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Fourth International, September 1946


Secretariat of the Fourth International

European Perspectives and Policy

A Reply to Comrade Morrow


From Fourth International, Vol.7 No.3, March 1946, pp.85-89.
Transcription & mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We are more and more under the impression that the differences on the perspectives of the European revolution which broke out in 1943 among the leadership of the American party are not limited to disagreements on the tempo of events, but go beyond this question and involve the nature of the period into which we have entered. The two documents of Comrade Morrow – his July 10, 1945, letter addressed to the European Secretariat and his Open Letter, November 15, 1945, addressed to all sections of the Fourth International – together with the position held by the minority of the American party on the question of unification with the Shachtmanites, enable us today to state that serious and singular modifications have meanwhile been introduced into the political orientation of the American minority; or rather, that certain germs, hardly perceptible in its original position, have so grown with time as to confront us today with a tendency which, while it criticized with some justifications the weak points in the majority’s orientation, has today crystallized on a platform dangerously different from ours insofar as concerns the general character of the present period, and the perspectives, and above all, the tasks which flow from it.

Conditions in wartime prevented us from closely following the discussion in the SWP. After a considerable delay we have familiarized ourselves with this discussion but we still cannot say that we are fully informed concerning all the various ramifications of this ideological struggle. Nevertheless we do appreciate all its importance for the future development of our International.

Throughout the war we have been obliged to elaborate our political line in the absence of any ideological contact with our comrades outside of Europe and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that despite this forced isolation, the ideas, particularly those of our American comrades and our own, have followed virtually the same lines.

Today we observe the formation of conflicting tendencies within the International and we see as unavoidable an ideological struggle which must be conducted to the end and which in our opinion puts at stake the very existence of the International.

It is obvious and to a certain extent inevitable that a certain unrest should arise in our ranks because the war did not give rise to revolution in Europe either during its course nor immediately following its termination; because the German revolution has not taken place; because reformist organizations, first and foremost, the Stalinists, have experienced a new and powerful growth and because our organizations have up to now been able to record only a slow growth.

This unrest has manifested itself inside the International in the formation of tendencies which have in one manner or another placed under discussion essential sections of our program; tendencies which seek to revise our perspectives and to modify our tasks, in particular, the ways and means of tackling the problem of building the party.

The road recently taken by the American minority and by Comrade Morrow in particular, imbues us with the greatest reservations towards this tendency and arouses in us the greatest concern about its further evolution.


We received the July 10, 1945, letter of Comrade Morrow long after the adoption and the publication of the June 1945 resolution of the EEC with which Comrade Morrow declared himself to be in agreement, while expressing his regrets over its lack of self-criticism of our earlier position. Unfortunately, we, for our part, find it extremely difficult to declare ourselves in agreement with the content of his letter, that is to say, while there is room for self-criticism it is assuredly not in the sense indicated by Comrade Morrow.

We do not at all find it difficult to state openly and frankly just wherein we were wrong in the past. In part we have already done so during the June 1945 session of the EEC and in the above-mentioned resolution which declares:

Contrary to our optimistic prognosis – issued on the eve and at the beginning of the new imperialist carnage – relative to the latter’s probable duration which we deemed would be brief, and the reaction of the masses which we deemed would be far more rapid and far more efficacious, this war, despite the colossal havoc it caused and despite the unprecedented sufferings it inflicted upon the masses, lasted much longer than the war of 1914-18 and terminated in Europe only in the total military destruction of one of the belligerent camps ...

Another important factor which has conditioned the development of the revolutionary crisis in Europe, its scope and its tempo, is the partial destruction of the material and human premises for the German revolution.

The war in Europe especially during its last few months brought about the sudden and almost complete destruction of the industrial backbone of Germany, laying waste her cities, her ports, her means of transportation.

The human material suffered no less grave blows. Germany has lost an enormous proportion of her male population on the battlefields and another enormous percentage finds itself in captivity.

One cannot count on the revolutionary action of the German proletariat until material life is reorganized in Germany and until several million German prisoners are able to find their place in the country’s economic life.

Comrade Morrow is not satisfied with this self-criticism. He desires a precise condemnation of the errors committed in the “earlier documents,” that is to say, the February 1944 theses of the European Conference and the January 1945 resolution of the EEC.

It is difficult to understand exactly what “errors” are referred to here. The elucidations provided by Comrade Morrow up to now are not sufficiently clear to us. On the other hand, his manner of conceiving the relationship between the objective and subjective premises of the revolution renders spurious, in our opinion, his criticism as a whole.

Before we pass on to a general self-criticism of the documents mentioned by Comrade Morrow, it is first necessary to get complete clarity oh this ground.

