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William Simmons

Trotskyist Tasks in Europe

(July 1945)

From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.7, July 1945, pp.215-218.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The following article is a contribution to the discussion on the problems of the European revolution. Comrade Simmons defends the position of the SWP majority which was set down in the European Resolution, adopted at the Eleventh Convention of the Socialist Workers Party (see Fourth International, December 1944). – Ed.

History has now written its finish to the fascist era in Europe and out of its smouldering pyres of death and destruction new life, new hope, begins to grow. This is manifest in the revolutionary events already unfolding. But these are still in their very early stage and a successful conclusion is not yet assured. Such an assurance can be given only when the proletariat follows a revolutionary policy.

The policy pursued is therefore the crucial factor. Upon that depends whether the revolutionary possibilities are advanced or retarded. And, as we know very well, the question of policy is decided in each instance, and at each stage of development, by whichever party gains the adherence of the masses.

Unfortunately, however, revival of political life has shown in Europe so far an overwhelming mass support for the social reformist parties, the Stalinist and the Social Democratic parties. Compared to these, the parties of the Fourth International are still very small, very young and inexperienced. We can therefore readily agree that the first task is the building of the Marxist party. But how is this task to be approached? What strategic and tactical methods is to be employed? What should be the character of slogans and demands advanced? The posing of these problems have led to disagreement and discussion.

To this discussion Comrade Morrow has made a contribution in the article entitled The First Phase of the Coming European Revolution published in the December 1944 issue of this magazine. Concerning the specific question of how to build the Marxist party I think it is fair to say that Morrow’s attitude can be summed up in his insistence upon the method of democratic demands. He says:

I repeat: the main danger within the Fourth International appears to me to lie in the direction of ultra-leftism. It is necessary, as we approach the first period of the European revolution, to emphasize and underline the role of democratic demands.

It is true that Comrade Morrow foresees for Europe a more or less protracted stage of bourgeois democratic developments. This he makes perfectly clear in his article. To support this view, and to support equally his insistence upon democratic demands, he adduces some factors which emerged from European developments at the time. Some of these factors still exist, perhaps in an even clearer form today, without, however, supporting in the least either of his conclusions. Insofar as the possibility of bourgeois democratic developments in Europe is concerned, this is determined by far more fundamental factors than those cited by Morrow, and this question has already been discussed extensively in these columns. I shall therefore confine myself here entirely to his insistence upon emphasizing and underlining the role of democratic demands. I do not think that I can be accused of an artificial separation of related questions inasmuch as Morrow makes it clear that his insistence applies especially to the immediate tasks and does not necessarily depend upon what he calls the tempo of developments. In the above quotation he says that it applies, “as we approach the first period of the European revolution.” And, besides, it is the immediate tasks which present the most pressing problem.

Among the important factors emerging from European developments, as listed by Comrade Morrow, are the following: “the revival of democratic illusions among considerable sections of the masses,” because, “... new generations have grown up without any experience of bourgeois democracy and without active participation in political life.” This is undeniably so. He estimates that “these masses may well have to go through a certain body of experiences before they will understand that their needs cannot be satisfied within the framework of the democratic republic.” No doubt this is true, although the experience may be gained in a concentrated form and within a brief period. Comrade Morrow also concluded from Italian experiences so far that, “the traditional workers’ parties, as well as centrist and liberal-democratic parties, will emerge throughout Europe as the principal parties of the first period after collapse of the Nazis and their collaborators.” This is already the case in a number of European countries. It cannot yet be said for Germany, the most decisive sector of the European revolution, although, to a much more limited extent, it may also come true there.

Still there is no need, or desire, on my part to quarrel with these general formulations cited in the above paragraph. In fact, it should rather be necessary to add that the period of fascist dictatorship quite naturally produced, not only a swing toward democratic liberties; but also created a genuine need for such liberties.

In this situation the parties of the Fourth International, whether small or large, must go with the masses through this body of experience. And they must do so regardless of whether the experiences can be assimilated within a brief period, in concentrated form, or at a relatively slow tempo. In conformity with the needs of each situation they must advance, and fight for, democratic demands. Of course they dare not stop short there or permit these demands to become a noose to strangle the masses. They must follow out the theory of the permanent revolution and recognize that the genuine democratic needs cannot be satisfied without the workers’ conquest of power.

At the same time we must not for one moment lose sight of the fact that the social reformist parties, the centrist and liberal parties, advance democratic demands to one degree or another, in one form or another. Regardless of any failure on their part to conduct a serious struggle; yes, regardless of open betrayals of their own professed reformist and liberal programs, they will make democratic demands. Even the Stalinists will make them. Neither of these parties can operate without them. They will in fact, after the collapse of fascism, endeavor to capitalize particularly on existing democratic illusions. They will sponsor demands for social reform within the framework of capitalism as their only means of maintaining mass support, and as a means toward keeping this system intact. They have no other means.

