From New International, Vol.14 No.7, September 1948, pp.208-212.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Now ’tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted;
– Henry VI, 2: III, i.
The galloping political degeneration of the leadership of the Fourth International goes on apace. The latest product of its brain trust, however, is something of a departure even for these theoreticians. For one thing, obviously, it can no longer be explained merely on grounds of political stupidity.
We are referring to the Open Letter to the Congress, Central Committee and Members of the Yugoslav Communist Party signed by the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. 
This hair-raising document reaches a new high in Stalinotropism – a new high, that is, for people who call themselves “Trotskyists,” indeed “orthodox Trotskyists.” It does not quite come out of a clear blue sky, it is true, having been foreshadowed in a degree by the political support which these people gave to the Stalinists in the last Italian election and elsewhere, as well as by the whole course of their political devolution.
Or, as philosophers, who find
– Jonathan Swift
Some preliminary information will be useful before we present the pièce de resistance itself. At the Second Congress of the Fourth International, which took place only a couple of short months before our subjects were unhinged by the Tito explosion, a resolution was solemnly passed on the nature of Russia’s satellite states in Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia (the so-called glacis or buffer countries).
They had a head-breaking problem to work out in doing this. According to them, Russia itself is a (degenerated) workers’ state – the criterion being its nationalized economy. Then how about Yugoslavia and the other satellites – in which industry has been nationalized anywhere from 60 to 90 per cent? By all logic and using the same criterion, they should label these “workers’ states” also. But this conclusion they rejected – adamantly and without equivocation!
The explanation for the resulting inconsistency is also clear. To admit that Yugoslavia (letting this country stand for all of these states) is now a “workers’ state” is to admit that a social revolution has taken place there – a social revolution made not by the working class or under revolutionary socialist leadership, but a social revolution bureaucratically imported by the Stalinist totalitarians. One is therefore constrained to conclude that Stalinism – whatever distasteful characteristics it may have – is capable of spreading international revolution and overthrowing capitalism, leaving workers’ states in its wake.
But if Stalinism does have this revolutionary mission, even if it accomplishes that mission by methods we do not prefer, there is no historical reason for existence for an independent revolutionary party and certainly no future for it. At best, one can only look toward the role of a democratic opposition in, or wing of, the Stalinist wave-of-the-future, going along with it in its revolutionary role while seeking to moderate or relax its unpleasant features.
To avoid this hard but inescapable deduction from their position, logic and reality were ruled off the agenda by the FI congress and the following conclusions installed in their place:
In the “buffer” countries the state remains bourgeois: (a) Because the state structure remains bourgeois; ... (b) Because the function of the state remains bourgeois. Whereas the workers’ state defends the collective ownership of the means of production, arising from a victorious socialist revolution, the state of the “buffer” countries defends property which, despite its diverse and hybrid forms, remains fundamentally bourgeois in character ...
Thus, while maintaining bourgeois function and structure, the state of the “buffer” countries represents at the same time an extreme form of Bonapartism ...[Fourth International, June 1948, p.119.]
From the bourgeois character of the state in the “buffer” countries results the necessity for the violent destruction of its bureaucratic machine as an essential condition for the victory of the socialist revolution in these countries. [Quatrième Internationale, March-May 1948, p.39.]
The thesis furthermore speaks of the “Stalinist police dictatorship in these countries.” A little later it draws a couple of concrete political corollaries:
The fact that capitalism still exists in these countries side by side with the exploitation by the Stalinist bureaucracy must fundamentally determine our strategy. The capitalist nature of these countries imposes the necessity of the strictest revolutionary defeatism in wartime. [Fourth International, p.121.]
And – a sentiment to be especially kept in mind as we read the Open Letter –
Likewise, from the Russian occupation forces or from pro-Stalinist governments, which are completely reactionary, we do not demand the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, the setting up of a real foreign-trade monopoly, an effective struggle against speculation and the black market. [Ibid., p.121. My emphasis.]
