From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.8, September 1949, pp.230-236.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
“The development of modern industry ... cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
With this prediction two of the greatest minds of human history concluded the most brilliant, the most powerful, and the most authentic indictment ever made of modern capitalist society. Marx and Engels made this unequivocal statement in the Communist Manifesto one hundred years ago. Presented as the summation of their critique it embodies the fundamental hypothesis of Marxism.
It is this fundamental hypothesis which has been called into question, maligned and denounced time and again by “critics” of Marx, both astute and mediocre, during the hundred years that have elapsed since the appearance of the Communist Manifesto.
One of the recent arrivals among this host of “critics” is a Jean Vannier, whose denunciation of Marxism appeared in the March 1948 Partisan Review. Lacking both self-restraint and modesty, a common failing of the mediocre, Vannier presumptuously proclaims the “collapse” of this “century old hypothesis.” It has been “proved invalid,” he says. But Vannier’s confusion is revealed when he explains his conception of Marxism. He tells his readers that there is “no necessary logical connection between Marx’s fundamental hypothesis and his economic doctrine”; and adds that “the former was by no means logically implied in the latter.”
According to Vannier, Marx arbitrarily formulated his fundamental hypothesis without regard to his analysis of the development of productive forces under Capitalism. Such methodology has nothing in common with Marxism. It is rather an expression of the most profane bourgeois method of thought.
Marx never tired of attacking the philosophers who “always bad the solution to the riddle laying ready in their writing desks.” In stating the aims of the movement around the Deutsch Franzoesiscbe Jahrbuecher Marx declared:
“It is precisely the advantage of the new movement that we do not seek to anticipate the new world dogmatically, but rather to discover it in the criticism of the old.”
And in the same article he added:
“We should develop new principles for the world out of its old principles. We must not say to the world, stop your quarrels, they are foolish, and listen to us. We possess the real truth. Instead we must show the world why it struggles, and this consciousness is a thing it must acquire whether it likes it or not.”
To discover the new world in the criticism of the old, that is the Marxist method. It was precisely this method which led Marx to discover from his analysis that the development of capitalist productive forces “cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products.” Hence the conclusion: “Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
It is true that Marx addressed the European workmen as follows in 1850:
“You will have to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of civil wars and international conflicts, not only in order to transform your circumstances but to transform yourselves and make yourselves fit for political power.”
He could, of course, have added another fifty years or more. He laid down no timetable. Nor did he visualize that process as a straight upward line of battle without setbacks, defeats, or betrayals. It was Marx who laid the basis for our understanding of the ebbs and flows of the class struggle.
The history of the modern proletariat is a chronicle of great heroism and almost unlimited audacity. On more than one occasion from the Paris Commune to the Russian Revolution, and since, it has scaled the greatest heights of triumph, while the impact of this mighty power shook society to its very foundation. But it is equally true that this mighty proletariat has often stopped short of its goal, often retreated. Temporarily swept off its progressive path it has been deceived, betrayed, and defeated, while the class enemy recuperated and putrid bourgeois society won a new lease on life. Usually it is this alleged failure of the working class which becomes the first excuse on the road to renegacy.
In arguing against the validity of Marx’s fundamental hypothesis Vannier says:
“The answer to such a question could only come from experience itself ... the political capacity of the proletariat could only be measured in the reality of class conflict.”
But strangely enough Vannier does not now want to thus measure this political capacity. For him the question is already settled in the negative. Or maybe this is not so strange at all; for what is already settled is only his own renegacy.
Is the proletariat politically capable of taking over power in society and transforming property relationships? Is it a historically progressive class, capable of selecting a leadership and creating a party for this purpose? These questions can be answered only in terms of the whole historical process of development of the material forces of production under capitalism, its relations of production, and the conflict of the former with the latter. Above all these questions can be answered only dialectically. In other words, an answer must take into account the interrelationship of social forces in motion and in conflict in present-day complex society. What is involved here is not merely the problem of strategy but the far broader and all-embracing question: Is the Marxist system scientific? Is it realizable? This is the question we will attempt to answer on Marxist grounds.
