From New International, Vol. I No. 1, July 1934, pp. 1–3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
OUR periodical appears at a most critical juncture in the life of the international labor movement. The mighty mechanism of capitalist society is crumbling in the sight of all. Once it tore whole nations out of the backwardness of feudalism and erected that colossal productive machine which is capable of keeping all mankind at a high level of comfort and culture. Having surmounted Alpine peaks of progress, it is now rolling at breakneck speed down a precipitous incline. In its ascension, it encountered obstacles, but it overcame them and mounted higher. As it hurtles into the abyss to which it is historically doomed, the tiniest impediment subjects it to the most convulsive shocks. It leaks at every joint and gives off suffocating fumes of decomposition like the gases of a gangrened body which empoison the atmosphere. All the retrogressive and parasitic abominations inherent in the very existence of capitalism, are pressed upward to the surface in a last effort to evade paying the final note on its overdue doom.
The lusty young bourgeoisie, which once dealt such crushing revolutionary blows at feudal and clerical reaction, has aged to a decrepit senility when life depends upon reviving and forming an alliance with all that is archaic and reactionary in the world’s economy and politics. The once progressive capitalist class can no longer live without preserving feudalism and serfdom in more than half the world, and resorting to Fascist barbarism in the rest of the globe. Where it once relied for its victory upon the support of the working class and peasantry, which liberated it and society from their common foe, capitalism can now maintain itself only by reducing its former allies to a standard of life and culture no higher than the feudal.
Capitalism has outlived its usefulness! It cannot expand the productive forces of mankind – it contracts them. It cannot feed the masses – it starves them. It cannot bring peace to the people – it drives them to war. It can no longer justify its supremacy – it maintains it with the Fascist bayonet.
If we can write, as von Hutten said in his day, that this is a time for the joy of living, then only because we live in the period of revolution, the triumphant culmination of which will open up a new era to humanity. The forces of production of the things men live by are in rebellion against the anachronistic fetters which impede their fullest development. The proletariat is in rebellion, now blindly, now consciously, against its exploiters. The colonial slaves are in rebellion against their metropolitan oppressors. The class struggle, which no human or natural agency can suppress without suppressing society – at least not until classes themselves have been abolished – has reached an unprecedented degree of acuteness. Yet, outside the Soviet Union, capitalism still prevails. Instead of receiving its mortal blow, it has inflicted upon the proletariat some of the crudest defeats in history.
On the one side, an outlived social order, revealing within itself the objective necessity and inevitability of a new society; on the other side, a proletariat socially developed to the point where it can inaugurate this new society which nevertheless has not yet summoned sufficient forces to overthrow the old. The unknown factor is only too well known, and can be established with the exactness of a mathematical equation:
The two parties of the proletariat, into whose hands history successively gave the imposing task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and opening the road to socialism, have failed abysmally. Social democracy and Stalinism both collapsed at the first blow, like eggshells sucked dry, in Germany, then in Austria, then in Latvia, then in Bulgaria. (The social democracy, be it noted, died politically twenty years ago; it proved no less despicable in its second incarnation.)
The whole history of the modern proletarian movement has only served to underscore the all-importance and indispensability of that most highly perfected of all its instruments: the political party. Especially in our time has it become the master key to all problems. The class war is fought by class armies. The working class as a whole – to say nothing of its necessary allies in other sections of the population – is not characterized by firm homogeneity, ft is stratified at different levels of consciousness, it is divided by conflicting ideologies, by separatist interests of caste, religion, nationality, sex, age. Emerging from its ranks – but transcending these differences and consequently able to overcome them – is its vanguard, the revolutionary political party. The party embodies the accumulated experiences of the proletariat distilled into its revolutionary theory. It is the repository of the consciousness of the class. It embraces the most advanced, the most militant, the most devoted, unites them firmly on the basis of tested principles and welds them together in rigorous discipline.
The proletariat as a class, as a whole, cannot directly plan and guide its battles, any more than each platoon in an army can elaborate the strategy and tactics of war. For that a staff, a vanguard is imperative – not imposed from above as in a capitalist army, without the possibility of control and verification from the ranks, but rising from the ranks by tested ability and common approval. It is all the more imperative in this epoch because of the extreme concentration of power in the enemy camp, its increased mobility, and because of the abruptness with which changes take place in the objective situation. These necessitate a trained, vigilant vanguard equipped with foresight and consequently capable of pre-arrangement. Foresight is made possible by the searchlight of Marxism, whose powerful batteries are merely the condensed experiences of history, illuminating the path ahead.
