From Fourth International, vol.5 No.9, September 1944, pp.260-263.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
FOUNDING CONGRESS MET ON EVE OF WAR On September 3, 1938 delegates representing the Trotskyist movement in eleven countries – Germany, Great Britain, France, United States, USSR, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Holland, Greece and Latin America – convened ‘somewhere in Europe” for the Founding Congress of the Fourth International, the World Party of the Socialist Revolution. The congress carried out its work during the height of the Munich crisis which ushered in the period of final preparations for the second imperialist war.
It is a great gain for the world working-class that it was armed for the coming revolution with the correct program and the indispensable organization – the world party – prior to the outbreak of the slaughter. This represents an enormous advance over the conditions that prevailed during the first world war, when the beginning of hostilities witnessed the collapse of the Second International. As a result of this betrayal it was possible to reconstitute the revolutionary leadership of the international proletariat only in 1919, two years after the eruption of the Russian revolution. This unavoidable delay in creating the revolutionary International was an important factor in retarding the formation of the proletarian parties with a leadership capable of mobilizing the masses throughout Europe for the conquest of power. By the time the sections of the Third International began to take shape the mass revolutionary ferment issuing directly out of the war was subsiding. In the years from 1918 to 1920 the question of power was on the order of the day. European capitalism survived owing primarily to the treacherous Social Democratic parties which headed the movement only to derail it.
This time, as Leon Trotsky pointed out shortly after the Founding conference: “All the starting positions have been occupied with precision prior to the war. Nobody expects an internationalist policy from the Social Democratic parties which themselves do not promise anything but the ‘defense of the fatherland’ ... The policy of the Third International is fixed in advance almost as distinctly.” While, as though to avow their total bankruptcy, neither the Second nor the Third Internationals bothered to convene at this critical hour the Trotskyist vanguard of the vanguard proceeded to adopt “unanimous decisions in which the tasks of the present titanic struggle are formulated precisely and concretely, on the basis ... of all historic experience.”
OUTSTANDING TRAIT OF FOURTH INTERNATIONAL On the occasion of the founding of the Third International Lenin stated that its outstanding trait was to be found in its mission “to fulfill, to introduce in life the covenants of Marxism, to realize the age-long ideals of socialism and the labor movement.”
Today this is the mission, this is the outstanding trait of the Fourth International which has inherited all the revolutionary achievements of Lenin’s International. It demonstrated this by the program adopted at its 1938 Congress. Of all the parties and tendencies in the working class movement, the Trotskyist alone occupied in advance the correct position on the war, calling for an irreconcilable struggle against all the imperialists and their war. At the same time the Trotskyist pledged unconditional support to the Soviet Union, despite its degeneration under Stalin, against any and all imperialist attacks, and reaffirmed the Leninist position of supporting in war as in peace the liberationist struggle of colonial peoples.
Among the most significant achievements of the Fourth International is its elaboration of the program of transitional demands, crowned by the slogan of Soviets (Workers’and Peasants’ Councils). The need for such a program flows from the objective situation. Owing to the course of historical development, our epoch is characterized by the glaring disproportion between the revolutionary needs and tasks of the times and the level of political development of the masses who have been disoriented by decades of defeats, and who continue to be betrayed by the traditional Socialist and Stalinist parties. War has acted greatly to accentuate this disproportion. The program of transitional demands provides the means of bridging this gap, of mobilizing the masses in the course of the struggle, enabling them to learn from their own experience the inadequacy and treachery of their own leaderships and thus providing the necessary conditions for the rapid consolidation of the vanguard in the various national sections of the Fourth International.
TRANSITIONAL DEMANDS AND THEIR ACTUALITY When Trotsky first advanced the program of transitional demands, all the philistines, cynics and fainthearts shrugged their shoulders, pointing to it as a prize illustration of the “sectarianism,” “lack of realism,” etc., etc., of the Trotskyist movement. The developments in Italy, France and elsewhere have already demonstrated the actuality of this program, The day is not far distant when millions in Europe and throughout the world will mobilize in a determined struggle to achieve every one of the demands set down in our transitional program.