To sum this up:
Every one of these five points was tossed out of the window in the most unceremonious fashion in the production of the Open Letter, without even a decent leavetaking. We can spare barely a sentence to wonder how an executive committee can dare to do this only a couple of months after a “world congress” (following their leadership too!) has laid down the line. Our subjects evidently absorb more from the Stalinists than merely their politics ...
This, at any rate, was the line adopted by our “orthodox Trotskyists” in opposition to the dastardly attempts by petty-bourgeois revisionists. and other canaille to tempt them from the path of virtue.
The small chameleon has the knack
– Samuel Hoffenstein
This analysis and line on the satellite states was barely passed when the Tito events presented it with its first test. What attitude would seem to be required by the terms of the resolution?
The Yugoslav-Russian break represented a conflict between a capitalist state on the one hand and a “workers’ state” on the other (to use the FI’s labels) . Setting itself up against “workers’ Russia” was a state in which the bourgeoisie had preserved “the maintenance of its essential social privileges,” in which “capitalist production relations” still existed, etc., as we have seen. There would seem to be no doubt about where the sympathies of the FI should lie – with Russia as against Tito.
In fact, on this basis one could even make a case for claiming that the resolution had “predicted” some such break, for in several passages it speaks of the stiffening resistance to Russian domination by the bourgeoisies of the satellite countries (see especially Point 21 of the resolution). In point after point, it paints a picture of the bourgeoisie beginning to feel its oats again, of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie being taken in tow by the bourgeoisie, etc. What more natural than to conclude, therefore, that Tito has capitulated to the pressure of the Yugoslav bourgeoisie and is being pushed by the latter to break with the foreign oppressors? If any attitude flows from the resolution, it is precisely this: condemnation of the Tito split as a bourgeois-restorationist move.
But our theoreticians, far from having the courage of their convictions, themselves looked upon the resolution as a mere exercise in apologetics. Yugoslavia had been labeled a capitalist state in the first place, as we pointed out, only in order to avoid an unwelcome conclusion, the theory of the bureaucratic road to the social revolution. Now, in order to avoid another unwelcome conclusion – support of Stalin against the Tito rebels – the whole fantastic structure upon which the first apologia was based had to be simply junked. Reeling from side to side under the impact of real events, they finally ended up by falling on their face.
In the United States, the Militant of the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites) was faced on June 29 with the same problem as the Daily Worker: how to handle an event which failed to jibe with previous notions. Its first reaction was:
(1) This is just a scrap between rival dictators.
Tito and Stalin want the workers to choose between them ... Regardless of what Tito and Stalin want, the workers will surely reject this trap of choosing between the type of gold braid worn in Belgrade as against the type Stalin prefers in the Kremlin. [Militant, July 19]
(2) Tito is not a Trotskyist, they indignantly explain. Unaware of the fact that he is talking about a “comrade” of the Fourth International, John G. Wright even goes into detail:
Tito knows no other school of politics than Stalinism. The hands of this shady adventurer drip with the blood of hundreds of Yugoslav Trotskyists and other militants whom he murdered during the civil war in Yugoslavia. He began his service as a purger of Stalin’s political opponents as far back as 1928 ... Everywhere his specialty was purging “Trotskyists.” It was precisely in this capacity as an unquestioning and willing tool of the GPU that Tito was permitted to rise to the top. [Militant, July 6]
Let us keep this truthful description of “Comrade” Tito in mind. Even as it came off the press, the International Secretariat of the Fourth International was sending its first billet-doux, the Open Letter of July 1, followed up two weeks later by the longer letter we have mentioned.
It seemed to Jurgen that King Smoit evinced embarrassment, but it is hard to be quite certain when a ghost is blushing.
– Brunch Cabell
The first thing that hits a socialist in the face, reading this letter to the bloody-handed totalitarian dictator of Belgrade and his party, is its tone. The Open Letter of July 1, being brief, exudes it in condensed form:
The official press of the Communist parties is seeking to engulf you in a flood of slanders and insults ... this system of slander campaigns which has in the past destroyed so many precious forces in the labor movement. ... Now you are in a position to understand ... the real meaning of the Moscow Trials ...