It would be a mistake to place any undue importance on Vannier’s anemic product. It is merely typical of so many others. So in attempting to find the correct answer only the subject itself will have real importance; and the attempt must start from fundamental propositions.
In the Author’s Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx summarizes his materialist conception of history, from which we quote in part:
“In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will ... The sum total of these relations of production constitute the economic structure of society – the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness ... It is not, the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.”
Marx thus makes clear his discovery that all human relations are rooted in the material conditions of life, or more specifically, in its prevailing mode of production. This is the basis for the existence of classes and gives rise to class antagonisms and conflicts, as well as to consciousness of class position. In thus summarizing his position Marx does not imply that the aims, ‘the purposes, or the wills of men are of no importance or play no role in this process. He affirms the contrary in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:
“Men make their own history, but not just as they please. They do not choose the circumstances for themselves, but have to work upon circumstances as they find them, have to fashion the material handed down by the past.”
What Marx clearly indicates is that the aims, the purposes, and the wills of men, while becoming objective parts of the historical process, are at the same time subject to the laws of historical- development. Individuals, says Marx, “have their position in life and their personal development assigned to them by their class.” It is this subsuming of individuals under the class which causes their susceptibility to ideas, to conceptions, and even to the prejudices of their class.
Social contradictions and resultant class struggle are the motive power of historical development. And since the conflict between the development of the material forces of production and the existing property relations can find its solution only in the social revolution, the highest form of proletarian consciousness is revolutionary consciousness. To this must correspond, of course, a revolutionary program and a revolutionary party.
The class struggle is essentially a political struggle. Political parties arise out of existing social contradictions. They function in the defense of class interests. And only through the medium of its own political party can the proletariat assume an independent role. Only through this medium can it attain its class aims. The party is that historical organ by means of which the proletariat enters upon the road to class consciousness.
If this progress toward class consciousness proceeded uniformly the problem of building the party and selecting a revolutionary leadership would be relatively simple. But this is not the case. By its very nature the process is complex and contradictory. The class itself is not homogeneous. It is made up of different strata occupying varying economic positions. These various strata arrive at class consciousness by different roads and at different times. Political division arises out of this situation, which leaves room for conflicting tendencies apd ideologies. Moreover the bourgeoisie intervenes and takes art active part in this process. Above all it intervenes ideologically by the superior means at its command.
In one of their earlier joint works, The German Ideology, Marx and Engels stated this very simply. They said that
“the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”
The ideas of the. ruling class were challenged by the social democracy from the moment it entered on the stage of history under the banner of Marxism. It set as its goal the overthrow of bourgeois rule. But the powerful and dynamic expansion of capitalism exerted a corrupting influence. The working class grew in numbers, socialist votes mounted at elections, resulting in greater representation in parliament; the parties became mass parties, growing and prospering institutions. Capitalism. could afford certain concessions. The social-democratic mass parties won some’ democratic reforms which the more conservative layers of the membership were anxious to preserve. Social-reformism found nourishment in such a soil.
The leaders, whose influence grew with the growth of the parties, like the plebeians’ leaders of ancient Rome, became anxious to preserve the political status quo. They entrenched themselves. They smothered critical opposition by creating a powerful apparatus and emerging in the role of a bureaucracy with vested interests in capitalism. The practice of class collaboration replaced the policy of class struggle. The bureaucracy usurped and emasculated the traditions of the party which had gained the confidence of the working class. And the party became a mere medium of maneuvers to further the interests of the bureaucracy.
The intervention of the bourgeoisie in this process was not merely ideological in nature. It consisted of various forms of coercion as well as concessions which pitted one section of the workers against others. The bourgeoisie fostered the social-reformist bureaucracy, and while the latter drew closer to the state for protection against rebellion from its own membership, it was itself strengthened by this collaboration with capitalism. And so, in the name of reform, this bureaucracy betrayed the revolution. Its whole task consisted in reconciling the workers to capitalism.
But in the next historical stage of disintegration and decay of capitalism, this bureaucracy was driven to its last refuge: it sought to make society safe for capitalism even at the cost of sacrificing reforms.
