Ralph Graham

May Day 1944

(May 1944)

From Fourth International, vol.5 No.5, pp.136-139.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On the occasion of May Day, a day symbolic of socialist struggle and working class solidarity, it is fitting to review the primary tasks of the revolutionary vanguard in all countries with regard to the crucial problems and issues facing the toiling and exploited masses of mankind who are suffering the horrors of war and are seeking a way out.

The passivity and apathy of the masses during the first years of the second World War is dissipating rapidly in the fifth year of the slaughter, which has already lasted longer than the World War of 1914-1918. The shift in mood is becoming more and more marked. War-weariness, and a desire to find a way out of the bloody welter are being manifested by the workers in a number of countries. The tortured and deceived peoples are no longer prepared to leave their fate in the hands of the criminal capitalist war-makers, but are beginning an active and independent intervention in the war, with aims and purposes of their own.

With the revolutionary battle-cry of “Peace and Bread!” on their lips the Italian working class was the first to enter the revolutionary road, after the overthrow of the regime of Mussolini and his Black Shirt gangsters. Today, in northern Italy, the workers are battling the Nazi enslavers who have occupied their country. In the south, they are continuing the fight against the infamous regime of Badoglio and the King which survives solely by virtue of supporting Allied bayonets.

A World-Wide Trend

The overthrow of Italian fascism and the continuing battle against reaction by the Italian masses represent the first lightning flashes of the approaching revolutionary storm in Europe.

Throughout occupied Europe, in France, Belgium, Holland. Denmark, Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, the movements of mass resistance are gaining in strength. Beginning under the Nazi jackboot, as a resistance to the oppressing invader, these movements are everywhere becoming fused with the class struggle. Opposition to the Nazi regime in Germany itself, and in Austria, becomes more and more manifest. The reactionary governments of Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal live precariously over a social volcano.

The movement of the resurgent masses is not confined to Nazi-dominated Europe. In England, in Australia and Canada, the working-class is moving into open opposition against the “democratic” capitalists and their vile imperialist schemes. The workers are coming more and more to disavow and violate the treacherous truce with their class enemy which was imposed upon them by the fake labor leaders at the beginning of the war. Despite all the frantic appeals and threats of the governments and the labor traitors, strikes of growing magnitude occur with increasing frequency. The class struggle breaks through the hardened crust of thinly veiled war dictatorships. In all the countries of “democratic” capitalism the workers are taking to the road of independent class action, both on the industrial and political fields.

In the countries of the Orient this vitalizing movement of mass resurgence is likewise taking place. From behind a heavy veil of censorship we learn of strikes and hunger riots in Japan. The fearfully oppressed workers and peasants of that country, held down for years under an iron military-police dictatorship, are at long last defying the imperialist policies of their rulers which have brought them nothing but death and misery. Just across the Yellow Sea, the masses of China are manifesting opposition to Chiang Kai-shek’s murderous regime. In India, the struggle of 400,000,000 colonial slaves for national independence, for freedom from imperialist oppression, has been temporarily quelled but far from crushed. The first victories of the revolution in Europe will inspire the Indian masses to intensify their battle for freedom. The whole colonial world will be set aflame.

The outstanding fact for revolutionary Socialists in the present situation is this world-wide manifestation of a break in the mood of the masses. From quiet submission to the war and to the war plans of the imperialists, in the Allied as in the Axis camp, the war-weary peoples are beginning to awaken. This awakening is unmistakable. But the masses have as yet no program, nor a responsible revolutionary leadership. They are discontented and rebellious, but they still do not understand the true cause of their terrible plight nor discern the road out of their miseries. It is necessary to imbue them with the realization that the present war is a continuation of the war of 1914-18 in which the imperialists set themselves the task of redividing the world. Now they seek to divide it again in accordance with the new relationship of forces, taking account, above all, of the dominant world role of American imperialism. The duration of the war will be determined, in the last analysis, by the willingness or unwillingness of the masses to permit themselves to be killed and maimed for the greater profit of their exploiters and oppressors.