Although the actual situation in Europe is by no means too clear to us, it seems to emerge quite positively that such is the position of these parties now. In Northern Italy the militant partisan movement, evidently under the leadership of Stalinists, Social Democrats and left wing liberals, demand the republic.

Even the Belgian Social Democrats have given feeble voice to such a demand. In France and elsewhere demands have been made by these parties for a constituent assembly, always taking care, of course, that actual measures are delayed as much as possible. Similarly, demands have been made for a certain degree of nationalization.

The mere advancing of democratic demands will not serve in itself to distinguish the Fourth Internationalists from the position of these parties. It is important therefore to recognize the fact that democratic demands are for us only incidental and episodic in the independent movement of the proletariat; and they are now especially so in view of the utter capitalist collapse. They are at the present stage of developments, whenever and wherever they come into use, essentially a bridge to, and subordinate to, the more fundamental demands of the revolutionary socialist program. Standing alone the mere episodic slogans and demands are, of course, entirely inadequate.

Essence of the Problem

And so we come to the essence of the problem of what method to pursue to build the Trotskyist parties in Europe.

It is hardly necessary to repeat the fact that everything is relative. The brutal fascist dictatorship created a genuine need for democratic liberties; and slogans corresponding to these needs can and will serve as powerful means to set masses into motion. At the same time this is by no means the only pressing need emerging in present day Europe. Fascism itself represented the last desperate resort toward preservation of the tottering capitalist structure. This brief experiment with the most hideous system of oppression did not strengthen the structure in the least. Its gaping holes have become veritable cataracts. The capitalist crisis retains all its characteristics of permanency. Indeed its whole structure teeters over a precipice. On the other hand, revival of democratic illusions among considerable sections of the masses, due to lack of participation in political life of the younger generation, is not the only present phenomenon. Far more pressing for them is the very lack of the most meagre means of subsistence. Therefore, with all its weight this catastrophic crisis pushes the proletariat relentlessly on the road toward the revolutionary mass struggle for power.

A revolutionary situation is beginning to unfold. Objective conditions are favorable to the proletariat. And yet at this very beginning we are presented with a paradox: A proletarian revolutionary policy does not yet prevail; the principal parties of the proletariat are the social reformist parties.

Yes, these are the crucial factors emerging from the European situation today. And at the same time these are the conditions that determine the strategy and tactics of the numerically small Trotskyist parties, rather than any speculative estimates of the viability of bourgeois democracy. The question of policy pursued by these co-thinkers is equally crucial. Their most immediate, and their main, adversary is made up of the social reformist parties against whom they must carry on the unrelenting fight for mass influence. In a very immediate and in a very pressing sense this is their main struggle.

How are they to win out in this crucial conflict for leadership? By emphasizing and underlining the role of democratic demands? No! Our conclusion must be the exact opposite to that drawn by Comrade Morrow. This conclusion must proceed from the idea that the parties of the Fourth International possess the enormous advantage of a revolutionary program. This is the main program which they must bring forward now. Therefore, if in this main struggle anything is to be especially emphasized and underlined, it is the revolutionary content of this program.

They must emphasize the socialist way out of the capitalist collapse in clear and precise revolutionary slogans. In fact they must put forward as their most pressing demand the expropriation of the capitalists and the socialization of the means of production.

The Correct Formula

Comrade Morrow’s formula should be reversed to read: it is necessary to emphasize and underline the tasks of the socialist revolution as the most pressing problem before the working masses. At the same time we should say: Use every opportunity available to demand and to fight for more and more democratic liberties; to demand and to fight for ever greater political and economic concessions from capitalism. Remember, however, that such liberties and such concessions can, at the present stage of social developments, be won only as a byproduct of the revolutionary struggle. The bourgeoisie will grant such concessions only when in fear of losing all its privileges. And finally: Do not fail to make it crystal clear that a successful struggle for the socialist way out of the frightful capitalist collapse can be waged only by the forces and the methods of the proletarian revolution.

Such a policy is imposed upon the European Trotskyist parties by the unfolding revolutionary situation. Ultimately this alone can secure for them the necessary mass influence. But it is no less imperative in its more immediate sense.

The small Trotskyist parties do not yet dispose of forces sufficient to set millions into motion. Far from it. In the first instance their appeals must be addressed therefore to the more advanced, the more politically conscious, and the more militant workers. But these are still by and large within the folds of the Stalinist’ and the Social Democratic parties. Paradoxical as it may seem, we can be sure that the militant workers adhere to the parties still carrying the names of socialism and communism not as a sign of approval of the policies and actions of social reformism, but rather because of their burning desire to find the socialist solution or the communist solution, as the case may be. What else could be expected in the absence of any other working class means of political action sufficiently known to them?

