MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: FI: USFI: 1963-1985: The Evolution of Capitalism in Western Europe

The 8th World Congress of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International—1965

The Evolution of Capitalism in Western Europe


Adopted: Adopted, June 1965.
First Published: Spring 1965
Source: International Socialist Review, New York, Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring 1966, pp. 67-75.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido and David Walters, December, 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.


Against the world background of a continual rise in the colonial revolution, an ever deepening crisis in the Soviet bureaucracy, and the temporary stabilization of capitalism in the imperialist countries due to the betrayal of the revolutionary upsurge of 1943-48 by the reformist and Stalinist leaderships and the possibility opened to capitalism of a new phase of economic growth in these countries, the evolution of capitalism in Western Europe during recent years has been dominated by:

(a) An economic boom in which the motor forces have nevertheless begun to lose power and which has ended in a new economic situation, the contradictory dynamics of which are shown in at least some of the West European countries by periodic recessions.

(b) A prolonged crisis in classical bourgeois democracy, leading to attempts to install a “strong state” each time a sudden turn in the political, economic or social situation gives it urgency from the bourgeois point of view and it is made feasible by the weakening of the resistance of the labor movement.

(c) The necessity for the working class to energetically oppose the more and more frequent attempts to reach a new level in integrating the labor movement into the bourgeois state.

(d) The possibility of transforming economic struggles for immediate gains, or for the defense of previously won gains, into struggles for transitional demands that could create a pre-revolutionary situation and objectively pose the question of power.

(e) The more than ever decisive role of the subjective factor in arriving at this result.

Revolutionary Marxists have the duty to adjust their transition program to the precise needs and possibilities of this phase, in which the periodic possibility of overturning capitalist rule is provided both by the unresolved contradictions of bourgeois society and by the fighting capacity of the proletariat which remains intact in most of these countries,

I. THE NEW SITUATION

(1) In 1963 the economic situation of European capitalism began to change slowly but definitely. A phase of unprecedented expansion of the productive forces, of industrial growth and of the national income in all the European capitalist countries gradually gave way to a phase of uneven development, in which various capitalist countries have undergone contradictory evolution.

(a) Throughout 1964 expansion continued and even accelerated in West Germany. Greater stability of prices than in the other countries of the Common Market (reflecting in the last analysis a higher level of productivity) supported an extraordinary rise in exports, firstly to the European countries hit by inflation (Italy, France); secondly to countries overseas where purchasing power has been stimulated by the American economic boom.

(b) A series of European capitalist countries underwent a slowing down of expansion (Great Britain, and Belgium beginning in the second half of 1964) and an aggravation of their balance of payments deficits.

(c) Other countries, especially Italy and France, have been affected since 1963 by new inflationary pressures, forcing the bourgeoisie to take deflationary measures which precipitated the beginning of a recession, first in Italy, then in France. Altogether more than two and a half million workers suffered wage cuts or layoffs.

Moreover, in spite of “technical” recoveries (due to seasonal needs or the necessity of replenishing stocks) various branches of European industry today have considerable surplus capacity: coal mining, steel, ship building, synthetic textiles, automobile manufacture. If certain of these branches of industry are obviously suffering structural stagnation or decline (e.g., coal mining), others such as synthetic fibers and automobile manufacture were among the principal driving forces of the expansion in the preceding phase.

Nevertheless, a high level of employment, production and income still constitutes the prevailing feature of the capitalist economy of Western Europe as a whole. Full employment still exists in many countries. A large number of workers from more backward regions or countries (Southern Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Turkey) continue to be absorbed by the demand for labor in countries or regions where expansion is continuing. West Germany and Switzerland particularly are in the process of becoming genuine melting pots for hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, limited, as in most West European countries, to the least qualified and most repellent jobs, and living under conditions that have little in common with the so-called affluent society.

(2) This contradictory evolution of the various capitalist countries could have had two outcomes: Either the recession could have spread from Italy and France to the other countries of Western Europe, beginning with Belgium and Great Britain, then to the whole Common Market through the mechanism of progressive reductions of imports; or else maintenance of the boom in most of the countries of Western Europe, particularly West Germany, would have rapidly brought the recession in France and Italy to an end, enabling these two countries to resume expansion without great dislocations.

The actual course of events followed the latter alternative, beginning with the second half of 1965. This was due in particular to continued high demand from abroad (growth of exports in relation to both capitalist Europe and the United States, the boom continuing in both areas, and the semicolonial countries whose buying power has increased as a result of the American boom).

However, the fact must be emphasized that this revival in France and Italy, essentially “induced” from abroad, remains sluggish and tentative due to the relatively low level of investments and the progressive exhaustion of the main motor forces that made possible the lengthy boom in the European Common Market. Under these conditions it becomes improbable that a vigorous expansion can be generated in these two countries during 1966 and the beginning of 1967 to make up for the American expansion as a stimulator of expansion in West Germany. Thus West German expansion runs the risk of flagging in the course of the next months. The economic situation in the United States will then definitively determine whether a phase of general expansion will open in Western Europe or whether the tendency toward a progressive subsiding of the expansion will become accentuated, giving way to a general recession in 1967.

Even in the latter case, however, it would be only a recession, and not a serious economic crisis like that of 1929 or 1938. The reason for this, amply considered in previous documents of the International, is the possibility which imperialism has to “amortize” crises by increasing state expenses, at the cost of continually lowering the purchasing power of money.

The Profit Rate

(3) The combination of slowed-down growth everywhere (except in West Germany), of sharpened competition both on the European markets and the world market, and of still generally full employment, has at various times since 1963 brought strong pressure to bear on the average rate of profit enjoyed by the bourgeoisie in the different countries of Western Europe.

The slowing down of growth and the rise in international competition make it difficult to increase wholesale prices of industrial products, while full employment and even a labor shortage favor a rise in wages, even partially reducing the rate of exploitation of labor power (due to greater shifting of labor from plant to plant, lowered “work discipline,” a rise in wild-cat strikes and all kinds of work stoppages, etc.).