Their Deeds and Their Lies

By their policies and deeds the “democratic” imperialists are confounding their own lying propaganda and unwittingly helping the workers to understand the true character of the war. Before the ink had dried on the so-called “Atlantic Charter” with its hypocritical promise to spread the “four freedoms” to the four corners of the world, Churchill made haste to announce that it did not apply to the millions of colonial slaves of British imperialism in India. Britain has refused to return Hong Kong to China even after the war, although this is Chinese territory and was seized by force a century ago. Puerto Rico remains a colony of the American imperialists despite a promise of independence made forty years ago. Occupation of North Africa by the Anglo-American armies has not brought freedom and independence to the peoples of that area, but renewed enslavement to French imperialism supported by Allied bayonets. The imperialists of Holland, France and Britain, deprived of their Far Eastern colonies by their Japanese adversaries, do not even promise independence to the millions in the Netherlands East Indies, French Indo-China, Burma and Malaya after the Japanese invaders have been driven out. On the contrary, they openly proclaim their intention to establish the status quo ante, to restore their own imperialist rule and the exploitation of the inhabitants.

Crisscrossing the restorationist plans of the smaller empires are the sinister designs and aims of the big pirates of Britain and the United States. The British colonial despots harbor designs on the French African colonies. American monopoly capital eyes hungrily the lush “possessions” of France and Holland in the Far East, the larger and richer colonies of the British Empire and China. Wall Street tells the world that it aims at nothing less than world domination. Thus in the very midst of the present war the seeds of a new destructive conflict are sown.

The self-exposure of the imperialists is driving ever larger masses of the workers into opposition to the war. It is the task of the revolutionary vanguard to show the workers the way out of the morass. They must convince the masses that the only road to peace is the road to Socialism. They must convince the masses that so long as capitalism with its greedy rivalries remains, war with all its horrors, distress and privation will go on and new wars will be inevitable. They must convince the workers that only they, by their united action, can sweep the putrid capitalist system away and build a new world of peace and plenty.

Throughout history war and revolution have been intertwined. The Franco-Prussian war gave rise to the Paris Commune in 1871. The first Russian Revolution of 1905 erupted as a consequence of the Russo-Japanese War. The World War of 1914-18 set the stage for the great Bolshevik revolution which swept capitalism from one-sixth of the earth’s surface. It produced revolutions in Germany, Hungary and Finland in the early post-war period, led up to the revolutionary general strike in England in 1926, and germinated the seeds of the Chinese Revolution in 1925-1927.

Allied Plans for Europe

The imperialists are beset with the fear, amounting to certainty, that the present slaughter will produce a new wave of revolutions to imperil and perhaps destroy their system. Events in Italy which accompanied and followed the overthrow of Mussolini confirmed their fears and the threat of revolution haunts them like a nightmare. To meet the threat of a European revolution they are conspiring with every reactionary element on the continent with a view to insuring the maintenance of capitalist “order” on the morrow of their invasion. Capitalist counter-revolution is mustering all its cohorts.

In southern Italy and Sicily the workers and peasants find themselves held down, ruled by decree, deprived of democratic liberties, kept on starvation rations by the police-military dictatorship of Badoglio and the King whose, main support is the bayonets of the Allied imperialists. Do the Italian people wish to make a clean sweep of the last vestiges of the fascist regime, to free themselves of the rotted capitalist system which gave birth to both fascism and the war, to live under a system and a government of their own choosing? The “democratic” Allies are there with their troops to see that capitalism, together with the reactionary monarchial Badoglio regime, are preserved! Do the Italian masses desire an end to the imperialist slaughter? Again the “democratic” Allies are there to harness them to the Anglo-American war machine.

Roosevelt’s instructions to Gen. Eisenhower to deal with whatever French authorities he sees fit when Allied armies have landed in France indicates clearly the intention to establish in that country, too, a police-military dictatorship of the Badoglio type. The Allies come, not to free France and restore democracy, but to guarantee “order” and preserve capitalism against the insurgent actions of the workers.

Nor do they plan to liberate Germany. There, as in Italy, they will endeavor to place a reactionary clique in power to hold the masses down and prevent them from making a clean sweep of the capitalist system which spawned the Nazi regime. They plan to tear Germany apart, Balkanize the entire European continent, establish puppet dictatorships, and place the inhabitants on hunger rations for the security and profit of Anglo-American imperialism. Plots and plans and schemes toward this end are being hatched in Washington and London at a time when Europe’s crying need is for political and economic unification to banish national and race rivalries, to insure peace, and to make possible a regime of social progress.