* * *

The conception of an objectively revolutionary situation – independently of whether the revolutionary party exists or not and independently of its role – is a Leninist conception which guided Lenin’s entire policy in building the Bolshevik party, from the very outset to the day of his death.

Lenin’s Position

This conception acquired particular importance for the elaboration of Lenin’s perspectives in the course of the war of 1914-18.

By an objectively revolutionary situation Lenin understood a situation in which the ruling class, passing through a profound crisis, reveals itself to be disoriented and indecisive, while the exploited classes including the petty bourgeoisie aspire, in their discontent, for a decisive change and prepare for revolutionary action. Such situations are not only possible but inevitable within the framework of the objectively revolutionary period into which the capitalist world has entered with the opening of its imperialist phase and above all with the war of 1914-1918.

Generally speaking, in our epoch wars as well as economic crises create “objectively revolutionary situations” which are linked “objectively with the revolution,” according to Lenin. Throughout the war of 1914-1919 Lenin repeated that the latter had created “the objective conditions for the revolution.” “Now we are faced with this alternative,” these are Lenin’s literal words, “either we are really and firmly convinced that the war is creating a revolutionary situation in Europe, that all the economic and socio-political circumstances of the imperialist epoch lead up to a revolution of the proletariat ... or we are not convinced that the situation is revolutionary, then there is no reason why we should use the words ‘war against war’ in vain, etc.” (Revolutionary Marxists at the International Socialist Conference, September 5-8, 1915. Collected Works, vol. XVIII, p. 347.)

Comrade Morrow expresses astonishment that the February 1944 theses speak of the inevitable transformation of the Second World War into civil war. “Here Lenin’s exhortation to turn the imperialist war into civil war becomes, instead, an objective function of the social process independently of the intervention of the revolutionary party,” writes Comrade Morrow.

Comrade Morrow identifies anew the class struggle during the war, which is an objective process, with the conscious activity of the revolutionary vanguard whose aim is to organize the struggle, guide it and lead it to victory, that is to say, to the seizure of power.

“By the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war we mean to say the same thing that was recognized hundreds of times by all the leaders of the Second International during all the years preceding the war,” wrote Zinoviev in 1916. “It is the knowledge that the objective conditions of our epoch create a connection between war and revolution. Nothing more.” And he then .goes on to add, “The class struggle during the war, above all during such a war as the current one, leads necessarily to civil war, it cannot mean anything else except civil war. The actions of the revolutionary masses of the proletariat during the war have exactly the same significance as the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war.”

For Lenin the success of the subjective effort, of the conscious vanguard of the proletariat, of its slogans, including the slogan of turning the imperialist war into civil war, depended on the fact that an objective revolutionary process existed in reality, a current, as he said, determined by the objective conditions created by the war.

Revolutions such as Turati and Kautsky are “ready” to recognize, i.e. revolutions for which the date and chances can be told in advance, never happen. The revolutionary situation in Europe is a fact. The extreme discontent, the unrest and anger of the masses are facts. It is on strengthening this torrent that revolutionary Social Democrats must concentrate all their efforts. (A Turn in World Politics, January 1917, Collected Works, vol.XIX, pp.430-1.)

Lenin heaped scorn upon those who refused to recognize the revolution, that is to say, the objectively revolutionary action of the masses aspiring for a profound change before its actual accomplishment.

When the revolution has begun the liberals together with all other enemies recognize it; they often recognize it only in order to deceive and to betray. The revolutionists foresee it in advance before it ha? commenced, understand its inevitability, teach the masses its necessity and show the masses its road and its meaning.

In his article The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up (October 1916) Lenin sketched out an admirable picture of the objective revolutionary process in our epoch:

To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without the revolutionary outbursts of a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices. without the movement of non-class conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against the oppression of the landlords, the church, the monarchy, the foreign nations, etc. – to imagine this means repudiating social revolution. Only those who imagine that in one place an army will line up and say, “we are for socialism,” and in another place another army will say, “we are for imperialism,” and that this will be the social revolution, only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic opinion could vilify the Irish Rebellion by calling it a “putsch.”

Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip service to revolution without understanding what revolution is. ...

The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything else than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all oppressed and discontented elements. Sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will inevitably participate in it – without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible – and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a heterogeneous and discordant, motley and outwardly incohesive, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, to capture power, to seize the banks, to expropriate the trusts (hated by all, though for different reasons) and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately “purge” itself of petty-bourgeois slag. (Collected Works, vol.XIX, pp.301-2.)

Objectively revolutionary situations have existed, do exist and will continue to exist independently or whether a revolutionary party is present on the scene or not.