In general the workers have utilized these favorable conditions to gain considerable wage increases. In both 1963 and 1964 these increases came to around 10 per cent or more in countries like Italy, Holland, Belgium, etc. In 1963, a slower rise in wages aided the British capitalists in regaining some previously lost markets, especially in Europe; but in 1964 the drive was not followed up. This was due particularly to a lower general level of productivity than that of West Germany.

In face of this trend towards erosion of their rate of profit, the European bourgeoisie react in two fundamental ways (as did the American bourgeoisie during the preceding decade):

(a) By attempting to destroy, or at least to reduce, the strength of the trade unions and their ability to utilize the general shortage of labor to gain a significant increase in wages. The main weapon in this is the “incomes policy” and pressure for collective contracts of some years’ duration. In the last analysis, it involves attempting to suppress trade-union autonomy in negotiations, and reaching a new level in integrating the trade unions into the bourgeois state.

The effort to integrate the trade-union organizations into the state apparatus and to impose an incomes or wage-freeze policy on them corresponds to the objective necessity to plan the degree of exploitation of the labor force and thus the rate of profit for long periods. Consequently the trade unions tend to become converted into the agency responsible for controlling the attitudes of the working class in relation to the bourgeois state and capitalist “programming,” the objective being to maintain “social peace” inside and outside the plants. The bourgeoisie itself is not interested in carrying this to the point where the unions are so totally housebroken that they become incapable of maintaining a mass base and thus lose the capacity to control the workers. That is why the bourgeois state grants an illusory margin of independence to the trade unions, provided that they stay within the limits of pure and simple trade-union bargaining, as “modern” as they wish, but always functioning within the framework of the system.

(b) By attempting to build up an industrial reserve army by carrying automation and rationalization of enterprises through to the end, and by following a policy of importing foreign workers on a big scale. In conjunction with this, brutal deflationary measures, such as those taken in France (stabilization plan) and in Italy (anti-inflationary program), lead to the same result of “easing off the labor market.”

The bourgeoisie is clearly not unanimous in advocating these two ways of defending their rate of profit. The general interests of capitalism often conflict with the interests of particular sectors. In Italy especially, the trusts producing durable consumer goods were more or less opposed to the anti-inflationary program, which was primarily in the interests of finance capital and the industries most tightly under its control.

In France a considerable sector of the bourgeoisie (particularly small and medium concerns, and light industry) revolted against the “stabilization plan” and against all the “planning” under the tight control of the big monopolies. In Great Britain the bourgeoisie were likewise quite divided over the advisability of the Tory economic policy known as “stop-go.” Nevertheless, given the persistence of the fundamental contradictions in the capitalist system there is no way in which capital can defend its threatened rate of profit except by one of the two methods indicated above, or by a combination of the two.

The Common Market

(4) Under the prevailing conditions of economic expansion-even though it is slowed down-the trend towards the progressive economic integration of the capitalist countries of Western Europe, above all the countries of the Common Market, has continued, insofar as it corresponds in particular to the inevitable imperatives of productive technique (size of enterprise required to cross the threshold of profitability), so that markets greatly transcending the frontiers of the national state become a necessity. At the same time, however, the use of the “national state” as an instrument to defend the particular interests of the bourgeoisie in each of the six states is kept up in the very heart of the Common Market. This has been shown in all the many crises that have marked the advances of the Common Market (e.g., the crisis over a common market for grains; the crisis over the adoption of a common attitude towards the GATT negotiations for an international reduction in customs duties; the Italian reaction when faced with a decline in the market for Italian automobiles, etc.).

These two contradictory processes - the slow creation of a community of interests among the capitalists of Western Europe; the self-defense by each European bourgeoisie of its own particular interests— will coincide and overlap for quite a period. They express two contradictory realities in the very structure of the capitalist system.

This system remains essentially a “national” capitalism in each of the main capitalist countries of Europe (that is, most of the stock in the main enterprises in these countries remains in the hands of the capitalists of these countries); but alongside this “national” capitalism, a “European” capitalism is developing; born of the interpenetration of capital originating from some or all of the Common Market countries (and often from Great Britain, Switzerland, if not the U.S.). The longer the Common Market lasts and the more it becomes institutionalized (including particularly the adoption of a common currency), the more “Europe an” capital will gain in importance in comparison with “national” capital, and the more the Common Market will become irreversible.

However, the point of irreversibility has not yet been reached. It will most likely not be reached until a general recession occurs in Europe. Faced with such a recession, two reactions may appear among the capitalists of the main European countries:

(a) A protectionist retreat, defending the “national market,” if necessary by reestablishing customs duties when the situation deteriorates.

(b) A “flight forward”; that is, the application on the Common Market level of “antirecession” techniques which have proved their efficacy on a national level (”European programming,” “managed currency” on a European scale, etc.). This flight forward would require creation of a strengthened European executive and a European currency. These would constitute a decisive stage in reaching the point of no return for the Common Market.

Which of these two methods will be preferred by the bourgeoisie of each of the main capitalist countries of Europe will be shown in practice. The choice will be influenced in turn by the relative gravity of the recession and by the international political and economic context.

(5) The same ambivalence displayed by the bourgeoisie of the capitalist countries in relation to the phenomenon of European economic integration is likewise displayed by them in relation to American imperialism and the world market as a whole.

On the one hand, the relationship of forces between American imperialism and the main imperialist powers of the European continent has been shifting for more than a decade to the advantage of the latter and at the expense of Yankee imperialism. This inspired renewed optimism among the European bourgeoisie and even a revival of aggressive attitudes on the world market; a change that is particularly noticeable in West German imperialism.

(In 1954 exports from the German Federal Republic rose to 33 per cent of U. S. exports; in 1964 they reached 70 per cent. On a per capita basis, the German Federal Republic exports more than three times the U. S. in manufactured goods.) On the monetary level, the European bourgeoisie is attempting to cast off the tutelage of the dollar and to shift to an “international currency” regulated jointly by the central banks of the imperialist countries (with a European majority).