For lack of just such a party, the working class has suffered one defeat after another, until the dreadful climax in 1933–1934 fully disclosed the bankruptcy of the existing organizations.
Neither of the two parties came to their miserable end because of some aberration, springing out of conditions peculiar to Germany, or Austria. Their demolition is rather to be traced to the fundamental theories and practises common to their respective Internationals. The generic name of these theories is nationalistic opportunism.
The modern social democratic parties were nurtured on the skimmed milk of the imperialist expansion of their respective national fatherlands. Grown mighty and fabulously wealthy on the vast profits of colonial exploitation, the imperialist powers found it necessary and possible to corrupt and thus enlist the support of a whole section of its own working class. The social democracy based itself upon the aristocracy of labor, upon the reforms which an indulgent imperialism vouchsafed it, and upon sections of the middle class. It was gradually absorbed into the machinery of the capitalist state and interlaced its destiny with the fate of the bourgeois nation. Thence the unforgettable treason of the social democracy during the war, each party digging blood-soaked fingers into the throat of the other for the greater glory of its own fatherland.
Thence the rabid loyalty to the capitalist state when the spontaneous post-war revolutionary wave threatened to inundate the bourgeoisie. Thence the theory of gradually converting capitalism into socialism just as smoothly and miraculously as the transubstantia-tion of the wafer and the wine into the body and blood of Christ. Thence the repudiation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its replacement by the theory and practise of coalitions with the democratic bourgeoisie for the preservation of capitalism, as a necessary transition to socialism. Thence the theory of the lesser evil – capitalism is preferable to Bolshevism – the theory which facilitated the victory of Fascism.
What distinguishes the Stalinist parties from the social democratic is not so much the outcome of their policy – the effects have been equally calamitous in both cases – as it is the different origin of their nationalism. The Stalinist parties were not poisoned at the well of imperialist nationalism, but at the well once fed exclusively by the springs of a proletarian revolution. The theory of “socialism in one country” is an expression of the nationalist degeneration of the Soviet Union. There is not, nor can there be, an inherent conflict between the interests of the Soviet Union and the interests of the world revolution. The interests of a parasitic Soviet bureaucracy, however, can and do conflict with the interests of the world revolution. The generalized formulation of this conflict is implicit in the theory of “socialism in one country”.
The Soviet bureaucracy, myopically attributing longevity to phenomena of a temporary character, does not believe in the possibilities of a world revolution for several decades to come. With this conviction pervading all their thoughts, the bureaucrats want above all else the safeguarding of Russia’s territorial integrity in order to construct a nationally walled-off utopia. This course has led inexorably to the transformation of the Third International from the general staff of the world revolution into a Soviet border patrol. Internationalism requires the subordination of each country to the interests of the world revolution. Nationalism means the subordination of the world movement to the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.
Their nationalist degeneration, however much it differs in origin and complexion, led both the social democracy and Stalinism to their Waterloo in Germany. Fundamentally, there is no other explanation for the collapse of the existing Internationals. All the blunders and crimes, the big ones as well as the little and less dramatic ones, flowed from a central fountain-head.
History and the events that compose it, do not occur for nothing. They afford the possibility of theoretical generalization, of learning from them. The great strength of the Communist International in its early years lay in the fact that it learned from the collapse of the Second International.
The lesson of the collapse of the two Internationals is not the renunciation of internationalism but its revival. And not on paper, but in deeds. Revolutionary internationalism must be active and concrete. At the present time that can mean only one thing: unfurl the banner of the Fourth International and work unremittingly to ratty the vanguard elements throughout the world around it!
– We too are internationalists, but will it not be a better and stronger International if we first build up solid revolutionary parties in each country and then unite them throughout the world?
– Dear friend, so many stupendous events have been experienced in the last twenty years that it would appear as if everybody must have learned something. But it seems that one cannot judge by appearances.
How will you build up “solid revolutionary parties” nationally without unceasing activity for the reconstruction of the International at the same time? The day of national revolutionary parties ended long ago, as did the day of national party programs. In the period when world politics and world economy exist as distinct entities, there can be only one revolutionary party – the International, with sections in every country. The International cannot be a mere arithmetical sum of various national parties, that is, it must not be. What you will have, if ever you reach the stage of forming your International, will be a somewhat less repulsive edition of the Second, composed of disparate parties, which have developed by themselves in divergent directions, which are jealous of their “national independence”, which resent “interference by outsiders”. You propose to turn back to twenty-five years ago. We prefer to go forward.
– But must the International be formed this very moment, when there is so much confusion in the ranks of the working class?
