Max Shachtman


The Congress of the Fourth International

An Analysis of the Bankruptcy of
“Orthodox Trotskyism”

(October 1948)

Written: October 1948
Source: New International, Vol.XIV, No.8, October 1948, pp.236-245.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido.
Proofreading/Editing: Ted Crawford.
Public Domain: Contents of this article are free for distribution in any form so long as credit is given to the Marxists Internet Archive.

The Second Congress of the Fourth International held in Europe earlier this year did not receive a good “press.” In fact, except for an indifferent comment in one or two journals, resulting from an indifferently attended post-congress conference for correspondents, it received no newspaper notice at all. This lack of interest is understandable. Practically everywhere the Trotskyist organizations exist only as isolated, uninfluential and unknown sects. The congress itself was held under unwarranted pseudo-conspiratorial conditions, so that its deliberations were known to the delegates and to the police authorities of the United States, Britain and France, at the least (as we had occasion to establish from different sources), but could not be observed by the interested public.

The poor “press” that the congress received in the Trotskyist periodicals themselves is less understandable. An official statement on the congress was prepared with the maximum of care in order to give the minimum of information on what occurred at the congress. This statement or a paraphrase of it is all that has appeared to date in the international Trotskyist press.

From it the reader can learn that the Congress reaffirmed the traditional position, as interpreted by the present leadership, and also reaffirmed its confidence in itself, the working class and the victory of socialism. This information, while it has a limited interest, is not very illuminating about what happened at the congress, not even about how the traditional position was reaffirmed.

Although months have passed since the congress ended, no report of its sessions is available. There is not even a summary account of the actual proceedings of the representatives, of the motions and counter-motions, or of the voting record of the delegates. There is, to be sure, the text of the resolutions adopted at the congress. But the text of the resolutions which were defeated, which contain the views of various oppositional tendencies in the Fourth International on questions of central importance, are not available and, so far as I know, their publication is not contemplated. A strange congress! We will not dwell on the ludicrous “secrecy” which the police evidently found no difficulty in piercing. But it is hard to recall a single case of an international working-class conference which did not publish so much as a condensed version of its minutes.

The ingenious innovators who are responsible for all that has been published about the congress do not even refer to the existence of oppositional groups or opinions at the meeting, or to the kind of resolutions they presented – not even to the fact that there were any such resolutions. It is hard to believe this, but the lamentable proof is available throughout the “official” press (see, for example, the Fourth International of July 1948). It should be added that the Fourth International is on record as being against all the obfuscatory and disloyal methods employed against oppositionists by the Stalinists.

Let us try in the course of this review to make up for the oversight.

* * *

The congress was undoubtedly the most numerously attended and representative of all the international meetings of the Trotskyist movement. Bourgeois or Stalinist repression and meagerness of financial resources prevented many sections from sending their representatives. Yet, as never before, delegates came to the meeting not only from Europe, but from Asia, South Africa and several countries of the Western Hemisphere. Their presence was an earnest of the devotion of the Trotskyist movement to that socialist internationalism which has been abandoned by so many backsliders, cynics and tired men.

The political preparation of the congress was, however, so inadequate, not to say factionally manipulated, as to call its authority into question from the very outset. It should be borne in mind that this was the first meeting of its kind to take place since the founding congress of the International in 1938.

Not a few problems accumulated for the International in the intervening ten years. Events of the greatest historical and political magnitude crowded into the decade. There were the Second World War, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the tremendous national-revolutionary resistance movements, the crushing military and moral defeat of fascism, the radical change in the relation of political forces in the Orient and in Eastern Europe, the victory of Stalinist Russia in the war and its imperialist expansion in the East and the West, the resurgence of both the Social-Democratic and Stalinist parties. To these should be added the fact that practically every important pre-war prediction of the Fourth International proved to be wrong, that the International came out of the war weaker than it was even before the war, and that open splits exist in more than a dozen of its sections, including practically every important one.

A real congress would have the obligation of dealing with all the created problems. To deal with them, it would have to be a real congress. Such a congress would absolutely have to be preceded by a free, democratic and thoroughgoing discussion of the main questions, all of which are in dispute, and therefore a discussion of all the documents setting forth the disputed positions. Less than that would mean a congress without real authority or validity.

It was only on the basis of the formal and solemn assurance that there would be such a preliminary discussion that our Workers Party agreed to participate in the congress with the commitment, stupidly demanded of it by the International leadership, that it would thereupon abide by the democratic decisions of the congress. (To which our party clearly and firmly added the stipulation: if the unity of the WP and the Socialist Workers Party were achieved, that is, if the Workers Party no longer existed as an independent organization but only as an integral part of the united party.)

Was It a Congress?

The formal and solemn assurance, given not only to our party but to all oppositional tendencies, was not worth the ink it was written in. There was hardly a pretense of a pre-congress discussion. The delegates came prepared to vote for positions they were more or less acquainted with, and to vote against positions with which they were partially or totally unfamiliar and which, in most cases, their organizations had never had the opportunity to examine in original form. To call an assembly convened under such conditions an authoritative congress is less than serious.

