Victor Serge 1944
Source This article first appeared in Left, No. 90, April 1944. Left was a monthly theoretical journal published under the auspices of the Independent Labour Party
Transcribed and Edited: by Paul Flewers for the Marxists Internet Archive
Public Domain: Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Victor Serge Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
Is it necessary to take preliminary steps now for the establishment of a new International?
The present condition of the European working masses who have been the strength of socialism, the weakness of socialist émigrés all over the world, the limited development of socialism in America, oblige one to think that the idea of a reconstituted International is premature. The International can only be formed on living, growing national movements, which at least answer the aspirations of the advanced elements of the masses. We must nevertheless strengthen the links between us, improve international collaboration, and think of the future.
Should international socialists, after reaching agreement about a basis, constitute themselves into a new International or, recognising that a living International can come only from an new upsurge of workers in Europe and elsewhere, limit their activity to the work of preparation?
An organisation of those militants with active internationalist tendencies is desirable, but it would be a mistake to let itself be considered as an International. This word must not be played with, its meaning is too big. The socialist International that the workers will hail one day must grow from the liberation of the peoples of Europe, from their reconquest of liberty in politics, and the rebirth of their socialist movements. International collaboration, if it can arise, should give itself a modest title and devote itself to the preparation of the great International which alone will be worthy of the name.
What do you regard as the reasons for the failure of the Second and Third Internationals? Do you think the first step towards international working-class unity should be the strengthening of international trade union organisations? What should be the relation between international trade unions and socialist organisations?
The causes of the defeat of the European working class have as yet not been studied except in a schematic and traditional manner that is entirely insufficient. It is true that the Second International lacked socialist spirit, revolutionary foresight and energy. It is true that the Third has, on the other hand, fallen into the grossest opportunism, authoritarian centralisation, extreme doctrinal vulgarisation, and has also completely become the vassal of the Soviet state. But these visible causes of the division and defeat of the workers’ movement have had deeper causes, such as the different condition of the Russian workers from those of Europe; the usually bourgeois psychology of the working-class aristocracies of Western Europe; and, finally and essentially, between 1920 and 1930, the degradation and weakening of the European workers from the fact of new progress in industrial technology and the organisation of capitalism (trusts and rationalisation).
Technical unemployment degraded millions of European and American workers, and emphasised the privilege of the workers’ aristocracies. A new active middle class growing every day and dynamic, was being formed of civil servants, administrators and technicians. These transformations of economy and of the relations of the social forces explain the failure of the workers’ movement.
In reality, the International Federation of Trade Unions was no more capable of action than the Second and Communist Internationals. There has been nothing more humiliating than the capitulation of the German trade union centre to the Nazis; nothing more despairing than the transformation of the Soviet trade unions into an apparatus of the totalitarian state, the death of Tomsky, the disappearance of the founders of the Russian trade union movement into prisons and deportation.
An international trade union organisation foun-ded on the defence of the rights and liberties of the workers clearly could not accept the organs of the totalitarian state without betraying its mission and discrediting itself. The socialist International and the trade union International of the future must search for a closer coordination than before in their activities, without, however, subjecting one to the other.
Do you visualise the re-establishment of a new International through the renewed association of the parties in the Second International? Do you think the new International will come by unity between such parties and the communist parties of the USSR and other countries? Assuming that a reformist International is re-established, do you think it will still be necessary to establish a revolutionary International?
For half a century, throughout all the vicissitudes of history, the socialist masses of Europe have shown a persevering loyalty to their old parties of the Second International. It is probable that they will maintain this fidelity and that the old parties will play a large part in the formation of the reconstituted International. It is equally true that in resistance and underground work they have acquired a mentality now very different from the reformist one. There seems to be no place for the resurrection of the former reformism during the period of European reconstruction.
For these reasons, I think the revolutionary militants should seek contact, collaboration and union with the great socialist formations, and not isolate themselves to perpetuate the divisions that belong to the past. If, in the meantime, two Internationals, one with moderate mind and the other socialist and dynamic, appear, the most fraternal relations should be maintained between them, the greatest possible confidence inspired, and a search continued for ceaseless practical collaboration; even though they engage in different propaganda and intransigent polemics, they should remain fraternal.
Without betraying its mission and dishonouring itself, no socialist International could admit to its fold the totalitarian communists, even camouflaged as false democrats. It is the absolute duty of all socialists to defend the Russian socialists from all prejudice (be they anarchists, social democrats, Georgians, Armenians, Zionists, Trotskyists, Bukharinists or anything), persecuted as they have been, imprisoned and shot, for so many years. To betray them would be to betray ourselves, everything. Without going into the worst of political misadventures, we cannot forget either that the totalitarian communists, guided by secret officials, supplied with secret funds, subjected to a discipline that destroys the critical spirit, have endlessly practised the worst of manoeuvres, calumny, corruption and assassination. Socialist organisation is absolutely incompatible with these methods and this mentality. The International of the future is called to incarnate an ideal of humanism and liberty.
What elements should be invited to collaborate in preparation for a new International?
It must appeal to all the socialists who profess good faith in the fundamental principles of socialism. The term ‘good faith’ must here be meant to avoid the infiltration of camouflaged totalitarians. Good faith is measured by a man’s past and by his present attitude.
What should be the theoretical basis of the new International?
It seems to me that the fundamental charters (declaration of principle, general programme) should at the beginning be very wide, very concise and easily comprehensible to all. They should in any case make clear that the idea of socialism is henceforth inseparable from respect for the individual, the spirit of liberty, and of really democratic institutions. Socialist ideology demands strict self-criticism, a re-exami-nation of theories, whilst allowing for the scientific learning of the last 50 years and of historic experience. ‘Marxism is a method and not a dogma.’ These intellectual tasks should be begun as soon as possible, and systematically pursued and encouraged by the existing organisations. Socialist conscience has been obscured by the struggles and defeats of the last quarter of a century; theory has been left behind by the knowledge of the last few years in economy, sociology, psychology; propaganda, founded on doctrinal vulgarisation, has got weaker. The fight for the intellectual renewal of socialism should be in the foreground of our considerations. (One of the most distressing proofs of the weakening of the socialist conscience is that an intolerant ideology, based on the cult of the Leader, has succeeded in imposing itself on important sections of the working classes, without meeting in socialists in general the energetic reprobation and the incessant criticism that would have been the antidote.)
Should the new International, in particular, be based on the class struggle, refusal to collaborate with capitalist governments in war, and a limitation of collaboration with non-socialist and non-working-class sections to specific issues?
We do not know what collaboration, what tactics, what relations of forces will be imposed in the future on the working class and on the socialists of Europe for the struggle against the inevitable tendencies towards neo-fascism (neo-totalitarianism), for the foundation of new regimes, for the reconstruction of society, for the establishment of democracies of a new type. It would be imprudent and unreasonable for us to fix in advance conditions inspired by the past and the present.