MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: FI: 1938-1949: 1951 3rd Congress of the FI

A Milestone in Internationalism: An Editorial

Article on the
Third Congress of the Fourth International—Paris, April 1951

Written: 1951.
First Published: 1951.
Source: Fourth International, Vol.12 No. 6, November-December 1951, pp.164-167, 218
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido & David Walters, November 2005.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2005. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

The ideas and problems which fill these pages touch the fate of the human race today. They belong in the same sphere as Lenin’s contributions to living Marxism after the outbreak of World War I. The epoch Lenin analyzed, which he so aptly and prophetically characterized as the period of wars and revolutions, marked the beginning of the final decline of capitalism us a world system. The epoch—our own—under consideration by the recent Congress of the international Trotskyist movement marks the last phase of this decline when wars and revolutions are being telescoped into one cataclysmic struggle, yes, into the final conflict between proletariat and bourgeoisie, between capitalism and socialism.

Lenin’s thought was fresh, vigorous, dynamic. It was not rutted in routine, tradition and formal categories. Marxism for him was not a catechism to be memorized and repeated by rote, but n means of penetrating the complexities of the social struggles and of fashioning a strategy that would guide the proletariat to victory and socialism. The virility and efficacy of his method were demonstrated in the Russian Revolution itself.

”Museum pieces” he called the notions so sacred to the entire leading staff of his party only the day before his return from exile. The epoch had changed. The conception of the sequence of revolutions, giving primacy to the advanced industrial countries, was outmoded. Imperialism had swept the world into its vortex. The task of the Russian proletariat was to take the power at once and thus give impetus to the socialist revolution in the West. Thus Lenin rearmed his party. The revolution he made in the ideas of Bolshevism was an indispensable prerequisite to the revolution the Russian workers made in action.

The work of the Third World Congress of the Fourth International is in keeping with the Lenin tradition. Here too there is a rearmament of the revolutionary vanguard for an altered world situation and on the eve of great class battles. The achievement is unique. No other tendency in the working class movement—be it Stalinist, social democratic or centrist—has met the ideological test of the times. All of them without exception are being dragged blindly, unconsciously by forces beyond their control into the impending showdown. The head of the world proletariat rests on the shoulders of Trotsky’s Fourth International. Its ideas precede the inevitable triumph of the world October which will realize the fusion between the program und the movement which carries it to victory.

Past Wars and the Threatening War

What is new and different in the world today?

The character of the approaching war is new. The position of the classes, the circumstances in which the war takes shape and threatens to break out are different from those which surrounded past wars.

The major wars of the past were conflicts between imperialist powers for the redivision of the markets and raw materials of the earth. Not so today. The last two wars have led to the ruin or to the exhaustion and decline of all the important imperialist powers but one, the United States. The emergence of the American capitalist colossus, with its unrivaled productive plant, its extensive domestic market, its huge supply of capital, has driven the other powers from the field of effective competition.

The problem confronting the new imperialist giant is different from that faced by British, German, Japanese, French capitalism in another era. One-third of the area of the world, extending from the Elbe to the China seas and including more than 800,000,000 people, has completely slipped out of the capitalist market. It must be reconquered before capital can safely and profitably be invested in that area again. Irresistible economic forces drive American imperialism to this task.

Without this market for capital and goods, its huge productive forces are threatened with stagnation and crisis for lack of adequate living space. Without this market, the other capitalist nations cannot achieve any stability; they must pull America down into their own bankrupt condition by their constant need for loans and grants which serve no other purpose than to avert total collapse. More. The very existence of this huge non-capitalist world unsettles existing markets, spurs the colonial and semi-colonial peoples to take advantage of the palpable weakness of their oppressors thus creating new military burdens and further instability in the West.

Survival of Capitalism at Stake

Nothing short of the survival of capitalism as a social system is at stake in this conflict. That is why compromises are so difficult to attain and so short-1ived in duration. That is why, despite fears of the devastating character the war will assume, despite doubts and misgivings as to its outcome, American imperialism rushes headlong into the holocaust, beating down hesitation and resistance of its allies and welding together the armed coalition for the counter-revolutionary crusade.