Therefore, a number of the delegates, at the opening session of the congress, joined in a resolution which declared that the meeting could not sit as a congress with full authority and that it should deliberate instead as an international conference. The principal sections of the resolution read:

This world congress can absolutely not be considered as having been prepared at the present time.

(A) From the standpoint of the documents placed in discussion: in spite of the publication of a number of documents, the most important positions of the main oppositions are unknown in almost all the sections:

  1. In the German language, only the official positions have been published, except for a very short article by Armstrong. The positions of the other tendencies are unknown in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
  2. In the Spanish language, only the documents of the leadership have been published and that quite recently.
  3. No section of the International (save the English-speaking ones) knows either the policy of the SWP during the war or the document of the Spanish Group of Mexico against this policy.
  4. The Internal Bulletin of the International Secretariat on the Russian question has been translated only into English, and only half of it.
  5. The documents of the Workers Party and of the Johnson-Forest tendency are unknown in all the non-English-speaking sections of the International – except for an article by Shachtman published in the IVe Internationale and an article by R. Stone recently published in the Internal Bulletin of the International Secretariat.
  6. There is not a single section of the International which knows the differences that have led to the split in China or that determine the existence of two separate groups in Indo-China. Yet the Chinese documents were sent in March 1947. Neither does anyone know the documents of the Indian section on this same Chinese question which have existed since 1942.
  7. Nobody – not even the International leadership – knows the political differences which separate the Trotskyist groups that abound in Latin America.
  8. Nobody knows the documents of the Spanish group on the national question.
  9. Nobody knows the new English documents on the Russian question.
  10. The “definitive” documents of the International Secretariat were not published until February 1948 [1]; it was impossible not only to reply to these documents but ever simply to discuss them in the sections. These same documents were characterized by the Swiss section – which is by and by in political agreement with the IS – as “so compromising for the Fourth International and for the revolutionary cause in general that there is no other way for the IS to act except withdraw formally its draft theses.”

(B) From the standpoint of the discussion in the sections:

Even the published documents have served for nothing in practice, for it was not possible to organize a political discussion in the sections. In almost all the sections, no discussion has taken place up to the present on the political and organizational problems of the world congress – except on the Russian question, partly discussed in some sections. Even the documents of the IS have not been discussed, because of their extremely tardy publication.

To cite only two examples: the Viet-Namese section in France has never discussed the problems of the world congress. As for the French section, which passes for one of the most politicalized sections and for which the discussion is objectively easiest, since all the documents are first published French, it has not been discussed either: at its national conference of March 28-29, only 20 per cent of the party was represented; the delegates who came from the few provincial regions that were represented all declared that the problems of the world congress had not been discussed in their regions; the Paris Region elected its delegates after three hours of discussion in all and for all the problems put together.

In the other sections the situation is worse, if possible. The conception according to which “the discussion for the world congress is nothing new but the continuation of the discussion that took place up to now in the sections,” is absolutely erroneous, above all given the exclusively rational character of the problems which were discussed up to now in the sections.

(C) From the standpoint of representation:

Practically none of the delegates comes from a national congress or conference representing a political discussion in the ranks of the sections. The basis of representation recommended by the IS, with the division of countries into three categories, the arbitrary classification of countries into one category or another, the prohibition of the transfer of mandates [proxy voting] – a prohibition without precedent in the history of the communist movement – has as its only result the manufacturing of an a priori majority in this “Congress.”

Consequently, this assembly can sit only as an international conference with the aim:

  1. from the political standpoint, of opening up the discussions which are on the agenda of the international discussion in order to prepare the convocation of a genuine world congress resulting from a thoroughgoing political discussion;
  2. from the organizational standpoint, of designating an Organizational Committee for the preparation of the world congress, with adequate representation of the oppositional tendencies, charged with the publication of the documents and with the organizing of the discussion in all the sections.

The resolution was signer and submitted by Munis, of the Spanish group of Mexico; Chaulieu, of the left-wing group in the French section which bears the name: Gallienne; of another left-wing group in the French section; Antonin, of the “October’ Trotskyist group in Indo-China; Armstrong, of the Irish section; and Schachtman, of the Workers Party. After a brief discussion, the resolution was defeated, the majority deciding that the congress which was not and could not be a congress would nevertheless be called a congress.

The “Conditions” Collapse

The signatories of the resolution thereupon submitted a statement, drafted in anticipation of the vote, declaring that they could not and would not accept the self-constitution of the assembly as a congress with authority to adopt conclusive decisions having disciplinary validity themselves in advance to accept the decisions adopted by the assembly or to abide by its discipline; that they would remain in bound only by the discipline of their respective organizations, but would nevertheless continue to attend the sessions in order to put forward their point of view on all the questions on the agenda. Confronted by this firm and unexpected declaration, the authors of the absurd “conditions” for attending the congress simply collapsed along with their conditions. Without daring to move for the ouster of the oppositionists, the leadership proposed to proceed with the agenda.

The first point of importance on the agenda of the congress (as we will now call it) was the report of the Executive Committee. One might think that such a report would form one of the central axes for an international meeting of the Trotskyist movement. It would have to deal with the most important events of the ten stirring years since the preceding congress: with the analyses and the forecasts that had been made; with the policy pursued by the international leadership and the national sections; with the outstanding controversial questions which have divided the Fourth International into numerous pairs of politically irreconcilable viewpoints. It would have to serve as the necessary introduction to a broad discussion and a decision on the questions that have been in dispute especially since the outbreak of the war in 1939.

