From Fourth International, Vol. I No. 4, August 1940, pp. 83–85.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
THE MANIFESTO of the Fourth International on The Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution was adopted at the International’s World Emergency Conference, held in a neutral country on May 19–26. The Manifesto had necessarily been drafted before the Conference and was adopted by it with only a few minor amendments. Time had to pass for the delegates to make their way back to their respective countries before it could be published. 
Meanwhile every day’s events constituted a historical epoch. The real scope of Hitler’s blitzkrieg, the Battles of Flanders and France, came after it was written. It is interesting now to examine the Manifesto, some three months after its completion, to see how it has weathered the test of subsequent events and how the Manifesto itself fits into the chart our movement has been making of the course of events during the last decade.
It would not be remarkable if the Manifesto failed that test in important details. On all sides we see the wreckage of the programs and predictions of others. Yet if a political program is scientific it should be able to chart the general course of coming events and steer a consistent course through these events.
To begin with the Manifesto is able to describe the general causes of the present war simply by summarizing the analysis which our movement has been elaborating ever since 1918. We knew that this war was inevitable unless the proletariat overthrew the bourgeoisie, and we have consistently explained why. There were those who denounced this “doctrine of inevitability” as paralyzing the will of the workers to fight against war; these denunciators – the Norman Thomas Socialist party and the Lovestoneites were the American examples – are now partisans of the “democratic” imperialist camp as we predicted they would be. Along with other last remnants of Marxism, the Stalinists had to abandon the Leninist analysis of the coming war, in order to offer as the road to peace the “collective security” program of the Peoples Front. We were the only proletarian party which remained faithful to the Marxist estimate of the imperialist contradictions leading to the war, and we have been proved correct against the others.
On the immediate causes of the war and the relative strength of the contending powers, the Manifesto is able to base itself upon our theses, War and the Fourth International, which we published in 1934, and which the Manifesto quotes directly on basic points. We should like to see the Stalinists and the social democrats produce their documents of six years ago and compare them with their present documents! In its section on The Preponderance of Germany in the Conflict, the Manifesto quotes our 1934 theses which said: “The collapse of the League of Nations is indissolubly bound up with the beginning of the collapse of French hegemony on the European continent. The demographic and economic power of France is proving to be, as was to be expected, too narrow a base for the Versailles system.” The 1934 document further declared that “England’s rulers are increasingly less capable of carrying out their plans,” and the British bourgeoisie is “alarmed by the disintegration of its empire, the revolutionary movement in India, the instability of its positions in China.” To these estimates of 1934, the Manifesto – and this before the defeat of Belgium and France – adds its certain opinion that “only the United States is destined to surpass the German murder machine.”
On the military and technological dynamics of the war, two memorable examples of dialectical analysis in the Manifesto are particularly worth quoting.
“The peace of Versailles has done the Allies a poor service. After fifteen years of German disarmament Hitler was compelled to start building an army from nothing, and thanks to this the army is free of routine and does not have to drag along obsolete technique and equipment.”
“The industry of England and France, thanks to the assured flow of colonial super-profits, has long lagged both in technology and organization. In addition, the so-called ‘defense of democracy’ by the socialist parties and trade unions created an extremely privileged political situation for the French and British bourgeoisie. Privileges always foster sluggishness and stagnation. If Germany today reveals so colossal a preponderance over France and England, then the lion’s share of the responsibility rests with the social-patriotic defenders of democracy who prevented the proletariat from tearing England and France out of atrophy through a timely socialist revolution.”
Roosevelt’s preparations for war, which he and his labor lackeys justify by pointing to Hitler’s recent victories, were in actuality already beginning in 1934 because of America’s economic crisis, the Manifesto is able to prove by referring to our 1934 theses. At that time we forecast the role of US imperialism in the following terms:
“Capitalism in the United States is running head on into those problems which impelled Germany in 1914 upon the road of war…For Germany it was a question of ‘organizing’ Europe. For the United States it is a question of ‘organizing’ the world.”
After nine months of the Stalin-Hitler pact, during which “democratic” imperialist propaganda, echoed by renegades from our movement, characterized the Soviet Union as an imperialist power bent on war for imperialist aggrandizement, the Manifesto is able to refute these falsehoods by reference to the events. That the Soviet Union remains a workers’ state though ruled by a degenerated bureaucracy is a basic concept of the program of the Fourth International. Thence flows the necessity for the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against the capitalist world. In the nationalization of semi-feudal and capitalist property in Eastern Poland – now in the Baltic countries too – the Manifesto points out, “The strangled and desecrated October revolution served notice that it was still alive.” Stalin’s pact with Hitler, on the other hand, “resulted from the weakness of the USSR and the Kremlin’s panic in face of Germany. Responsibility for this weakness rests with no one but this same Kremlin; its internal policy which opened an abyss between the ruling caste and the people; its foreign policy which sacrificed the interests of the world revolution to the interests of the Stalinist clique.” The urgent necessity for the revolutionary overthrow of that clique is now again demonstrated by the consequences of the pact, which have endangered the Soviet Union more than ever.
