Felix Morrow

International Report

Minority Report to Plenum

(15 May 1946)

From SWP Internal Bulletin, Vol. VIII No. 8, July 1946, pp. 26–41.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Note: Two other documents which I submitted to the Plenum will provide the reader with the theoretical and factual background of my conclusions on the Russian question: Daniel Logan’s The Eruption of Bureaucratic Imperialism and C. Georges’ Russia’s Economic Policy in Eastern Europe. On the national question, I agree to the substance of the theoretical position of the Resolution on the National Question in Germany and Eastern Europe submitted to the party by Dave Jeffries, John Fredericks, A. Winters, Leo Lyons, Dan Shelton, Eugene Shays. [1]

Comrades, we have been sharply and bitterly disputing international perspectives and tasks for three years now. Our differences are not diminishing. They are growing. But I think that our differences are becoming better defined. Big events are dictating to both sides in the dispute the taking of precise positions; the real meaning of our generalizations is shown in those specific decisions.

Three such specific decisions are of particular importance today,

  1. The decision of the French party to vote “yes” in the May 5 referendum on the constitution adopted by the Socialist-Communist majority of the Constituent Assembly. As I shall show when we come to discuss it, this is not a new question. What it did was to pose on a razor edge our three years’ dispute on the real situation in Europe, on how to build the Fourth International, on how to break the coalition between the workers’ parties and the bourgeoisie, on the importance today of democratic demands. It is a big step forward that the SWP majority has put in writing an unambiguous position on the French referendum; had the majority done the same in our earlier disputes on the slogans of the republic and the Constituent Assembly, we would be farther along in our discussion than we are.
  2. The decision of the British party calling upon the Pre-conference to take a position for the withdrawal of the Russian occupation troops from Eastern Europe and Germany. By rejecting this proposal, the Pre-conference majority has drawn the lines on an international scale on the most crucial question connected with Stalinism today. Involved in it is not only the heart of the Russian question but also the national question. By all means let us discuss all “fundamentals” of the Russian and national questions; but we shall now be discussing them not in the abstract but in terms of action – shall we or shall we not call upon the proletariat of the Russian zone to make their own the national struggle for independence and throw out the foreign invader?
  3. The decision of the SWP majority to reject the slogan, “Wage raises without price increases.” This question we shall discuss under another point on the agenda but its implications are international, involved in it is the whole question of what is the transitional program and what is a transitional slogan. In the course of our dispute on this question we shall show the worthlessness of merely saying hurrah for the transitional program as the International Resolution does.

Now that we are beginning to have such specific decisions on which both sides take clear-cut positions, one can perhaps hope that there will be more light and less heat in our disputes. For my part, I shall make every effort to remove all obstacles to the centering of our attention on the political questions. To achieve this I asked the Secretariat to separate the international point on the agenda into two parts – one the political resolution, the other the organizational questions. When this was not granted, I decided, and so notified the P.C. last week, that I am not contesting the organizational questions connected with the Pre-conference. Those organizational questions include reorganization of the German section on ideological grounds; assumption, without previous notice, of the authority of a World Conference after being called as a Pre-conference with limited aims; the decision that the Pre-conference decisions and resolutions are binding on all parties before they are discussed and voted on; the composition of the new International Executive Committee. All this must be laid aside because, in the end, it will be seen, they are organizational decisions flowing from a political line. First it is necessary to defeat that political line. I mention the organizational questions connected with the Pre-conference only so that everyone will understand that the fact that I do not contest them does not mean that I take any responsibility for them.

As the disputes come to the fore in definite decisions, they are cutting across previously-established lineups. What a striking example is provided by what has happened in the French party! The French majority joined with the SWP majority in writing the resounding generalizations of the International Resolution and the Manifesto of the Pre-conference. From those generalizations which proclaimed a revolutionary situation in Europe, it certainly followed logically enough that the revolutionary party would have nothing to do with the adoption of a bourgeois constitution. But within a matter of days after the polishing of the final text of the resolution and the manifesto, their authors, the French majority, blew up, I note that Comrade Cannon comforts himself in his resolution on the French referendum by referring to the “small majority” achieved on this question by the former minority. But that “small majority” in the Central Committee is only a reflection of the widespread revolt in the ranks of the party which, together with the compelling reality of the actual situation in France, split up the old majority. No doubt many in the old majority still insist that they still agree with the political line of the Pre-conference and have parted company only on the referendum question. In reality, however, the referendum was a touchstone which revealed the bankruptcy of the Pre-conference’s political line.

I venture to predict that the old French majority will never be put together again after this decisive test.