That is what it should have been. Actually, it was nothing of the kind. The only claim to distinction the report could make is that it was one of the most lamentable performances in the history of the movement. For carefully scraped-out emptiness, it remained unexcelled by any of its rivals at other sessions.

To be sure, the reporter took care to refer to the reactionary character of the Stalinist and reformist parties; he noted with pride that the centrist organizations had not become mass movements, whereas the Fourth International, in the face of great difficulties, had not disappeared; he did not forget to dwell loudly upon his unshattered faith in the working class, his confidence in socialism and is conviction that the Fourth International would overcome all obstacles – including, presumably, such reports as he was delivering.

The Unprecedented Silence

It is debatable if the speech, sodden with cheerless commonplaces, would have been appropriate even at some anniversary celebration in a mountain village. Its suitability as a report of the Executive Committee to a congress was not debatable. Consequently, it was not debated – not at all, not by anyone, not by a single moment.

This sounds like malicious exaggeration, but it is the literal truth. The chairman of the session positively pleaded with the delegate to take the floor in the discussion scheduled to follow the report. Understandably, nobody budged. What was there in the report to discuss? Perhaps the socialist aim, to which the reporter rededicated himself with the stertorous passion of a nineteenth-century French deputy? Or his confidence in the working class which he asseverated with a belligerency that failed to provoke, or even to awaken, the delegates?

Whereupon the report, so to speak, was adopted, so to speak, without a word of discussion and by a vote which matched it in dullness. It is still hard to believe, but the minutes of the congress would confirm it to the letter, which is not the smallest of the reasons why the minutes remain unpublished. As far as can be remembered, this is the first instance in the history of the movement where a congress failed to devote a single word to a discussion of a report of its Executive Committee, and a report of ten years at that!

The kilometric articles that the same delegates would write if such a thing were to happen at a Stalinist congress are not hard to imagine. The Stalinists at least pretend to discuss the congress reports of their executives. Here there was not even the pretense.

Result: the congress met and adjourned without discussing or taking a position on:–

Shipwreck on the Russian Question

The discussion on the question of Stalinist Russia and Stalinism in general fared somewhat better. But only in the sense that in this question the bankruptcy of the leadership of the International was revealed positively, by direct discussion, whereas it was revealed negatively, as it were, in the question of its political course for the past ten years by the complete absence of discussion.

The traditional theory of the Trotskyist movement on Russia was completely shipwrecked during the war. Nothing worth while is left of it now.

The Stalinist bureaucracy did not disintegrate during the war. On the contrary, while it is not one whit freer from contradictions and internal antagonisms than any other ruling class, it consolidated its bureaucratic (as against a genuinely popular) hold on the country to a greater degree than in the prewar period when it was shaken by successive urges. In any case, it emerged from the war far more intact than the ruling class of any other country in the world.

The bureaucracy did not prove incapable of defending its country (and that is what Russia is today: its country), its rule, its social system and its economy from enemy attack. On the contrary, it not only defended it aggressively, unwaveringly and uncompromisingly, but much more effectively than the ruling class of most if not all the other belligerents. The fact that it did not carry on this defense in the interests of the working class, of democracy, of internationalism, of socialism or in conformity with their principles, is entirely beside the point. It did not carry on that kind of defense and, being what it is, it could not; we did not expect it to because there was not the slightest reason to expect it. It defended itself and its rule as reactionary classes have always done in wartime: in a reactionary way, by a demagogic exploitation of the noble sentiments of the people, by poisoning their minds and recklessly expending their bodies, by trampling coldly and brutally upon their interests and their rights, all in order to preserve and extend its own power and the bases of its power.

The bureaucracy did not capitulate to capitalism or its capitalist allies. On the contrary, while it made compromises and concessions to its capitalist allies of no greater number or significance than those that any ruling class is often compelled to make in a given relationship of forces, it succeeded, by a combination of physical and political strength and cunning and maneuvers, in weakening the capitalist world and, correspondingly, in strengthening its own international position, to an extent that exceeded everybody’s expectations. The bureaucracy did not restore capitalism or abandon or undermine state ownership of the means of production and exchange, or develop the oft-predicted “bourgeois wing,” nor did it show the slightest tendency in that direction. On the contrary, it not only fought and fights tenaciously for the maintenance of nationalized property, which is the property of its state and the indispensable economic foundation of its rule, but it managed to destroy the economic foundation of the bourgeoisie in a number of other countries and to replace it with nationalized property.

Judgment of Events

At the same time, this victorious “defense of the Soviet Union” resulted nowhere in the advancement of the cause of the working class, brought no benefit to the working class and revolutionary movements. Where Stalinist Russia and its agents did win or did extend their influence, the working class, the masses in general, suffered the heaviest blows. They were disoriented, demoralized, degraded. Where Stalinism took power, the revolutionary movement was relentlessly crushed, as in Russia, and the people reduced to the cruelest slavery.