Against the reactionary machinations of the “democracies” for the dismemberment and enslavement of the European continent, the revolutionary vanguard must propagate with increased vigor the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe as the rallying cry of the masses. Only the abolition of capitalism and the realization of workers’ rule can save Europe from barbarism and slavery and make possible an era of peace and plenty under Socialism.

In the Far East as in Europe, the aims and plans of the imperialists run contrary to the deepest interests and desires of the peoples. The Anglo-American coalition is conducting war against Japan, not in order to liberate China and other countries from the grip of the Nipponese imperialists, but in order to replace the latter as the oppressors and exploiters of Oriental peoples.

Roosevelt and Churchill, moreover, realize that Japan’s defeat will surely touch off a revolutionary explosion in that country and that the resulting conflagration will spread to all of Asia to bring crashing to the ground their schemes for the enslavement and exploitation of the bulk of the world’s population. Casting around for a likely Japanese puppet to head a new regime of reaction in Japan, they are eyeing the Emperor Hiro-hito as a likely candidate and as a preliminary have forbidden public criticism of this symbol of capitalist-feudal Japan.

Against the counter-revolutionary schemings of the imperialists, against the plot to head off the Japanese revolution, to stifle the will of the Japanese masses and to bring the Japanese and all other eastern peoples into a new system of imperialist enslavement, the revolutionary vanguard must raise the slogan of Freedom for the Colonies. All Support to the Oriental Peoples in Their Struggle for Liberation!

The Reaction at Home

The counter-revolutionary plans of London and Washington with regard to Europe and Asia are a continuation and extension of reactionary policies pursued at home. In Britain and America the living standards of the workers are being driven down while the capitalists gather in vast profits from the sweat and agony of their own and other nations. In both countries the labor movement is under constant attack by the capitalists and their governments. Democratic liberties, especially the right of free speech, are being more and more curtailed. In the midst of a war for “freedom” there is an increasing regimentation and Prussianization of daily life. The vile orgy of anti-Jewish pogroms in Hitler’s Europe is matched by persecution and discrimination against Negroes in Roosevelt’s “democratic” America and the extension of Jim Crow to American Negro soldiers in Churchill’s “democratic” British Isles. Failing the intervention of the workers, the end result of all these tendencies will be the wiping out of the labor movement, the abrogation of all democratic liberties and the erection of a totalitarian state.

At a time when the workers are coming to a realization of the meaning of these tendencies and taking more vigorously to the road of the class struggle, all the false friends and betrayers of labor stand on the side of the capitalists and their governments to deceive and disorient the workers and deliver them to their class enemies. The Labor Party and trade union bureaucracy in England have tied the British labor movement to Churchill’s war plans, just as the leaders of the AFL and CIO have tied the American labor movement to the war plans of Roosevelt and Wall Street. They proclaim their support of the war machine and hamper, sabotage and betray every effort of the workers to maintain or better their living standards. These labor lieutenants of the capitalist class have become so transparently treacherous to the workers’ movement they are supposed to serve that increasing numbers of class-conscious militants in labor’s ranks are beginning to see the necessity for a break with these fakers. They are turning away from the policies of class collaboration.

The Role of Stalinism

Upon the revolutionary vanguard rests the duty of encouraging every tendency by the workers to break from the leading-strings of the capitalists and their labor lackeys. Every reactionary move and plan of the class enemy, both at home and abroad, must be exposed to the hilt. Every treacherous deed of the labor fakers must be dragged into the light of day and the true role of these servants of capitalism revealed to the broadest ranks of the workers’ movement. Only in this way can the workers be led on to the wide battlefields of the class struggle, the struggle for a peaceful and prosperous life under socialism.

Even more perfidious in their betrayals of the workers’ struggle are the so-called Communist Parties, which in the course of fifteen years have degenerated from vanguard parties in the revolutionary struggle for socialism into venal agencies of the counter-revolutionary Soviet bureaucracy and its imperialist allies. In every country the Stalinist leaders appear as the spearhead of reaction and counter-revolution, enemies of the working class, betrayers of socialism. In World War II they have taken the place which the treacherous social-democrats of the now defunct Second International occupied in World War I – that of the most ardent defenders of the capitalist “fatherland.”

The fountain-head of the corruption and degeneration of the Communist parties is the counter-revolutionary Soviet bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, of which Stalin is the leading personifier and representative. It rose to power in the Soviet Union because the 1919-1923 post-war revolutionary wave in Europe was broken and left the first workers’ state isolated in a hostile capitalist encirclement, amid the economic and cultural backwardness inherited from Czarism.

