Ernest Mandel

The Reasons for Founding the Fourth International

VII. Extent and limits of the new revolutionary gains

Trotsky’s prediction that the Second World War would end in a revolutionary upsurge even greater than the one after the First World War, and that it would generally escape from the control of the traditional organisations (especially the Stalinist parties), turned out to be inaccurate. But neither was it totally contradicted by what actually happened historically. There was a revolutionary upsurge, but it was more limited than expected, in Italy and France. There were new revolutionary victories but not in predominantly industrial/proletarian countries. These revolutions were led by parties of Stalinist origin (except for Cuba), but they had to break with Stalinism in order to lead these revolutions. These revolutionary victories have deepened the crisis both of the international imperialist system and of Stalinism but they have not led to the overthrow of either. This was the general historical context of the period stretching roughly from the end of’ the Second World War to May 1968.

The most infantile way of responding to the unforeseen turn of events was to deny it ever took place at all. Some comrades even went so far as to deny there had been a social revolution of unparalleled magnitude in China. Others, when pushed on it accept that there had been something like “a revolution.” But since it was not “the” pure proletarian revolution we had been waiting for then it was not a “true” social revolution that broke with the imperialist/capitalist system. Instead we were dealing with the seizure of power by “petty-bourgeois” nationalists, or even by a “new ruling class” (which did not apparently exist until the moment it seized power!).

There is no point here in dwelling too long on these circumstantial analyses’ idealistic/normative character that departs from Marxism methodology or on the sectarian self-justification underpinning them. A social revolution is characterised by a fundamental change in property and production relations. Can one seriously deny that such a change took place in Yugoslavia, China, or in Vietnam? A social revolution is also defined by the destruction of ruling class power. Can one seriously assert that in Yugoslavia, China, or Vietnam power is held by the same social class that held it in 1940? On what facts can one base the proposition that the petty-bourgeoisie, i.e., the peasants, artisans, the “petty-bourgeois intellectuals,” are in power as a class in these countries?

But once you recognise these revolutions are authentically social and anti-capitalist ones leading to the development of new transitional societies between capitalism and socialism, albeit bureaucratised, and the creation of new bureaucratised workers’ states (these two concepts are synonymous for us) another theoretical difficulty arises. Trotsky said that Stalinism had definitively gone over to the side of bourgeois order in the capitalist countries. Now here we had three authentic popular revolutions involving the mobilisation of millions of men and women (tens of millions in China) which had certainly been led by parties of Stalinist origin. [18] Was Trotsky therefore mistaken on this question? Should all the traditional analyses of Stalinism by the Fourth International be revised?

Your answer to a large extent depends on the very definition given to Stalinism. This has to be materialist and not ideological. [19] Stalinism is the subordination of the interests of the proletariat and the revolution of each specific country to the interests of a privileged bureaucracy. Clearly, with their line of the revolutionary overthrow of the ruling classes the Yugoslav, Chinese, and Vietnamese CPs did not subordinate the interests of the revolution and the proletariat of their countries to those of the Soviet bureaucracy. It is also clear that neither did they subordinate these interests to those of some privileged Yugoslav, Chinese, or Vietnamese bureaucracy that did not exist at that time. Consequently these parties ceased to be Stalinist parties from the moment they decided to take a line of working towards the revolutionary conquest of power at the head of a powerful mass movement.

Furthermore, they were not only able to seize power because they had broken in theory and practice with Stalinism since they had refused to subordinate the revolutionary struggle to the interests, the injunctions and “theories” of the Kremlin, and they did this years before the seizure of power. Saying these turns were due just to the “pressure of the masses” reduces to nothing the decisive role of the subjective factor in the victory of a revolution. Indeed such a line of reasoning leads to a paradoxical conclusion: was it then the insufficient pressure of the masses which lies behind the defeat of the revolution in Greece, Indonesia, Chile as opposed to victory in Yugoslavia, China, and Cuba? Responsibility would then fall on the shoulders of the masses and not on the traitorous leaderships.

Reality is quite different. There was not less pressure from the masses (nor less severe counterrevolutionary threats) in Greece than in Yugoslavia, in Indonesia than in Indochina or China, in Chile rather than Cuba. There were parties which acted differently. On one side they consciously worked towards the revolutionary seizure of power, and on the other, (including the Stalinist Cuban CP, as opposed to the 26th July Movement) they deliberately refused to do so, invoking the theory of revolution by stages.

The fact that the Yugoslav, Chinese, and Vietnamese CPs broke with Stalinism to lead the revolution in their countries without having revolutionary Marxist parties must not be blotted out of the analysis on the pretext that the only thing that counts is the seizure of power. The partial and not total break with their Stalinist past meant the leadership of these parties still held bureaucratic organisational positions both in terms of their internal regime and their relations with the masses. Consequently these revolutionary victories were not accompanied by the institutionalisation of direct (soviet) workers’ and people’s power. From the beginning the party apparatus was identified with the state. Bureaucratisation and depoliticisation of the masses – both of which were reinforced by the rapid emergence of exorbitant material privileges of a new bureaucracy – become more and more firmly established. So we can legitimately speak of socialist revolutions bureaucratically manipulated and deformed from the start. True such definitions are unwieldy and a little complex but they do give a better account of a real historical process in all its complexity.