There is no other way of judging the correctness of a political program or a slogan in the socialist movement than by the consequences which its partial or complete fulfillment entails for the working class and the struggle for socialism. By this only valid criterion, the slogan of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” in the war was and remains criminal and reactionary. Whoever refuses to see this today should be conveyed with kindly speed to an institution for the blind or be given treatment for arrested mental development.

In the face of these facts, the resolution presented to the congress by the leadership was nothing less than a disaster. If someone had deliberately planned to confuse people about a problem which is certainly not simple to begin with, and to bewilder them hopelessly about his own views on the problem, the result could hardly have been different.

The resolution reiterates the position that Russia is still a workers’ state because the means of production are still nationalized. Then, by a simple stroke of the obedient pen, it takes it for granted that because nationalized property exists in the Stalinist state just as it existed in the workers’ state (this time without quotation marks) of the Lenin period, therefore the production relations that exist today are the same as those which existed before the conquest of power by the bureaucracy. Indeed, the resolution uses the terms “nationalized property” and “production relations” interchangeably, as if they were one and the same thing. It writes without blinking an eyelash and as though it were an incontrovertible commonplace that the production relations established by the Bolshevik revolution “have not yet collapsed,” that they have been “bequeathed by the October revolution” on the bureaucracy, that the “sum total [!] of the production relations” in Russia today have been “inherited from the October revolution.” Naturally, with this identification of the two concepts, the contradictions and downright gibberish which follow are inevitable. The authors have simply refused to let their skulls absorb the idea that the two cannot be identified in Russia.

Property and Production Relations

Production relations are social relations; they are the relations between classes in the process of production. Under capitalism, the production relations are simply and clearly established. One class owns the means of production (the capital is owned by the capitalists) and the other class owns nothing but its labor power. It is on this fundamental basis that the two classes are obliged to enter into relations in the process of production. The capitalist state exists to maintain the fundamental basis and the fundamental social relations, and that is why it is, regardless of the political character of the regime, a capitalist state. For this reason it is not only convenient but correct to identify capitalist property relations with capitalist production relations.

The same identification is obviously not possible under conditions where property (that is, the means of production and exchange) is nationalized, is owned and controlled by the state and not by any class. Under such conditions, I cannot determine the character of the existing production relations by answering the question: “What class owns the property, the means of production?” for the good reason that it is not owned by any class, but by the state which is only the political instrument of a class. It can be determined only by asking and answering the question: “What class ‘owns,’ i.e., controls, the state-which-owns-the-property?” In other words, in a state which owns the means of production, the production relations are more or less consciously determined by the class which has the state power. Nothing else is or can be decisive in determining the production relations under such conditions.

After the October revolution, it was not the mere fact that private property was nationalized which determined a fundamental change in the production relations, but the fact that it was nationalized by the workers in political power, by the workers’ state. The relations into which men entered with each other in the process of production – in the factories, the mines, on the railroads and the land, etc. – were consciously decided, established and maintained by the state power which, however bureaucratically distorted, was in the hands of the working class. The relations of production thus established made the working class the principal economic and social beneficiary of the results of the production process. With the triumph of the Stalinist counter-revolution, the working class was expropriated politically and a new state power established which maintained and even extended the form and predominance of collective, or nationalized or statified property. Consequently, it established new and fundamentally different relations in the process of production – again, in the factories, the mines, on the railroads and the land. The worker, as an individual or as a class, has absolutely nothing to do with determining the production relations, with determining the relations of his class to the process or the conditions of production or the relations to it of those who, as a social group, control and decide the conditions of production. Like all ruling classes, the latter thereby control and decide the distribution of the surplus product extracted from the producers.

Basis for Stalinist Apologia

Anyone who does not know the fundamental change that has taken place in the production relations since the Stalinist counter-revolution, does not know anything about the concrete social relations existing in Russia today and thereby disqualifies himself from a discussion of the question on the ground of gross ignorance. Anyone who does know the facts, and who can write down on patient paper that the “sum total [no less!] of the production relations” existing after the proletarian revolution in Russia still exists under Stalinism today, thereby writes himself down as a Stalinist or, at the very, very best, as a high-minded and well-intentioned apologist for Stalinism who has, moreover, laid down the theoretical foundation for capitulating to it.

Since the logical consequences of this position are too palpable and, to any Trotskyist, disturbing, the authors of the resolution felt impelled to twist and squirm away from them. They must find out what is, after all, so bad about the Stalinist bureaucracy. So we learn, in the first place, that “the bureaucracy defends the essence [yes, nothing less than the essence!] of the production relations inherited from October only as a basis for its privileges, and not as a basis for socialist development.” This is both interesting and enlightening, even if not thought out. If it means anything, it is saying that the same “production relations” can be and are the basis for a socialist development or the basis for its opposite – an anti-socialist, counter-revolutionary, bureaucratic despotism. If the authors really mean production relations, they have made a unique contribution to Marxism! It is as if you were to say: A given bourgeois bureaucracy defends the essence of the production relations that underlie capitalism only as a basis for its own privileges, which are non-capitalist or anti-capitalist, and not as a basis for maintaining and developing capitalism. In other words, that production relations can simply be manipulated by a ruling bureaucratic clique against the social order for which these relations are indispensable and in the interests of the clique which is inherently alien and antagonistic to that social order.