Previously-established lineups will break up, too, on the touchstone of the withdrawal of the Russian occupation troops. The British leaders, whose revolutionary instincts have led them to take a correct position on this question, will find that it will carry them much further than they now dream. They will have to learn, unwillingly, resistingly, but learn nevertheless, just as I learned willy-nilly, not to repeat outworn formulas on the Russian and national questions. They will have to eat their words, as I have had to eat mine, about the position of the German section on the national question. They will have to, as I must, recognize that all the reasons we gave for defending the Soviet Union have disappeared. These same things will happen to the new French majority. They will happen to comrades in this room who today recoil from what I am saying. In the end, I am confident, they will happen to the majority of the Fourth International because with each succeeding day it will become more and more impossible to repeat the outworn formulas of the Pre-conference resolution.

This mad clinging to outworn formulas – that is the source of all the disputes between us. What Comrade Cannon calls our “unchanging program.” There is the heart of the dispute. For Cannon and his followers the program must not have rude hands laid upon it; it is sacred, inviolable. Comrade Cannon described his method well-enough in a letter of August 16, 1944. He wrote:

This carefulness, this aversion to the practice of going off half-cocked, this habit of waiting to think things through before we speak, has been denominated “conservatism” by light-minded feuilleton writers, who imagine themselves to be alter politicians. But it is this very “conservatism” that has given all our previous resolutions since the death of the Old Man their thought-out character and made them stand up from year to year as supplements logically flowing from one unchanging program, and like the program itself, needing no fundamental revision.

“Unchanging program”! “No fundamental revision.” This is the method of Cannon and of the Pre-conference resolution. According to their method, it is more virtuous to say the earth is flat than to go off half-cocked and say it’s round. I must confess that Cannon used to scare me with his thunderous pronunciamentos against changing the program. I accepted the implication that the onus, the burden of proof was on the one who wanted to change something. But that’s a lot of nonsense. There is no burden of proof in these matters; those who want to stand still and those who want to change are equals, equally responsible for defending their positions.

What hair-raising nonsense the majority has defended in the name of the unchanging program! In the name of the unchanging program, Comrade Cannon, you taught the following things: That our proletarian military policy means that we should telescope together overthrow of capitalism and defense of the country against foreign fascism. That the Polish revolutionists should subordinate themselves to the Russian Army. That there is an objectively revolutionary logic brought about by the Russian victories. That naked military dictatorships are the only possible governments in Europe because it is Impossible to set up a new series of Weimar republics in Europe. That American imperialism is at least as predatory as Nazi imperialism in its methods in Europe. That it is theoretically impossible for America to help rebuild or feed Europe. That there are no democratic illusions in Europe. That there are no illusions about American imperialism. That amid the revolutionary upsurge it is reformist to call for the republic in Greece, Italy and Belgium or the Constituent Assembly. That to speak of a Stalinist danger to the European revolution is only possible for a professional defeatist. That the fate of the Soviet Union would be decided by the war but only careless people think the war is over.

What happened to those planks in your unchanging program, Comrade Cannon? I notice they aren’t in the International Resolution. Is their disappearance, to use your expression, a typographical error?

We fought for three years over these questions and now they have been quietly dropped out of the latest resolution. True, the International Secretariat promises us to publish soon a document of self-criticism of the previous political errors; that, and from proponents of the unchanging program, is quite an innovation. Marxists used to correct their errors in the next political resolution, but now we are to have a new kind of resolution, entirely separate from the political resolutions, in which the errors will be quietly interred! I predict safely that that self-criticism will be as worthless as the political resolutions, designed to justify rather than to correct errors. The whole approach is indicated by the statement in the International Resolution that “the ones who correctly criticized the leftist exaggerations in evaluating the tempo of events during the war and in the first phase of the period succeeding the war, proceed in reality from a different and false general perspective as regards the nature of the period which we are entering” and are “the greatest threat” to the political orientation of the movement. How we could be correct from a false perspective – that is a new mystery which no doubt the Warde [George Novack] school of dialectic can explain.

It is small comfort that you have quietly dropped a lot of your old baggage overboard. Your new baggage is just as bad because it flows from the same false method of “unchanging program” instead of coming to grips with the changing reality.

It is fruitful, comrades, to look back and see how this dispute began.

Central to our understanding of the dispute is to understand the situation created by the death of Trotsky. The death of Trotsky was bound, sooner or later, to lead to a political crisis of the Fourth International, and that is what we are confronted with – a political crisis on an international scale. It was bound to happen because Trotsky’s death created a gap which nobody could fill either individually or collectively. I am confident that in the end we shall fill that gap by a collective work on an international scale, but that can come only as the end-result of the long and painful process of this struggle which is already now three years old.

In answer to the “independent thinkers” Cannon used to say “Trotsky is my brain.” When the brain died, Cannon and Gabriel tried to freeze the program as it stood. That is the source of the political crisis.

In Trotsky’s lifetime, his genius and authority made the necessary process of change relatively easy. There were of course disputes and splits but they were reduced to a minimum, not only by Trotsky’s authority but also by his readiness to change when change was indicated.

