Max Shachtman


A Blow at the Fourth

The Militant and Our Italian Comrades

(May 1944)

Reprinted in The New International, Vol. X No. 5, May 1944, pp. 135–137.
Originally published as The Militant and Our Italian Comrades – Comments on a Policy Fatal to the Resurgent Socialist Movement, Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 22, 29 May 1944, p. 3.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty book The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism, vol. 1.
Marked up by A. Forse for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We reprint here an article that appeared in a recent issue of Labor Action because it deserves the attention of our readers in general, and in particular of those revolutionists throughout the world who are working to rebuild the international Marxist movement. The position taken by the Socialist Workers Party toward our Italian comrades is nothing less than a blow struck at the Fourth International. It is an urgent duty of all the supporters of the Fourth International to react against this blow and to react immediately and forthrightly. Silence or equivocation on this question would be inexcusable. – Editor

Those of us who are interested above all in the victory of international socialism have received exceptionally good news. We have waited with impatience and with confidence for the emergence of the genuinely revolutionary socialist movement in Europe. Our confidence has been justified; our patience rewarded. In Italy, where the imperialist front was first broken by the revolutionary uprising of the masses, the real socialists, the Trotskyists, have come together again and formed an organization of their own.

That is a sign of things to come. The treachery of the Stalinists, and the miserable capitulation of the right-wing socialists, has left the road clear to the growth of the revolutionary socialist movement represented in the United States by the Workers Party, in Italy by our new organization, and throughout the world by the Fourth International. In its growth lies the hope of tomorrow. Every worker to whom the ideal of socialism is dear follows its growth with passionate interest and the warmest solidarity.

We of the Workers Party greeted the formation of the new group with great enthusiasm, and immediately decided to give it the maximum aid. Our members and friends throughout the country have joined in this greeting with almost unprecedented vigor.

Like Labor Action, The Militant, which is the spokesman of the Socialist Workers Party, also printed the first manifesto to be issued by our Italian comrades. Here is how they headlined it in the April 8 issue of The Militant: Trotskyists in Italy Issue Call for Socialist Struggle. Denounce the Betrayals by the Second and Third International; Summon Masses to Fight for Socialist United States of Europe. The editors commented that this “very important document” was “issued by the Italian Trotskyists in the name of the Provisional National Center which has been constituted for the building of the Communist Internationalist Party (Fourth International). The text of this document is the first definitive proof that the genuine voice of revolutionary socialism is beginning to make itself heard amid the crucial events in Italy.”

It is true that in reprinting the manifesto, the editors noted what they called “the vaguest and weakest section of the document,” namely, the section on Russia. The reason for this was that the section indicates that our Italian comrades have not fallen into the reactionary trap of supporting Stalinist Russia in the war or designating that slave regime as a “workers’ state.” The document, while showing how Russia serves Anglo-American imperialism, does not refer to Russia’s own imperialist ambitions and plans. But this defect is quite opposite to that of which the SWP complains. In any case The Militant did speak of the document on April 8 as “the genuine voice of revolutionary socialism” and of our comrades as “the Italian Trotskyists.” That was good, that was right, that was wise, that was intelligent.

A Change of Mind

But since April 8, the editors have apparently received instructions that are neither good, right, wise nor intelligent. In their May 13 issue, they make a turn-about-face which is downright disgraceful. Under the imposing heading of Trotskyism and the European Revolution, the editors suddenly find that the manifesto of our Italian comrades is no longer “the genuine voice of revolutionary socialism.”

The editors are of course aware that members of the Socialist Workers Party, like members of our Workers Party, have responded with enthusiasm and sympathy to the news from Italy. They know, also, that many SWP members are beginning to reflect seriously and critically upon their disastrous party policy of supporting the Russian army as it advances to crush the coming European working class revolution under the weight of the GPU. The SWP policy of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” is not working out so well! So the editors proceed to pour an icy douche over this part of their followers:

“Nothing could be more fatal to the Trotskyist movement than to permit instinctive sympathy— for any insurgent groups fighting under the difficult conditions which exist in Europe today—to betray us into political conciliationism.”

Political conciliationism with the counter-revolutionary Stalinist regime is all right for the SWP — but no “conciliationism” with the revolutionary socialists of Italy. The editors piously note that they can help the revolution in Europe and help “build a strong Trotskyist organization, only by drawing a sharp line of demarcation between the genuine Trotskyists and the impostors and muddleheads.” In five short weeks, the Italian Trotskyists have ceased to be Trotskyists or to speak with “the genuine voice of revolutionary socialism” and have become “impostors and muddleheads.” Why? Because the “wiser” heads in the SWP have now realized what was always clear:

“The authors of this manifesto, who apparently wish to deny such defense [of Russia] felt the necessity of equivocating. No group can really be Trotskyist if it attempts to straddle the Russian question. The manifesto does not call for the defense of the Soviet Union. It does not characterize the Soviet Union as a workers’ state. Therefore the manifesto is not an authentic Trotskyist manifesto.”