On the other hand, despite the shift in the relationship of forces, the technological superiority of American imperialism (which flows in particular from the greater size of its enterprises) remains pronounced, and the European bourgeoisie (especially in France) are finding to their dismay that while they are reconquering world markets, American capital is “colonizing” European enterprises. Similarly, the European bourgeoisie (above all in Italy and the minor capitalist countries) are terrified at the prospect of a collapse in the dollar, which would threaten to set off a chain reaction in the monetary system of the capitalist world and precipitate a break down of the whole international capitalist economy.

Finally, the European bourgeoisie display two different attitudes with respect to the world market, attitudes which strongly influence their behavior with respect to the Common Market itself. Some (the majority of the West German bourgeoisie in particular), holding that their productive forces are already suffocating within the boundaries of the Common Market, do not fear competition with American imperialism and therefore demand a Common Market open to Great Britain and the rest of capitalist Europe as a transitional stage towards the “Atlantic zone of free trade” likewise sought by American imperialism.

(This is the material basis of the “pro-Americanism” which de Gaulle holds against Erhard.) The others want to consolidate the Common Market first, protect it against the “invasion of American capital,” strengthen its competitive capacity, especially through a powerful movement to amalgamate enterprises and trusts, before opening the stage of sharpened and unprotected competition with American imperialism.

American imperialism retains crushing superiority over the European imperialist powers, especially in nuclear arms (a superiority which is even increased by the decline of British imperialism’s “independent deterrent”). The European imperialist powers cannot reasonably conceive defending their system on a world scale in face of the continuous rise of the anticapitalist forces (strengthening of the workers’ states, progress of the colonial revolution) outside of their alliance with American imperialism. All this weighs heavily on the whole situation and definitively limits the European bourgeoisie’s freedom of maneuver.

This is why the European bourgeoisie attach the greatest importance to obtaining access to nuclear arms (and to the rapidly evolving nuclear technology, on which American imperialism holds an almost complete monopoly), whether under the form of a multilateral or Atlantic nuclear force, or “an autonomous striking force” (French or “European”).

POLITICAL CHANGE

(6) During the long period of capitalist prosperity that unfolded in Western Europe, traditional bourgeois democracy, far from being revived or consolidated, continued to follow its process of slow decline. This decline corresponds in particular to an objective situation in which the key forces-in principal place the big capitalist monopolies, the banks, finance capital-decide on a series of questions involving political, economic, financial, monetary, commercial and sometimes even cultural policies, which were formerly prerogatives of parliaments.

If we add to this the continual strengthening of the executive power of the bourgeois state, and the more and more distinct encroachment of international organizations on important political questions (NATO for military problems; the Common Market, the European Cord and Steel Community, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade for commercial and economic questions; International Monetary Fund for monetary problems, etc.), it is clear that the actual influence of parliaments on public life is becoming more and more limited.

This process of progressive and uninterrupted erosion of bourgeois parliamentarianism expresses in the last analysis the fact that parliament, which was never an instrument for the conquest of power by the proletariat, is more and more ceasing to be an effective instrument for the defense and consolidation of the power of the bourgeoisie itself. Its real function used to be to enable the bourgeoisie to gain a collective understanding of its class interests at a time when it was greatly divided by disparate regional and sectional interests as well as clearly differentiated political currents.

But the more the process of capitalist concentration continues and economic life falls under the control of a handful of large trusts and monopolies, the more the latter use the state machinery to defend their particular profits and industries, the more the “personal union” between the monopolies and the state machinery progresses, and the more the expression of the interests of big capital and the centralization of the bourgeois forces take place outside the bounds of parliament, even before its debates begin.

The evolution towards a “strong state,” underlying the whole evolution of the European bourgeoisie during the past decade, thus corresponds with a double objective: to adapt the functioning of the state to the needs of the monopolies (providing them with a more stable and “technocratic” executive power in order to ensure a more effective defense of their profits); and to limit the possibility of the labor movement threatening the stability of the bourgeois state through an unreserved struggle for its rights (by limiting the right to strike and demonstrate and by strengthening the organs of repression).

It is significant that this tendency has appeared in recent years in all the countries of Western Europe, even in those reputed to be the most democratic, and under all forms of government, including those headed by Social Democrats or in which they participate.

(7) However, up to now the tendency towards installing a “strong state” has succeeded in only one country, France in the special Bonapartist form of Gaullism. Obviously the extreme personalization of power existing in this country is not the only form the “strong state” can take. Everywhere else this tendency persists only latently, certain objectives being carried out little by little, but without reaching the point of qualitative change. On the contrary, an objective balance sheet of the five years since 1959 shows that the executive power of the bourgeois state has been weakened in a series of countries (particularly Greece and Italy), at least in its capacity to prevent expressions of resolute working class struggle or to reduce their extent. Even in France, where the Gaullist regime seems stable, this stability is bound up in large measure with the survival of its leader, and the bourgeoisie itself doubts the possibility of maintaining this regime, at least in its present form, after de Gaulle has gone.

The fact is that instituting a “strong state” in its classical French form presupposes a serious defeat of the working class; and such a defeat has occurred nowhere in Western Europe in recent years. In fact capitalist prosperity itself has had a contradictory, dialectical effect on the behavior of the working class in Western Europe. If it has clearly weakened understanding of the necessity of a revolutionary overturn of capitalism, it has, thanks to the decline in unemployment, created conditions propitious for an outbreak of economic struggles.

This, especially in countries where the integration of the unions in the bourgeois state had been previously institutionalized, can prove to be the point of departure for a new rise in the militancy of the workers. The European proletariat, even in countries where it has been affected by the tendency towards political apathy, is still passionately attached to the defense of its economic rights and its unions, while establishment of a “strong state” requires not only deep political apathy among the workers but also the castration of the trade-union movement.

Bourgeois Weaknesses

For all these reasons, although tendencies towards setting up a “strong state” come to the surface each time the weakness of the executive of the bourgeois state is sharply illuminated (in Italy at the time of the presidential election in 1964-65; in Austria at the time of the last crisis inside the main bourgeois party; in Greece in relation to the upsurge of the workers which occurred under the Papandreou government, etc.), these tendencies cannot really triumph until after a phase of intense class struggle culminating in a serious defeat and deep demoralization of the proletariat.