One example in the history of our own party will indicate what I mean. In 1938 the Republican Congressman Ludlow introduced a proposed constitutional amendment for a referendum on war. I was then in Minneapolis editing the Northwest Organizer of the teamsters’ movement. I was for critical support of the Ludlow amendment and proceeded to show in the pages of the Northwest Organizer how revolutionary Marxists could make revolutionary propaganda through critical support of the referendum on war. The question came up in the Political Committee. Burnham supported my position. Comrade Goldman opposed me sharply. Comrade Shachtman howled for my reformist head. Comrade Cannon, if I recall, took the same position as Comrade Goldman. The P.C. voted overwhelmingly against supporting the referendum on war. Trotsky saw the decision in the Political Committee minutes. He understood the error immediately, brilliantly demonstrated the transitional character of the slogan of a referendum on war. His arguments and his authority swiftly mustered unanimity in the P.C. That is how the referendum on war was borrowed from Congressman Ludlow and became part of our transitional program.

It is easy to imagine what would have happened had the referendum on war first arisen as a problem after Trotsky’s death. What profound arguments would have been offered against it! Comrade Warde would show that it isn’t in our transition program, and it is not an accident that it isn’t in there. Comrade Wright [Joseph Vanzler] would marshal scores of quotations from Trotsky to show that war can be prevented only by overthrowing capitalism Comrade Cannon would prove conclusively that it is another petty-bourgeois deviation.

I shudder to think what would have happened had Trotsky died before he switched positions on the Labor Party, leaving behind all the bad arguments he used up to 1938 against advocating a Labor Party. How those quotations would have been poured over the head of anyone daring to propose a change in position on the Labor Party! Spoon-fed the pap about “unchanging” program, how many of the new members of the party – and they are now the majority – know that we changed our position on the war-referendum and the Labor Party as recently as 1938?

Trotsky’s death made inevitable a great political crisis in the Fourth International. It was bound to start just as soon as new questions confronted the movement, as new questions will always rise as the years pass. Especially the political crisis was bound to come after World War II and its aftermath confront us with new questions.

At the October 1942 convention, Cannon was able to boast of the unanimity prevailing in the leadership. We came to the convention with a common resolution. In reality, however, that unanimity was based on a compromise on one big and new question – the national question in Western Europe. It was a compromise not on the part of Cannon and his supporters, who committed themselves to nothing except an ambiguous paragraph or two, but on the part of myself and Logan [Jean van Heijenoort].

Logan and my position on the national question was essentially that of the French party at the time which, under the leadership, of Hic and Cordier, had quickly understood that in hitherto unoppressed countries the national struggle is our struggle under conditions of national oppression and had oriented toward making the French party a fraction of the resistance movement. They published La Nation Libre (The Free Nation) for this purpose.

Under the pressure of the attacks of the P.C. majority on some of Logan’s formulations, I made the mistake of trying to reconcile the position of Logan with that of the majority. And I joined with the majority in attacking the position of the German section on the national question, which, while stated often in extreme terms was, nevertheless, essentially identical with the position of Hic and Cordier. The most one could justly have said against it was that it was a rightist emphasis within the fundamentally correct position of integration in the national resistance movement. I, however, accused the German comrades of revisionism. My political confusion on the national question cleared up very slowly indeed. It is very hard for an American to understand the national question.

So I must take my share of responsibility for the aftermath. The position of the German section became anathema, neither published nor seriously analyzed in our press but made unholy by sheer dint of repetition of curses against it. This would not have mattered too much had the French party been able to develop its work in the resistance movement. But then came the terrible tragedy of October 1943 when Hic and almost all his leading co-workers were seized by the Gestapo, with Hic and others dying in concentration camps. The beheaded party fell into the hands of inexperienced and foreign comrades and turned its back on the resistance movement. To what extent, you will learn when you get an opportunity to read the theses of the French majority at their recent convention; they try to reduce the question to a mere error in allocating forces, admitting they gave insufficient forces to the resistance movement, but oven this pseudo-explanation is eloquent enough of the fact that when the armed proletariat made the Paris insurrection in August 1944 our party was completely outside the movement thanks to their false position on the resistance movement.

What had the German comrades said on the national question in the Three Theses [2] with which the majority here still frightens little children? Simply that if we are not integrated in the resistance movement its revolutionary drive will be diverted to re-establishment of the bourgeois order. And that is just what happened. No amount of mendacious arguments against the German section can cover up the terrible fact that our French party failed to penetrate the insurrectionary movement of the armed masses. No amount of misquotations and misinterpretations of the German section’s documents can cover up the responsibility of the SWP majority for buttressing the sectarian trend of the French party after 1943. Maybe the German comrades did make this or that mistake, but as I wrote last October to the European Secretariat: “I know a mistake ten times, a hundred times worse, and that is the mistake of those who failed to enter the resistance movement.”

Logan and I compromised with the majority in October 1942 on the national question, but already then there was an end to the normal friendly relations among us. Friction accumulated in various incidents. We didn’t get along with each other anymore. For we were people moving in different directions. The majority was blindly determined to cling to the unchanging program, while Logan, Goldman and I were trying to come to grips with events which more and more failed to fit into the prognosis with which we entered the war.