New Muddles for Old

It is a crying absurdity, but not the only one. Although it defends the “essence” because the relations are the very basis of its power and privileges, we learn, in the second place, that the same bureaucratic dictatorship “undermines more and more the production relations on the basis of which it keeps alive.” How in the world is it doing this? If, as the authors say, the production relations simply mean the nationalized property, then undermining them could only mean that nationalized property is being abandoned progressively and replaced by private property. As is known, that is the only fundamental and serious sense in which the Trotskyist movement has always referred to the role of the bureaucracy in “undermining” nationalized property. But there is not only no sign whatsoever of the bureaucracy restoring private property, but the authors themselves announce, a couple of pages further on, that “the bureaucracy has been incapable of setting up conscious political tendencies, of orienting itself toward the restoration of the private ownership of the means of production for its own benefit.” There is nothing monotonous about this resolution: on each page, a bright new-thought; each thought in bellicose opposition to the one before it.

Since there is no evidence presented to show that the bureaucracy is abandoning nationalized property, and plenty of evidence to show that its power and privilege are based upon it, you would therefore conclude that the two are necessarily interlinked. Not so fast! The authors, on still another page, and in the third place, firmly reject “any attempt at simplification which tries to confuse the economic basis on which Stalinist Russia is built, with the monstrous degeneracy of its social superstructure.” We are therefore back to the standpoint that the rule of the bureaucracy is in some fundamental way opposed to the maintenance of nationalized property. But only for one page. We learn, on the next page, in the fourth place, and with no little stupefaction, that “the production relations and bureaucratic management are more and more inextricably bound up. Consequently, the progressive character of the Russian economy, which is determined by its capacity to develop the productive forces, tends to become eliminated by the bureaucracy.” Then, to make absolutely certain that the maximum of muddle is hammered into the resolution, we read on still other pages that “the policy and the very existence of the Stalinist bureaucracy constitute a permanent threat to all that is, in our opinion, still worth defending,” that is, the “production relations,” that is, nationalized property, “the maintenance of which imperiously demands the restoration of workers’ control, the progressive introduction of workers’ management of production.”

Orthodox Right Wing Protests

The genius of the authors lies exclusively in their insistence that all this gibberish makes sense. The only reason Russia is still a workers’ state and that it must be defended unconditionally, is that nationalized property still exists. The bureaucracy is reactionary and counter-revolutionary because it under mines the nationalized property. At the same time, it not only defends the essence of this property, and has produced no tendency to restore private property, but nationalized property is the very basis of it life and privileges. However, its existence is in conflict with the maintenance of this property, to which it offers a permanent threat. Nevertheless, nationalized property and the bureaucracy are becoming so much intertwined that the progressive character of this economy is being eliminated. Still, to maintain this property demands – and imperiously! – the overthrow of the bureaucracy which bases itself on that property, which is kept alive by it, and which defend its very essence. Notwithstanding our defense of “what remains of the conquests of October,” namely nationalized property, which is progressive an makes Russia a workers’ state, we say in the next breath that it “is more and more losing its value as motive force for socialist development” even though its value lies in its existence which the bureaucracy maintains, undermines, defends, threatens, sustain destroys, etc., etc. It takes real genius, and of no human variety.

The resolution was subjected to annihilating criticism during and before the Congress. The Swiss section, rigidly “Trotskyist,”’ called for the immediate withdrawal of the resolution as too compromising for the International. R. Johnson of the Workers Party of South Africa [2] (not to be confused with J.R. Johnson) wrote a furious denunciation of it, wholly justified from the standpoint of the traditional position on the question, charging that the leadership has simply “capitulated to the petty-bourgeois tendencies which it had been resisting” up to now; that its “hatred of Stalinism, instead of being political, has become pathological” (this charge has a very familiar ring!); and that “not only are we taking over the language and vocabulary of Shachtman and Co. but of imperialism itself and are even attempting to surpass it.” (This Johnson should not only not be confused with the other Johnson, but with J.P. Cannon either.)

The British Position

A more thought-out position came from the British section, the Revolutionary Communist, Party, and its delegation. Its position was probably the most significant feature not only of the Congress but of the development of the Trotskyist, movement as a whole. It was put forward in the form of a few modest “amendments” to the resolution. If these were mere amendments then we do not know the meaning of a categorical counter-resolution.

The British, who flirted for a while with the comical theory that Russia is a capitalist state and then quietly reinterred it, now start again with the premise that Russia is a workers’ state because it is based upon nationalized property. Once started, they shift with hydramatic smoothness into second gear. If that is the reason and the only reason for calling Russia a workers’ state, then, for the same reason, it is now necessary to consider all the “buffer” countries (Poland, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia) as workers’ states as well, since in all these states the Stalinist regimes have either already nationalized the decisive sectors of the economy and are clearly on the road of all-out nationalization. On this basis, the British Trotskyist paper hailed the February coup in Prague, which installed the totalitarian dictatorship of Stalinism in Czechoslovakia, as a “victory” for the working class! It is hard to believe, but there it was, black on white, in the British Socialist Appeal, under the signature of the RCP leader. For this article, the RCP received a bitter letter from the Czech Trotskyists charging it simply with stabbing its Czech comrades in the back, a characterization which suffers from restraint but not from inaccuracy. While the British hailed the coup as a victory for the working class, the rest of the official Trotskyist press hailed it as a victory for the bourgeoisie which, with inexcusable perversity, was celebrating its triumph by jumping or being thrown out of high windows onto the pavement below.