Even in France, the beginning of a revival among the workers, which is shown by the economic strikes launched under the banner of unity of action among the trade unions and by a still hesitant, uncertain and contradictory evolution towards a united front of the PCF-SF1O (Communist Party and Social Democrats), threatens to undermine the stability of the “strong state” when de Gaulle and his personal prestige are gone. For this reason the French bourgeoisie envisage changing from a Bonapartist to a presidential regime, but without assurance that the attempt will succeed.

The events in Greece during the summer of 1965 constituted a striking confirmation of the preceding observations. Capitalist Europe has rarely witnessed a more vivid and cynical illustration of the way in which parliament and the parliamentary majority are by-passed nowadays in choosing a prime minister, constituting a government and exercising power. In the absence of an open military dictatorship-which under the given relation of forces could not be installed except at risk of provoking an outright revolutionary reply from the masses-the crown, leaning heavily on the reactionary heads of the army, maneuvered patiently and without regard for niceties in order to erode and then reverse Papandreou’s parliamentary majority. The mass movement, despite its breadth and its spontaneous character, was virtually paralyzed so far as the outcome was concerned due to the parliamentary cretinism of the United Democratic Left and the Communist Party, which were anxious to conform to parliamentary rules and procedures and which sought only to “democratize” the monarchy.

(8) The tendency towards a “strong state” is to monopoly capitalism in a time of prosperity what the fascist tendency was to the same capitalism in a period of economic crisis and mass unemployment. In each case an attempt is involved of adapting the degree of centralization of political power to the concentration achieved by big capital in the economic field. In the one case, the mass base of the movement consisted of a dispossessed, pauperized petty bourgeoisie mad with despair; in the other, the mass base of the movement is a prosperous enriched petty bourgeoisie without an inferiority complex (composed mainly of technocrats, cadre elements and, in general, the new middle classes).

Similarly in the one case it was a question of crushing the working class, destroying its organizations and brutally lowering its standard of living; in the other case it is rather a question of emasculating its organizations by integrating them more deeply into the regime and by corrupting the workers with a higher standard of living linked with potent measures to foster political apathy among them.

The climate of economic prosperity prevailing in Western Europe the past five years has not favored the rebirth of the fascist danger. On the contrary, the fascist cells which survived or were recreated in countries like West Germany or France, have grown weaker, if they have not disintegrated. They could only reappear in a time of economic, social and political crisis carried to a paroxysm, and even then would lack substance in the absence of mass unemployment.

On the other hand, we have seen the development almost everywhere in Western Europe of Poujadist tendencies, expressing the revolt of the “old middle classes,” hit by the capitalist concentration, who are seeking to maintain an independent position in the economy. It is primarily small peasants and middle-aged small shopkeepers, inexorably condemned by the progress of agricultural mechanization and commercial concentration, who are to be found in the forefront of these tendencies.

These groups sometimes find expression within the traditional parties (for example, the resistance among the British Conservatives to the abolition of real price maintenance; the resistance in the West German Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union to a common market in grains; the expression of Poujadist tendencies within the Belgian party of Liberty and Progress, etc.); sometimes they create new parties, mostly of a quack nature (like, for example, the “peasant party” in Holland) and without any future.

The fact is that the displaced petty bourgeoisie can easily find new jobs-often of higher status-within the framework of capitalist “prosperity.” In the absence of a prolonged recession or a big drop in the rate of expansion, their revolt is based more upon nostalgia for the past than any present misery. This situation, however, could change in the event of a general recession in the Common Market; we would then certainly see the emergence of more powerful Poujadist tendencies.

Racist Tendencies

A relatively recent phenomenon has been the appearance of pronounced racist tendencies on the political scene in Western Europe. This phenomenon has two roots: on the one hand, the exacerbated feeling of frustration felt by the petty-bourgeois layers in face of the progress of the colonial revolution and the loss of “empire”; on the other hand, the reaction of petty-bourgeois circles and the less politically conscious layers of the working class in face of the immigration of a large number of foreign workers, sometimes (especially Great Britain and France) of colored workers.

The material causes of these racist feelings, at least in working-class groups, are tangible enough-a housing crisis and fear for the stability of employment. These racist feelings are, moreover, less racism proper than xenophobia. Whereas the target of the most virulent demonstrations in Great Britain is black or Pakistani immigrants, in Switzerland it is the Italian immigrants. These sentiments are no less potent in the hands of the bourgeoisie as a weapon to divide the working class. The labor movement, or in its absence, the vanguard, must of necessity take systematic and energetic countermeasures.

(9) In recent years the two fascist regimes still surviving in Europe, the Franco and Salazar regimes, have undergone a profound crisis. In the case of Portugal, this crisis results primarily from the extension of the colonial revolution into the Portuguese colonies (so-called “Portuguese” Guinea, Angola, Mozambique). This undermines the financial stability of the dictatorship through the military expenditures involved, and in the long run undermines its economic stability insofar as it drags Portuguese imperialism, the weakest of all the imperialisms, into colonial wars which it has no hope of winning, and which will finish by destroying its very foundation.

In the case of Spain, the crisis of the regime has more complex causes; it is due to the economic revival, which fostered a renewal of economic struggles by the working class thanks to a decline in unemployment; to the appearance of a new generation of workers and students who do not feel the weight of the demoralizing defeat in the civil war; to the influence of the Cuban Revolution and the revolutionary struggles in Latin America; to the necessity felt by the Spanish bourgeoisie to become integrated into capitalist Europe, etc.

The fundamental scheme of the bourgeoisie is the same in both Portugal and Spain: to move from a fascist regime to an “enlightened” and “liberal” Bonapartism without a real upheaval. This would permit them to legalize the economic struggles of the working class, diverting them into purely reformist roads; to solve their colonial problems; and to integrate themselves into capitalist Europe on an equal partnership basis (formal membership in the Common Market—and for Spain undoubtedly also in NATO, or in a Mediterranean pact—would register this coveted status).

But many obstacles stand in the way of this operation. Despite accelerated industrialization, which has already made the working class the most numerous in Spain’s population, the two countries still have highly explosive agricultural situations. The agricultural proletariat ekes out an existence in terrible misery. The economic situation in the two countries, both of which are clearly “marginal” to the economy of capitalist Europe, is very vulnerable, quite likely to be hit harder than the others by a Common Market recession (which would involve in particular a massive return of emigrant workers).