What was that prognosis? The Manifesto of the Pre-conference dares to say that that prognosis has been confirmed. It can do so only by tailoring its quotations and leaving out the heart of the matter. For the first time in the history of the Trotskyist movement we can’t say about our documents that we have nothing to unsay and nothing to conceal. What must be unsaid and what the Manifesto and the resolution try to conceal are the two main ingredients of our prognosis of 1940:

  1. That in the course of the war the Soviet Union would either collapse into capitalism or be regenerated and victorious. In either case we would be through with the problem of Stalinism. Soviet victories, bringing the Red Army into Europe, would inspire a wave of revolution which would in turn topple Stalinism.
  2. That, galvanized by the ravages of the war and freed of the incubus of Stalinism, the European proletariat would surge forward in a wave of proletarian revolution (the first revolution, Trotsky thought, would come early in the war) on a greater scale than in 1917–1921. This did not necessarily mean immediate establishment of Soviet power throughout Europe, but certainly meant the emergence of great mass parties of the Fourth International. (By 1948, Trotsky was sure, the Trotskyist membership would number in the millions.)

Trotsky tried to teach us to understand that it is necessary to make a prognosis but equally necessary to understand that it is impossible to guess the tempos in advance for a prolonged period and hence one must introduce the necessary correctives into it in the course of experience. This is what the minority tried to do since 1943. The majority answer was that the real issue was not one over tempo but over fundamental perspective and program. Now, in the International Resolution, the majority explains that the only mistakes it made were mistakes about tempo. But the term tempo has been rendered in the course of this dispute so meaningless that it is better to say: yes, we have profound differences in perspective and program, meaning by these terms the estimate of what is to come during the next few years and what is to be done about it. Please take note that we are talking of the short-term perspective and not what is to come in a decade or more.

We definitively parted company in July 1943. The dispute began with estimating the significance of the fall of Mussolini. The majority proceeded to take it as a complete confirmation of our 1940 prognosis. It wrote along its line in The Militant, and I wrote along a very different line in Fourth International. True, I didn’t yet understand the full implications, but comrades who want to understand the roots of this struggle could fruitfully go back and compare the two lines at that time.

You won’t find the majority’s line about the fall of Mussolini in the International Resolution, although one might think at least a passing estimate of that event ought to be in the first International Resolution of the Fourth International in six years. You will find it, however, in a speech of E.R. Frank [Bert Cochran] published as late as the February 1945 Fourth International. There, slandering the German comrades, falsely attributing to them the idea that “They consider the European revolution already defeated,” he refutes them by the following:

We base ourselves on the rising working class revolution. They consider the European revolution already defeated.

We knew that out of the war would come a gigantic revolutionary explosion, above all in Europe, and we were confidently preparing for it. And less than a year after our 1942 convention, Italian fascism crashed to the ground. We saw in the downfall of Mussolini and the beginning of the Italian revolution the most striking confirmation of our analysis and program, and by the same token, an annihilating refutation of all the theories and speculations of our enemies. We immediately proceeded in our press to subject the Italian events to a thoroughgoing analysis and point to the road ahead. [3]

The alleged thoroughgoing analysis to which E.R. Frank refers was based on a false, arbitrary, obviously factually untrue idea; the idea that Mussolini had been directly overthrown by a revolutionary uprising of the masses. That idea was necessary in order to claim the Italian events as a confirmation of our 1940 prognosis. But it was not true.

Recently our Italian section’s Central Committee adopted a resolution on the situation in Italy. It makes clear that no one can understand what has happened in Italy unless he understands that Mussolini was not overthrown by the masses but by a palace coup d’état. I saw a translation of this resolution the other day on Comrade Carsten’s [Charles Cornell] desk; I trust it will be published.

In the months between July and the October 1943 Plenum, the Italian experience unfolded and mirrored the future of Western Europe: the development of bourgeois democracy; the revival of the dominance of the traditional reformist workers’ parties; the central role of such democratic questions as the republic and the Constituent Assembly; illusions about American imperialism. I tried to explain this at the Plenum and was met with a vicious slander campaign. All this is presumably what the International Resolution now admits to have been correct criticisms of leftist exaggerations.

The Italian experience showed what had happened to our 1940 prognosis of a wave of proletarian revolution in the course of the war. Instead of the masses overthrowing fascism as we had expected, fascism was being overthrown by its imperialist opponents, not only in Italy but in Germany and occupied Europe as well. Such a purely imperialist conclusion to the war would mean continuation of European capitalism. The one chance to prevent this was the transformation of the ideology of the resistance movement. But to do this one had to be in it. Our comrades weren’t in it, thanks to the sectarian prejudices which they shared with the SWP majority.