To confine ourselves only to current instances, the situation became objectively revolutionary during the last war in more than one country in Europe and throughout the world.

It is a fact that the situation in Italy after the downfall of Mussolini and after the German debacle was revolutionary. It is a fact that the situation in Greece was objectively revolutionary at least after the liberation of the country, reaching its apogee in December 1944.

It is a fact that the situation was objectively revolutionary in almost all the European countries during the period which elapsed between the debacle and the departure of the German troops and the arrival of Anglo-American and Russian troops.

It is a fact that the situation is at present objectively revolutionary in the majority of the colonial countries and particularly in Indo-China and Indonesia.

Comrade Morrow does not seem to attach any great interest to this aspect of the question. For him,

The absence of the revolutionary party – and it is absent – changes the whole situation. Instead of saying, “Only the revolutionary party is lacking,” we must instead say, at least to ourselves, “The absence of the revolutionary party transforms the conditions which otherwise would be revolutionary into conditions in which one must fight, so far as agitation is concerned, for the most elementary demands.”

The paramount importance of the role of the party has not escaped our attention and it seems to us puerile to repeat that the Fourth International proposes to solve the crisis of mankind which coincides in our epoch with the crisis of the revolutionary leadership, precisely by building such a leadership. But on the other hand it is stated in the transitional program:

The orientation of the masses is determined first by the objective conditions of decaying capitalism, and second, by the treacherous politics of the old workers’ organizations. Of these factors, the first, of course, is the decisive one: the laws of history are stronger than the bureaucratic apparatus. No matter how the methods of the social-betrayers differ ... they will never succeed in breaking the revolutionary will of the proletariat. As time goes on, their desperate efforts to hold back the wheel of history will demonstrate more clearly to the masses that the crisis of the proletarian leadership, having become the crisis in mankind’s culture, can be resolved only by the Fourth International.

Comrade Morrow will therefore not find it so secondary a matter that we, having understood once and for all that our principal task is to build genuine revolutionary parties, seek to discern in the objective development of the situation factors favorable to the accomplishment of this task.

Our Slogans

The rapid building of the Fourth International is inconceivable except on the basis of a perspective of an objectively revolutionary period and of objectively revolutionary situations, only within the framework of the latter will the masses be enabled through their own experience to learn about the treacherous leaderships and the correctness of our program. On the other hand, the objective character of the situation determines not only our possibilities but also the program of our demands and the tactic of building the party.

In our opinion the chief merit of the American minority lay in its drawing attention to the importance of democratic slogans. But it is also necessary not to exaggerate the importance of these slogans and above all to know how to tie them up with transitional slogans, each time placing the emphasis on those slogans which correspond to the living conditions of the masses, to the development of their struggles and to the degree to which their consciousness matures. For example, it is incontestable that the struggle for the abolition of the monarchy, for elections, for the constituent assembly in Belgium, in Italy and in Greece must be inscribed in our program and must be conducted with vigor.

But it is equally incontestable that other slogans of a transitional character touch the masses in these countries (as in the rest of Europe) even more directly and contribute to their mobilization still more definitively than do the foregoing democratic slogans, namely such slogans as: the sliding scale of wages and of working hours, workers’ control of production, nationalization without compensation, Workers’ and Peasants’ Government concretized in the formula: Workers Parties to Power, independence of the colonies. Our sections in Europe have gained successes in France, in Belgium, in Holland and England and elsewhere above all thanks to the struggle conducted by them for these slogans which correspond more than ever to the objective situation, to the needs of the masses, to their own demands.

Comrade Morrow who counsels us in his letter of July 10, 1945: “not to be afraid of making Verité appear entirely as an organ fighting for nothing more than a real democracy (?). That is fighting for a great deal today!” will perhaps be astonished to learn that the party in the course of the last few months has gained influence above all thanks to its campaign for the CP-SP-CGT government, for the sliding scale of wages, and for the independence of Indo-China.

The transitional program, particularly in Europe, is today more actuel (timely) than ever and bur parties are acquiring their own revolutionary physiognomy by placing emphasis first and foremost on the transitional demands, as distinct from the reformist and Stalinist parties which present themselves as ardent defenders of the slogans and institutions of the democratic parliamentary bourgeoisie.

And here we come to what in our opinion is a false conclusion drawn from Comrade Morrow’s false evaluation of the present period and its perspectives.

Comrade Morrow advises us to reconsider the question of building the revolutionary party; he advises us not to proceed directly but once again merely apply a total “entrist” policy with respect to reformist parties. This is the tactical conclusion which flows from his analysis of the general situation and of the character of the period into which we have entered.