The conflict of the two naturally exclusive social systems taking the form of world war means in effect that the class struggle, which has existed from the inception of capitalism as a struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, has extended in the decline of capitalism into a struggle between states which represent the interests of the hostile and conflicting classes. This situation was envisaged by Lenin. It was predicted by Trotsky. It is now rapidly becoming the reality of our times.

But it was one thing to accept Lenin’s and Trotsky’s views when they were merely a prognosis, it is quite another to confront this prognosis face to face. The social climate is charged with nerve-wracking tension. Terrible pressures are bearing down on all men, on all classes, tendencies and groups. This is the unmistakable sign that civilization stands at a turning point, that the people are being called upon to make a fatal, irretrievable, cataclysmic decision.

Here is the supreme test of revolutionary leadership, which the Fourth International alone of all tendencies in the working class movement has met. It has not submitted to forces far greater than itself, it has not wavered under pressure, it has not deluded itself or others with false hopes. Prepared by its whole past, which embodies the best of the traditions of revolutionary Marxism, it was able to skillfully diagnose the existing reality, to speak clearly of the march of events, to confidently prepare its strategy for the turbulent tomorrow.

War and Revolution

What is this reality? It is not merely the approaching encounter between states with different social systems. It is the merging of the two big phenomena of our times—war and revolution—into one. Trotsky wrote prior to the last war that either the revolution would stop the war or the war would produce the revolution. Many, even in the Trotskyist movement, in artificially transferring this correct statement to a greatly altered situation, were led into error. They visualized the outbreak of war as a sign of the defeat of the workers’ movement and a victory for imperialism which, as in 1939, would not dare plunge into war without first settling accounts with the proletariat.

Not the least of the achievements of the Fourth international Congress was its correction of this error. There have been no shattering defeats for the workers’ movement anywhere in the world since the last war. Despite all its efforts, reaction has been unable to stabilize itself in any important nation. On the contrary, the revolutionary tide has been moving from continent to continent. Temporarily subsiding in Europe, it swept like a flood over China. Now it swells in the Arab world. Tomorrow it threatens to rise in Africa and Latin America. As if in sympathetic response, France and Italy are again reverberating to its echo and England has plunged deeply into social crisis.

The pitiful results of a year and a half’s armed struggle against the Korean people indicate that it is unlikely that imperialism, despite the treacherous policies of Stalinism and social democracy, will succeed in altering this situation before the outbreak of war. It is much more probable that imperialism will seek to settle this problem by and through the war itself

It is for this reason that the Fourth International envisages the outbreak of civil war throughout the world when hostilities begin.Workers and colonial peoples will seize the occasion to overthrow their former rulers and imperialist oppressors. The fact that imperialism aims to destroy the nationalized property relations in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, to destroy the revolutionary regime in China, to smash the working class and colonial movements, will tend toward the creation of a natural coalition against a common enemy: counter-revolution. Does this mean that the Kremlin will dominate the anti-imperialist coalition and strangle it in a totalitarian vise as it has done in the past?

Marxism and Violence

Before we enter upon this question, it is important to underscore the significance of the estimate made of the dynamics and character of the next war by the Fourth International. There is no doubt that it will be shocking to those who are entirely preoccupied with the horror and devastation created by war and especially of the next one which will undoubtedly be the bloodiest and most destructive in history. It is not the Marxists who should be reproached for the barbarism of war or the violence of social struggles. Their aim is to eliminate the form of class rule which is responsible for these evils and to do it peacefully if possible so that the new socialist society can be brought into being without the added poisoning and distortion of human relations caused by war.

Marxism above all is a science whose function is to know what is, to say what is and to draw the conclusions for action that flow from such an examination of the reality. The analysis cannot be contested because it does not present a pretty picture, because it does not pin its hopes on a “return to reason,” on desires for peace or some other miracle. Its significance lies in the fact that it gives conscious men a perspective, that it turns their eyes to the root of the matter, that is, to the class forces which despite all the atom bombs will decide the future of humanity. The merit of the prognosis of the Fourth International is that it frees men from the paralysis of fright and makes them fit for action.