The gap between the European wage level and wage levels in Spain and Portugal remains a source of constant agitation and growth of revolutionary consciousness among the proletariat of the two countries. The revolutionary movement thus has the possibility to defeat the plan of the bourgeoisie and to transform the crisis of fascism into a crisis of capitalist rule instead, opening the way to a proletarian revolution. But the realization of this possibility depends on political and organizational conditions, the achievement of which has already suffered a serious delay.

III. THE WORKING CLASS

(10) During the past five years the European labor movement continued to undergo the influence of international factors determining the broad lines of the evolution of world politics: the continuation of the colonial revolution which has gained new spectacular victories; the deepening of the crisis of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which resulted in the Sine-Soviet conflict and the prolonged crisis in the international Communist movement; the prolonged period of boom in the United States which bolstered the capitalist prosperity in capitalist Europe, etc.

Nevertheless, the determining factor in the evolution of the labor movement in Western Europe continued to be the objective situation in which the European working class itself is placed. The strategic and tactical problems posed by this situation can be definitively resolved only through the internal contradictions within European bourgeois society. The key problem for the West European labor movement continues to be that of successfully resisting the attempts of the bourgeoisie and its agents to integrate the movement deeper into the bourgeois state. This problem is intimately bound up with another key question: the search for and the formulation of an alternative strategy for the labor movement and its revolutionary vanguard as against the ultra-reformist if not openly bourgeois strategy put forward by the big parties of the European Social-Democracy, and the neo-reformist strategy advanced more and more by the official Communist parties of Western Europe.

The formulation of this alternative strategy—indispensable in constructing an alternative leadership—cannot consist of the simple repetition of past formulas, particularly when these formulas corresponded to an objective situation characterized by mass unemployment, the stagnation of the productive forces and the immediate threat of fascism—which is not the objective situation in most European capitalist countries today.

(11) In opposition to all the reformists and neo-reformists, and a number of centrist currents influenced by them even at the periphery of the revolutionary vanguard, the Fourth International insists that the capitalist prosperity, far from having resolved “all the economic problems,” leaves enough economic, political and social contradictions in capitalist society to make revolutionary struggles objectively possible that could end in the overthrow of capitalist rule and the conquest of power by the proletariat.

The contradictions persisting within the prosperity itself and the fundamental instability of this prosperity which leads periodically to national or international recessions together with the inevitable periodic attacks which the bourgeoisie must launch against the living standard and against the most militant unions of the workers, all create conditions propitious for an outbreak of struggles which, under the influence of a broad vanguard within the mass movement, can be transformed into offensive battles for transitional demands leading to a revolutionary situation and the establishment of organs of dual power.

Such objectively revolutionary struggles remain possible, as was brilliantly shown by the Belgian general strike of December 1960-January 1961, the great movement of the Greek workers in the summer of 1965, and to a lesser degree by the revival of the Italian labor movement in 1962-63. In any case, as these struggles demonstrated, there is no direct mechanical connection between the growth of capitalist prosperity and workers’ wages and the lowering of the revolutionary consciousness of the masses influenced by communism.

But these examples likewise confirm that the actual transformation of workers’ struggles for purely economic demands into struggles for transitional demands which objectively pose the question of power, depends on the activity of the subjective factor within the mass movement to a much greater degree than on different objective conditions.

From this point of view, the union movement, especially its left wing (left reformist, centrist or Communist not dominated by Khrushchevist neo-reform-ism), has progressively become of greater and greater importance in the recent evolution of the labor movement in Western Europe. This importance corresponds to the nature of the struggles -almost all of which begin as struggles for economic demands; to the sterility of the mass parties of the working class, and to their increasing differentiation, which does not create any point of crystallization sufficiently attractive for a coalescence of the various currents of the labor movement. It is still within a united union movement (as in Great Britain, West Germany or in Sweden), or within a class-conscious union (as in Italy or in Greece) that this coalescence can come about with the fewest hindrances.

From this flows a clear danger, namely, that the trade-union milieu will weaken the programmatic content of the alternative strategy formulated by the various tendencies in the workers movement, and that anarcho-syndicalist tendencies will thus appear which, under cover of workers “autonomy” or a refusal to be integrated into the organisms of the bourgeois state, will in fact strengthen the tendency towards political apathy among the proletariat, the No. 1 objective of the big bourgeoisie and one that happens to be fostered by the objective situation.

For revolutionary Marxists, the only reply possible is to continually link the question of power, of the government, to the defense of material interests of the workers as the culmination of the whole anti-capitalist strategy, in the absence of which “workers autonomy” implies tacit acceptance of the permanency of the bourgeois order.

The same danger is implicit in the “turn toward a strategy centered on the job level” which was projected more or less simultaneously by the centrist or “left” forces of the Italian, West German, British and Belgian trade-union movements. In itself, there is nothing reprehensible or negative about paying more attention to the problems of speed up, the bad effects of automation in a capitalist framework, and the need to offer, even on the job level, a workers plan in opposition to “capitalist programming.”

Under a revolutionary Marxist leadership, an orientation of this kind would lead to the demand for workers control and to propaganda in favor of workers management, the revolutionary impact of which has actually increased as technical progress brings about increasing exploitation of the worker, as a producer, in the factory.

But when this orientation is divorced from the problems of power and government, when it aims at actually scattering the struggles and refusing to engage in struggles of the class as a whole, the only kind capable of shaking capitalist rule on the job as well as on the state level, it constitutes an ideal platform for neo-reformism that leads only to new forms of class collaboration if not to bitter defeats and fresh demoralization.

Stalinism

(12) The evolution of the Communist parties in Western Europe has been profoundly influenced in the recent period by the developments and various ups and downs of the international crisis of the Communist movement. But the overall effects of this crisis on most of the parties have been contradictory.