Comrade Morrow’s principal argument is that we once again face (after the liquidation of the war) mass reformist parties, that our own cadres are few and that we cannot hope – as was the case after the first imperialist world war and the Russian revolution – to establish “very quickly, although starting from very little, mass revolutionary parties in Germany, France, etc.”

Comrade Morrow proposes that we immediately adopt as the solution entry “into one of the reformist parties, constitute a fraction in it and work in the direction of a split out of which we will come with sufficient forces to begin seriously building the revolutionary party.”

In view of the difficulties of working inside the Communist parties, Comrade-Morrow is in favor of entry into the Socialist parties (he cites the Italian, German and Belgian Socialist parties) or other centrist formations, as for example ... the MLN in France “through an understanding with Malraux’ wing.”

We found ourselves on many occasions plunged into consternation upon reading in the press of the American comrades information concerning Europe which at times revealed an almost complete ignorance of the actual state of affairs, among other things the character of the “national” movement during the German occupation, its importance in the various European countries, as well as the composition and importance of “resistance organizations.”

Comrade Morrow is no exception to this rule when he attempts to judge the existing situation among the reformist parties in Europe and when he cites with a serious air “Malraux’ wing of the MLN,” into which our party, in his opinion, ought to dissolve itself. Comrade Morrow is in all likelihood a victim of journalistic and irresponsible dispatches which have led him to believe that there exists a centrist organization which has a certain importance among the French masses. But let us continue.

Morrow’s “Entrist” Policy

The new “entrist” policy proposed by Comrade Morrow is motivated by the very same considerations which we advanced for its adoption before the last war.

“If the cost of entry in some cases,” writes Comrade Morrow, “is the temporary loss of a public faction organ and/or no guarantee of the right of constituting a faction, that is no argument against entry ... Two or three good pamphlets can serve as a substitute for a public faction organ for a while. It might be very advantageous to live for a while in one of the ‘left’ factions instead of openly having one of your own.”

It is clear that if Comrade Morrow goes so far it is because he is very much impressed by certain external and superficial traits of resemblance between the present period and the period prior to the last war (the importance of the reformist parties, the limited forces of our sections, etc.) and because he ignores entirely all the essential differences between these two periods. Trotsky advocated the “entrist” policy with respect to the Social Democracy in a period of the general ebb of the labor movement following a long series of defeats and on the day after the victory of German fascism which sounded the tocsin for world reaction and accelerated the outbreak of the war.

Social Democracy which had still retained considerable influence among working class circles, was capable under the menace of fascism of again passing through a healthy reaction and of permitting, thanks to a more or less democratic internal atmosphere, the development of revolutionary tendencies (and this was only a hypothesis to be verified).

Today it is first of all a question of a period entirely different in character.

The war has destroyed the equilibrium in international and social relations and as a consequence of the economic, social and political dislocation provoked by it, has ushered in a lengthy revolutionary period and a lengthy revolutionary perspective. We were mistaken about the tempo of events during the closing phases of the war; we overestimated the rapidity and scope of the reaction of the masses. On the other hand, it was impossible for us to have foreseen in 1944 the consequences of the havoc caused by the war (greatly speeded up in the course of the last few months) in a highly developed country like Germany where a part of the material and human premises for all large-scale mass actions have been eliminated. Nor could we have foreseen the far-reaching extent and consequences of military occupation of Europe by the imperialists and the Red Army. All these factors have introduced important corrections into our short-term perspectives and this is, to a certain degree, inevitable for all Marxist perspectives.

“Every historical prediction is necessarily conditional,” wrote Trotsky, and the more concrete a prediction, the more conditional it is. “A prognosis is not a promissory note which can be cashed on a given date. Prognosis outlines only the definite trends of a development. But along with these trends a different order of forces and tendencies operate which at a certain moment begin to predominate. All those who seek exact predictions of concrete events should consult the astrologists, Marxist prognosis aids only in orientation.”

But the general perspective of “a whole revolutionary epoch” (Manifesto of the 1940 Emergency Conference) emerging out of the imperialist war still remains valid.

The reformist parties have emerged from the war strengthened but this strengthening in reality reflects the first stage of the radicalization of the masses. On the other hand, these parties have been placed, both by their reformist policies as well as by the objective situation, under conditions which render more and more precarious the continued adherence of the masses to their banners.

In many countries in Europe we are already witnessing signs which indicate that the phase of discontent has commenced and that important layers of the most militant elements of the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie are in process of breaking more or less openly with these parties.

But how to win over these elements? A total “entrist” policy with respect to the Social Democracy is at the present hour equivalent to sure political suicide. These elements are moving away from the reformist parties because they want to struggle and because they are suspicious of and discontented and angered by reformist politics which run directly counter to all the existing possibilities of European capitalism to grant reforms or to proceed to its reconstruction otherwise than by super-exploitation of the toiling masses under a discipline of blood and iron.