If the premise is correct, the conclusion of the British is inescapable. Their argumentation is without a flaw. Only, they have obviously come to an abrupt halt, halfway along the line. Yesterday, the buffer countries were capitalist states. Today, they are workers’ states, degenerated or degenerating or qualified in any other sense. That means: state power has been transferred from the hands of one class into the hands of another. In all the languages of the earth, such a change is known as a social revolution (or counter-revolution). In the given cases, the British can only be saying that what has taken place is a socialist revolution in its class type. The socialist, revolution is nothing but the transfer of power from the capitalist class to the working class, the overthrow of the capitalist state and the establishment of the workers’ state. Who organized and led this socialist revolution? The Stalinist bureaucracy and nobody else! But in that case, why is it counter-revolutionary? Perhaps because of its suppression and oppression of the workers? Very well, let us grant that. But the fact, remains (still according to the British Trotskyists, of course) that, the capitalist stales were transformed into workers’ states under the leadership and hegemony of the Stalinists. From this, the conclusion is absolutely unavoidable: we must introduce into Marxian politics the category of the counter-revolutionary socialist revolution or a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy that carries through the socialist revolution.

Downhill to “Democratic Stalinism”

Unfortunately, that is not all. If it has already been proved in life that the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy can and does carry through the socialist revolution (bureaucratically, trickily, or however else you want to describe it, but carries it through nevertheless) in a number of countries, there is no serious or fundamental reason to believe that it could carry it through in the other capitalist countries. From this, some ineluctable conclusions:

The working class is a good thing to have around; so is a revolutionary Marxian party. One or both may even be necessary to develop a workers’ state, once it is established, into a harmonious socialist society. But a self-acting, conscious, democratically organized, revolutionary working class is not indispensable for the carrying through of the socialist revolution. The counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy can do that job just as fundamentally (even if not as pleasantly, democratically, etc., etc.). It can establish a workers’ state not only without the support of the working class but in opposition to the working class.

If it can do this, then all grounds for the separate existence of an independent revolutionary party or International immediately disappear. The Stalinist parties and International may not then be everything that is desirable or required for the establishment of socialism, but they suffice for the socialist revolution, that is, for the establishment of a workers’ state. The only justification for the separate existence of a Trotskyist movement is if it confines itself essentially to the role of a democratic, anti-bureaucratic, opposition to Stalinism and ceases to consider itself an opposition to Stalinism on fundamental principle. It can oppose Stalinism on the ground of its false theories or its bad methods, but not on the grounds that it is for preserving capitalism and against a socialist revolution.

This is what the British position, when thought out to the end, really means. If they hesitate to pursue their views to the logical conclusion, it is for the same reason that many hesitate to shift from second gear into high speed while racing down a hill with a dead end at the bottom. But downhill they are going, and they cannot remain for long in second gear without burning up the whole motor.

From the Ouija Board

The leadership of the congress was uneasily aware of the significance of the British position. The question of the buffer countries is a decisive test of any position on the Russian question as a whole, and the views of the RCP confirmed only too clearly what we have been writing for years about the Russian position of the Fourth International. Caught between the pressure of the RCP position on the one side and the position of the Workers Party on the other, the International leadership presented a positively gloomy picture. The gloomy picture was paired with a ludicrous position. Against our views, they insisted (with what arguments, we have already seen) that Russia remains a workers’ state. Against us and the British, they insisted that Yugoslavia, Poland and the other buffer countries are capitalist states. What, capitalist states? Yes, capitalist states!

Every political person in the world who is in the least degree informed knows that this is the sheerest phantasmagoria. Everyone knows that in the countries where the Stalinists have taken power they have proceeded, at one or another rate of speed, to establish exactly the same economic, political, social regime as exists in Russia Everyone knows that the bourgeoisie has been or is rapidly being expropriated, deprived of all its economic power, and in many cases deprived of mortal existence; that industry has been or is being nationalized, in some cases faster than it was nationalized after the Bolshevik revolution. There is not a single capitalist, capitalist theoretician or capitalist spokesman in these countries (or anywhere in the world) who considers the Stalinist states as capitalist. Everyone knows that what remnants of capitalism remain in these countries will not even be remnants tomorrow, that the whole tendency is to establish a social system identical with that of Stalinist Russia.

Everyone knows this, even the British Trotskyist leadership knows this – but not the leadership of the Fourth International! Its ears muffed, its eyes blinkered, its mouth stuffed with cotton, its head in a blackened, soundproofed, waterproofed, uninflammable and airtight belljar, its hands lightly fixed on a ouija board, it communicates to the remoter planets the following intelligence: “The capitalist nature of the economy of the ‘buffer zone’ countries is apparent ... In the ‘buffer’ countries the state remains bourgeois ... the state of the ‘buffer’ countries defends property which, despite its diverse and hybrid forms, remains fundamentally bourgeois in character ... while maintaining bourgeois function and structure, the state of the ‘buffer’ countries represents at the same time an extreme form of Bonapartism.” (If only they could have read these consoling thoughts in time, King Peter would be asking to return to Yugoslavia, King Michael would never have left Rumania or Mickolajczyk Poland, and Masaryk would have died, if not a fully contented then at least a happier man!)

