself as only an opposition, trying to gain reinstatement in the various national sections.
But in 1933, when the powerful German Communist Party capitulated, under Stalin’s guidance, in face of Hitler’s drive for power, and permitted the German proletariat to be defeated and decimated without the slightest effort at a united and organized struggle, it was clear that it was no longer possible to reform the Comintern.
In September 1933, the International Left Opposition called for construction of a Fourth International. Under the guidance of Leon Trotsky, the Movement for the Fourth International achieved its goal at a founding conference held in Europe in 1938. Five years later, Stalin dissolved the remnants of the Third International.
As heir to the traditions and principles of revolutionary Marxism and proletarian internationalism, the Fourth International undertook the task of carrying forward the work begun by the First, Second, and Third Internationals-construction of the leadership needed by the working class to overturn capitalism and open the way to a socialist world.
The level of economic development required to go beyond capitalism to a higher form of society has already been achieved by humanity. On a global scale, the premises exist for the socialist organization of society, for planned worldwide production directly linked to the broad needs of humanity rather than the chaotic production of capitalism which is dehumanized by the aim of profit-making for the benefit of a minute class of exploiters.
In a certain sense capitalism has become overripe for socialism. As an historic punishment for not yet having achieved socialism, humanity has had to pay a fearful cost. This includes two world wars, with their tens of millions of dead and immense material destruction; the repeated bloodletting inflicted upon the neocolonialized areas by imperialism; the endemic threat of war, famine, pestilence, and death as capitalism extends throughout the world like the four horsemen of the apocalypse; the everyday reality of war throughout the world and constant threat of a third world war in which the use of nuclear weapons could destroy civilization and possibly humankind and all the higher forms of life on this planet if not by war, then by the destruction of the habitat.
The broad masses have repeatedly rejected this perspective. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Western Europe witnessed a revolutionary upsurge that could have easily brought the Social Democratic and Communist parties to power, had the bureaucratic leaderships not decided instead to save capitalism once more.
In the colonial world, country after country became the scene of uprisings. Here the strength of the masses, the weakness of world capitalism, and the relative militancy and capacities of the leadership were such as to make possible the great victories of the Chinese Revolution, the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and the Vietnamese Revolution.
Coupled with the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II, the successful Yugoslav Revolution, and the appearance of a number of new workers states in Eastern Europe and the Far East, the world relationship of class forces altered to the disadvantage of imperialism.
It is quite clear that socialist revolutions in a few more colonial or semi-colonial countries or in any industrially advanced country would spell the rapid end of capitalism. This is the situation precisely when the United States, as the inheritor of the colonial empires of the European capitalist powers and the possessor of instruments of destruction outstripping by far the wildest dreams of past conquerors, visualizes dominating the entire earth. The very nearness of the final socialist victory, coupled with the rise of the United States as a malignant “super” world power, has compounded the crisis in proletarian leadership faced by the working class for a number of decades.
The crisis in proletarian leadership was made still more acute by the fact of the degeneration of the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of China and Eastern Europe. In 1938, Trotsky made the following analogy about the Soviet Union:
The USSR thus embodies terrific contradictions. But it still remains a degenerated workers state. Such is the social diagnosis. The political prognosis has an alternative character: 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.
In the present period, we are witnessing the complete demonstration of the counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism. Throughout the world the different Stalinist bureaucracies are striving to become the surrogates for imperialism and to restore capitalism in the former Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe.
Due to these betrayals and the continued betrayals by the parasitic bureaucratic leaderships of the working class in the industrialized advanced countries, capitalism has been able to temporarily restabilize itself. The world’s masses are now faced with the specter of the United States, as the standard bearer of world imperialism, taking on the role of the world police force to subjugate the world’s toiling masses to make the world safe for capitalist investment.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban Revolution continues to demonstrate the capacity of humankind to develop the revolutionary potential for the emancipation of humanity from capitalism. In spite of the 40-year economic blockade by the United States and the end of trade with the former Soviet Union, the Cubans have remained “revolutionaries of action.” Ninety miles from the border of the United States, the Cubans have stood up to U.S. imperialism and continue to defend and extend the gains of the Cuban Revolution.
As yet, the Cuban Revolution has not found its proper international organizational expression. The Cuban leaders have remained silent about the concrete task of building an international organization or developing a program for the world revolution.
Nevertheless, the defense of the Cuban Revolution, like the defense of the degenerating Russian and Chinese revolutions and the defense of all the degenerating workers states, logically calls for the construction of an international organization.
Necessity of a World Party of Socialist Revolution
In face of the counterrevolutionary pressure emanating from imperialism, the working-class conquests must be defended and extended until the entire capitalist system itself is liquidated. To unite and properly organize this international struggle, to imbue it with the best fighting spirit and to provide it with a correct revolutionary-Marxist policy an international organization is an absolute necessity. Both theory and historic experience confirm this conclusion.
The politics and economy of capitalism-its markets, its crises, its wars, and its contamination and destruction of the environment-all have a global character. Never before has this been so plain as today. The revolutionary party that seeks to overturn capitalism must therefore also be international. Just as socialism cannot be realized in one country without a world revolution, so no revolutionary national grouping can develop completely without a world party.
Such a world party, such an International, cannot at all be a mere association of national parties having contradictory programs, held together merely by loose ties, an association of federative character. It must have a common international program which the national parties adapt to the particular problems of their countries.
Neither the temporary adherence of the revolutionary masses, nor material power-whether derived from a massive bureaucracy or control of a state-nor a dynamic organization, nor intense activity, nor the most detailed statutory safeguards can save an international that has seriously deviated from the principles of revolutionary Marxism.
(The current statutes were based on the preceding statutes of the FI, which have been amplified or modified in the light of experience and the needs of the Fourth International. They are not intended to be a “definitive” code but merely a set of rules subject to change at coming congresses. The statutes do not stand higher than the International; they are only one of the means designed to further the task of creating a leadership and a party able to achieve the decisive victory of socialism.)