James P. Cannon

The International Position
of the Revolutionary Policy Committee

(May 1934)

Published: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 19, 12 May 1934, p. 4
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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In an objective situation marked by the manifest decay of capitalism as a social and economic system, and rotten-ripe for revolutionary advances, the proletarian movement of the world staggers under the blows of catastrophic defeats. This state of affairs, for which Stalinism and Social Democracy hear the joint responsibility, has induced the deepest crisis the labor movement of the world has ever known. Great organizations, resting on the support of millions of workers, have been put to the historic test and proved completely bankrupt.

What else could result from such catastrophe but disintegration of the old organizations, on the one hand and – since the class struggle is not suspended for a single day – new ferment, critical analysis and the search for new paths on the other? One of the expressions of this search for a new road, and a most significant one, too, it must be said, is the emergence of the Revolutionary Policy Committee of the Socialist Party with its straight-out challenge to the policy of social reformism.

Which Way for the R.P.C.

Will it carry out this challenge to the end? That remains to be seen. The program, as it now stands, incomplete in some respects and wrongly formulated in others, does not of itself give a definite answer to the question. If the implications of the first declaration are developed to their logical conclusion, and the program is rounded out accordingly, the R.P.C. can undoubtedly become a rallying center for the revolutionary socialist workers, and especially the socialist youth.

Failing to adopt these amendments and corrections in time, the Revolutionary Policy Committee will be likely to sink into the morass of centrism. That is, serve as a force to head off the revolutionary trend in the party and help to bolster up the tottering structure of Social Democracy, hopelessly discredited on a world scale, decaying with the decay of capitalism which it has served, and organically incapable of regeneration.

We hope for the former outcome of this promising development in the S.P. Every revolutionist worthy of the name will be ready to aid such a development. At the same time, without casting the slightest doubt on the seriousness of the signers of the declaration, it is necessary to point out the danger of a different result and to show the source of this danger in the program as it now stands.

Nor is it altogether excluded that the R.P.C., or a part of it, in recoiling from social reformism, can even land in the blind alley of Stalinism, the accomplice of Social Democracy in the assassination of revolutions and the enthronement of Fascism. Against such a calamity, also, programmatic clarity is the first and most important preventive.

Internationalism – Paramount Question

Formal programs, however, are meaningless today unless they candidly face the determining feature of the crisis in the labor movement of the world – the bankruptcy of both the Second and the Third Internationals – and the fundamental problem of the epoch – the reassembling of the revolutionary vanguard in a new organization, under a new banner. The catastrophic defeats of the working class under objective circumstances highly favorable for revolutionary victories present a contradiction which means one thing above all others: the leadership has broken down, the organizations they directed were inadequate.

This is the crux of the whole question of the regeneration and revival of the revolutionary labor movement. Every party, group and current, now as in the period following the betrayal of the workers into the world war, is tested and its whole course is determined by its approach to this question of internationalism.

It seems incredible that a group which denounces social reformism as a road that “led to death” in Germany should retain the slightest allegiance to the International which led the socialist masses to defeat and death, not only in 1933 but before that in 1914, and which systematically betrayed them in all the years between. Surely, an analysis of the fundamental causes of the treacherous role of the Second International, and the declaration of an irrevocable break with it, are elementary requirements of revolutionary socialists. Yet all the program of the Revolutionary Policy Committee has to say on this paramount question is the following:

“The Socialist Party of America must make every effort to get the above principles adopted by the Labor and Socialist International in order that it may be the effective instrument of promoting the world revolution.”

When the Second International collapsed in 1914 and betrayed the laboring masses into the bloody shambles of the war, Lenin and the other revolutionary socialists, even though they were only a handful, declared the organization to be dead for the revolution and turned to the preparation of a new international. Everything the Second International and its leading and most representative party in Germany did since that time, only served to confirm the analysis of Lenin.

The party and the International that had failed in the great historic test was irrevocably lost for the workers’ cause. It survived only as a reactionary and treacherous force in the labor movement, an ally and support of capitalism. This was understood by the revolutionary vanguard. That is why they formed the Communist International. Socialist workers, who assimilated the lessons of the war and post-war experiences later, expressed their revolutionary standpoint by leaving the Second and joining the Third International.

Against the Second International!

Now, when on top of every other perfidy, the German Social Democracy, with the full support of the Second International, held the masses back from struggle against Fascism and lifted Hindenberg into the presidency in order that he might open the door for Hitler – is it possible now that revolutionists should advocate adherence to this corrupt and rotting part of decaying capitalism, that they should tell the workers to hope for its reform and regeneration?