The Fear of Stalinism

The far more serious obstacle up to now to the thought and action of the socialist vanguard has been fear and confusion about Stalinism. Were all class movements to be dominated by this despotic, ruthless bureaucracy? Would the war lead to its complete domination? These are the problems that trouble thinking revolutionists and it is here that the rearmament of ideas by the Trotskyist world congress is of the greatest import.

It is not surprising that Shachtman, the leaders of the POUM, the Titoites and other centrists should react to this ideological rearmament with cries and accusations that “the Fourth International has capitulated to Stalinism.” Part of their venom undoubtedly comes from bad conscience. Most of them at one or another time in their past had promised to defend the Soviet Union against imperialism in case of war. But the threatening war finds most of them either in the other camp or on the way into it, identifying the Stalinist bureaucracy with the Soviet Union as their justification for joining with imperialism.

Their reaction is typical of the “socialists of the world” when confronted with a reality which does not conform to the ideal constructions in their minds. The Russian Mensheviks denounced Lenin as an “anarchist” and a “Blanquist” because he reoriented his party toward the establishment of workers’ power in a backward country which had not known an extensive capitalist development and before socialism had triumphed in the advanced countries. What was their alternative? To collaborate in a government of landowners and capitalists, to support the imperialist war, to stall the breakup of the feudal estates and the distribution of the land to the peasants and eventually to intrigue with reactionary generals against the Bolsheviks.

The Soviet Union does not conform to the pattern of workers’ power envisaged by the Marxists; the workers’ states of Eastern Europe were not brought into being according to classic revolutionary lines, and were then deformed on Russian lines by the Kremlin; the new China is run by a Communist Party which is not as democratic as it might be. Therefore, the modern Mensheviks reject the whole thing, bell, book and candle: the system that demonstrated the superiority of planned economy over capitalist anarchy and has made Russia an industrial nation; the transformation that obliterated private property and the blight of feudalism in Eastern Europe; the revolution that has expelled foreign imperialism from China for the first time in hundreds of years, unified the nation and is in the process of cleaning out the Augean stables of medievalism.

What is their alternative? A “Third Camp” which is already becoming the left wing of the camp which includes MacArthur and McCarthy, Chiang Kai-shek, Franco and Hitler’s generals. And these are the wretches who speak of “capitulation to Stalinism”! By this position, they in effect hand over one-third of the world to the Stalinist bureaucracy because there are precious few of these proletarian mosses, with all their hatred for the Stalinist bureaucrats, who will join imperialism in its crusade to overthrow the great social achievements effected in their countries, precious few who will stand idly by if it is attempted. The “theories” of the renegades serve them as a bridge back to imperialism and serve the Kremlin as a weapon against its revolutionary opponents. What is “state capital-ism,” “bureaucratic collectivism” to the renegades, is the road to socialism, distorted though it is, to millions of people who do not confuse the foundations which have been laid for the new society with the bureaucratic caste in political control.

The Fourth International has remained faithful to Trotsky’s analysis and attitude toward the Soviet bureaucracy and Stalinism. While unchanged in fundamentals, it has refined its ideas on this question and added a note of realism required by changed world conditions. What it recognizes is that events have changed the relationship between the Soviet bureaucrats and world imperialism, and between Stalinism and the masses it leads and influences.

Stalinism was a product of the reaction that followed the ebbing of the revolutionary wave and the defeats of the workers’ movement in the twenties in Europe. It kept its domination by maneuvering between rival imperialist powers and by manipulating the workers’ movement to the ends of these maneuvers. Isolated revolutionary developments such as in China, Spain, France, unable to withstand the opposition of their own bourgeoisie in combination with the counter-revolutionary treachery of the Stalinist bureaucracy, went down to defeat. The defeats consolidated the Kremlin’s position by freeing it from the pressure of revolutionary masses and by lending plausibility to its defeatist attitude to workers’ revolutions.

The Altered Situation

All of this is altered today. Imperialism is no longer divided and heading toward a clash in its own ranks but united under American hegemony it is preparing for war against the Soviet Union. The bargaining power of the Kremlin is thus considerably restricted. Although willing as ever to bargain away the interests of the revolutionary workers and colonial movements it is clear that imperialism requires more far-reaching concessions as the price of any real agreement. Nor is it such a simple matter to sell out these movements as, for example, the New China. Under such conditions it becomes more and more profitable for the Kremlin to attempt to exploit these movements for its own ends, endeavoring all the time to limit their objectives, then to betray them directly. The revolutionary ferment in the world tends today to remain in an active state rather than being dammed up and demoralized as in the past.