State-Capitalist Theory Undefended

A state with a capitalist economy, with a state organization of the economy, and with a regime of police dictatorship which represents an “extreme form” of Bonapartism, is commonly known as a fascist state. The British delegates did not quite agree with this analysis. Instead of fascist states, they proposed to designate the Stalinist buffer countries as workers’ states in the same sense as Russia, and therefore states which must be unconditionally defended from capitalist attack. The resolution of the majority declared that the “capitalist nature of these countries imposes the necessity of the strictest revolutionary defeatism in war time.” This difference of opinion was settled by the vote. The British amendments were overwhelmingly defeated. However, being religiously for sacred discipline, which they voted into the statutes along with the others, the British committed themselves to abide by the decisions and line of the congress. So, if their press henceforth puts forward the line of the International that the buffer countries are fascist states (more or less), and capitalist in any case, which must not be defended in wartime, ever, though they themselves strongly believe that these countries are workers’ states that should be defended, there will be no ground for astonishment. After all, is the difference really so great or important, especially in face of the infinitely greater importance of – of what? Oh yes, of discipline! The resolution of the leadership carried by a pretty lamentable majority. Those of us who supported the position of the Workers Party – that Russia and the buffer countries are bureaucratic-collectivist states – voted for the resolution of the French Chaulieu group which, while not identical with our position, was sufficiently close to it for purposes of the record vote. This resolution was supported by the delegates from the Chaulieu group, the German section, the Irish section, the Indo-Chinese October group and the Workers Party.

(The theory that Russia is a capitalist state was not really presented or defended at the congress. Munis, who holds to one version of this theory, spoke only briefly and in the most general way. The representative, of the Gallienne group, which holds to another version, did not speak on the subject at all. There remained the delegate who supported the J.R. Johnson version, that Russia is a fascist capitalist state. He did not present Johnson’s view at all and submitted no resolution for his specific position. Instead, he joined in a common resolution with Chaulieu, who had, in addition, a resolution of his own defending the theory of bureaucratic collectivism for which we voted. The joint resolution, which the highly principled Johnsonite signed with a sponsor of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism, for which the former professed such a detestation, mentioned neither that theory nor the theory of state capitalism. After the congress, the so-called convention of the SWP in this country voted unanimously to endorse the line of the congress, the Johnsonites supporting the vote. One side says Russia is a workers’ state that must be unconditionally defended; the other side says it is a fascist state which must be unconditionally overthrown. Bah! a trifling difference among men of high revolutionary principle. Divide a vote over such a nuance? It would be preposterous. By avoiding the preposterous, the Johnsonites bravely committed hara-kiri. It was not unforeseeable or unforeseen. As Yeats wrote on the fallen Irish airman: “In balance with this life, this death.”)

The Bitter Dose

In the congress discussion, I said that while the majority could defeat the British amendment by a mere vote, so long as they preserved the basic premise from which the British started, they would have to take a double dose of the amendments tomorrow. Tomorrow came much sooner than anyone expected. My easy prediction was wrong in only one respect: the leadership of the International hastily swallowed not just a double but a quadruple dose of the British position.

The hapless resolution, pointing out that “a more direct control by the Kremlin over the leadership of the various ‘national’ Stalinist parties has become necessary,” added cautiously, “Nevertheless, one should not expect large cracks in the apparatus in the eventuality of war, because all the leading strata of the Communist parties are entirely aware that only their link with the USSR allows them to play a political role ‘independent’ of other reformist currents inside the labor movement.” No sooner written than confirmed. Right after the congress adjourned, the Tito-Stalin conflict flared violently into the open, revealing spectacularly not only a “large crack in the apparatus,” which “one should not expect,” but the largest and most significant break in the history of the Stalinist movement. We, who had already analyzed the inexorable forces working to produce such and even greater cracks in world Stalinism, were therefore not caught off guard and found no need to improvise a position in twenty-four hours. What was the reaction of those whose main happiness comes from calling us petty bourgeois and themselves Marxists – perspicacious Marxists? They stumbled and fumbled and cleared their throats and then plunged into what is probably the most disgraceful position in the history of the Trotskyist movement.

The resolution of the congress said over and over again that while Russia is a workers’ state, Yugoslavia is a capitalist state; and that while Russia must be unconditionally defended in any conflict with a capitalist state, its defenders must adopt a defeatist position toward a country like Yugoslavia – not just plain ordinary defeatism, but “the strictest revolutionary defeatism.” But, after all, where was that said? In a resolution. And what, after all, is a resolution? It’s a combination of the genius of an author, tolerant paper and flowing ink. Don’t we still have ink that flows, paper that’s tolerant, and the same author with his genius unimpaired? Of course! Then what’s to prevent us from writing another document? Protests from the membership? Nonsense! All discussion is strictly prohibited after the congress. The next congress perhaps? More nonsense! Our congress does not even discuss the report of the line followed by the outgoing Executive. So the three basic ingredients were whipped together and new documents produced.