No, that is not possible. Whoever gives the workers such advice is no revolutionist at all. Whoever preaches the lie about the reform of the Second international makes himself its accomplice in the German and Austrian betrayals and prepares new Germanies and new Austrias.

This section of the program of the Revolutionary Policy Committee stands in irreconcilable contradiction to the other sections which challenge everything the Second International stands for and which it will continue to stand for in practice as long as it exists and pollutes the working class movement of the world. If the Revolutionary Policy Committee wishes to become a revolutionary force it should lose no time in demanding an immediate break with the Second International. Otherwise it will hopelessly discredit itself with the revolutionary workers in the Socialist Party and lose the possibility of regaining their confidence.

A Bad “Strategy”

If the international relations section of the program of the R.P.C. Is not seriously meant, if it is “strategy”, then it must be said it is a bad strategy that works a double evil. If they want to make a revolutionary fight and carry it out to the end the most important thing is to attract the revolutionary socialist workers and give them a clear lead on the most important questions. Among these internationalism takes first place – a primary interest in internationalism is the first mark of the revolutionist. Serious revolutionary workers will never forgive those who play hide and seek with such a question. On the other hand, a “strategic” – insincere – declaration for the reform of the Second International can defeat the aims of the genuinely revolutionary elements in the R.P.C. by converting the group into a shelter for centrists, that is, for the most dangerous enemies of a revolutionary policy at the present time, whose function is to blur the distinctions between revolution and reform and to blunt the edge of the revolutionary weapons.

The Role of Centrism

Pseudo-radicalism – centrism – represents in fact the predominating tendency in the parties of the Second International today. After the debacle of social reformism in Germany, followed by the Austrian tragedy, social reformism has been fearfully discredited. And the dismissal of the Social Democratic flunkeys in favor of Fascists in a number of countries has induced even the most incorrigible and loathsome traitors, including those who offered to “coordinate” themselves to the Hitler regime, to indulge in radical bluster. For example, the German Social Democratic Party now adopts a revolutionary program!

The new centrists declare for the most revolutionary principles, for “the dictatorship of the proletariat” or anything else you want, but on one condition: keep within the framework of the old Social Democratic parties and the Second International with all the scoundrels and traitors and King’s Ministers and never do anything to carry out the “revolutionary” principles in action. (The Kuntorovich group, now apparently fused with the “Militants”, are representative of this centrist current in the United States.)

In this way the revolt of the socialist workers is curbed their revolutionary impulse for action is restrained, they are held in the strait-jacket of the old bankrupt organizations and the way is prepared for new betrayals and defeats.

The Marxist Fight Against Centrism

Under these new conditions in the labor movement the formal criticism of social reformism misses the mark. What is needed now, above all, is a Marxist fight against centrism and an exposure of its role. For this, a formal program of general principles alone is inadequate – the centrists, hard pressed by the revolutionary sentiments of the masses, are very apt to sign it! The formula for this fight, as for all the other fundamental problems of the time, is: The struggle for the Fourth International!

The perfidious game of the centrists in the Social Democratic parties is facilitated for the moment by the circumstance that events which discredited the Social Democracy in a second historic test have revealed also the complete bankruptcy of the Communist International. Given a revolutionary policy and leadership in the Comintern the masses of disillusioned socialist workers would today be streaming into its ranks in an irresistible flood. From the time of the launching of the Comintern in 1919 until 1923 this process went on continuously. Under Lenin the Comintern gained at the expense of Social Democracy all along the line. No such movement is observable today. Caught in a vice between bankrupt Social Democracy and Stalinism, and trusting neither, the workers are held in the old organizations by the formula of centrism. And by that the crisis is prolonged and deepened.

The Revolutionary Way Out

The first condition for the solution of the international crisis of the labor movement is to assemble all the awakening revolutionary forces for a common struggle. It is unthinkable that this assembly can take place on the basis of either the Second or the Third Internationals. It will take place, rather, in irreconcilable struggle against them. If they were not both bankrupt the present crisis of capitalism would have led to revolutionary victories instead of fascist reaction.

Forces making for the revolutionary regeneration of the international movement converge from three different sources. They are: the International Communists (formerly the Left Opposition of the Comintern), independent socialist parties and groups, and the bona fide left wing developing and growing rapidly in the Social Democratic parties. The task is to bring them together, to unfurl a clean banner.

The Revolutionary Policy Committee indubitably has the possibility of becoming a serious force in the coming regroupment in the United States. A clean break with the Second International, not only as a program but also as an organization, is its necessary next step on this road.

Last updated on 13 May 2016