Far more important however is that the forces of mass unrest let loose upon the world since the last war are becoming too vast, too uncontrollable for manipulation by the Kremlin or any other bureaucracy. What has happened in Yugoslavia during the war, and even more significantly in China, is an illustration of this phenomenon and foreshadows the shape of events to come. In both cases tile Kremlin attempted to prevail upon tile leaderships of these revolutions to come to terms with their reactionary opponents—the Yugoslav Royalist government-in-exile and Chiang Kai-shek. Meanwhile, as the records prove, the Kremlin made agreements with these reactionary rulers behind the backs of and against Tito at one time and against Mao at another. Stalin’s object, in one case as in the other, was to honor his agreements with imperialism and to achieve peace with it at the expense of the revolutionary masses.

But what had been possible in China and before the war was no longer possible in Yugoslavia during the war and in China after it. The great mass movement was too powerful, too irresistible a force to be curbed by secret agreements, supplemented by CPU terror squads. It swept over the Kremlin’s head and swept its agreements into the dustbin of history. This is a new development of the greatest political significance and was recognized as such by this Congress of the Fourth International not only because of the light it throws on the past and present but because it can be a dominant tendency in the event of an imperialist war against the non-capitalist world.

Crisis of Stalinism

Basically, this is not a new idea, as far as Trotskyists are concerned. Viewing Stalinism as a by-product of working class defeats and of reaction, we had envisaged its crisis in a period of the upsurge of revolutionary developments. This is precisely what has occurred. Only as so often happens, the reality, while basically conforming to the idea, had its own unique and peculiar expression. The crisis of Stalinism developed within and through the Communist parties in countries where they head great movements, and not in organic breaks from them. Parties, like those in Yugoslavia and China, still Stalinist in all outward appearances, led successful revolutions against the old regime.

But by this very fact, these parties had ceased to be Stalinist, that is to say mere agencies of tile Kremlin, pressure instruments for achieving favorable diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the capitalist governments. In seizing power they had acted in direct opposition to the main purpose of Stalinism. This was to be confirmed in life itself when it later became clear that Stalin’s Politburo had opposed and sabotaged their struggle for power. It was furthermore demonstrated when signs of friction and even open hostility appeared between the new revolutionary power and the Kremlin.

To contest this analysis because it appears contradictory is to ignore the reality which is itself contradictory. The road to socialism is not like a superhighway. Those who arc unprepared to take its unexpected turns, its unexplored paths and its detours must inevitably lose their way. In fact, the political woods are full of these wretched wanderers who wail about the omnipotence of bureaucracy at the very moment that proletarians and colonial people are smashing the great empires of the capitalist world and thus creating the conditions for the downfall of Stalinism.

Far from capitulating to Stalinism, the Fourth International by its analysis and the tactical course it has charted, prepares the penetration of the conscious vanguard into the mass movement as it is and as it will be. That is the greatest danger for Stalinism and assures the ultimate victory of tile ideas of Trotskyism which is already indicated by events.

The Fourth International came into existence in an epoch of defeats. It grew up in the blackest days of the working class movement. It was small in numbers and isolated from the masses. Its criticisms of the revisionist, nationalist idea of “socialism in one country,” of the pernicious influence of bureaucratism in a workers’ state, of the disastrous policy of building a “bloc of four classes’ during the 1925-27 revolution in China were generally unknown, and incomprehensible to the limited audience that did hear them.

How different today!

Who dares speak of “socialism in one country” today when the world decision between capitalism and socialism is currently in the making?

Look at Yugoslavia. Less than two years after the break with the Cominform, the leaders of the regime, who were trained in Stalinist methods and who practiced them themselves for a long decade, found themselves denouncing the entire bureaucratic system in the Soviet Union and advocating ideas and plans for workers’ democracy which in many ways paralleled those of Leon Trotsky. (The subsequent evolution of the Yugoslav leaders is treated at length elsewhere in this issue.)