The language and style are typically Stalinist (even if used in the name of Trotsky), and so is the spirit of this excommunication.

Position of Italian Comrades

Just think of this:

After more than twenty years of fascist rule, after almost five years of the most devastating war in history, and in face of mountainous difficulties, a group of Trotskyists is organized and comes forward with a document which rings out as the “genuine voice of revolutionary socialism” even to the editors of The Militant. This group has what is so rare in the working-class movement right now—a sound position on the imperialist war and both camps in it. It has a correct position on fascism, imperialist democracy and the struggle for socialism. It has a correct position on Stalinism and the right-wing socialists, the Third and Second Internationals. Its position on the Socialist United States of Europe and world socialism is correct. So is its position on the struggle for democratic rights and demands in Italy, and the relation of this struggle to the fight for workers’ power.

All this is of tremendous importance to the reviving revolutionary movement in Europe, and therefore to all of us here in the United States. On May 13, however, The Militant sees absolutely nothing of all this and has not a word to say about it. Its original greeting is replaced by a venomous denunciation. The “Italian Trotskyists” become “impostors and muddleheads.” Workers are warned against yielding to their “instinctive sympathy” for the new Italian movement. The whole fundamental position of the Italian revolutionists fades into complete unimportance by the side of their unforgivable sin: They do not adopt the SWP position on Stalinist Russia!

SWP Wrong on Two Counts

The editors of The Militant are wrong on two counts (we politely use the word “wrong” instead of the more accurate term, “stupid and criminal”).

First, so far as the “Russian question” is concerned, the Italian comrades are a thousand times more correct than the SWP. The latter can only help break the neck of the coming revolution in Europe. Today, the Russian army already stands on the threshold of Poland; tomorrow, perhaps, it will face Germany. The workers and peasants who will surely move to overturn their ruling classes and attempt to establish their own government power, will face an army which Trotsky once rightly called the tool of the Stalinist Bonapartes, the counter-revolution in Moscow. If the Polish and German masses follow the policy of the SWP, which calls upon them to work for the victory of the Stalinist army, they will facilitate the crushing of their revolution by this army and by the GPU—nothing less. The SWP is simply asking these workers to dig their own graves.

Our Italian comrades understand this; the SWP, with its mad fixation on “unconditional defense” of Stalinist Russia, refuses to understand it. We are entirely opposed to the SWP here, and entirely on the side of our Italian comrades and of all the other European Fourth Internationalists who have already taken or who will certainly take the same basic view.

Second, even if the Italian comrades were as wrong on Russia as The Militant says, since when has the position on this question become the only decisive test for partisans of a Fourth International? Who decided that, and when? We know that in the past many comrades were similarly “wrong” on the Russian question without being read out of the Trotskyist movement—and read out so shamefully at that. In 1939 and 1940, when half of the American Trotskyist movement was also “wrong” on the Russian question, in the opinion of The Militant and even of Trotsky, the latter strongly insisted that there was room in a united SWP for both groups and opinions, and that there should not be a separation over that question. If a split did nevertheless occur in the SWP, it was mainly because of the impossible conditions for membership the party leaders tried to make the opposition swallow.

Trotsky understood that the “Russian question” was not quite so simple as the SWP now holds it to be; that positions taken on it were much more subject to change than on any other important question in the revolutionary movement; that it was the Trotskyist movement itself, more than any other, which had modified its position on Russia a dozen times in accordance with changes in the situation and reconsiderations.

Trotskyism, for us, is modern revolutionary socialism. For us, all the fundamental principles of the socialist criticism of capitalist society, of the struggle for workers’ power, of the building of the new society—the principles of socialist internationalism—are embraced by the word “Trotskyism,” modern Marxism. Only idiots can reduce “Trotskyism” to one aspect of Trotsky’s position—real or perverted—on Russia, and declare slavish adherence to this position THE supreme test of a revolutionary socialist.

It is the SWP leaders who have introduced this new twist in the—Trotskyist movement. We shall see what the other supporters of the Fourth International, as well as the SWP members themselves, have to say about this innovation. The SWP itself has changed Trotsky’s position on Russia—but in a reactionary direction, so that it becomes more and more the tail-end of Stalinism, as we have repeatedly shown in these pages. The party leaders are blind and seek to blind everyone who listens to them. Their attack upon our Italian comrades is one of the rottenest examples of what we mean. Will they open their eyes only after the “defense of Russia” has brought about the crushing of the European revolution?

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