These elements are seeking a different banner for revolutionary regroupment and struggle and it is our duty to show them this banner.

The day-to-day work of all our European sections demonstrates graphically what great chances exist for building the revolutionary party provided we are capable of appearing before the masses, participating in their struggles and inspiring confidence in them by the seriousness of our organization and our activity.

On the other hand, we will not be able to accomplish really effective fractional work within these reformist organizations (work which we consider very important and which we have never ceased advocating) except by maintaining an independent organization which develops in complete liberty its entire program and which polarizes around it the elements and the revolutionary currents which are detaching themselves from the reformist organizations. Variants of this general tactic might be envisaged in certain countries where exceptional conditions prevail as for example in England in the case of the Labor Party. In a period such as we are now actually passing through in Europe and with the reformist parties practicing policies which run so directly counter to the needs of the masses and to the possibilities of capitalism, it is fatal, at a time when more and more important layers are splitting away from these parties and in the absence of any other pole of regroupment, to seek refuge either in the movements of the right or in demoralization and apathy.

Contrary to the opinions of Comrade Morrow, it is our own subjective weaknesses and not the objective conditions which are actually blocking in Europe the attraction and organization of all elements in search of a new revolutionary orientation. So far as the Socialist parties on the European continent in particular are concerned, Comrade Morrow has perhaps failed to take into account the modification of their social basis which has occurred during the war.

In speaking of reformist parties which have emerged strengthened from the war, it is necessary to draw a distinction between the Socialist parties which have lost a great deal of their influence among working-class circles, and which have gained among petty-bourgeois circles (assembled before the war in bourgeois parties of the center) and the Stalinist parties which have grown at the expense of the working class following of the Socialist parties.

Furthermore, the internal atmosphere of the European Social-Democracy has likewise been greatly modified in a bureaucratic and anti-democratic sense, which restricts the possibilities for the development of revolutionary tendencies.

The “entrist” tactic with respect to the Social-Democratic parties can, on the other hand, be envisaged for certain countries which are occupied by the USSR where the Soviet bureaucracy is obliged to support the legality of these parties and where the brutality of Stalinist reaction renders extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible, independent activity for a revolutionary tendency in the labor movement.

* * *

Surely we are not mistaken in accusing Comrade Morrow of having been carried away by his reaction to the revolutionary optimism expressed by the American majority which has at times distorted the reality of the European situation; he has swung far away from his own basis as we are acquainted with it through the documents criticizing the 1943 Plenum resolution of the National Committee of the SWP and he has made dangerous concessions to opportunist and right-wing currents.

For example he speaks of the “terrible” defeat in Greece which has proved “a very strong deterrent on the workers of all of Europe, weighing them down with the thought that their struggles might meet the same fate.” This does not at all correspond to the reality of the situation in the country and of the European working class.

The Greek proletariat, despite its defeat, does not think itself beaten and has demonstrated this by incessant struggles since December 1944, struggles which have unfolded up to the level of a general strike.

Even the Stalinist influence, despite all the past experience, remains, while somewhat diminished, still extremely powerful.

The trade union elections conducted under the Voulgaris regime have once again brought the Stalinists triumphantly to the leadership and the public meetings of the EAM have experienced genuine successes. As paradoxical as this seems, it is first of all the result of the internal situation which has undergone no improvement, but on the contrary, has even become aggravated and, on the other hand, it is the result of the general situation now existing in Europe and which the great mass of the workers, who follow the Stalinist party and who believe in the revolutionary role of the USSR, have not interpreted as demoralizing.

While reaction still keeps scoring gains, while it is beginning to regain confidence in itself, while it is utilizing the Socialist and Stalinist parties for its own aims and while it is organizing under their cover its offensive of tomorrow, this process is still passing unperceived by the great masses who are interpreting the electoral success of the traditional parties as so many defeats for reaction.

It is in this, among other things, that the difference consists between the pre-war period and the current one.

The proletariat was dragooned into the war, demoralized by a long series of previous defeats, having exhausted a large part of its revolutionary potential. The war and all the more so its consequences, as has already and correctly been stated by the 1940 Emergency Conference, have acted to regenerate this potential. What is actually involved today is the prelude to a lengthy revolutionary period in which the Fourth International will have the greatest possible chances to build its mass parties.

But in order to achieve this the Fourth International must vanquish defeatism under whatever form it manifests itself, within its own ranks.

(The text unanimously adopted by the European Secretariat)

January 1946

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