The main guarantee of the viability and ultimate triumph of the Trotskyist movement is its international character and spirit. Internationalism is not only a great ideal but an inexorable necessity, dictated by reality itself. The proletarian revolution is economic in its essence. Without an overturn in property relations, it is idle even to dream of progress in political, cultural and all other spheres of human activity. Capitalism has long ago brought society to the point where further development of economic life is impossible within the framework of national states and the limits of capitalist forms of production. This incompatibility between modern large scale industry and the artificial conditions restricting it has already led to two world holocausts within the lifetime of a single generation, and threatens even greater devastation in the future. For war is the reactionary attempt of the capitalist rulers to solve on a world scale this fundamental contradiction of modern society. The only progressive solution to this world problem is the world revolution. Any other approach inevitably leads its proponents into the camp of bourgeois reaction. History has already demonstrated this twice: It was the nationalistic outlook of the parties of the Second International that provided the soil for the growth of opportunism and the resulting degeneration. The collapse of the Third International stems directly from Stalin's theory of “socialism in one country”. By replacing the internationalist position of Marxism-Leninism with a narrow nationalist outlook, Stalinism doomed itself to reproduce under different conditions the debacle of the Second International.
WAR DESTROYS ALL THAT IS ROTTEN As Trotsky predicted, neither of these organizations was able to survive the war. The Second International did not even bother to convene a session of its Bureau in all these years. As for the Third International, its stinking corpse was formally buried last year by the Kremlin.
At the time of the Founding Congress of the Fourth International the Trotskyist movement had parties and groups in more than thirty countries. These small but precious cadres received their training in the years of blackest reaction and were subjected from the outset to persecution unexampled in the history of political movements. They then had to go through the added pressure and persecution of the war. Roosevelt jailed the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party; that other great “democrat” Churchill has kept in his jails leaders of the British Trotskyists and our co-thinkers in Ceylon and India. The Nazi executioners, too have taken their toll. The list of our martyrs, headed by Leon Trotsky and Leon Sedov, is long; proportionately we have suffered greater losses than any other revolutionary movement, the brunt of the Stalinist attack upon us being borne by the Russian section.
On the sixth anniversary of its foundation the Fourth International can proudly assert that it has met and withstood the test of war. Its banner remains spotless. Its unwavering ranks have grown stronger. Constantly news arrives of new adherents to the Fourth International, new formations, new consolidations. According to our latest information, a Trotskyist party is in process of formation in Italy. We confidently expect similar news in the not too distant future from Belgium, France, Holland and other countries in Europe, especially Germany.
TASKS AND PROSPECTS Out of the second world war the masses are emerging with new moods, new determination, and a new receptivity to communist ideas. With this new wave of mass radicalization, the Trotskyist movement enters a new stage of its development; the building of mass parties – not as a perspective but as an immediate task.
Once these mass parties are formed in Europe as well as in America and throughout the world the Fourth International will complete the work begun by Lenin's International. The October Revolution will be spread beyond the frontiers of the Soviet Union. Together with the regenerated Soviet Republic, purged of the Stalinist incubus, the European Peoples will merge in a Socialist United States of Europe, as a stage on the road to the establishment of the World Socialist Federation.
DEMOCRACY IN DECAY The fate of democracy in the present period of the death agony of capitalism is illustrated by the fact that the United States is one of the very few countries left in the world – and the only great power – where national elections have been held during the war. Great Britain, that other stronghold of capitalist democracy, has not held a general election since 1935, almost ten years ago.
The material reasons for this decay of democracy and its Displacement by dictatorship, as well as the greater stability of bourgeois democracy in the United States, were explained by Trotsky as follows in his introduction to The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx. “In its expanded manifestation bourgeois democracy became, and continues to remain a form of government accessible only to the most aristocratic and the most exploitative nations.” The United States, as the most privileged of all nations, has thus far been able to preserve the machinery of democracy thanks to its accumulated wealth. However, Trotsky added, the continuing progressive paralysis of capitalism is also undermining the foundations of democracy in the richest countries. “The uncontrollable deterioration in the living conditions of the workers makes it less and less possible for the bourgeoisie to grant the masses the right of participation in political life, even within the limited frame-work of bourgeois parliamentarism.”
ANOTHER LUXURY THEY CAN AFFORD In addition to these underlying economic conditions, there is an important political factor which makes it possible for the American capitalists to afford the luxury of a national election in wartime. One of the peculiarities of American development has been the lag in class differentiation. This has expressed itself politically in the absence of an organized labor party through which the workers can challenge the political power of the ruling class. Owing to the existence of the Labor Party and the traditions of independent working class political action, the capitalist rulers of Great Britain fear to risk a general election in which the question of confidence in the capitalist regime and the Tory-Labor coalition is put to the people. In this country Where for all practical purposes the two capitalist parties monopolize the political scene, the plutocracy can hold a national election without so much danger to its rule.
