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Fourth International, May 1949


Editorial Review

May Day 1949

The Promise of Internationalism


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.5, May 1949, pp.131-134.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Down through the ages the imagination of civilized man has been fired with the great vision of a world free of war and strife, without national rivalries, without racial and religious strife. The ideal of the “Brotherhood of Man” has inspired all the struggles against inequality and oppression appearing again and again – in the phophecies of the Christian “heretics” tortured and persecuted by the Roman Church as in the genius-like projection of the world of the future depicted by the great Utopians. Yet not until the rise of the modern proletariat could the dream of internationalism be transformed into a material reality and a practical possibility.

The common interests of the propertyless class of wage workers whose historic mission is to abolish private property at its source, the means of production, transcends all national boundaries and differences. The celebration of May First by the workers of all countries, approved and organized by the workers Internationals but recognized by no government until the workers came to power in Russia, has always been a living demonstration of the meaning and spirit of internationalism.

Internationalism today is no longer a prediction of a world-to-be as it was 100 years ago when Marx and Engels wrote the immortal Communist Manifesto, a scientific analysis and forecast which has withstood the vicissitudes or time. The burning necessity for a world organization of society arises today out of everyday conditions of existence. Modern means of communication and transportation have bridged the vast distances and linked the peoples of the entire planet into a close and intimate community. The universality of productive forces and technology is breaking down the differences between advanced and backward countries and undermining the foundations of century-old colonial empires. The national state, always an artificial barrier against which clashed the productive forces and world division of labor, is now a total anachronism producing only reaction and barbarism. Nowhere is this more strikingly illustrated than in the chaos and collapse of Europe, the cradle of the national state and once the center of capitalist civilization.

Two world wars and the danger of a third, still more horrible and destructive than those that went before, emphasize that the problem of the national state has now become a life and death question. Science, once the handmaiden of industry and progress, has been perverted into a fiendish pursuit transforming discovery and invention that could create untold leisure and luxury into instruments for the rapid and efficient extinction of the human species. It is therefore not surprising that the idea of world government, of a United States of Europe, of an international community is so attractive to the popular mind or that so much hope was centered on the United Nations. Marx long ago said that being determines consciousness. However, the nostrums of bourgeois “internationalism,” whether of the Gary Davis (“citizen-of-the-world”) utopian type or the various demagogic varieties ranging from Wallace to Churchill, are no more than a distorted and deceiving reflection of the present reality.

The Waterloo of the modern utopians and phrasemongers is the reality of American imperialism, the anathema of internationalism, which incorporates within itself and in its relations to the rest of the world all the contradictions of the national capitalist state developed to the extremity. The world supremacy of the North American Colossus no more signifies the creation of a harmonious world system than Hitler’s conquests signified the “unification” of Europe. The national states continue to exist, now however as puppets and areas of exploitation and not as rivals of American imperialism. Even more than in Hitler’s “New Order” in Europe, the American capitalist system, competing with all national economies except the most backward raw material producing regions, multiplies and aggravates existing national antagonisms.

When the American bourgeoisie speaks of its conversion from “isolationism” to “internationalism,” it is only saying that it has cast off all inhibitions about interfering in the political and economic life of all countries. The form of this interference itself marks the decline and degeneration of capitalism. Where in the earlier period of its existence, the rise of the national state coincided with the developing and extension of democratic forms, the interference of American imperialism today to “protect” the national state is aimed at instituting or perpetuating the most reactionary regimes, like the Gluksberg monarchy, the dictatorships of Chiang Kai-Shek, Franco and Salazar, the Japanese Zaibatzu and the Nazi industrial overlords in Germany. In conflict with the progressive tradition of struggle against the medieval reaction and obscurantism of the Catholic Church and for the separation of Church and State which accompanied the formation of national capitalism, the American bourgeoisie today by its alliance with the Vatican epitomizes the degeneration of capitalism.

Everything that has happened reaffirms the fact that the proletariat is the only internationalist class in modern society. The working class is impelled to internationalism in outlook and strategy by the very character of its mortal antagonist. Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto that “all the powers of Old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre (of Communism): Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police spies.” Thirty years later in his famous tribute to the Paris Commune, noting how the French bourgeoisie had abased itself before the Prussian conqueror in order to suppress the workingmen’s insurrection, Marx noted that “class rule is no longer able to disguise itself in a national uniform; the national governments are ONE as against the proletariat.”


The, more the capitalist world changes, the more it remains the same. Yet how puny and feeble was this Holy Alliance of which Marx wrote as compared with the North Atlantic Pact. The reactionary allies of Marx’s time were divided by differences in social systems, riven by national ambitions of an ascendant, expanding capitalism. Today, the proletariat of Europe faces a ruling class, so senile and decadent that it does not dare even dream of national ambitions lest it offend its American “protector”, upon whose aid its survival depends. Concerted action of all national governments, infrequent in Marx’s day because of the relative stability of capitalism, has now been standardized into a system with America as the counter-revolutionary arsenal of the whole world.

