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Labor Action, 19 August 1946


Abe Victor

Five Years of the Communist International

A Source-Book of Politics


From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 33, 19 August 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The First Five Years of the Communist International
by Leon Trotsky
Pioneer Publishers $2.50

Here is a collection of documents from the formative years of the Third International which provides a mine of precious material of revolutionary politics. The most brilliant portion of this book is Trotsky’s Report on the World Economic Crisis, written for presentation to the delegates of the Third World Congress of the Communist International. It deals with a question upon which many political thinkers have demonstrated their inept approach, of whom not the least is Joseph Hansen who writes the Foreword. Nowhere is it written, however, that those who publish a book must understand.

Many toes have been stubbed on the hard edge of this question because it is difficult to examine a postwar era; then to examine the working class organizations in order to arrive at a judgment: retreat, advance, or consolidate your forces. To make an analysis of a country in which the capitalist class has achieved temporary stabilization without becoming conservative or a sectarian, requires a deftness which not every revolutionary leadership possesses.

The postwar years 1919-1921 were difficult and complex periods in the evolution of world imperialism. A proletarian revolution in Russia had successfully resisted the armed counter-revolutionary force of British and American imperialism. Revolution had overthrown the German monarchy and the Hungarian bourgeoisie. A revolution was developing in Italy. Soviets were spreading throughout Europe.

The Post-War Period

Japan, then a victorious nation saw twenty-five per cent of its population involved in food riots. Strike after strike occurred in two other victorious countries; Great Britain and the United States. Few nations escaped the flames of working-class rebellion. To any neophyte in the use of these tools with which revolutionists attempt to build their party, this would have been a period of predictions of an immediate revolutionary upsurge.

Not for Trotsky. In June 1921 he confronted the delegates of the Third World Congress with several questions:

“Does development actually proceed now in the direction of revolution? Or is it necessary to recognize that capitalism has succeeded in coping with the difficulties arising from the war? And if it has not already restored, is it either restoring or close to restoring capitalist equilibrium upon new postwar foundations?” (p. 176)

For some of the delegates to the Third World Congress to even pose the possibility of capitalist equilibrium was to feel that a bucket of icy water had been splashed upon their ardor. For them the imminent collapse of world capitalism was axiomatic. The left wings of several of the Communist parties in Europe had impetuously sought to open the gates to an offensive at a time when the hundreds of millions of the best workers in Europe were binding the wounds of their defeats in Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Trotsky and Lenin sought to adjust the tactical line of the Communist International to the reality.

Said Trotsky in this report:

“... inasmuch as the revolution has not come hot on the tracks of the war, it is absolutely self-evident that the bourgeoisie has utilized the breathing space afforded it, if not to surmount and eliminate the most frightful and terrible consequences of the war, then at least to camouflage them, patch them up, etc., etc. Has it succeeded in accomplishing this? In part, yes.”

And then he develops his point, indicating where the capitalist world order had been fortified against new revolutionary outbreaks and where it remained vulnerable.

At the same time he tried to make two things clear. 1.) “the current commercial-industrial crisis (might) be superseded by a period of prosperity in a greater or lesser number of countries.” 2.) That “this would in no case signify the beginning of an organic epoch (of prosperity). So long as capitalism exists, cyclical oscillations are inevitable. These will accompany capitalism in its death agony, just as they accompanied it in its youth and maturity.” (p. 260)

Revolutionary Ebb

Simultaneously with this he struck a note of gloomy possibility, which should today ring in our ears.

“If is absolutely self-evident that the more protracted the world proletarian revolutionary movement is in its character, the more inevitable will the bourgeoisie be impelled by the contradictions of the world economic and political situation to engage in another bloody denouement on a world scale. This would signify that the task of ‘restoring capitalist equilibrium’ after the new war would have for its basis conditions of economic havoc and cultural savagery in comparison with which the present state of Europe might be regarded as the height of well-being.” (p. 254)

And at another point he commented:

“If we grant – and let us grant it for the moment – that the working class fails to rise in revolutionary struggle, but allows the bourgeoisie the opportunity to rule the world’s destiny for a long number of years, say, two or three decades, then assuredly some sort of new equilibrium will be established. Europe will be thrown violently into reverse gear. Millions of European workers will die from unemployment and malnutrition. The United States will be compelled to reorient itself on the world market, reconvert its industry and suffer curtailment for a considerable period. Afterwards, after a new world division of labor is thus established in agony for 15 or 20 or 25 years, a new epoch of capitalist upswing might perhaps ensue.

“But this entire conception is exceedingly abstract and one-sided. Matters are pictured here as if the proletariat had ceased to struggle. Meanwhile there cannot even be any talk of this if only for the reason that the class contradictions have become aggravated in the extreme precisely during the recent years.” (Emphasis Trotsky’s) (p. 211)

As can be seen by the last two sentences, Trotsky saw the possibility of a United States which emerged the dominant power, of a new epoch of capitalist upswing and of a Europe so impoverished that the proletarian revolution was not immediately on the order of the day.

Compare these words with the editorials in the Fourth International which ridiculed the necessity of supporting and working in the movements for national liberation in Europe and which even today believes that the proletarian revolution is on the immediate order of the day and it will be seen how Trotsky’s vision compares with that of the Socialist Workers Party who publish his writings.

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