On the basis of this bankruptcy of Stalin’s foreign policy and the Kremlin’s necessity to recognize its present plight and seek a new course, the Manifesto was able to predict a new turn by the Communist International back toward the “democracies.” Since the Manifesto was written, the first signs of that new turn have appeared, notably the abandonment of the “Stop the War Now” slogan by the British Communist party and its replacement by a campaign to “oust the Munichmen from the government,” i.e., for a government which will fight the war to the end.
As for the most important event in the war since the Manifesto was written, the capitulation of France to Hitler, that was and remains incomprehensible if one seeks to explain it by the mythology of the “war for democracy”; the democrats cannot possibly explain why the French government did not at least continue the war from its African colonies; but the Manifesto was able to explain it in advance. It says:
“The bourgeoisie never defends the fatherland for the sake of the fatherland. They defend private property, privileges, profits. Whenever these sacred values are threatened, the bourgeoisie immediately takes to the road of defeatism. That was the way of the Russian bourgeoisie, whose sons after the October revolution fought and are once again ready to fight in every army of the world against their own former fatherland. In order to save their capital, the Spanish bourgeoisie turned to Mussolini and Hitler for military aid against their own people. The Norwegian bourgeoisie aided Hitler’s invasion of Norway.”
One can now add to this list the French bourgeoisie, which followed General Weygand’s advice that it was preferable to yield to Hitler and to become a subordinate partner in a Hitlerized Europe rather than to risk the danger of further defeats giving rise to a workers’ revolution.
Yes, the Manifesto of our international movement stands the test of events. Nor does it, Jeremiah-like, wail amid the chaos. On the contrary it seeks out amid the welter of blood those factors which constitute a new foothold for the workers’ struggle. It affirms that the conditions for proletarian revolution are present and does not hesitate to point them out. Of particular interest perhaps for American workers is its emphasis on the role it predicts for the millions of youth who constitute in this country the “locked out generation.”
“Millions of the youth unable to find access to industry began their lives as unemployed and therefore remained outside of political life. Today they are finding their place or they will find it on the morrow: the state organizes them into regiments and for this very reason opens the possibility for their revolutionary unification.”
Here is not a trace of pacifist wailing about the fate awaiting these youth in the barracks!
In its concluding section the Manifesto sharply raises, in terms which may startle many American radicals – for in truth the dominant radical tradition in America is “left” pacifism and not Bolshevism – the question of the workers learning the military arts.
“All the great questions will be decided in the next epoch arms in hand. The workers should not fear arms; on the contrary they should learn to use them. Revolutionists no more separate themselves from the people during war than in peace. A Bolshevik strives to become not only the best trade unionist but also the best soldier.”
In the factory the Bolshevik strives for technical competency, the better to be able to help his fellow-workers, thereby to win their confidence and thus win them to the revolutionary movement. In the army and the military training camps the Bolshevik likewise learns all that can be learned; his fellow-soldiers come to look to him for advice and guidance; he teaches them how to protect themselves under fire; and their confidence in him opens the way to political collaboration. Naturally, neither in the factory nor in the army is the Bolshevik “the best” in the eyes of the employer and the bourgeois officer! He does not accept their criterion of what is the best. The careful application of this revolutionary approach to the question of militarization is undoubtedly the most important task now facing our party, as this country begins to turn into an armed camp.
We have only touched the highlights of the Manifesto; it is impossible to summarize its 15,000 words, for it is too concisely written.
We cannot ask you to compare our Manifesto to those of the other international tendencies in the workers’ movement, for none of them have issued such documents on the war to this day! They are too busy, undoubtedly, from day to day, revising their programs of the day before. Each change in the war map convulses them anew; they are bereft of any serious, consistent perspective. Therein one may begin to see the chasm that separates them from us. We firmly continue on our course. To us the changes in the war map testify only to the death agony of capitalism and to the imperative necessity of the socialist revolution.
1. It was published in this country in our weekly, the Socialist Appeal, June 29, and is available in pamphlet form.
Last updated on 26 February 2016