You hold in your hands a mighty power if only you summon enough strength to persevere on the road of the socialist revolution and its program ... Keep up your fight! ... [The Fourth International] wants to address itself in this our first message to you not concerning those things about which we must be critical of you with regard to your past and more recent course. We wish rather to take note of the promise in your resistance – the promise of victorious resistance by a revolutionary workers’ party against ... the Kremlin machine ...
Long Live the Yugoslav Socialist Revolution! ...
How tender, how comradely! It is with a mental wrench that one remembers that these honeyed accents are addressed to a Stalinist party ruling a police regime, to the party which is the bureaucratized apparatus of an experienced GPU butcher!
Note the reference to the Cominform’s “slanders and insults.” The second Open Letter begins by ringing further changes on this theme: “They [the Cominform] accuse your party of its ‘lack of democracy,’ ... without giving you a chance to defend yourselves ...” What slanders? Apparently the Cominform’s denunciations of Tito’s “Turkish” regime! Is this a slander, i.e., untrue? There is not a word which gainsays the air of indignant repudiation of these “slanders” against Tito’s fair name (unless we are told it is the later passage in which the party is politely urged to democratize itself!).
We are also prepared to be told that this monstrous letter is not “really” addressed to the Tito gangsters but to the “honest workers” in the Yugoslav Stalinist party. We shall see other reasons to laugh at this, but right now we can ask: If the letter is addressed not to the dictator and his gang but to “honest workers,” then why this delicacy? Why the total and complete failure to denounce (all right then, at least criticize) the fact that Tito’s party is a bureaucratized creature of the secret police, like every other Stalinist party in Eastern Europe?
We have room to cite only the vilest portions of the Open Letter, Content to point out that a complete reading is necessary in order to savor its full-bodied flavor of fawning flattery.
(1) The Fourth International pledges itself to be the devil’s advocate:
It [the FI] calls upon the Communist workers of all countries to send their delegations to Yugoslavia, in order to find out on the spot the real policies pursued by your party. Tomorrow it will make known your documents in twenty different languages, because a Communist cannot tolerate that militants be judged without a hearing. It asks you to permit a delegation of its leadership to attend your congress, to make contact with the Yugoslav Communist movement to knit close fraternal tics with you, which can only be of service to the world Communist movement.
(2) It represents Tito’s party machine as the rallying center for revolutionary workers, the decisive force for revolution in the country:
Your choice will decide for years, if not for decades, the fate of your country and its proletariat ...
On this road [if you capitulate to American imperialism] the work undertaken by your party will only come to complete ruin ... [The policy we advocate] will permit you to hold out while awaiting new mass struggles, to stimulate these and to conquer with them.
We have already quoted the previous exhortation to “summon up enough strength to persevere on the road of the socialist revolution and its program.”
(3) It tells the Titoists there are three roads, three possible choices, before them. These are: capitulation to the Cominform; attempting to balance between Western imperialism and Russia, or even capitulation to Western imperialism; and (the only correct road) “a return to the Leninist conception of the social revolution.” There is one possible choice, road or perspective which the letter does not even mention: namely, the very perspective which the Tito Stalinists do in fact propose for themselves.
This piece of stupidity is so typical of our subjects that we must pause. Everybody knows, except the IS, that the road which the Titoists have chosen for themselves is: not capitulation to the Cominform’s demands; not capitulation to Western imperialism; and not balancing between East and West. They proclaim that their road is that of remaining within the Russian bloc as an independent partner. Now it may be argued that this is impossible, that the Russians will not permit them to do so, etc., but the fact is that this and no other is the direction in which their faces are set. And it is precisely this that the Open Letter does not even mention as a possible choice, let alone as the choice actually made!
... can it be that ye
– James Russell Lowell
(4) We raised the question of whether the Open Letter is addressed to the Tito bureaucracy or to “honest Communist workers” against the Tito bureaucracy. Let us try to overlook the fact that there is not a word in it differentiating between the two, since we will be told that this is after all a matter of diplomacy (diplomacy with a totalitarian butcher!). But the letter specifically opposes a change in leadership!