Yet precisely at this time when the international tasks and aims of the proletariat are so deeply rooted in the objective situation, so urgent and necessary for the further progress of human society, organized internationalism is at its lowest ebb in the world working class movement. May Day will be celebrated this year in the capitals of Europe but the demonstrations will not occur under the aegis of a great workers International. Nor will the main banners of the marchers be emblazoned with the slogans of “A Socialist United States of Europe,” “Aid to the German masses against their imperialist and Stalinist oppressors,” “Solidarity with the Indo-Chinese and the Indonesian Peoples.” Two factors explain this seemingly contradictory development:

  1. The betrayal of leadership, both Social Democratic and Stalinist, of the socialist and internationalist aspirations of the workers of Europe.
  2. The retarded political development and the apparent lack of socialist consciousness in the American working class.

Neither factor, as we will try to show, indicates a permanent, fixed condition. Both contain the germs of their own negation from which will emerge a tempestuous revolutionary and internationalist development of the proletariat on both continents.

At the end of the war, the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties had the allegiance of the virtual totality of the working class and the support of the majority of the people on the continent and the British Isles. For different material reasons, the bureaucracies of both organizations restrained the masses, prevented a socialist revolution and saved the tottering capitalist system.

In France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and in a somewhat different form in England the working class faced a problem that was international in character. The revival of economy and a genuine improvement of the conditions of life could no longer occur within a national framework. The active cooperaion of the workers, movement of the several countries was necessary for the victory of the socialist struggle in any one country.

Such a bold program was utterly at variance with the character and tradition of the cowardly and chauvinistic Social Democratic leadership which soon capitulated to its capitalist masters. But the reward for this treachery was far less remunerative than after World War I. Its colonies overseas beset by turmoil and insurrection, its trade outlets in Eastern Europe drastically curtailed, the bourgeoisie of Western Europe, now thoroughly dependent on the American boss, could least of all afford to give concessions to its own workers. The Social Democracy is permitted to enjoy the emoluments of office only on the condition that it dams up the struggle of the masses against inflation, maintains a rigid wage freeze, shoots down striking miners and builds up the instruments of repression.

Thus, these great “patriots,” in their hostility to socialist internationalism, have become the most abject flunkeys of American imperialism. But a Social Democracy that cannot dispense reforms is like a chair without legs. It has no attraction for the workers and as a matter of fact has been gradually losing all suuport among the masses.

Superficially, the situation appears differently in England, where the masses have received a few concessions as the by-product of a parliamentary “revolution” which swept the Labour Party into office with an absolute majority. This situation is at best transitory and the terminus to reforms is already indicated in Stafford Cripps’ new “austerity” budget. Britain’s economy above all is based upon world trade which it cannot successfully hold against the competition of superior American technology. In any case, the American monopolists have no intention of supplying England both with loans and markets. Here again, the solution is embodied in the program of socialis.t internationalism: in a Socialist Europe and in the industrialization of a Socialist Asia. “His Majesty’s Labour Government” are listening today only to the voice from across the seas but the thunderous roar of the British masses, unwilling to see a return of Toryism and worse, will yet force them to turn their heads in another direction.

Social Democracy – and with it the capitalist system – survives in Europe today only thanks to Stalinism which became the dominant power in the workers’ movement after the war. Internationalism, and therefore a Socialist Europe, to which it is equated, is abhorrent to the Soviet bureaucracy whose theoretical creed is “Socialism in One Country” from which all blessings flow – for the bureaucracy and nobody else. From its earliest days it

was mortally hostile to Trotsky’s slogan and strategy of a “Socialist United States of Europe.” Stalin’s conquest of power in Eastern Europe did not serve as a new impetus for the socialist revolution, nor even for the solution of the age-old Balkan question. It only provided a source of new plunder and privileges for the Russian bureaucracy.

The betrayal of the workers in the West was based on the empiric notion that through an alliance with the Soviet Union, the Western capitalist, classes would achieve a degree of pational “independence” vis à vis American imperialism. It was a brilliant theory except that it omitted the advanced stage of decay in these countries, the loss of colonial possessions, the lack of capital which Stalin couldn’t supply, the revolutionary temper of the workers and peasants, not to speak of the class instincts and interests of the capitalists of these countries.

In its appeal to these capitalists to join with it in a struggle against the “American Party” is revealed the quintessence of Stalinism. The bureaucrats who constantly betray the interests of the class they represent are always astonished that’ the representatives of other classes do not behave similarly. Thus it was in China in 1927, Germany in 1933, Spain in 1936 – to mention only a few of the tragedies Stalinism visited upon the working class.

Strengthening precisely the “American Party” which it sought to weaken, Stalinism has reached a blind alley. Ever larger numbers of communist workers are becoming conscious that the fiasco of Stalinist policy has brought the twin evils of war and internal reaction perilously closer. Not all the peace “carnivals” can cover up the total bankruptcy of the Kremlin and its agents abroad. Throughout the world the crisis of Stalinism deepens, the friction, schisms and splits spread as the workers are less and less inclined to accept the “internationalism” of the Kremlin, i.e., the subordination of the struggle for socialism and of their own most elementary interests for the power and privileges of the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy.