– Just because of that. Hide and seek is no game to be played with the masses. The revolutionary vanguard needs a new Communist International The masses are confused, it is true. They are being confused by the social democrats of all shades and disguises, who tell them that the Second International is good enough, that it can be reformed, if not today then tomorrow, if not tomorrow then ... after Fascism triumphs in a few more countries. They are being confused by the Stalinists who tell them that the Third International was right yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever. They are being confused by the vacillators and opportunists who deceive them with stories about uniting the Second and the Third, or about forming some other International – not a “sectarian” one, god forbid! but one in which all “good revolutionary parties outside the Second and the Third” will find shelter for the night The Fourth International will not bring confusion into the ranks of the working class. It will bring a flaming sword whose edge cuts through the web of lies and deceit and hypocrisy, and whose light brings clarity.
– But who wants a Fourth International now? You are too weak, it is a period of defeats, and even Lenin formed the International only a year and a half after the triumphant revolution.
– Your arguments do not improve with age, dear friend. Lenin proclaimed the need for the new, the Third International, not after the Russian victory, but in the darkest days of reaction, in August 1914. At Zimmerwald in 1915 he fought bitterly against those who, like you, argued that “now is not the time” because “we are too few”. A year later at Kienthal his persistence had brought to his side new and greater forces. The basis for the Comintern was not laid in Moscow in March 1919, but four years before. The struggle for the building of the new International can no more be postponed than the struggle for the rebuilding of the new parties in each country. It is just as unpostponable as the class struggle itself. For us the International is not, as Kautsky said, merely an instrument in peace times which does not function in war. That is all his International was. The International is the general staff of the world proletariat, and consequently it is indispensable at all times. The general staff, like the army, is demobilized or has its functions drastically curtailed only at the end of a war. But our class war is far from ended.
– But already some of those who were for the new International have begun to vacillate, haven’t they?
– Indeed, indeed. So much the worse for them; so much the worse for those who take the same course. Not all those who began with the Zimmerwald Left wing of Lenin, stayed with it. Some developed reservations, some quit, others even deserted to the enemy. But do not judge by superficial phenomena. Today the vacillators murmur softly or not at all about the Fourth International to which they firmly pledged themselves before. They want to “win the masses” of Tranmael’s Norwegian Labor Party and Brockway’s Independent Labour Party. How? By keeping still. Tomorrow, when Tranmael and Co. have gone the way of the Austro-Marxists, it will not be thanks to the vacillators that Tranmael’s present followers will have learned necessary lessons. But when they do, and they will, they will join hands all the more firmly with those who fought persistently for the Fourth International.
– But why must it be the Fourth, and not just the new International?
– Words have a meaning, or they should have. The Fourth International – that means new Communist parties and a new Communist International. The Second means all the varieties of social reformism. The Third means Stalinism, bureaucratic centrism. But in addition there are those who want to bridge the gap between reformism and Communism, those who want the unity of the two, those who want a Two-and-a-Half International, a home for the politically homeless, a night’s lodging until the storm in the ranks blows over and they can resume their peaceful journey back to the Second International, as they did in 1923 at Hamburg.
The Fourth International? This is no meaningless phrase. It is a fighting program! It means a fight to the death against Fascism, imperialism, war. It means an intransigeant struggle against treacherous social reformism, bureaucratic Stalinism, cowardly compromising centrism of all species. It means the unconditional struggle to defend the Soviet Union which social democrats and Stalinists left in the lurch in Germany when they permitted the arch-anti-Sovietist Hitler to come to power without a battle. It means the militant struggle for revolutionary Marxism, for the final victory of the working class.
For the Fourth International! For revolutionary Marxism!
That is the unsullied banner our periodical will defend. In periods such as the one we are passing through now, it becomes fashionable in certain quarters to seek the reasons for defeat and reaction in all corners except where they are to be found, to trace the causes everywhere except to their roots. Not the traducers of internationalism are at fault; perhaps it is internationalism itself. Not the traducers of Marxism; perhaps it is Marxism itself which requires revision or “re-interpretation”. As yesterday, so today, we shall continue to work with all our strength for all the fundamental theories of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, which have been tested through and through and confirmed a thousand times over and from every angle. With its modest resources, The New International will defend the revolutionary teachings of Marxism in every domain, taking up every challenge and refuting all over again those “new” anti-Marxists who have merely refurbished the well-riddled views of old revisionists. Our banner is hoisted and unfurled. The class conscious militants will rally to it and plant it on the citadels of capitalism.
For the Fourth International! For revolutionary Marxism!
Last updated on 25 February 2016