The political ideology of the ruling bureaucratic stratum was expressed in the theory that socialism could be built in one country. It was under this ideological cover that the Stalinist bureaucracy proceeded to entrench itself in the apparatus of the Soviet state, elevate itself above the masses, arrogate to itself unheard-of powers and privileges. “Socialism in one country” meant assuring all the comforts and attributes of a bourgeois life for the new privileged stratum which rapidly grew into a hardened parasitic growth on the new Soviet society. Irked by the democratic controls which the October revolution had established, the bureaucracy reduced the Bolshevik Party, the Soviets and the trade unions to impotence and established its own unbridled rule. The old revolutionary guard of the Bolshevik Party, the comrades-in-arms of Lenin and Trotsky, were framed up and murdered. Trotsky himself was killed by a hired assassin of Stalin’s secret police organization.

Hand in hand with this reactionary retrogression went the systematic destruction of most of the important social gains of the October revolution. Piece-work and the speed-up (Stakhanovism) were re-introduced. Wage differentials were established and economic inequality officially idealized. Factory committees were done away with. Free universal education and co-education have been abolished. The youth organization, the Young Communist League, was dissolved. The inequality of the sexes has been revived in law and in practice. Together with all these retrograde steps has gone the reintroduction of many of the most odious features of Czarist rule, including the internal passport system and a super-privileged caste of officers in the army.

The revolutionary internationalism of the days of Lenin and Trotsky has given way to the practice of unbridled chauvinism. The Internationale, revolutionary battle song of the working class, has been replaced by a vulgar national anthem. All organizational ties between the Soviet working class and the workers in capitalist lands have been liquidated by the disbandment of the Communist (Third) International. In place of the old reliance upon the revolutionary working class abroad as the shield and armor of the Soviet Union, the Stalinist bureaucracy now depends upon pacts and alliances with the imperialists. And since revolution anywhere threatens to topple the rotten Soviet bureaucracy from power, the Stalin regime gives aid and support to every reactionary plot of its imperialist allies. The Kremlin is in league with world reaction against the proletarian revolution. Its instruments abroad are the so-called Communist parties.

Our Defense of the USSR

The Soviet bureaucracy is not an independent social formation, with independent roots in the productive process, but an evil parasitic growth on the body of Soviet society. It utilized the backwardness and isolation of the Soviet Union in order to usurp the powers of government of a rising class, the working class, which had only yesterday smashed capitalism and come to power by revolution. It has no progressive historic mission to perform, but lives off and undermines a new society established by the proletarian revolution.

In defending or leading the defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack the Stalinist bureaucracy is simply defending its own privileged position. On the other hand, by its bureaucratic misrule and counter-revolutionary policies this caste also undermines and weakens the foundations of the Soviet state and gives aid and comfort to all the elements of capitalist restoration which seek to destroy the remaining conquests of the October revolution.

One thing the parasitic Soviet bureaucracy has not yet done: It has not destroyed the economic foundations of the new society which was ushered in by the October revolution. Capitalism, private property in the means of production, distribution and exchange, remains banished from the territory of the former Czarist Empire. The socialized economy of the Soviet Union is preserved and reveals its vast superiority over the system of capitalist anarchy, above all today, when the Red Army is defending the Soviet Union against imperialist attack. This is why the Trotskyists define the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers’ state which in spite of and against the rotten Stalinist bureaucracy must be defended by the world working class as a fortress of its own socialist future. Whereas in capitalist countries the workers must abolish capitalist rule and expropriate the factories and the land in order to proceed to the building of a new socialist order, in the Soviet Union the economic foundations of the socialist order already exist in the form of the nationalized property. The task for the Soviet working class is to overthrow the parasitic rule of the bureaucracy and restore all the institutions of Soviet democracy.

The Trotskyists, stand firm in their defense of the Soviet Union despite its degeneration under Stalin. The military vanquishment of the Soviet Union by imperialism, or the destruction of Soviet nationalized property by internal forces of counter-revolution, would signify the return of the former empire of the Czars to the world capitalist exploitation and reaction. The putrescent system of capitalism would gain a new lease on life. The Socialist movement of the working class would receive a setback from which it would take many years, perhaps decades, to recover. In order to win fresh victories, the revolutionary vanguard must recognize and know how to defend the conquests already made.