If “de-Stalinization,” the slow disappearance of all orthodoxy and all “supreme authority,” and the wide differentiation engendered by the Sine-Soviet conflict have undoubtedly heightened the critical judgment of Communist members and reestablished, to various degrees, the possibility of real political discussion within these parties (however, only the Italian CP has developed anything that resembles genuinely free discussion), the immediate political effect of this change in climate has been to accentuate the rightist course of these parties under the combined influence of the opportunist tradition of the old leaders (particularly Togliatti in Italy and Thorez in France), the Khrushchevist line promulgated at the Twentieth Congress along with “de-Stalinization” (”peaceful coexistence, general strategy of the Communist parties”; priority of “economic competition between the USSR and the USA” over any revolutionary orientation in Western Europe; attempt at rapprochement with the Social Democracy, etc.), and the climate of capitalist prosperity so conducive to the flowering of new rightist deviations in an essentially opportunist milieu. Important changes in social composition, particularly among the active cadre, have occurred in the last decade, notably in the Italian Communist Party.

In Italy in particular this contradictory effect of “de-Stalinization” has been felt, but other cases—like that of Sweden where the Communist party openly adopted a reformist orientation, or Belgium where the leaders of the CP argue for the idea of their party being reabsorbed by the Social Democratic Party—confirm this general rule.

It is a product of the long period of opportunism in the Communist parties. Only with the profound radicalization of significant layers of the workers and the outbreak of big spontaneous struggles could this be reversed, bringing forward a broad Communist left in the mass CPs that would move toward a revolutionary strategy under the pressure of the masses and the stimulus of the revolutionary Marxist forces.

In almost all the countries of capitalist Europe, the Sine-Soviet conflict has led to the appearance of nuclei of pro-Chinese groupings. Their members fall generally into two categories: one the one hand youth and militant workers disgusted by the rightist opportunist line of the official CPs; on the other, men of the CP machines who yearn for the days of Stalin.

The relationship of forces between the two tendencies determines the relative size of the groupings. These go from obviously ridiculous groups as in Switzerland to formations of a certain strength like the pro-Chinese Belgian, and Austrian organizations, and groups of somewhat greater importance like those in Italy. But even in these cases their possibilities for growth were cut off when elements of the Stalinist type took over the leadership, toeing the Chinese line 100 per cent and sinking into sectarianism and demagogy.

Nevertheless, experience showed that these groups, particularly when they were forming, brought together a considerable number of valuable elements in search of revolutionary solutions. It is the duty of our sections to I t means to open a dialogue with these elements and to win them to our program and our movement; otherwise the whole experience threatens to end with their being lost to the labor movement.

Social Democracy

(13) During recent years, the evolution of the Social Democracy toward the right has proceeded at an accelerated pace in almost all the countries of Western Europe. Two motor forces that must be carefully distinguished are at the bottom of this evolution:

(a) In some cases the classical arguments and motives of reformism in a boom period are at work, without this necessarily implying a decline or modification of the traditional working-class base of these parties. This is particularly true of the Austrian Socialist Party and the British Labour Party to a certain degree indicated below.

(b) In other cases what is involved is the expression of a profound modification in the social composition of these parties. The administrative bureaucracy of the state and municipalities, the new middle classes, even small and middle capitalist businessmen, have displaced the workers as active members of these parties. The process of degeneration, which has gone farthest in West Germany and the Netherlands, is marked by a complete break with the ideology of the past, the official renunciation of Marxism and the class struggle, a refusal even to speak of any kind of socialization of the means of production or the extension of workers rights in the plants as aims of socialist politics, and even official promulgation of reactionary concepts like the “inclusion of workers among stockholders” and “deproletarianization through the transformation of the workers into individual owners.”

Even in the case of the Dutch and German parties, the electoral base remains working class, and the phenomenon of an electoral polarization around these parties can continue to occur when, in the absence of worthwhile alternatives, the proletariat is compelled to consider a Party like the German Socialist Party as the only possible alternative to the bourgeois parties. But in such cases the votes won by these parties are gained literally despite their program, their leaders and their orientation, and not because of them.

The Labour Party represents a special case. Like the Austrian Socialist Party, it represents the only Social Democratic party that continues to be followed, due to historical reasons and the structure of the workers’ movement, by virtually the entire politically conscious working class of the country. The death of Gaitskell and his replacement by Wilson, plus the strengthening of the left wing in the trade unions and the bankruptcy of the rightist policy in the 1959 elections, led to a small shift to the left in this party during 1963-64 in contrast to all the other Social Democratic parties in Western Europe.

But the financial crisis to which Wilson’s cabinet fell heir, together with the classical fear of these reformists, both of the right and the left, to lead a struggle, no matter how weak, against the “national” and international class enemy, led them to place the burden of their difficulties on the backs of the Labour voters and to become worse adherents than ever of the world politics of British and American imperialism.

In covering up the aggressive policy of American imperialism in Vietnam, in waging an imperialist repression themselves in Aden and South Arabia, in introducing legislation on immigration which goes further along the road of racism than the measure passed by the Tories, in introducing a bill for an incomes, or wage-freezing, policy, and in seeking the passage of anti-union and anti-strike legislation, the British reformist leaders are acting like faithful servants of their own bourgeoisie. For the time being, before they have finished their foul task, their masters are not interested in ousting them, despite their hairline parliamentary majority.

The true meaning of this shameful policy, however, is clear at the moment only to the politically minded vanguard. The broad masses still hold illusions about the class character of this government. Only when Wilson’s policies induce conflicts at the plant level and in sectors of industry will a comparable rebellion break out on the rank-and-file level.

(14) To the intermediate centrist formations that appeared in the preceding period, of which the most important were the Danish and Norwegian Socialist People’s parties (SFP), the French United Socialist Party (PSU), and the Dutch Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP), two new centrist organizations were recently added: the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PS I UP) and the Belgian Left Socialist Union-Walloon Workers Party (UGS-PWT). The latter parties have a quite different origin from that of the Danish and Norwegian SFP’S and the PSU, which were ideological movements or “moral” revolts within the SP’S or the CP’S.