These sectarian prejudices were buttressed by their theory of the revolutionary consequences of Russian victories. What a terrible tragedy! They ignored the revolutionary movement which was everywhere about them, the armed proletariat and peasantry of Western Europe, and instead saw the coming revolution being brought by the Russian Army. Instead of preparing to play a role in the coming Paris insurrection, they looked to the East for the Red dawn. There is irony, pitiful irony, in this awful error.

This question, too, we first disputed at the October 1943 Plenum. It is a little laughable to myself to go back and see how timidly I raised the question at the 1943 Plenum. As Shachtman very well said, in commenting on it, my attitude was a please-don’t-hit-me one; he also predicted that, having taken the first step of warning against, the Stalinist danger to the European revolution flowing from the Soviet victories, I would have to go on from there. I have. At the October 1943 Plenum I still spoke of the two-sided consequences of the Soviet victories, one side being the progressive fact that it preserved the Soviet Union, the other being the reactionary fact that Stalinist prestige enhanced by victory would be employed for counterrevolutionary purposes. Infinitely more correctly, a year later Natalia wrote: “We must hammer away at one point: the reactionary consequences of the Soviet victories.” [4]

The majority recoiled from even my timid formula and stuck to the 1940 prognosis: Soviet victories would bring revolutionary consequences. Even a year later when the majority yielded to the pressure of Natalia and accepted the formula for the [November 1944] convention resolution – that defense of the Soviet Union has receded into the background and in the foreground is the defense of the European revolution against Stalinism, even then Cannon, in his very letter accepting Natalia’s proposition, added:

And I do not for a minute forget that the objective logic of the Red Army achievements in the war against the Nazis, regardless of the officially declared aims, is profoundly revolutionary.

To read that kind of nonsense in America is one thing. But try to realize what were the consequences of it in Europe. I have already told you what it meant: the French party ignored the revolutionary movement at home and instead looked to the East for revolutionary deliverance. Their underground press, put out at the cost of immeasurable sacrifices, was devoted to this in large part. Here, for example, is a typical enough issue, La Vérité of February 10, 1944. Its main headlines read as follows: The flags of the Red Army will join themselves with our red flags. I am reading from the main article:

Stalin knows that with the advance of the Soviet Army a general uprising can break out in Europe. Tomorrow, ten thousand factory soviets can cover the old continent.

He knows also that it is less than certain that these workers’ and peasants’ soviets created in the advanced European countries will passively obey the parasitic bureaucracy of Moscow.

Stalin cannot ignore the fact that he cannot count upon his army to put down the revolutionary workers of Europe.

The army of the USSR will not wipe out the soviets of Berlin, of Budapest and of Paris. It is these soviets on the contrary that will remind the Russian army that it is a Soviet army.

The communist revolution in Europe will be the end of exploiting capitalism and also the end of the parasitic bureaucracy. The Moscow usurpers know it. But the Red Army continues to advance.

Was this idea, that the Russian army was bringing the socialist revolution, that the Russian army was not the instrumentality of the Stalinist bureaucracy, that its red flags were still the flags of revolution, was this idea some awful aberration of the isolated French comrades in the Paris underground? Or was it, as some people pretend, an aberration of John G. Wright?

No comrades, it was the common idea of the Fourth International. Parties of our International divided by oceans and without contact for many years were simultaneously repeating the same idea.

Seven months after the issue of La Vérité that I have quoted, the very able leadership of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India met in Conference, in September 1944, and adopted a resolution on The Red Army in Eastern Europe which stated:

... particularly the entry of the Red Army, will give a powerful impetus to the revolutionary movement. For these reasons, proletarian revolutionaries will not in any way modify the unconditional support given hitherto to the Red Army in its actions against the forces of imperialism, as the Red Army leaves Russian territory in pursuit of the German army.

The entry of the Red Army into these territories will release latent forces and give such an impetus to the revolutionary movement as to create a pre-revolutionary situation in Eastern Europe, the heightening of which is of inestimable importance for world revolutionary perspectives.

The Indian comrades went on to warn that ”it is certain that the Red Army will be brought into conflict with the developing revolution, either to crush it completely or to bureaucratise the social conquests made.”

Their revolutionary understanding made it impossible for them to blind themselves to what the Red Army is. What is important, however, is that in spite of this they were saying, as our French comrades, that the entry of the Red Army Into Europe would give an impetus to the revolutionary movement.

Four months later, the organ of our Belgian party, La Voie de Lenine of February 4, 1945, gave as its main headline, The new soviet victories, are they preparing the German revolution? It answered the question affirmatively, the first paragraph saying:

Scarcely have the soviet troops penetrated into (German) Silesia than outbreaks take place at Ratibor, Gleiwitz and Beuthen. The tremendous advance of the Red Army can play a capital role in the uprising which is preparing little by little in Germany against Hitler.

Three months later, in the May Day 1945 issue of the organ of our comrades in Chile, El Militante, the headline reads; Will Europe be Sovietized?, and the question is answered affirmatively, the first paragraph reading:

When El Militante arrives on the street, making its homage to the first of May, the capitol of German imperialism, the centre of fascism, will already be in the hands of the Red Army and of the German workers who have risen writing epic pages against their totalitarian oppressors.