Should we say that in order to win them it is necessary to emphasize and underline the role of democratic demands? That would be utterly inadequate. In fact it would be a flagrant mockery. Everything would in this manner be turned upside down. Let us try rather to place the problem right side up and affirm again without equivocation, the basic proposition: in the struggle to win the more advanced stratum of the European proletariat the Trotskyist parties must especially emphasize their revolutionary program. They must demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt, by means of slogans, demands, propaganda, agitation and action, that the genuine Marxist program, together with the method and the forces of revolution alone can lead to the socialist solution.

The Socialist Solution

Objective reality will naturally present different and varying stages in the general political process of development. But these stages interpenetrate and they are directly interrelated with the movement of the masses. Changes in the one will involve changes in the other. The moods of the masses will of necessity show similar variations. And it would be illusory to expect changes continually in a progressive direction. Initial set-backs, reverses, and even possible defeats have to be counted on. Obstacles in the path of European revolutionary developments are still tremendous. In several respects they are even greater than those that followed in the wake of World War I. Direct allied imperialist and Kremlin bureaucratic intervention on the side of reaction in every serious situation is now a very real, a very potent factor of enormous proportion. Then, in addition, we have now not merely one but two reformist parties in the service of imperialism. But the small revolutionary forces have also learned from the rich experiences and possess infinite advantages. And, while it is not possible in a discussion here to attempt to formulate detailed tactical plans for every changing situation, it is possible and necessary to emphasize both the importance and the character of their conscious intervention in the general process. Above all, that must mean that they project their revolutionary policy for the socialist solution.

While we have no textbooks telling us how to make a revolution, the Marxist method is available. It has stood the tests in the laboratory of history. The October Revolution, the greatest test of them all, brought its verification, and much of it is available in written and amply documented form. We should not attempt to present the conditions of October as analagous to present conditions; yet we must by all means learn from its experiences.

We can afford to learn especially from the role of Lenin in the “rearming of the party.” Trotsky relates in his History of the Russian Revolution how prior to Lenin’s return the whole party leadership feared to go beyond the boundaries of the democratic republic. He says:

“The proletariat did not seize the power in February because the Bolshevik party was not equal to its objective task, and could not prevent the compromisers from expropriating the popular masses politically for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.”

Lenin’s Course

And then Lenin arrived, and the History relates:

“He swept aside legislative agrarian reform,” complains Sukhanov, “along with all the rest of the policies of the Soviet. He spoke for an organized seizure of the land by the peasants, not anticipating ... any governmental power at all.

“We don’t need any parliamentary republic. We don’t need any bourgeois democracy. We don’t need any government except the Soviet of workers’, soldiers’, and farmhands’ deputies!”

The next day Lenin presented his famous Theses of April 4, which expressed, says Trotsky, in simple words comprehensible to all:

The republic which has issued from the February revolution is not our republic, and the war it is now waging is not our war. The task of the Bolsheviks is to overthrow the imperialist government. But this government rests upon the support of the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who in turn are supported by the trustfulness of the masses of the people. We are in the minority. In these circumstances there can be no talk of violence from our side. We must teach the masses not to trust the Compromisers and defensists. “We must patiently explain.” The success of this policy, dictated by the whole existing situation, is assured and it will bring us to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and so beyond the boundaries of the bourgeois regime. We will break absolutely with capital, publish its secret treaties, and summon the workers of the whole world to cast loose from the bourgeoisie and put an end to the war. We are beginning the international revolution. Only its success will confirm our success, and guarantee a transition to the socialist regime.

All accounts from these fateful days of rearming of the Bolshevik Party agree that Lenin’s theses, when presented, were greeted as ultra-leftist even among leading Bolsheviks. And to the democrats, says Trotsky, it appeared fantastic: “The Bolsheviks are a tiny minority in the Soviet, and Lenin dreams of seizing the power: isn’t that pure adventurism?”

Pravda, under the editorship of Stalin and Kamenev, said four days later:

As for the general scheme of Comrade Lenin, it seems to us unacceptable in that it starts from the assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution is ended, and counts upon an immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution.

History nevertheless proved Lenin correct. Due to his insistence the Bolshevik Party became armed theoretically for its struggle with the compromisers. He was concerned primarily about the party’s understanding its basic objective task, namely: to lead the struggle directly toward workers’ power and the socialist system. He was concerned equally about making it clear to the masses that the party understood this as its basic task and was determined to strive for its realization. This is one great lesson for us to learn from Lenin.

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