Objectively they are products of upsurges in the class struggle in these countries in the recent past and of the actual radicalization of the first layer of the mass movement that appeared during these upsurges. The Danish, French and Norwegian formations have a programmatic base that is confused in general and just as neo-reformist as that of the Khrushchevist CP’S if not even further along the road of neo-reformism. The PSIUP and the UGS-PWT on the contrary seek a Marxist programmatic base, and without thereby going beyond left centrism, they are farther to the left on some points than the official CPs.

Two criteria will prove decisive for the future of these new formations—their capacity to win a real mass base in the plants and, as a consequence of this, to play an effective role in the trade-union movement, and their determination to play an independent political vanguard role in the labor movement, outflanking the official CPs to the left.

If they succeed in carrying out these tasks in a positive way, these parties will be able to serve as poles 0f attraction to a vanguard within the CPs exercising a continual pressure on them that can limit their opportunist maneuvers and thus constitute a positive element in constructing a revolutionary mass party that will include a good many of their members. But if they fail in this dual task, they will rapidly become transformed into more and more heterogeneous centrist swamps given to incessant factional struggles in the image of the PSU.

IV. OUR TASKS

(15) The central task of revolutionary Marxists during the entire coming, period, insofar as it is objectively determined by the succession of phases of capitalist prosperity and more or less limited recessions, continues to be the one already indicated: to prepare, to justify, to coordinate, to widen and to generalize the struggles of the proletariat in defense of immediate material interests (whether against inflation or against the threat of unemployment, against the attempt to slow down wage increases and impose a wage freeze, or against cuts in hours and layoffs) and against the integration of the workers movement into the bourgeois state apparatus, by linking economic demands to transitional demands. These, starting from the immediate aspirations of the masses, could lead to a pre-revolutionary situation, even the creation of organs of dual power, if struggles of broad sweep are launched to win them.

Success in these tasks involves maintaining the orientation of integrating our militants in the mass movement while at the same time maintaining an independent sector.

Entrist work will continue to be applied in the CPs in France and Italy, in the Labour Party in Great Britain, in the SP in Austria, in the SFP in Denmark.

A modification in tactics, already carried out in large part by our forces, is called for in West Germany and Belgium. In West Germany the possibilities for work inside the Social Democracy have worsened from year to year. Without doubt they will be very limited in the next period. Under these circumstances membership in this party is primarily justified today because it facilitates trade-union work. However, this does not mean that the participation of revolutionary Marxists in this party now has only a passing tactical significance and that the original strategic aim has been abandoned.

It remains most likely that the current trend will continue-the radicalization of the working class will first occur in the trade unions before appearing in the Social Democracy. It is true that the conditions under which the process may unfold have become more unfavorable because of the political degeneration of this party and the withdrawal of the workers from its internal political life. Thus the indicated outcome has been rendered less probable although it has not been ruled out.

In Belgium, the formation of the PWT-UGS created the possibility of advancing revolutionary consciousness. The revolutionary Marxists must support this development in order to shape a force out of it that can contribute effectively to the birth of a revolutionary mass party.

(16) The general strategy of revolutionary Marxists in Western Europe ought to be based essentially on the perspective of undermining the strongest point of the imperialist system by liberating Europe and the world from the danger of a nuclear conflict through developing the class struggle and the revolution in the very heart of capitalism. Concretely this struggle ought to be directed against the imperialist and capitalist fusion that is being effected in the present stage both inside and outside the Common Market.

This is being done with the prominent participation of the forces of the Social Democracy which even more than in the period between the two wars now plays the role of steward for the capitalist system in its most up-to-date forms. What is required is the elaboration of a program of struggle corresponding to the immediate interests of the workers but bearing a transitional character leading to the overturn of the system through continuous developments in a socialist direction.

This program must first of all offer to the proletariat effective means of defense against attacks by the bosses carried out under the slogan of “slowing down wage increases” in a period of full employment, or in the form of cuts in hours or layoffs in a downturn of the economic cycle. The defense against cuts in hours is all the more important since it is in general the marginal revenue of the workers that constitutes the basis for raising their standard of living (buying durable consumer goods on credit), and the loss of these revenues in the workers’ budgets can represent a disproportionate fall in their standard of living.

In opposition to the inflationary threat to the income of the workers, revolutionary Marxists demand the sliding scale of wages, the automatic adjustment of wages to rises in the cost of living with the index of the cost of living computed by the trade unions themselves, and safeguards against the imposition of progressive income taxes on the supplements to nominal income.

In opposition to the “incomes policy” and in general against any attempt to tie down the workers movement through a “joint agreement economy” (” économie concertée ”) the revolutionary Marxists propose that the trade-union movement demand that the discussion on prices, wages, productivity and profits should be preceded by opening the books of the bosses, doing away with business secrets and establishing workers control over production.

In opposition to cuts in hours, the threat of layoffs, which appear at the time of downturns in the economic cycle, and in opposition to the general threat of capitalist rationalization and automation to full employment, the revolutionary Marxists demand establishment of the 40-hour and then the 35-hour week, a guaranteed monthly wage, social insurance (including unemployment insurance) of 75 per cent of the average wages, workers control over hiring and firing. They demand that plants closed by the bosses which the workers believe ought to be kept running should be put into operation under workers control; they demand that along with this, to absorb unemployment where it exists or reappears, new plants should be built at government expense and operated under the management of the workers themselves.

In opposition to the general economic dislocations which capitalist prosperity has left untouched or even accentuated in all the capitalist countries of Western Europe, the revolutionary Marxists demand the nationalization of every big industry and the whole credit system, without purchase or indemnification, running them under workers control and with the elaboration of an economic development plan centered on different priorities (particularly collective consumption) than those of “economic programming.”

So that there will be no ambiguity about this workers plan and to prevent it from becoming a new tie-in with capitalism like the “counter plan” of the PSU, it must be specified that it can be carried out only by a workers (or workers and peasants) government, and that it involves the creation of dual power.

In order to meet the situation arising from a leap forward of the productive forces and new needs of the proletariat, revolutionary Marxists demand extensive development of free collective consumption-free medicine (national health service), free collective urban transportation, free education up to the highest university degrees with free meals and free lodging for students, socialization of building sites and free collective services in big living complexes (national housing service). They press the masses and the workers organizations to oppose the models of bourgeois consumption and to adopt models of consumption that are both more rational from the viewpoint of the individual and more equalitarian and human from the social point of view.