Basically it is the intervention of the bourgeoisie in the historical process which accounts for the emergence of social-reformism as a political tendency within the working class. This is one of the by-products of the class struggle. But in the course of its sway and development social-reformism itself assumes the role of an intermediary historical force, and, more than any other phenomenon, serves to stunt and deform proletarian progress toward consciousness of class position. It is the main factor impeding socialist emancipation. Especially is this the case in the present stage of capitalist decay when social-reformism has become both objectively and subjectively a historical force of retrogression. The degeneration of bourgeois society is equaled, if not overshadowed, only by the appalling degeneration of the social-reformist parties.
All of these factors, fitted together in a complex fabric, become a part of the general relations of production. They become a part of the social existence which determines men’s consciousness. To ignore or to disclaim the existence of these factors in order to reduce the relations of production to the simple equation of exploiters and exploited is to vulgarize Marxism.
Most assuredly the bourgeoisie produces its own grave-diggers. But in the process it erects innumerable barriers blocking the historical mission of the proletariat. The means of coercion, complemented by the means of corruption and deception, grow and multiply in direct proportion to the growth of class antagonisms within society. In this sense social-reformism is, in the final analysis, a product of bourgeois rule, produced alongside the grave-diggers of capitalism. But being a product of bourgeois rule, social-reformism was also bound to decay with it. Thus, owing to the subsequent historical process, the tradition of past progressive advance became purely negative and was bound to be broken.
Did this lamentable role of the social-reformist bureaucracy in any way prove the proletariat politically incapable of taking over power in society? Did it furnish proof of its alleged inability to select a revolutionary leadership? Not at all. The very contradictions that arose from this lamentable role also created an opposite current, as was inevitable.
Out of the betrayals, the left wing grew and gained strength within the working, class. Bolshevism restored Marxism to its rightful place in history. In Russia in October 1917, proletarian revolutionary consciousness reached its very apex. Under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolsheviks broke through and demolished the social-reformist barriers. Their aims and objectives expressed the interests and the welfare of the whole working population, and they, showed the way to the realization of this program.
Thus the subjective factors entered into reciprocal relations with the objective development by which the revolutionary situation matured. The Bolshevik Party became the important link in the chain of objective historical forces. And in this manner the Russian proletariat selected its revolutionary leadership, thereby assuring its own political supremacy. Subsequently the existence of the Comintern, under the same leadership, dealt a severe blow to the social-democratic bureaucracy from which it has never fully recovered.
But Stalinism supplanted Bolshevism! And here the most malignant “critics” of Marx interpose to tell us that Stalinism grew organically out of Bolshevism as a natural process. If that were really so we would be compelled to seriously question the social qualities of the proletariat, to reexamine our fundamental Marxist concepts.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Stalinism came into power only by physically annihilating the whole of the leading Bolshevik cadre. It would be just as preposterous and equally as false to contend that the vulgar and decrepit reformism of the social-democratic parties grew organically out of Marxism. The rise of Bolshevism proves the contrary.
In reality what we have in both instances are not at all logical developments but rather the emergence of direct opposites arising out of the contradictions of society and out of the lack of homogeneity of the working class. In both cases the opposites represent the conflict of social-reformism with revolutionary thought and action. Whichever predominates at a given period can disappear and give way to its opposite. That is the case of all phenomena in society as well as in nature. However the predominance of social-reformism or revolutionary thought and action is not decided in a vacuum. It is decided in the living struggle of the classes.
In its essence Stalinism is social-reformism based on the “theory” of “socialism in one country” and its peaceful co-existence with the capitalist world. But this does not. make Stalinism identical with the social-democratic type of reformism. Nor is Stalinism impelled by the same motivating force. While reformism had its origin in expanding capitalism, Stalinism emerged essentially out of the economic backwardness of the Soviet Union and its isolation in a capitalist environment. The proletarian political and ideological rearmament accomplished by the Bolsheviks through the Russian Revolution and the Marxist policies of the Comintern, suffered’ a horrible relapse under the Stalinist bureaucracy.