Open Letters to Tito

The new documents, over the signature of the Secretariat of the Fourth International, are a series of “open letters.” To whom are they addressed? To the regime of Stalin, which heads a workers’ state which we defend? No, to the regime of Tito, which represents “an extreme form of Bonapartism” and heads a capitalist state toward which we pursue a policy of the “strictest revolutionary defeatism.” Do the letters to the Stalinist bureaucracy of Yugoslavia express a sympathetic attitude toward the Russian workers’ state which we defend unconditionally? No, they express the most cordial and sympathetic attitude toward the Yugoslav capitalist state which must be defeated in any conflict with the Russian workers’ state.

As political documents, these “open letters” are among the most revolting and shameless of our time. The line adopted by the just-concluded congress of the International is not even mentioned, which shows how much respect the leadership has for it, the same leadership which insists on everybody else complying with its official line. Nowhere do the letters say that the International considers Yugoslavia a capitalist state; nowhere do they hint that the International applies to it “the strictest revolutionary defeatism in wartime.”

In the congress resolution, it says clearly enough: “Likewise, from the Russian occupation forces or from pro-Stalinist governments, which are completely reactionary, we do not demand the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, the setting up of a real foreign trade monopoly, an effective struggle against speculation and the black market.” The minute the Tito-Stalin conflict broke out, all this was completely forgotten; more exactly, it was completely ignored.

The “open letters” are addressed to the congress, the Central Committee and the members of the Yugoslav Stalinist party. The letters are one long appeal to the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucrats to become socialists – in their own interests. What the congress resolution said “we do not demand” of the Stalinist regimes, the “open letters” do demand, and in a sickeningly ingratiating tone. The July 13 letter goes into painstaking detail on what the Stalinist regime should do. It should adopt the road of the class struggle; it should establish full workers’ democracy; it should nationalize the land; it should organize a Balkan Socialist Federation; it should adopt all the principles of Leninism; it should start a “vast campaign of re-education”; there should be a “real mass mobilization, to be brought about by your party.”

Discovering the “Revolution”

Who is to perform these modest chores? Tito and Company, the counter-revolutionary Bonapartist bureaucracy which, said the congress, “has introduced special forms of exploitation” and has established “a Stalinist police dictatorship” in Yugoslavia! And what will happen to the Stalinist gang (because that is what they are in Yugoslavia too) in the course of all this? The “open letter” is most reassuring on this score. Dear police dictators, there is nothing to worry about: “Your party has nothing to fear from such a development. The confidence of the masses in it will grow enormously and it will indeed become the collective expression of the interests and sentiments of the proletariat of this country.” (My emphasis – M.S.)

In the letter of September, the Secretariat admonishes the Yugoslav bureaucracy against party monolithism: “If you cling to this conception you will head inexorably toward the foundering of your revolution and of your own party.” Tito and Company have not yet headed toward it, but if they “cling” they “will” head toward it! Toward what? “The foundering of your revolution.” What revolution? When did it take place and what class did it bring to power? Weren’t we (and the British) impatiently given to understand at the congress that there has been no revolution in Yugoslavia and that it is still a capitalist, not to say a fascist, country? “It is your duty as well as in your own self-interest to raise the clarification of your conflict to the plane of the true ideological reasons, which pertain to the nature of Stalinism. Only in this way will you be able to arm your party and the Yugoslav masses ...”

The “new line,” which makes the British amendments look like a bagatelle, justifies the Secretariat of the Fourth International in taking on an additional title: “Comradely Advisers to Stalinist Police Dictators on How to Transform Totalitarianism Into Democracy, Capitalism Into Socialism, Counter-revolutionary Parties Into Revolutionary Parties, Oppressors of the People Into Progressive Leaders of the People, Rulers Into Ruled and Ruled Into Rulers, in the Best Interests of the Dictators, Oppressors and Counter-revolutionists Themselves.” Admittedly, this title is long and ignoble, but it is not inaccurate.

The Fourth International has proved incapable of abandoning its role of an utterly ineffectual left wing of Stalinist totalitarianism and counter-revolution. It has a powerful impulsion to follow in the wake of Stalinism and this is caused organically by its reactionary theory that Stalinist Russia is a workers’ state. It is thereby compelled to have its political course and its future determined at every stage by the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy. This dooms it as an independent revolutionary proletarian movement, dooms it to bankruptcy and impotence at every important political juncture, dooms it to disorient and demoralize the few thousand militants who follow it and to paralyze their revolutionary will.

* * *

The concluding article will deal with the other decisions of the congress and with the perspectives not only of the Fourth International but of the revolutionary Marxists throughout the world who are today outside its ranks.



1. The Congress opened toward the end of March 1948 and its sessions ran into the following month.

2. It should be recorded that this is a deplorable misnomer. It is not a party because it has no members. It is not a workers’ party because it has even fewer workers in it. It does not live in South Africa but, as its documents show, is drifting somewhere between the moon and some undiscernible planet.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 17.9.2008