There are certainly militants among you who ... even propose that it is preferable, under these conditions, to make a public apology, to declare acceptance of the Cominform’s “criticism” and even to change your leadership ... Such a decision would be, in our opinion, an irreparably tragic error ... Together with your present leadership they [the Cominform] would completely eliminate all cadres with any independence of thought ... [My emphasis.]
Of course, the question of a “change in leadership” is here raised in connection with capitulation to the Cominform, but nowhere is there the slightest hint that some kind of change in leadership might be of benefit to the “honest workers.” On the contrary, the “present leadership” is bracketed together with “all cadres with any independence of thought”!
The “honest workers” – that is, the rank and file – come in for consideration a little later, not as the force which is to be directed against Tito in order to return to the “Leninist conception,” but as an obstacle to such a possibility.
We do not hide the fact that such a policy [return to Leninism] would come up against very great obstacles in your own country and even in your own ranks. A complete re-education of your cadres [active militants] in the spirit of true Leninism would be necessary.
This is the only “obstacle” mentioned – the necessity of re-educating the rank-and-file militants of the party. Who is to re-educate them?
Precisely the party leadership, of course, to whom this letter is appealing. Would a “return to Leninism” explode the whole bureaucratic Stalinized structure upon which Tito rests, the Yugoslav Communist Party? No, argues the Open Letter, it would strengthen you!
It is necessary to launch not only a vast campaign of reeducation but also a period of discussion and free expression for all workers ... Your party has nothing to fear from such a development. The confidence of the masses in it will grow enormously and it will indeed become the collective expression of the interests and sentiments of the proletariat of this country.
The Fourth International has come full circle back to the days of the Left Opposition, when the Trotskyist movement considered its task to be the reformation of the Communist Parties, the task of saving the Communist Parties from themselves.
(5) It is this “left opposition” approach which alone explains such an eye-goggling passage as the following. Speaking of the danger of capitulation to the Cominform –
Such a decision would deal a still heavier blow to the international Communist movement. In every country the most courageous and independent Communist militants would he reduced to silence. The most servile elements would triumph everywhere.
In very truth, the Fourth International is mentally back in the days when Stalin and Trotsky were still struggling for ascendancy in the Comintern! Comrades of the IS: in what country of the world have “the most servile elements” not yet triumphed in the CPs? In what country of the world have “the most courageous and independent militants” (which, we take it. means truly revolutionary workers) not been reduced to silence in the CPs – and indeed to a more deathlike silence than that of the dumb? Or is the phrase about “every country” supposed to point to Yugoslavia, where Tito, Kardelj, Djilas, Rankovic & Co. are among “the most courageous and independent militants”?
(6) Comrades of the Yugoslav CP, says the Open Letter, democratize yourselves and your party!
The Front committees must he organs truly elected by the workers of city and country ... They must become real state organs, and take the place of the present hybrid organs, which are relics of the bourgeois stale apparatus. [Etc., etc.]
How delicately our subjects dance around the necessity of designating the state as “capitalist” with the fine; brashness which characterizes its private resolution! The present organs of the state are ... relics of the bourgeois state apparatus – which can only imply that the bourgeois state apparatus is a thing of the past. Aren’t we fortunate that, having access to the private resolutions of the Fourth International, we are privy to the secret that all this is ... diplomacy? Shall we expect that a suitor for the Borgia’s hand will inconsiderately refer to her peccadilloes with poison?
(7) And finally – the passage that one waits for with bated breath: the discussion, promised in the Open Letter of July 1, “concerning those things about which we must be critical of you,” We are compelled to admit that there is such a passage. It consists of exactly three sentences.
We have numerous and important differences with your past and recent policies. We are in complete disagreement with the theory and practice of “popular democracy,” for we do not believe there is any road other than the dictatorship of the proletariat between capitalism and socialism. We believe that the use and propagation of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois customs (liveries, titles, offices’ stripes, decorations) can only cause the demoralization of real communists.