The substitution of Stalinist policy, to use Trotsky’s phrase, generated proletarian defeats on a world scale; the defeats generated the rise of the bureaucracy. In place of the Bolshevik tradition there appeared the interests of the powers and privileges of the bureaucracy. For the defense of the latter there grew up a totalitarian police state.
The Stalinist bureaucracy thus represents a parasitic growth upon the workers’ state. As such its transitory nature must be recognized. Its totalitarian regime reflects the condition of acute crisis brought about by the contradiction of a bureaucracy superimposed on a nationalized economy. Moreover, this crisis is again reflected in organic form within the bureaucracy itself.
The problem of Stalinism transcends Soviet borders, and its fate will ultimately be decided on the world arena. There it has already been brought face to face with a fundamental and twofold contradiction which in the end will only further aggravate the crisis of the bureaucracy. On the one hand, the existence of nationalized property relations is the basic reason for the growing imperialist encirclement against the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the bureaucracy, concerned only with the protection of its own privileges, collides with the interests and the needs of the masses everywhere. Moreover, the base of the bureaucracy is constantly narrowed by its organic fear of the development of uncontrollable mass movements. Hence, the retreat the Kremlin is now compelled to execute.
Stalinist expansion into Eastern Europe led to the open conflict with Tito, the first serious eruption of the organic crisis of the Soviet bureaucracy. At the same time the Stalinist parties of Western Europe have suffered defeats and decline after experiencing a mushroom growth in the revolutionary period which followed the war.
Unquestionably the economic and political aggression of US imperialism, together with its ominously growing military preponderance, have been a strong factor in forcing the Kremlin to yield ground. But far more fatal in its consequences have been the policy of plunder and the totalitarian police methods pursued by the Soviet bureaucracy itself. Sooner or later the combination of its own contradictions will force the Kremlin to give up the struggle for political hegemony of Europe.
The crisis created by its postwar expansion will be deeply aggravated when the Soviet bureaucracy is compelled to retreat from these positions and abandon many of its privileges. The desperation of a bureaucracy faced with curtailed arid dwindling privileges knows no bounds. All prudence disappears and even the tenuous internal loyalty of partnership in crime collapses. The explosions that are certain to follow must in the end lead to the downfall of the Kremlin gang. In the final analysis the laws of history will prove stronger than bureaucratic combinations. Whatever its temporary fortunes, the Stalinist bureaucracy cannot circumvent the course of the class struggle.
But one important question arises: How could the proletariat have been deceived for so long by the Stalinist bureaucracy after its experience with social democracy? How was the recent Stalinist resurgence possible? History must here again furnish the answer. In the first place it has been demonstrated that the proletariat rarely switches allegiance, or attempts to create a new party, until experience has thoroughly proved that confidence in the old organization is no longer justified. Mass allegiance in the Stalinist parties stemmed originally from the conquests of the October Revolution. Although these parties have degenerated to a particularly odious reformist position there is still another element to consider.
Nationalized property relations still remain in the Soviet Union, investing the state with its working-class character. To the masses of American workers this fact may not yet have great significance. To the European proletariat, however, for whom such a social transformation has become
a life and death necessity, this relationship appears in all its decisive importance. Because of this fact, above all, the European proletariat maintained its confidence, in spite of disappointments, in the Stalinist parties, expecting them to lead the way to the socialist solution.
The spreading disillusionment, resulting from repeated failures and outright betrayals by these party leaders will in the next stage turn into open proletarian hostility toward the degenerate ward-heelers of the Kremlin. The lessons learned from the history of Stalinism, including its defeat and downfall, will serve as an enormous contribution toward, transforming the proletariat and making it fit for political power.
Proletarian progress toward political consciousness, we repeat, develops in close relationship with.the interplay of all the forces at work within present-day society. While the bourgeoisie, by its intervention, seeks to delay this progress, it at the same time creates the very conditions which in the next stage become an accelerating force. That holds true not merely on a national scale, but in the case of international intervention as well.
In Europe, for example, bourgeois class rule has faced a continuous crisis ever since the end of World War I. This has not been without its ups and downs, to be sure; but the spiral of capitalist decline has been constantly downward. Yet the law of uneven development asserts itself also in this decay stage of capitalism.