Against the exploitation which workers have suffered since the beginning of capitalism as producers and which has been aggravated by the progress of capitalist rationalization and automation, revolutionary Marxists struggle for workers control over the organization and speed of work, over the plans for re-tooling plants and plans for production, etc.

The slogan of workers control appears as the central slogan of this stage of struggle to which all the other transitional demands lead as the main lever for bringing about dual power within the plants, logically ending in the question of political power, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the objective of workers management after the overthrow of capitalism.

(17) This program involves the necessity of formulating for each country a precise transitional slogan on the governmental level to concretize, in accordance with the tradition, the currents of opinion and the prevailing mood of the working class, the general slogan of a “workers government” or a “workers and peasants government.” It is a question of accustoming the workers to counterpoise to bourgeois governments or coalitions with the bourgeoisie the idea of a government that expresses the political will of the working class, of that will—not as revolutionary Marxists would like it, but as it really is at a definite stage.

For this slogan to have its full mobilizing effect, it must be intimately tied up with the transition program which this government is supposed to carry out. It must also be formulated in such a way as not to appear manifestly absurd (a “workers government” headed by Winy Brandt is hard to conceive); that is, the trade unions, the mass workers parties or the left wings of these parties, as the situation may require, must be represented as constituting the essential bases of these governments.

United Front

(18) The revolutionary Marxists advance their propaganda and their agitation in favor of a united front of all the trade-union organizations within the Common Market without excluding anyone, favoring representation for the French General Confederation of Labor (CGT) and the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) within the consultative bodies of the trade unions in the Common Market and broadening this united front to include the trade-union movements of all of capitalist Europe.

The struggle for these objectives—the realization of which must be tied to the convocation of a big European Congress of Labor—becomes of extreme importance as the Common Market takes on structure and more and more institutions are set up, and as the monopolies and bosses organizations gain a degree of strength and organizational centralization going beyond what has been achieved on a national level. As against this concentration of capitalist power, the labor movement has only a front torn into two or three sectors which refuse to collaborate internationally. The result of this is a steady shift in the relationship of forces in favor of the bosses within the Common Market.

As against a capitalist United States, which could be born in part of Europe, it is necessary to stress propaganda favoring a socialist United States of Europe.

(19) The problem of building a revolutionary leadership in Spain, of a revolutionary party of the proletariat is of primordial importance. Present conditions there are characterized by: (a) a considerable increase in economic and democratic struggles of the workers, peasants, the poor, students, etc.; (b) the efforts, at times successful, of the bourgeois opposition, more precisely the Christian Democracy, to head the movement, in order to control it and to try to use it in the final analysis to help bring into being a neo-capitalist and Bonapartist system.

The party that is needed will not be built in a laboratory but in struggle. The revolutionary Spanish militants must actively participate in the vanguard of the present big struggles which open possibilities of action infinitely superior to those that existed a few years ago.

Participating in the economic and democratic struggles of the workers, agricultural laborers, students and other layers of the population, advancing unifying slogans to raise the class consciousness and militancy of the workers, proposing wherever possible forms of struggle that sweep over the limits more or less “tolerated” by the bourgeoisie, following the magnificent example of the Asturian miners who, at Mieres, attacked the police station where miners were being held, with cries of “U.H.P.!” (the Unión de Hermanos Proletarios of 1934) and “Long Live Communism!,” the revolutionary militants must, at the present stage of the struggle, work for the most rapid possible success in coordinating the workers struggles and actions on a national scale, as well as forming an effective alliance between the struggles of the industrial workers and the agricultural workers - indispensable conditions for proposing more ambitious mass actions in form as well as content, capable of leading to pre-insurrectional situations.

With regard to one of the central slogans of the present struggle, “trade-union freedom,” the revolutionary militants must, in opposition to attempts by the party apparati (both labor and Christian Democrats) to create their own more or less clandestine trade-union sections, advance the slogan of factory, local, regional and even national committees or councils, and participate in creating unifying and really representative committees of the workers, organs of the class struggle of all kinds, where of course representatives of the Communist, Socialist and Christian trade-union militants would be represented.

The indispensable unity of action in the plants must find an organic form on a national scale. Revolutionary militants must struggle along these lines to create a genuine workers front of political organizations and groups that would go beyond the vague slogans about “democracy,” showing from facts of daily life the need for a socialist alternative to the present crisis of the Franco regime.

But one of the indispensable conditions for getting beyond the schemes of the political forces of the monopolies and initiating solutions leading to the socialist revolution is the creation of a revolutionary party of the proletariat. The revolutionary militants must take an active part in the still timid attempts at rapprochement among the revolutionary Marxist groups along these lines.

Specific Demands

(20) It is necessary to develop a program of specific demands and activities:

(a) For the defense of the colonial revolution, particularly the revolution unfolding in the colony or ex-colony of the imperialism where each of our sections is operating. For aid, free from all political strings, to the new politically independent states, especially those which, in search of complete freedom from imperialism, are carrying their revolution over into a permanent revolution.

(b) For withdrawal from NATO and from all imperialist military pacts. For a struggle against nuclear arms (for unilateral disarmament, against any multilateral force), and against the threats of world war launched by imperialism in general, a campaign that must combine participation in the anti-nuclear movement with the struggle for an anti-capitalist program, together with the propaganda that only the world victory of socialism will put an end to the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

(c) For the intervention of our movement in the crisis of the world Communist movement, an intervention adapted to the special features of the Communist movement and its differentiations in each country of Western Europe.

(d) For specific action of our movement among the youth, who are mostly outside the sway of the traditional organizations, who are particularly vulnerable to downturns in the economic cycle, and among whom definite layers in a state of latent or open rebellion against society in general can be led through action into becoming revolutionary adversaries of capitalism and any society founded on exploitation and oppression. The rebelliousness is also linked in certain countries with the anti-imperialist struggle, culminating in a rebirth of interest in politics among the youth.


TOWARD A HISTORY OF THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL

Last updated on 11.19.2005