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The Reasons for Founding the Fourth International
II. The basic contradictions of our epoch
The need to found the Fourth International derives from the fundamental contradictions which have determined the history of the 20th century. To be summarised in the following points:
- Since 1914, the capitalist mode of production has entered its period of historic decline. The huge productive forces built up by that system periodically enter into contradiction with the capitalist relations of production, the private mode of appropriation and the nation-state. This has led to a success grave economic depressions, of wars and of social explosions (crisis of basic social relations propping up bourgeois society). The longer the capitalist system survives, the more these successive crises threaten to destroy the basis of material civilisation and even the physical survival of humanity. Periodically, the productive forces are transformed into terrifying forces of destruction. While capitalism in the 20th century undermines the fruits of past progress in parts of the world it blocks progress in other parts. The polarisation of haves and have-nots in each capitalist country, in spite of the resources available, is interconnected with a world-wide polarisation between relatively rich and relatively poor nations.
- The periodically explosive nature of the contradiction between the productive forces and the capitalist relations of production is also expressed through periodic rebellions of the human forces of production, i.e. outbreaks of working-class struggles which paralyse the functioning of the capitalist system and objectively put socialist revolution on the agenda. These types of struggles are much more than the normal attempts of workers to fight for their immediate interests. They represent an instinctive attempt by the proletariat to reorganise society upon a new social basis.
The basic crises produced by decaying capitalism/imperialism can only be solved in a positive way through the working class conquering power, destroying the bourgeois repressive apparatus and building a workers’ state. In imperialist countries this implies the radical elimination of capitalist property relations, and in the less developed countries at least the beginning of such elimination.
But contrary to all previous social revolutions in history, a socialist revolution can only achieve its goals consciously. So the outcome of the successive waves of explosive mass struggles does not depend only on the objective social relationship of forces between the capitalists and wage earners. It also depends on the relative level of proletarian class consciousness and the revolutionary quality of its leadership.
These have proved to be inadequate in most cases. Therefore most 20th century revolutions have ended in partial or total defeat: “The crisis of humankind is the crisis of proletarian-revolutionary leadership.” The 20th century thus unfolds as a century of crises and wars, revolutions and counterrevolutions.
- The first nationwide victorious socialist revolution occurred in October 1917 in Russia. It was victorious because under the leadership of the Bolshevik party, soviet power, the building of a workers’ state, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, all solved the most burning political problems of the day – peace – and the key tasks of the national-democratic revolution. But the working class could not accomplish all these tasks and consolidate them (through a costly civil war) without at the same time trying to eliminate its own exploitation, in other words without starting to build a socialist economy and society.
While the USSR’s modernisation and industrialisation led to spectacular successes, progress towards building a classless society was by and large stopped and actually reversed. The political counter-revolution triumphed in the USSR through Stalinism, resulting in a monopoly of political power being held by a bureaucratic caste. This led to a growing social inequality. Workers have lost all control over their working conditions and the appropriation of their production. These conditions create the material basis for a mass rebellion against Stalinism, for a new anti-bureaucratic political revolution. This revolution is part and parcel of the world socialist revolution.
- The mistaken policies of the social democratic and Communist mass parties and the trade union leaderships prevented the successive waves of explosive mass struggles of the 1920s and 1930s leading to victorious socialist revolutions. Their mistaken policies reflected major theoretical shortcomings but in the last analysis they express specific material interests, those of the privileged workers’ bureaucracies. Reformists and Stalinists (including post-Stalinist bureaucratised CPs) subordinate the interests of the majority of workers to the defence of their own privileges, which in the best cases are camouflaged as the defence of the working class’s historic conquests (which obviously have to be defended). While the bureaucrats claim to defend the workers’ “strongholds” and gains won through struggle, in practice they undermine them. Defending gains must not be counterposed to the struggle for new radical advances of the socialist revolution wherever and whenever they become possible. Hence the need to build new working class parties. A real process of differentiation within the working class reflects this objective need. In each wave of explosive class struggle new natural leaders emerge from the factories, offices, neighbourhoods, countryside, the unions and inside and outside the mass parties. But this potential new leadership for the working class becomes dissipated if it does not create the nucleus of new political parties. Their potential as new revolutionary parties is likewise at risk if the lessons of more than a century of workers’ struggles are not assimilated or if easily avoidable mistakes are made. So it is necessary for revolutionary Marxists to root themselves firmly in the working class, especially its vanguard layers, and to fight for their programme, which embodies the whole historical experience of the world proletariat. New revolutionary parties need to be built on that basis.
- The growing internationalisation of the productive forces in the imperial epoch and the no less pronounced internationalisation of capital and the class struggle means that the achievement of socialism in a single country or a small group of countries is impossible. This does not mean that socialist revolution is impossible in a single country, even a relatively backward one, or that these countries cannot begin to build a socialist society. But in the course of the process they will be subjected to international capitalism’s economic, military and ideological pressure. This will be reflected, to varying degrees, in internal splits which will at times block the road forward to socialism. The socialist revolution will begin by triumphing in one country, it will be extended internationally, linking up with the international class struggle and it will finally culminate in the construction of socialism on a world scale. The achievement of “socialism in a single country” is a reactionary utopia.
Just as “national-communism” is the organisational consequence of “socialism in one country” theory, so the building of a new International is the consequence of the theoretical understanding of the world character of the struggle in the imperialist epoch. Without the international organisation of the proletariat, national workers’ organisations will sink even more easily into the morass of national-reformism and national-communism. Without the international organisation of the proletariat, the co-ordination and indeed the understanding of the international process of class struggle and the revolution will be infinitely more difficult, the defeats more heavy, the victories more costly and more often immediately put into question.
We are convinced these five key problems of the 20th century show the necessity for the Fourth International, for a new revolutionary International of the proletariat. Finding a solution to these five problems is just as crucial today as it was fifty years ago.
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Last updated on 22.7.2004