Stalin himself is hard put to justify the reasons for existence of his privileged bureaucracy against critics in the USSR itself who say that with the creation of “socialist” states on the eastern and western borders of the Soviet Union, thus greatly weakening the capitalist encirclement, much of the “need” for an iron-clad dictatorship no longer exists. One swallow does not make a spring. But these are important signs of the times.

Look at China. There the victory of the revolution officially laid to the fact that the Chinese CP broke with the fatal policy of the 20’s of subordinating the mass movement to the Kuomintang. The responsibility for the defeat of that time is shunted off onto scapegoats who had merely applied the line of Stalin’s Comintern. But the fact that the victory of 1949 is attributed exclusively to Mao Tse-tung and never to Stalin clearly implicates the latter in the defeat of 1925-27 and indicates that far more is being said in private than appears in the press.

It is the ideas and program of Trotskyism, not in detail, not in all their aspects, but in fundamentals which have triumphed wherever the masses have triumphed over imperialism. The anonymity which still surrounds them can only be transitory. When the scope of the struggle broadens and is posed as a life-and-death matter, the authorship of these ideas will be readily proclaimed and recognized by millions. The fusion between the revolutionary program and the revolutionary movement will become a fact.

While the heavy emphasis of the Congress is placed on the problem of Stalinism, its evolution, its contradictions and its eventual downfall—constituting an indispensable guide for conscious Marxists to the complicated, turbulent events of today and tomorrow—its work was broader in scope extending to all the main phenomena and problems of the working class movement. A careful reading of these pages will show that there is no attempt to draw a simplistic, rigid, one-sided pattern. Animated by profound realism, which is the exclusive property of the Marxist method so far as sociology is concerned, the Congress was able to appraise the movement of the masses as it actually is—under social democratic leadership in Great Britain, Germany and in other important countries in the capitalist world, without independent political organization is in the United States, under petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois leadership as in parts of the colonial and semi-colonial world—and to formulate its policy and attitude toward these movements.

It is only fitting and proper to conclude this editorial by giving the floor to those who were fortunate in participating in the world Trotskyist Congress for a brief description and appreciation of its work and significance. The following lines are, translated from Quatrième Internationale, organ of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International:

“An extraordinary feeling of deep community of thought, especially on the character of the period in which we live, on the perspectives which are unfolding and on the tactics required for victory, prevailed among the delegates and participants at the Third World Congress of the Fourth International.

“Never in our past have we known such an atmosphere of confidence, conviction, optimism, of the real homogeneity of the Trotskyist movement which was founded by the best men of the Russian Revolution and of the Third International of Lenin’s time and which for more than a quarter-century has waged a titanic, unequal struggle against the most reactionary forces in history: capitalism in its epoch of imperialist decline and decomposition and the Soviet bureaucracy.

“All those who participated in the Third Congress had the feeling of standing on solid ground and successfully resisting the terrible pressure which is brought to bear by the exacerbation of the world struggle. They were ready to face the oncoming revolutionary tempest with a redoubled optimism in the final outcome.

“They had the feeling that, profiting from the richness of our program, from our traditions, from our successes in penetrating the movement of the masses, rearmed Trotskyism was a solid reality, swimming with the historic current.

“The Third World Congress was the most striking and most convincing expression of the maturity of the international Trotskyist movement enabling it to effect a fusion with the revolutionary forces of the working class.

“When an ideological movement, in conditions such as exist today, reaches this degree of maturity there is no force which can destroy it because there is no force which can destroy the organized, systematic, thoroughgoing expression of the consciousness and the interests of a revolutionary class. And at every decisive stage of history for a quarter of a century Trotskyism has proved itself to be this expression of the consciousness and the interests of the revolutionary proletariat ...

“The Third World Congress did not underestimate the very great difficulties our movement will have to face or the important obstacles it will have to overcome. The Congress at all times was keenly aware of the still crying disproportion between our subjective forces, our means and the heavy tasks to be accomplished. But, keeping all these considerations in mind, the Congress was convinced that the ideological preparation and the practical work done by the international Trotskyist movement had attained its maximum at this Congress.”


Last updated on 13 April 2009