Tito’s successful resistance for more than a year encourages opposition, widening the cracks within the monolithic structure of the Stalinist parties. The indomitable activity of world Trotskyism gives promise that a new internationalism will emerge from the disintegration of the old movement.

Neither Stalinism, however, nor Social Democracy, have any organized mass strength of real consequence in the United States today. In this fact is revealed both the weakness and the strength of the American working class. Not the least of the reasons for the immense power of American imperialism is its modern technology and gigantic industrial plant which account for a major share of the production of the world. This economic preponderance rests upon the numerically largest and most skilled working class in the world organized in a powerful, ramified union movement. The attitude of American Workers toward their own bourgeoisie, their level of class consciousness and combativity has a vital influence on the struggle of the masses internationally.

One has but to compare two recent periods:

  1. The postwar years 1945 and 1946 which witnessed the coincidence of a nationwide strike movement with the “Go-Home” demonstrations of the GIs abroad. In the same period the European masses were engaged in a stormy upsurge which but for the betrayal of their leadership could have brought them to power, without serious fear of the intervention of the American bourgeoisie then preoccupied with its own working class.
  2. The period of quiescence and passivity which has followed when American labor, troubled by inflation, confused by red-baiting, lacking a courageous and foresighted leadership was driven from the arena of struggle by the club of Taft-Hartleyism. Untroubled by difficulties with the American workers, the State Department moved about Europe with ruthless energy, arming tottering governments, remaking cabinets, splitting unions, smashing strikes and finally clamping the iron hoops of the North Atlantic Pact around Western Europe.

The workers stood by during this whole period and watched their leaders help the State Department place the first shackles on their allies, the European masses. The one solitary and outstanding exception was John L. Lewis, who addressed a stinging rebuke to Truman for feeding the empty bellies of striking French miners with hot lead. Yet precisely this passivity permitted the American monopolists to return their attention to this country and tighten their reactionary grip. Meanwhile their agents in the unions took another step in throttling the democratic rights of the rank and file.

The apparent lack of internationalism among American workers arises from the same causes as its lack of socialist consciousness. So long as the workers are able to wrest concessions from the monopolists, they tend at best toward passivity in world affairs and at worst toward identification with the international policies of the ruling class. A conservatizing force, these reforms will be transformed into their very opposite, a revolutionary factor, once the bourgeoisie is unable to maintain the relatively high standard of living.

The slowly encroaching depression indicates that this, time is not in the distant future. Will the American workers submit to unemployment, short work weeks, wage cuts and drastically lowered living standards in order to permit the monopolists to maintain their huge profits and snare the hog’s share of the world market while spending billions for world rearmament? Not if the turbulent struggles of the last depression – and the memories of that depression are fresh and green as if they occurred yesterday – are any indication.

The present drift of reaction can only prove disquieting if removed from the context of recent years. Taft-Hartleyism was instituted in the summer of 1947, One year later, moving with a mighty instinctive impulse in the only field opened to them by their leadership, American workers upset the electoral applecart and sent Truman, waving the program of the CIO, back into office. After six months the “Fair Deal,” jolted and undermined by the needs of American imperialism abroad is foundering.

What can motivate agents of tfie monopolies to so flaunt the unambiguous expression of the will of the masses so recently as six months ago except anticipation of the coming crisis? Perhaps they expect the rash of police state laws to intimidate the workers and halt their radicalization. Perhaps they expect that the labor bureaucracy can stop the awakening by transmitting government police state measures into the unions. If so, they have sorely misread the history of the last depression.

Then too, in the Hoover administration as in the first years of Roosevelt, the whip of red-baiting lashed out at the radicalized workers. Just to cite a few examples, “Ironpants” Hug Johnson, Roosevelt’s aide, denounced the San Francisco General Strike in “1934, as an “insurrection” while vigilantes smashed the offices of the CP. In Michigan, the Black Legion, financed by the auto barons and winked at by public officials, terrorized militant workers, murdered union organizers and dynamited radical headquarters. On the other hand, the top AFL officialdom railroaded constitutional amendments at conventions barring “communists” from office, expelling militants from the unions and hounding them from the job. But where did it end? Not with reaction – but with the CIO.

Frederick Engels wrote the following observations on the American working class to a friend in this country in March 1892:

“In such a country, continually renewed waves of advance followed by equally certain setbacks, are inevitable. Only the advancing waves are always becoming more powerful, the setbacks less paralyzing, and on the whole the thing moves forward all the same. But this I consider certain: the purely bourgeois basis with no pre-bourgeois swindle behind it, the, corresponding colossal energy of development ... will one day bring about a change which will astound the whole world.”

Decadent capitalist nationalism survives in Europe today as in the world because of its temporary resurgence in America and because of the help it receives from its Social Democratic and Stalinist agents. As the discreditment of the old leadership penetrates the consciousness of the European masses – as the American workers, unencumbered by the Social Democratic Stalinist swindle, prepare another “advancing wave” – both props will weaken and crumble. Therein lies the great promise of internationalism on this May Day 1949.

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