This was the universal theory of the Fourth International. Abler and more educated comrades advanced it in India with more intelligent reservations than the crude formulas of the leadership in Chile, but they shared with all other Trotskyists – except the Workers Party – the idea that Russian victories, the entry of the Russian army into Europe, would give an impetus to social revolution.

What is the source of this theory? Trotsky’s writings of 1939–40 on the occupation of Poland and the war in Finland. It seemed to Trotsky that when the Russian army entered new territory and sought to turn private property into state property, it can do so only by methods of civil war. Hence he wrote that the bureaucracy “gives an impulse to the socialist revolution through bureaucratic methods” in its occupation of Poland. Hence he wrote of the Kremlin’s “appeal to independent activity on the part of the masses in the new territories – and without such an appeal, even if worded with extreme caution, it is impossible to constitute a new regime.” And even more categorically he wrote about what would have happened if the Finnish war had continued: “Occupation presupposed a social overturn which would be impossible without Involving the workers and poorer farmers in civil war.”

Trotsky sharply distinguished this first stage – the uprising of the masses – from the second in which the Stalinist bureaucracy attempts to crush the masses. His distinction meant: Stalin can achieve the second stage in godforsaken Galicia, but if victorious Red Armies occupy advanced countries in western Europe the, socialist revolution, to which the bureaucracy is compelled to give this impulse, will get beyond the control of the bureaucracy and overthrow it.

After Trotsky’s death, and especially after the USSR survived the first year of war, this idea that the bureaucracy is compelled against its will to “give an impulse to the socialist revolution through bureaucratic methods” became the main justification for Soviet defensism in the Fourth International. The quotations I have already given from the world Trotskyist press show that this theory has proven completely false. In Eastern Europe the Soviet occupation took place without risings of the masses; it is now clear that the 1939 rising in Poland was not, as Trotsky thought, a necessary “interaction between the masses, the workers’ state and the bureaucracy.” In 1939 the illusions of the masses about the “liberating” Red Army played a great role; there was also deliberate staging by the bureaucracy which, allied then to Hitler, needed the “risings” to show the masses in the democracies that the USSR was different from its ally. In 1945 there were fewer illusions in Eastern Europe about the Red Army; still more important, the bureaucracy had to consider its present democratic allies. The point is that the will of the bureaucracy was sufficient to prevent risings, rather than risings being dictated to the bureaucracy by statification of property. As to risings which could get out of the control of the bureaucracy – the very possibility did not arise.

Comrade Natalia saw this very clearly, and wrote in this vein to the party in 1944. Under her pressure, and appalled by the debacle of our theory of the revolutionary consequences of Soviet victory, the SWP majority yielded at the last moment and inserted in the convention resolution – it was one of those famous “literary and clarifying amendments” which the membership had never seen or discussed – the idea that defense of the USSR has receded into the background in the face of the Stalinist danger to the European revolution.

Comrade Natalia’s proposal was new and unprecedented. It was based on what was new: the reactionary consequences of Soviet victory.

Comrade Natalia’s proposal to relegate the slogan of defense to the background was, in my opinion, a half-way house to dropping the slogan of the defense altogether from the program. One cannot defend (fight for) victories which bring reactionary consequences, The consequences of Russian victory in World War II demonstrate irrefutably that they would be the same consequences in any foreseeable war conducted by the Stalinist bureaucracy. That is why I shall shortly present theses on the Russian question in which I shall propose not only, as Comrade Natalia originally proposed, to withdraw the slogan of defense from the foreground, but to withdraw it altogether from the program of the Fourth International.

If further proof were necessary as to the imperative need for withdrawing the slogan of defense, it is provided by the horrible ex-ample of what Russian defensism is doing to the press of the Fourth International. To limit myself only to The Militant, and only to a few passing examples:

You won’t find these things and a hundred like questions in The Militant. But you will find an article on the Kremlin’s Policy Inside Germany sent special to The Militant (April 27 issue) from the International Secretariat which approvingly quotes “an important article” from The Economist: that in the Russian zone there exists “a fair amount of resemblance to the ‘factory democracy’ of the early years of the Russian revolution.” As if to underline this, this article appears side by side on one page with one headed: Rule of U.S. imperialism brings starvation to people of Germany. [5]

Let me repeat. That article about factory democracy in the Russian zone was not something cooked up in The Militant office to fill a hole in the paper, it was sent by the International Secretariat.

How can such madness be? The answer is the same as the answer to all the disputes we have had during these three years. The majority leadership blindly clings to outworn formulas, to the unchanging program, and hence must distort, must falsify what is being revealed by the changing reality. Our theory said there must be revolutionary consequences to Soviet victory and, by God, the majority will find them even if it has to invent them. Out of ten thousand press clippings on the terrible consequences of Soviet occupation of Germany, the International Secretariat picks the rare exception which talks nonsense about factory democracy.

