Ernest Mandel

The Reasons for Founding the Fourth International

IX. The challenge of internationalisation

The main weakness of the new organisations that have emerged or are emerging within the present process of recomposition of the workers’ movement is their refusal to build simultaneously national organisations and an international organisation. In the best of cases this leads to a new version of “national communism.” In the worst of cases this combines a misunderstanding of key aspects of the world class struggle with political positions that abandon or even betray the defence of the interests of whole sections of the international proletariat.

This deficiency is particularly striking since at the same time there is a literally dramatic “internationalisation” of crises and decisive problems of the survival of the human race. To a qualitatively greater extent than in 1914, 1939, or in 1945, these problems can no longer be resolved except on a world scale. The three main ones are: avoiding nuclear catastrophe; avoiding ecological disaster, and solving the problem of hunger and underdevelopment in the Third World.

Given the present level of our knowledge it has been established that a nuclear war (or a biological/chemical one), even if only a part of today’s arsenal of massive destruction were used, would mean not only the destruction of civilisation but of the human race itself. In these conditions preventing a world war (nuclear, biological, chemical) becomes the central strategic objective of the international workers’ movement. If we fail in this objective, any project of world revolution or building socialism loses all meaning. You cannot build socialism on a lifeless planet.

Our differences with the radical pacifists do not relate to the objectives we need to achieve. We agree with them wholeheartedly on this. We recognise the vital contribution they have made to a new scientific, rational, and non-sentimental consciousness of the new conditions for the class struggle and revolutionary struggle today with the permanent threat of humanity’s collective extermination.

Our differences with the pacifists turn on the necessary conditions for the definite elimination of this mortal threat. Revolutionary Marxists are convinced it is an illusion to think we can ensure peace in the world and avoid the nuclear (biological/chemical) holocaust without the overthrow of capitalism and the sovereign national state in the countries holding or potentially holding arms of mass destruction. It is a particular illusion to think partial arms agreements – however worthwhile and positive they may be – combined with a growing pressure from the mass anti-imperialist, anti-war movements, will be enough to avoid the nuclear (biological/chemical) holocaust. We criticise them at the end of the day not for exaggerating but for underestimating the gravity of the danger, at least in the long term.

The bourgeoisie has also become conscious of the implications of the suicidal threat involved in the massive use of such arms of extermination. Consequently, it does not see a world war as a “solution,” however perverse and inhumane, to its crisis (starting with its economic crisis), as was still the case in 1914 or 1939. A dead bourgeoisie will not resolve the capitalist crisis by “selling” destroyed “commodities” to atomised “customers.” So it is unlikely that any fairly rational leadership of a bourgeois state will deliberately unleash a nuclear world war.

But unfortunately this statement of facts is not the end of the question.

Firstly, as long as significant stocks of nuclear weapons remain spread about the world there is a permanent risk these arms might be detonated by accident, a risk that increases with the shortening of the operational responses and automatisation of the systems. So the precondition for a first threshold of guarantees against the threat of nuclear destruction of the human race is consequently not partial nuclear disarmament but total nuclear disarmament, the complete destruction of all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and the definitive and guaranteed ban on their manufacture. It seems ruled out that this can be achieved while capitalism survives. Prevalent military strategy in the imperialist countries and all the logic of the market, profit economy invalidates any hypothesis of real disarmament under capitalism.

Secondly, even if there were a total elimination of nuclear weapons the mere fact that there are hundreds of nuclear reactors in the world would transform a “classic” world war, or even a large-scale “regional” war in several key zones, into a nuclear holocaust since each of these reactors could turn into a sort of “nuclear warhead” under the effect of a “classic” bombing raid. Since 1945, local and regional wars, caused nearly always by imperialism, have already resulted in millions of deaths and have continued practically without interruption. It is an illusion to think the coming decades will be any different in this respect. As long as capitalism survives the threat of exterminating the human race will remain, whatever the level of consciousness world-wide, even among the bourgeoisie, of this threat.

It should be also understood that as the arms race continues, driven especially by the “long depression,” [23] more and more devastating “classic” weapons are being produced. Already today “ordinary” artillery shells can have a destructive capability equal to the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tomorrow this capability could be even greater. The distinction between a nuclear world war and a “classic” world war is shrinking. Total (not only nuclear) disarmament is therefore a condition for the survival of the human race. Expecting this total disarmament without the abolition of capitalism is even more illusory than expecting nuclear disarmament without a victorious socialist revolution.

Finally, while it is true that rational representatives of capitalism would doubtlessly not deliberately committing nuclear hari-kiri, it has been in no way proved that the bourgeois state is always and everywhere led by rational politicians. History has already given us the example of at least one great imperialist power – Nazi Germany – led by a fanatical adventurer, behaving more and more irrationally at the end of his career, who firmly opted for his own suicide and that of his class, state, and nation. It would he imprudent, to say the least, to claim such an extreme case would not repeat itself in similar historical conditions of economic, social, political crisis of the system and ideological/moral crisis of the bourgeoisie (just think of the American far right with its “rather dead than red” mentality).