The non-revolutionary Marxist character of these parties has gradually become an obstacle to further necessary progress of the revolution both domestically and internationally. While the victory of the Chinese revolution severely upset the relationship of forces on a world scale, dealing a mortal blow to the colonial system as it existed in 1940 and as imperialism still wanted it restored in 1945, the actual political/ideological forms the victory took contributed a great deal to the defeat of the Indonesian revolution and to the paralysis of the revolutionary movement in India. On a more modest scale, the pole of attraction represented by China, combined with the political/ideological confusion produced by Maoism (including in its final form of the cultural revolution), helped divide and weaken the revolutionary forces emerging in the imperialist countries out of the 1960s’ youth radicalisation, particularly after May 1968. In the same way they lessened the possibilities opened in this period of a broader recomposition of the international workers’ movement and politically destroyed dozens of thousands of revolutionary (or potentially revolutionary) cadres in Europe, Japan, and North America.

Later in Cuba, Grenada, and Nicaragua, authentic socialist popular revolutions took place that are clearly distinguished from the Yugoslav, Chinese, and Vietnamese revolutions because they were led by revolutionary parties coming not out of Stalinism but from differentiation’s and development of anti-imperialist and socialist currents from their own countries. Consequently the processes of bureaucratisation of power have been much less in these countries compared to the others. Also limited and still insufficient steps have been taken towards an institutionalisation of workers’ and people’s power, more locally than nationally. As a result of these real differences, the Cuban revolution and the Cuban workers’ state have continued to make revolutionary progress a long time after the seizure of power, a progress which has had a real influence on a part of the anti-imperialist and workers’ movement in Latin America.

But here again the non-assimilation of the essential tenets of revolutionary Marxism has had serious political consequences. The absence of authentic socialist democracy in Cuba becomes increasingly a brake on further economic progress. The paternalist conception of the party involves serious risks of political and social conflicts. [20] The subsequent identification of the party with the state limits greatly the internal influence of the Cuban leadership for promoting the revolution in Latin America. Inevitable diplomatic manoeuvres of the Cuban state tend to influence if not dictate the tactical, even strategic, advice given to revolutionary forces in the rest of the continent. The lack of revolutionary victories up to now in Latin America weakens in turn the position of the Cuban state against imperialism, increases its material dependence on the Soviet bureaucracy and deepens the dynamic of crises in Cuba itself. The question of supporting the revolutionary Marxist programme as a whole is not therefore an insignificant or secondary detail even in the case of Cuba and Nicaragua.

Given the qualitatively different character of the Cuban and Nicaraguan leaderships one question is raised: could these cases be repeated and thereby pose the question of the emergence of a new revolutionary leadership of the proletariat on a world scale in quite new terms?

It is not serious to assert that in no country of the world can a revolution ever triumph without a revolutionary Marxist leadership. Revolutionary forces can emerge here or there within an essentially national or “regional” framework of differentiation as occurred in Cuba, Grenada, and Nicaragua. In order to assess this possibility you have to drop any dogmatic predispositions – either “positive” or “negative” – and concretely study in practice the choices, activities, and dynamic of such and such a revolutionary organisation (for example in El Salvador, Guatemala, or the Philippines). There is no ready-made answer in advance. It depends on the concrete practice of such organisations over a long period. But we are convinced we are talking here of only a few exceptions. To grasp this exceptional character we need to recall the particular conditions of the victories in Cuba and Nicaragua:

If we examine the situation in all the imperialist countries, in the dependent semi-industrialised ones, and in most semi-colonial countries, we can see that nowhere are all the above-enumerated factors to be round nor even a majority of them, which explains how the Cuban and Nicaraguan victories came under a non-revolutionary Marxist leadership.


18. As for Albania and North Korea we still do not have enough information to judge to what extent the CPs seizure of power resulted from an authentic popular revolution or from a foreign military intervention as in Eastern Europe.

19. Defining Stalinism as parties founded on the theory of soclalism in a single country is essentially idealist. It is also a source of obvious confusion. A great number of social democratic parties were supporters of “socialism in one country” without for all that being Stalinist.

20. Significantly, Fidel Castro assigns the responsibility for the disaster in Grenada on the “division” of the revolutionary forces. In reality differentiations within any victorious revolutionary movement faced with new problems and new choices are inevitable. Avoiding such differences ending up in the phenomena of degeneration like that of the Coard faction hardly could be the result of stifling differences inside the apparatus and the leadership. The remedy lies in respect for the widest internal democracy, with tendency rights. It also lies in the working masses, organised in their democratically elected councils being able to exert sovereign power.


Last updated on 24.7.2004