And to what terrible, terrible, reactionary positions the Russian defensists are led by their theory! I confess, I did not anticipate that the Pre-conference resolution would go so far as to oppose the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the countries it has occupied. I never dreamt that in a resolution of the Fourth International would appear this paragraph: “In the oppressor countries (USA, Great Britain, France insofar as Germany is concerned) the Fourth International actively defends the right of the occupied nations to independence and demands the recall of the occupation troops.” [6] Russia is thus deliberately left out of the list of the powers which are oppressing Germany! The other troops must leave but not the Russian troops! Our Russian party is not to tell the Russian workers that the Russian army must get out of the countries it is holding against the will of the occupied peoples! And this foul line, this capitulation to Stalinism, is proclaimed in the name of Trotsky!

Here we can see the profoundly reactionary character of the majority’s line not only on the Russian question but also on the national question. The national struggle for independence of the occupied peoples is not a radical enough struggle for Cannon and Gabriel [Michel Pablo], they want nothing less than the proletarian revolution. Therefore? Therefore no struggle to throw the Russian armies out of the countries they are oppressing.

The facts are now so clear that the majority must admit that there is national oppression in Eastern Europe. But they admit it only to deny the need for the national struggle today. They do so in the following paragraph of the resolution:

Just like the German occupation, the present occupation of Europe by the Anglo-American, French and Russian armies is also the cause of a certain national oppression. Given the perspective of a definite decline in the revolutionary movement, the prolongation for several years of this occupation could throw certain nations back to the level of colonial countries and open a new era of national struggles and wars.

This nonsense is proclaimed in the name of the unchanging program. But it has nothing whatsoever in common with Leninism. Leninism teaches that the national struggle of oppressed countries is our struggle, and that is true even when it is merely called “a certain national oppression.” Leninism teaches us that the national struggle is not a separate stage arising after a decline of the revolutionary movement, but is inextricably part of the revolutionary movement. That is now it happened in the Russian Revolution and that is how it will happen again in the European revolutions national struggles occurring simultaneously with and Intermingled with the development of the proletarian revolution. Yesterday it was still the ABC of Leninism that the October revolution succeeded because it supported all national struggles. Today this ABC is condemned as the revisionism of the Three Theses.

What is the national question? It is the struggle for democracy against the foreign invader. The revolutionary party demands from the occupying power all the democratic rights, including the right of the people to choose its own government freely, which can only be done, isn’t that clear, comrades, by ridding the country of the occupying troops. He who does not demand the recall of the Russian troops can spout words about being for the democratic rights and freedom of the occupied peoples, but his words are empty, they are lies. That’s what Lenin taught us about the Austro-Marxists who were for autonomy, for complete democracy, for everything you please to be granted to the subject peoples of the Austrian Empire but not for the ousting of the Austrian-troops. The right of self-determination is the right to throw out the foreign invader.

Themselves not a little frightened at where their line is carrying them, the majority tries to cover it up by phrases and formulas borrowed from the classical centrist position on the national question. Here is just one example, in the section of the resolution on Tasks in the Countries Occupied by the USSR:

In the European zone occupied by the Red Army, our sections tolerate the presence of the Red Army only to the extent that it is a friendly proletarian armed force having as its objective to guarantee the fulfillment of agrarian reform and the statization of the means of production against imperialism and against national reactionary elements, without hindering in any way whatsoever the free development of the working-class movement. (p. 32)

What is this centrist ambiguity doing in a Trotskyist resolution? This is the most classical centrist formula: “we support ... only to the extent that.” Bolshevism scorns such claptrap. Bolshevism answers the question: is the Red Army “a friendly proletarian armed force ... without hindering in any way whatsoever the free development of the working-class movement.” The answer, written in the blood of tens of millions of German, Austrian, Roumanian, Yugoslav, Bulgarian, Polish workers and peasants – in their blood spilled by the GPU or drained from them in slave labor – is that the Red Army is no Red Army, is not a friendly proletarian force, is instead the main enemy of the proletariat of the countries it occupies and oppresses. He who can talk about the Red Army as a friendly proletarian force has lost his head as a Marxist, has lost his feeling for proletarian democracy, and has objectively capitulated to Stalinism.

Why does the International Resolution oppose recall of the Russian troops from the countries they oppress? A terrible answer is indicated in the section on the Soviet Union (pages 6–7) in the following paragraphs:

In order that Soviet economy rise again, in order that this revival be accomplished without resorting to the exclusive or principal aid of American imperialism, which would take advantage of this opportunity to destroy the USSR’s independence, in order that the USSR gain a certain protective cover against the pressure of world imperialism, the Soviet bureaucracy finds it necessary to extend its strategic zones and to draw on the economic resources of other countries, in Europe and Asia alike ...

In its defense against both the external pressure of imperialism and of the internal reactionary elements, and in its efforts to rapidly revive the Soviet economy, the bureaucracy’s best chances for success lie in the economic contribution of the countries now under Soviet control.