So it is the outcome of the class struggle in the USA, France, Britain and tomorrow surely in West Germany and Japan which will decide what form of government and political personnel will lead these countries, as was the case in Germany 1929-33, and which will resolve the question of whether the nuclear holocaust becomes a tangible threat in the short term if the workers’ movement and the “new social movements” are crushed.

In the long term, there is no possibility of avoiding the destruction of civilisation and humanity through external pressure, the “balance of forces,” the strengthening of the “socialist camp,” the growing consciousness of the nuclear danger, etc. Only the take-over of all factories capable of producing weapons of mass destruction by the producers themselves, their collective resolution to destroy all the existing stocks of arms and of definitively preventing new production, is able to guarantee the survival of the human race in the long term. This cannot be guaranteed either nationally or on a continental scale. The establishment of the World Socialist Federation is the only conceivable solution for lifting the threat of extermination by war from humanity for ever. This can only be the result of the proletariat winning the class struggle in each of the key countries.

A “new reality” of recent decades has to be brought into consideration here, While most of the continuous wars we have seen since 1945 are the responsibility of imperialism and the international bourgeoisie, not all fall into this category. There have been several military conflicts between post-capitalist states (bureaucratised workers’ states): the Soviet-Chinese military conflict, the Vietnam-Cambodian war, the military conflict between China and Vietnam (the intervention of Warsaw Pact troops in Czechoslovakia has to be added here although this did not lead to a military confrontation).

Trotsky himself could not foresee this final and terrifying logic of the bureaucratic ideology of “socialism in a single country” and of “national communism.” The importance for the future of the human race of consistent internationalist education and activity without regional restrictions nor of “messianic national communism” of any sort only becomes more vital. Once and for all we must finish with the idea that in the world today there can be some sort of “bastion” to be defended over and above the need to ensure the survival of humanity world-wide. We have to work to turn the working class as a whole towards a consistent internationalism.

It is not necessary to repeat the detailed arguments concerning the problem of extermination by war when we refer to the threat of ecological catastrophe or of hunger in the Third World. Our differences with the ecologists or “third worldists” in no way centres on the extent of these threats. We totally share their concern on this. As with the pacifists we acknowledge their merit in having raised people’s consciousness on a question that is inherent in Marxism but which has been insufficiently articulated, concretised, and taken up by the organised workers’ movement (including sometimes by its revolutionary wing).

Our differences are all to do with the conditions for eliminating these dramatic threats. While supporting all struggles for immediate, partial, transitory solutions we think that “pure” ecologists and “third worldists” – i.e., those who are not socialist, anti-capitalist, and revolutionary – seriously underestimate the structural links between these growing threats and the maintenance of an economy based on private enrichment, competition, profit, capital accumulation, the market economy, and the consequent social behaviour and mentalities. These problems will only be solved if there is a radical break with this logic. These problems can always re-emerge within the framework of the capitalist system and bourgeois society.

Faced with this “internationalisation” of humanity’s crisis, “campism” loses all credibility. This is particularly true when under Gorbachev (we cannot foresee his future either) the Kremlin masters are increasingly challenging such a position themselves.

The Kremlin bureaucrats have taken a step forward in dropping such criminal and inhuman utopias like the one they used to promise of “winning a nuclear war.” But they are not replacing this line with a much better alternative.

In fact there are only two coherent responses to the challenge of internationalisation. One consists in thinking that, given the threats confronting the whole human race imperialism, and large-scale capital (what the post-Stalinists reduce unscientifically to “the monopolies”) will gradually change their character. This argument suggests they will abandon their most aggressive and competitive practices, will stop behaving as imperialists and will accept progressive co-operative relations with post-capitalist societies, the Third World peoples and their own working classes. It is supposedly necessary to “encourage” them in this development, carefully avoiding anything that could exacerbate any sort of contradictions, especially dropping any revolutionary activity.

The other response starts from the conclusion that in the present stage of the crisis of bourgeois society the exacerbation of these contradictions is periodically inevitable whatever politicians, ideologists, economists or workers’ organisations do. Consequently, the only adequate answer to the challenge of globalization is to accept the seriousness of the threats and to adopt an orientation towards the only possible solution of the crisis – the creation of the World Socialist Federation by the successive victories of the proletarian revolutions in the main countries of the world (socialist revolution in the capitalist countries, anti-bureaucratic political revolution in the main bureaucratised workers’ states, and permanent revolution in the major so-called Third World countries).

The first response is based on a serious underestimation of the crisis of the system and of its terrifying dynamic. It is utterly unrealistic and illusory. The second is undoubtedly more difficult to get accepted in the short term by the broad masses. But it is the only realistic way forward. To the extent that the second tends to fit better with the real march forward of history it will also be increasingly better understood.


23.This does not at all contradict what we said above. While nuclear world war is obviously not a solution to the capitalist economic crisis, the arms race is certainly a “market of substitution” for large-scale capital in a climate of crisis. It will continue then, independently of any considerations on the suicidal character of a nuclear war.


Last updated on 22.7.2004