That is all. These are the two criticisms singled out for mention in an address to the rulers of a Stalinist police dictatorship led by a bloody-handed GPU graduate. It would be quite useless to point out that Criticism No.1 would fail to impress the Yugoslav Stalinists who carefully explained at their recent Fifth Congress that the “people’s authority” in their “popular democracy” is the essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat in their opinion – that is, they are hanging on to the phrase. But this sentence in the Open Letter is not intended to impress any Yugoslavs: it is inserted as gingerly as possible merely in order to be able to say: See, we aren’t entirely uncritical, are we? ... The second “criticism” is simply a poor joke.
(8) In closing, the Open Letter calls for nothing less than unity. Its climactic slogan is: “YUGOSLAV COMMUNISTS, LET US UNITE OUR EFFORTS FOR A NEW LENINIST INTERNATIONAL!”
He touches the remotest pole, and in the center weeps
– William Blake
It does not, of course, take great perspicacity to understand that the authors of the Open Letter look upon it as a clever maneuver. We are even willing to admit, for the sake of argument, that it will arouse the sympathy of a few Stalinist workers (in France or England or Belgium – not in Yugoslavia, of course, where it will never see the light of day!) in direct proportion to the extent to which it succeeds in convincing them that the “Trotskyists” are not so far from Stalinism as they thought.
Why has the Open Letter nothing to say about the crimes of Tito and the other ringleaders of the Belgrade dictatorship? Because our clever maneuverers are themselves trying to capitalize on the cult of Tito which was built up in the Communist Parties by the Stalinist propaganda apparatus.  Instead of drawing a line of demarcation between the Fourth International and at least the leadership of the Yugoslav Stalinists, the Open Letter is deliberately and carefully written to make an amalgam of the two in the mind of a confused Stalinist worker in whose ears the hosannas to Tito are still resounding.
The “clever maneuver” is to take a ride on the tail of Tito’s popularity. Very literally, the purpose of the Open Letter is to try to convince a Stalinist militant here or there that the Fourth International does represent a kind of left-wing Stalinism and that he should therefore not be “afraid” of it. The history of this type of clever maneuver is an overabundant one: it in the maneuverers who wind up by being convinced of what they are saying, and it is their own ranks which are disoriented.
The Stalinotropism of the Fourth International leadership is flowering. We have seen how great is the gravitational pull of the Stalinist movement on the working class of Europe. Not its most important manifestation but certainly its extremest one is its effect on this section even of the Trotskyists.
It would be correct but superficial to compare the present trend of the FI with the “left opposition” days of 1929-33: that was an expression of the infancy of the movement; this is a phenomenon of senility. Or: in those days the movement had not yet broken its umbilical cord; today our subjects are dreaming of crawling back into the womb.
With these politics we have nothing in common. The other side of the same coin is the gravitational pull of Western imperialism on the social-democracy and reformists. Not between both but against both is the only course for a socialist solution of the crisis of civilization.
1. The copy from which passages in this article will be quoted is the French text as mimeographed and distributed by the IS, eleven pages long single-spaced, dated July 14. We expect that the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites) of this country will do its duty and publish it in full in its press. Under date of July 1. the IS had previously indited a short Open Letter to the Communist Party of Yugoslavia which ended by promising the longer follow-up; this was published in The Militant of July 26. The latter document is referred to in this article as the Open Letter of July 1, in order to differentiate.
2. Consider the following: from (he organ of the Belgian section of the Fourth International. The lead article says the Cominform statement reminds one of the Moscow Trials “where one saw the most prominent leaders of the Bolshevik Party accused of crimes which were invented out of whole cloth by the GPU.” As if the comparison itself were not enough to choke them, it immediately continues: “There is however a difference between the case of Tito and that of the accused in the Moscow Trials Tito does not confess but defends himself by attacking.” (Lutte Ouvrière, July 10.) There it is before one’s popping eyes, in plain French. Noble, noble Tito! not only to be compared with Lenin’s old Bolsheviks, but compared to his own advantage! In Belgrade, the chanting sycophants merely call him “Hero Tito.”
Last updated on 6.8.2005