Ernest Mandel

The Reasons for Founding the Fourth International

VI. The bureaucracy cannot introduce institutionalised socialist democracy

The inevitability of anti-bureaucratic revolutions predicted in the Fourth International’s program has been historically confirmed since the Second World War. It has ceased to be a speculative idea. The explosive events of June 1953 in the GDR, of Hungary and Poland in 1956, of Czechoslovakia in 1968-69, of Poland in 1980-81 and partially in China during the 1966-86 period give the concept of political revolution an increasingly concrete form and content.

In fact an adequate perception of the future of bureaucratised societies in transition between capitalism and socialism is an integral part of the Marxist political armoury today. No correct international proletarian political activity is possible without such a perception. Also the perspective of the anti-bureaucratic political revolution and the consequent political strategy is opposed to:

In no way does this mean the bureaucracy is incapable of carrying out any reforms, sometimes even very bold ones, when this is the price it will pay for its survival. The imperialist bourgeoisie and even the bourgeoisie of several semi-colonial or dependent semi-industrialised countries have incidentally shown a similar capability. Just think a moment of the workers’ self-management set up by the Yugoslav CP in 1950, the concessions the Nagy faction made to the masses in Hungary in 1956, the reforms implemented by the Dubcek leadership in Summer 1968 in Czechoslovakia. Today’s glasnost policy being implemented in the USSR is along the same lines.

But these reforms come up against an insurmountable barrier of social interests when they endanger the material privileges of the bureaucracy. Any real sovereignty of workers’ and people’s councils, indeed any restoration of unrestricted democratic rights for the broad masses, will tend to have the same effect. This is why the reform movement will stop before these thresholds are breached (generally, defined also by any challenge to the CP’s monopoly of power). Even if it is initiated by a wing of the bureaucracy, it can only break these thresholds if it is transformed into a genuine “revolution” from below with powerful mass mobilisations and the emergence of various forms of self organisation by the proletariat and other working people.

The interaction between divisions within the bureaucracy, triggered by internal contradictions of the system as well as by the first signs of popular opposition, and the subsequent development of an autonomous mass movement is part of the real process towards the anti-bureaucratic political revolution since 1948. The role played in this by de-Stalinisation (de-Maoisation) initiatives, such as the spectacular one of Khrushchev from 1955-56, comprising not only the famous “secret report” to the CPSU’s 20th Congress but also the release of millions of prisoners, must also be understood.

The Fourth International was almost alone among the tendencies of the international workers’ movements to have had a generally correct approach to this vast historic movement, although it has been mistaken sometimes on conjunctural judgements. This meant it had a more correct analysis of the evolution of these countries and the international situation as a whole (particularly during the Korean war, the Vietnam war and when there was hysteria about the “imminent danger of war and extermination” at the beginning of the 1980s). It also permitted it to assign the right importance to solidarity with the anti-bureaucratic mass movements in the bureaucratised workers’ states (specifically Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland 1980-81) within a framework of trying to reconstitute the continuous unity of the world proletariat in line with the old maxim: one for all and all for one.

Above all it is a practical and political task, a duty all workers’ organisations and in any case all international currents outside our own have failed to earn out. But more than that is involved. We need to understand that the anti-bureaucratic political revolution is an integral and an extremely important part of the world proletarian revolution, due to the far from secondary fact that a third of the world proletariat lives today in these countries and will participate in these revolutions.

Its importance for the world revolution is even greater today due to the profound discredit Stalinism and the post-Stalinist bureaucratic regimes, have cast on communism, socialism, and Marxism in general. Today it is the main subjective obstacle preventing the masses of the industrialised capitalist countries from committing themselves to the socialist alternatives.

Consequently there is an objective dialectic between progress towards the anti-bureaucratic political revolution on the one hand and progress to the proletarian socialist revolution in the imperialist countries on the other. The dialectic operates in both directions. In today’s world no decisive progress of the world revolution is even thinkable without the unfolding of this dual dialectic. Without this victorious political revolution there will be no solution to the crisis in the USSR, Eastern Europe, or China.


Last updated on 22.7.2004