What does this mean, except to justify what you call Soviet expansionism and what I call bureaucratic imperialism? And this you dare do in the name of the unchanging program which still, let us hope, says that we are not in favor of seizures of new territory by the Kremlin bureaucracy.

To justify its continuation of Russian defensism, the International Resolution is compelled to pretend that what we based Russian defensism on in the past has now happened, namely that the entry of the Red Army gave an impetus to the socialist revolution by bureaucratic methods. But we didn’t in 1940 mean by this the statification of property. That wasn’t the basis of our revolutionary hope. Our hope was based on the idea that in order to statify the property the bureaucracy, against its will, would have to precipitate an uprising of the masses. And now, in spite of all that has happened, the International Resolution dares to say that this happened. It says it on page 8:

The Soviet occupation and control have given an impetus, although in varying degrees, to civil war and the development of a regime of dual power ... the promotion of organs of dual power (committees for the control of production and trade, committees of poor peasants to carry out the agrarian reforms).

So, comrades, the Trotskyist world movement is to proclaim that Stalin’s Potemkin villages are the real thing – that the farcical pseudo-committees he sets up are veritably organs of dual power. What is dual power? It is a regime in which the formal power is still in the hands of a bourgeois or Stalinist government but the essence of real power is already in the hands of the rising proletariat organized in soviets or the equivalent of soviets. That is what “a regime of dual power” has meant in the dictionary of our movement. Is that what exists in the Russian zone? So you say on page 8. But ten pages later (p. 18) we read:

In the part of Europe controlled by the USSR, the working class movement has in several places attained the level of dual power, but it has experienced at the same time the bureaucratic strait jacket and the demoralization which are provoked by the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Dual power in a bureaucratic straitjacket – that is certainly a novel terminological contribution to Marxism, no doubt in the name of the unchanging program.

The International Resolution is enabled by such mumbo-jumbo to proclaim the European situation more revolutionary than ever before. By turning the minus of the Russian occupation into the plus of dual power – by such a mad method one can call anything revolutionary.

More revolutionary than ever before. Please ask yourselves a simple question. When was the situation in Western Europe more revolutionary – in August 1944 when the proletariat was armed or today when it has been disarmed?

The Manifesto of the Pre-conference lists the factors whose existence defines a revolutionary situation, and asserts they exist in Europe. Time presses, I shall limit myself to one of them: that the petty-bourgeois masses are following the workers’ parties. But what is the meaning of the French referendum results, in which the proletariat voted one way and the petty-bourgeoisie (the peasantry) the other way? Or of the Belgian elections in which the same division took place? Again, the same thing in the Dutch elections? But enough.

One final word: The International Resolution correctly says:

Our European sections, having for a long time prior to the war lived on general propaganda, and then during the war having lived isolated from the masses, inexperienced and in the strictest illegality, are today finding it difficult to break with obsolete ideas and methods of organization and activity.

Correct, but very significantly it appears in the resolution in the wrong place, under the wrong heading, Organizational Tasks. The obsolete ideas that the European sections are finding difficult to break with are not in the first instance organizational ideas, but political ones, and they come precisely from the people who are complaining about it. The fish stinks from the head, as always. The chief culprit is the International leadership, whose theory of the revolutionary situation bars from aiding the sections in formulating programs of action with which to go to the masses.

Just one fantastic example: not a word in this very, very long document about the question of food. The famine is upon Europe, not for a day or a month but for years to come, it is the question which preoccupies every man, woman and child in Europe, it is the question which defines the relations between Europe and America, it is the political question, and it isn’t even mentioned in this document, much less is it submitted to a program of action for struggle against the famine. That alone is enough to characterize the bankruptcy of the political line of this document.

Note by MIA

1. The first and third texts can be found in SWP Internal Bulletin, Vol. VIII No. 8, July 1946, pp. 1–10 & 11–17. The text by Logan [Jean van Heijenoort] was published in The New International: Daniel Logan, The Eruption of Bureaucratic Imperialism, The New International, Vol. XII No. 3, March 1946, pp. 74–77.

2. I.K.D., The National Question in Europe: Three Theses on the European Situation and the Political Tasks, Fourth International, Vol. III No. 10, December 1942, pp. 370–372.

3. E.R. Frank, The Imperialist War and Revolutionary Perspectives, Fourth International, Vol. VI No. 2, February 1945, pp. 56–61.

4. Letter from Natalia (6 November 1944), SWP Internal Bulletin, Vol. VI No. 13, December 1944, pp. 23–27.

5. Kremlin’s Policy Inside Germany and Rule of U.S. imperialism brings starvation to people of Germany, The Militant, Vol. X No. 17, 27 April 1946, p. 3.

6. The New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the Fourth International, Fourth International, Vol. VII No. 6, June 1946, pp. 169–183, & Workers’ International News, Vol. 6 No. 10, November–December 1946.

Last updated on 20 August 2015