At the same time the capitalist rulers try in every way possible to prevent the American people from exercising their political rights fully and freely, and especially to prevent the workers from playing an independent political role. They enact all kinds of restrictive measures such as the poll-tax and the refusal to permit soldiers to vote and pass state laws which virtually prohibit new parties from getting on the ballot. The main mechanism by which the plutocracy maintains its actual monopoly of political power is the capitalist two-party system. While contending with each other for possession of the spoils of office, the Democratic and the Republican share the tasks of carrying out the program of Big Business and enforcing its domination over the American people.
WALL STREET’S PEACE PROGRAM In the present campaign the utter subservience of both parties to me interests of Wall Street and the identity of their fundamental aims is most clearly expressed in the sphere of foreign policy. Through this war America’s monopolists aim to acquire mastery over the entire world. They seek to impose a Pax Americana upon the rest of the globe which will pave the way for the most intense exploitation of its peoples for the benefit of Wall Street. They want to stabilize Europe by placing it on starvation rations and to exercise unlimited oppression over the colonial nations. And they are prepared in the words of the late Secretary of the Navy Knox, “to police the world for a hundred years,” if need be, to fulfill this program.
Roosevelt Dewey and their respective parties are unqualifiedly committed to this program of world conquest and imperialist expansion. Roosevelt is already engaged in executing it; Dewey is ready and willing to carry on. Dewey explicitly admitted the basic identity in the foreign policies of the two parties in his address on foreign affairs delivered in Louisville at the start of his campaign.
Although the conferences at Dumbarton Oaks are, like their predecessors in this war, being held behind barred doors with their decisions kept from the people, Dewey did not hesitate to endorse the form of world organization which is growing out of these secret conferences. In addition, he solidarized himself with Roosevelt’s policy of preserving “peace by force” – that charter of unrestricted aggression for American militarism. The world organization, Dewey said should develop “effective cooperative means to prevent or repel military aggression,” and added: “Such means should include the use of force as well as the mobilization of international opinion or moral pressure and of economic sanctions.”
NO DISPUTES ON FOREIGN POLICY Making a political virtue out of a class necessity, Dewey demanded unity at home on foreign policy. “These efforts must never be made subjects for partisan political advantage.” He pointed to the conferences between his representative John Foster Dulles, and Secretary of State Hull as “a practical beginning of an attempt to formulate an American foreign policy which will go on for decade after decade regardless of the party in power.”
What Dewey is really calling for is a continuation of the unity on foreign policy which has prevailed in practice between the two parties since Pearl Harbor. With the unfoldment of the war the former tactical dispute between the “interventionist” and “isolationist” tendencies within the capitalist camp over the methods, order and timing of dealing with Germany and Japan has largely been resolved. The presidential candidates of both capitalist parties stand shoulder to shoulder behind Wall Street’s plans for world domination.
The maintenance of the capitalist two party system and its ability to mislead the masses depends in large measure upon deception. One of the indispensable elements in this mechanism of deception is the fiction that there are major and decisive differences between the Democrats and Republicans. The avowed identity of their foreign policies makes it all the more imperative for their supporters to manufacture and to exaggerate differences in domestic policy.
But here too the war and the deepening crisis of American capitalism make this task exceedingly difficult. In most important questions the differences between the positions of the two parties and their candidates tend to dwindle to a narrow margin, if not to vanish altogether. In addition to their common war-program both parties support Wall Street’s plans for maintaining monopolist control during “reconversion.” They agree on guaranteeing profits to the bankers and cost-plus patriots and handing over billions in government-owned plants and equipment to private ownership at fire-sale prices. For the workers they hold out nothing but mass unemployment wage-slashing, hunger and increasing taxes and insecurity.
THE PARTY OF POLL-TAXERS The Democratic party has the reputation of being more “liberal” than the Republican. But there are no more reactionary political groups-in the country than the Southern poll-taxers and big city bosses like Hague who control the Democratic machine. If the respective party platforms were taken as the sole criterion, it might even appear that the Republicans are more outspoken defenders of Negro rights than the Democrats. But every informed person knows that this particular plank was inserted in the Republican platform for demagogic purposes to curry favor with the Negro voters in the north and to exploit their growing revulsion against the policies of Roosevelt’s administration. Both Republican and Democrats uphold the Jim Crow system, support discrimination in industry and the armed forces, and conduct no genuine fight against lynching and the poll-tax.