Churchill and Roosevelt, no less than Hitler, want to destroy what remains of the October revolution, for despite Stalin and his reactionary policies, the Soviet Union continues to be a thorn in the side of world capitalism. It continues to inspire and encourage the workers of all lands in their struggles to end capitalism and establish Socialism.

Defense of the Soviet Union does not mean defense of the counter-revolutionary Stalin regime, any more than the defense of a trade union under attack by the bosses means defense of the traitorous bureaucrats who dominate the union and sell out the workers. On the contrary, defense of the Soviet Union requires an unrelenting struggle against Stalinism both in the Soviet Union and abroad. Stalinism is the enemy and destroyer of the workers’ state. It poisons and weakens the international labor movement and has become a prop and mainstay of capitalism and counter-revolution, as witness the action of the Stalinists in coming to the rescue of the Badoglio regime. If the workers do not purge their movement of this corrupting menace, the coming tidal wave of the Socialist revolution will end only in defeats of the working class and the destruction of the Soviet Union.

With all its might the revolutionary vanguard of the workers must fight this dangerous canker of Stalinism. It must be exposed before the workers in all its treachery as an agency of the class enemy. Without the fight against Stalinism there can be no real fight for Socialism.

Alone and against all other parties and political groupings the Trotskyist movement defends and fights for both the immediate and historic interests of the working class. The trade union bureaucracies, the Social Democrats and the Stalinists have all betrayed the workers’ interests by supporting the imperialist war and are smeared beyond redemption with all the crimes of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The Trotskyists, on the other hand, have opposed the imperialist war from the beginning. They saw the war approaching and warned the workers against its frightful consequences. Consistently they have exposed the lie that it is a war for “freedom and democracy” and have revealed its reactionary imperialist character.

The Trotskyists alone have continued the struggle for Socialism. That is why eighteen leading American Trotskyists are today confined to prison where they were railroaded by Roosevelt under the infamous Smith “Gag” Act. That is why the British Trotskyists are being hounded by Churchill. In every country where the banner of Trotskyism is planted, the ruling class recognize in the Trotskyists their implacable foe.

Our Spotless Banner

Long before the war the banner of the Fourth International was planted in nearly every important country. Today, under the increasing terror of the war and the blows of reaction, its ranks are growing and its sections becoming more numerous. In England, the Trotskyist forces long divided, have united firmly on the program and principles of Trotskyism to form the Revolutionary Communist Party, British section of the Fourth International. In France our heroic co-thinkers of the Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste (International Workers’ Party) have maintained their organization in the teeth of the Nazi terror and continue to bring out their paper, Le Soviet. Even in Hitler’s Germany a revolutionary vanguard is once more being assembled under the banner of international socialism. In the coming period, with the growing radicalization of the masses, new revolutionary groupings will appear in many other countries. Many of them will move in our direction and claim to be Trotskyist. The Trotskyist movement welcomes and will continue to welcome every regroupment of the revolutionary vanguard elements and will accord them every possible assistance. It will, however, insist on the utmost programmatic clarity as a test of the political qualification of any group for adherence to our ranks.

The task of tasks confronting the revolutionary vanguard is to speed the consolidation and growth of the genuine revolutionary party in their respective countries.

In The Manifesto on the Imperialist War and The Proletarian Revolution, Leon Trotsky wrote:

“The capitalist world has no way out, unless a prolonged death agony is so considered. It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades, of war, uprisings, brief interludes of truce, new wars and new uprisings. A young revolutionary party must base itself on this perspective. History will provide it with enough opportunities and possibilities to test itself, to accumulate experience and to mature. The swifter the ranks of the vanguard are fused the more the epoch of bloody convulsions will be shortened, the less destruction will our planet suffer. But the great historical problem will not be solved in any case until a revolutionary party stands at the head of the proletariat. The question of tempos and time-intervals is of enormous importance; but it alters neither the general historical perspective nor the direction of our policy. The conclusion is a simple one: it is necessary to carry on. the work of educating and organizing the proletarian vanguard with tenfold energy. Precisely in this lies the task of the Fourth International.”

It is with this perspective that the Trotskyist movement confidently continues its forward march. The day is not far distant when decisive sections of the working class will find their place under its liberating banner.


Last updated on 20.3.2005