While the Republican party is traditionally and correctly associated in the minds of most workers with Big Business, Roosevelt is regarded as “the friend of labor.” Yet in the past four years under Roosevelt’s administration Big Business,” through its control of the war production program, has greatly strengthened its monopoly grip on America’s productive facilities and resources. It has piled up unprecedented war profits and is now being offered billions worth of government-financed plants, machinery and land developments.
“LABOR’S FRIEND” AND HIS RECORD At the same time Roosevelt has dealt one blow after another at the workers. He erased such gains as double-time pay, enforced compulsory arbitration through government agencies, froze wages, permitted anti-strike legislation and broke strikes by fake government seizures. He taxed the needy instead of the greedy. In the light of this record, it can well be asked: what more would the rich have received and what more would the workers have suffered, if a Republican instead of a Democratic “friend of labor” had been in office?
Dewey in fact is trying to steal some of Roosevelt’s thunder and exploit the justifiable dissatisfaction of the workers with administration policies by masquerading as a “friend of labor” too. To snare the miners’ vote for the Republicans John L. Lewis has even pointed to Dewey’s “pro-labor record” as Governor of New York. Who will be fooled by these pretensions? When Dewey points an accusing finger at the “planned confusion” which routs labor’s demands through 25 different government agencies, he is speaking to cover up for Big Business. “This policy of delay, delay, and more delay” does not “serve only the New Deal and its political ends,” as Dewey tries to make out; it primarily serves the interests of the employers who can thereby hide behind the government in refusing labor’s demands.
The presidential race between Roosevelt and Dewey is simply a competition to decide which one of the two capitalist candidates can best deceive and harness the masses in the interests of American imperialism. The veteran Roosevelt seeks a fourth term on the basis of his past performance as chief executive officer of the ruling class. The newcomer Dewey is making his bid for office on the ground that a fresh set of people is required to replace the old worn-out “New Deal” administration.
BOTH SERVE WALL STREET LOYALLY So far as the household affairs of the ruling capitalist class are concerned, the matter is not much more important than that of changing chauffeurs. Such a question can cause considerable controversy among the various members of a millionaire’s family and even hard feelings, but it does not decisively affect the family fortunes. Which ever one sits at the wheel will have to carry out both at home and abroad the dictates of the master. If Dewey should succeed Roosevelt in the White House, the main policies of his administration would be no more different from his policies when he succeeded Roosevelt and Lehman as Governor of New York.
The fundamental policies of both parties are determined by the needs of American capitalism, by its program of world conquest, its determination to shackle the workers to the war machine and to make them pay for the costs of its war. This is the iron-bound framework within which both parties and their leading personalities must move and maneuver.
It would, however, be wrong to conclude, because both parties support the big capitalists in all fundamental questions and the big capitalists in turn support them, that there are no differences whatsoever between them. There are considerable differences in the backgrounds, abilities, obsequiousness, characters, etc., of chauffeurs which capitalists take into account when it comes to choosing among them. There are even greater differences among the political parties which serve, or aspire to serve, the ruling capitalist class.
It is necessary to understand the precise nature and limits of the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. It is not that the Republicans are more “reactionary” or the Democrats more “progressive.” This is an illusion entertained by many workers and fostered by the bulk of the labor bureaucracy, the Social Democrats and the Stalinists. Both parties are equally reactionary in their basic positions and policies. It is not that the one is any the less subservient to Big Business or more responsive to the needs of the workers than the other. Both parties are instruments of Big Business opposed to the workers.
WHAT THE ACTUAL DIFFERENCES ARE he differences between the Republican and Democratic parties exist on a different level. They spring from the different origins and paths of development of the two parties, with all the consequent differences of tradition, composition, sectional interests, etc., they have accumulated and preserved over the decades. Each of these political machines has its own special interests to promote and uses different techniques and methods of demagogy to hold various strata of the population under its control.
Classes in society are not homogeneous and neither are the two big class parties. Although, so far as fundamental issues are concerned, big capital rules through the two party system, this is not always done directly or in response to their unanimous commands. Deep conflicts of interest as well as differences of opinion divide the ranks of the capitalists themselves. The numerous factions and cross currents within the ruling circles of the two parties as well as between them reflect these conflicts and differences.
Although the big capitalists are on the whole far more class-conscious than the workers, they are by no means omniscient in judging their own political interests or even the best way of promoting them under the given conditions. Nor are they notably grateful to politicians who have served them best in a difficult situation. The Social Democratic traitors in Europe who were first used and then cast into the junk pile by the capitalists could give informative lectures on that subject.
The plutocratic Oliver Twists always cry for more with an animal instinct. And they are not a bit squeamish about their methods of getting it. Their ruthless criticism, obstruction and sabotage of the Roosevelt administration-undeterred by the plaintive bleats of the liberals and labor fakers that they were hurting the “war effort” – must be understood as methods of pressure to compel Roosevelt and company to do things their way. It is not an unreasoning “opposition,” as the labor fakers represent it. There is a calculated class aim in their apparent madness.
Results have shown that their brutal “opposition” which has put Roosevelt in his place as their servant, has been far more effective than the lackey support the labor leaders offered to Roosevelt as the master. Why should Roosevelt pay for support that he can get for nothing with a mere snap of his fingers?
INNER PARTY CONFLICTS These secondary differences manifest themselves not only in the struggles between the two parties but also in the factional contention within them. For example, the differences among the diverse groups which compose the Democratic party were conspicuously demonstrated at the national convention in the clashes over the Vice-Presidential candidate, the plank on discrimination and above all on the refusal to approve the demands of labor. On all the disputed questions in this convention the big city party bosses like Hague, Flynn and Kelly together with the Jim-Crow Southern Democrats showed that they were really running the party. And Roosevelt aligned himself with the most reactionary forces inside his party.
Even with the gigantic apparatus for deception at their command, Big Business could not long continue to dupe the workers and keep them chained to the two-party system if it were not for their agents in the ranks of the working class, Chief among these are the labor bureaucrats. Instead of exposing the fraudulent character of the two-party set-up and organizing an independent class opposition to the capitalist parties on the political field, they do all in their power to perpetuate the political servitude of the workers and they block the road to their political emancipation.
TREACHERY OF UNION BUREAUCRACY In this election Murray and Hillman, Green and Tobin have surpassed their previous records of capitulation and betrayal. The CIO leaders deliberately launched their Political Action Committee to head off the promising movement in the ranks toward an independent party and have mobilized all the forces and resources of the CIO behind Roosevelt’s re-election. Roosevelt in return has not even promised to do anything for the workers. Tobin, who again heads the Labor Division of the Democratic National Committee, has already spent, it is reported, over a million dollars of his union’s funds for Roosevelt.
Neither in the trade union nor the political fields have these cowardly bureaucrats policies other than those dictated by Roosevelt. But even the one union leader who has dared oppose Roosevelt and defend the economic positions of the members of his union against employer-administration aggression, John L. Lewis, displays no more independence in the political arena. At the UMW convention after he made an impressive indictment of Roosevelt’s policies, Lewis by implication called upon the miners to vote Republican.
Thus the labor bureaucrats have conspired to close the two party political trap once again upon the American workers. They confront labor with the choice of remaining captive to the Democratic Party – or crawling back into the Republican swamp. No wonder that so many workers are indifferent to the outcome of the elections.
The entire press has remarked upon “the demonstrated apathy of the voters.” For example, the US News of Sept. 22 observes: “Neither the speeches of Thomas E. Dewey nor the pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the role of world leader have shaken the public lethargy.” The primary reason for this apathy is that increasingly large sections of the people rightly see no decisive difference between the two capitalist parties, their candidates and their claims
LET ORGANIZED LABOR LAUNCH ITS OWN PARTY The political situation would today be very different if organized labor had taken the lead in launching a new party opposed to the Democratic and Republican parties of Big Business. Armed with a program of class struggle against the policies of the plutocrats, such an independent labor party would not only arouse the enthusiasm and fighting spirit of the workers but it would also enlist the sympathy and support of all those sections of the people who are suffering from the consequences of the capitalist war and disillusioned with the capitalist parties.
The present political task of the advanced workers consists in explaining persistently and patiently to their fellow workers that the formationof such a party is the only way out of the blind alley into which the union bureaucrats have led the labor movement. The presidential campaign must be utilized for this purpose of education around the need for independent class politics. Such an educational campaign cannot promise any miraculous results but it constitutes the indispensable penetration for the inevitable move of the progressive American workers to break with the capitalist two-party system and assert their independence in the political arena.
This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
Last updated on 12.9.2008