American capitalism was still able to expand its productive forces into an integrated system of mass production and attain a higher level of monopoly capitalism. Because of its greater strength it was able to intervene in Germany after the overthrow of the Hohenzollern dynasty. Through the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the Hoover moratorium, it rehabilitated the social democracy and saved German capitalism. In a different fashion, American imperialism aided the expansion of the Stalinist bureaucracy during and immediately after World War II. The latter in turn served as a check on the proletariat, frustrating its efforts for a revolutionary change.
Today American imperialism has taken upon itself the task of restoring and maintaining bourgeois class rule throughout the world. Having utilized at different times both the social-democratic and the Stalinist bureaucracies it is now preparing to boot them out and to assume, in its own name, the offensive on the whole front. Diplomatically, economically, or militarily, Washington aims to crush all efforts toward a social transformation.
American imperialism has become the basic counterrevolutionary force of the present epoch. But even the mightiest of the imperialist powers is subject to the interplay of social forces set into motion by its own relentless aggression. The monopolists may appear even more formidable as the Stalinist parties lose members and influence, and as the Kremlin is compelled to retreat because of its own treachery and its utter inability to meet imperialist aggression on revolutionary ground. However such a retreat has a logic of its own. One result will be the release of the new mass forces from the bondage of Stalinist
ideology. Thus through its world role American imperialism involuntarily gives an impulse to the genuine revolutionary forces – the forces of the Fourth International. American imperialism, contrary to all its plans, accelerates the very process of social transformation which it is attempting to delay and to halt.
But the law of uneven development of capitalism also, reproduces a certain unevenness in the development of the proletarian revolution and the. building of the revolutionary party. This does not take place automatically or mechanically in conformity with the rise or decline of capitalism in one part of the world or another. Rather it occurs as a result of the interaction of specific social forces at specific historical conjunctures. While the proletarian movement in one part of the world may decline or stagnate, or even degenerate because of defeats, betrayals, or outright exhaustion, it will experience a new rise elsewhere due to new historical conjunctures. Fresh forces are thus made available for the movement. That rise becomes a new impulsion for new revolutionary growth. History is replete with such examples.
The European social-democratic parties decayed politically with the decay of capitalism. It had taken a lifetime to create these parties. They enjoyed the mass allegiance and confidence that tomes with years and decades of stability. They embodied the hopes and aspirations of their proletarian builders. Betrayal led to frustration, disappointment and demoralization. The stagnation of these parties consumed a whole generation before a new start could be made.
Then a new rise came from the East. Due to its backwardness, Czarist Russia had become the weakest link in the imperialist chain. In the revolutionary situation, beginning with the overthrow of Czarism, which put Marxism and reformism to the supreme test, the Bolsheviks emerged Victorious. That victory, growing out of a specific historical conjuncture, imparted a powerful stimulus for new revolutionary growth. Throughout Europe mass forces were freed from the traditional bondage of the social-democratic parties. These forces gravitated toward the new leadership and engaged in decisive battles which further weakened the class enemy.
On a somewhat more limited scale history presents numerous similar examples of the dynamics of development of the proletarian movement.
The trade unions of England, after having been driven underground by repressive laws, owe their rise to a considerable extent to the impact of the great French Revolution. Similarly the election reforms in England in 1868, and the great struggles of its labor movement at the time, followed the revolutionary victory of the North in the American Civil War. In both instances the ruling class of England had supported the side of reaction while the workers displayed their sympathy for the revolutionary forces. History shows likewise the reciprocally stimulating effect of the July 1830 revolution in France, the Chartist movement in England in the early 40’s and the revolutions of 1848 on the continent. Later, the stimulating effect of the Paris Commune was not lost on the development of the early socialist movement in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Finally, it may be difficult, because of the intervention of World War II, to trace directly the impulse given to proletarian struggles elsewhere by the stormy advance of the American workers which gave rise to the CIO. But the stimulating effect of the early postwar revolutionary wave in Europe upon the mass protests of American troops abroad as well as upon the great postwar strike wave in this country stands out most clearly.
And now once again history repeats itself. Ideologically disarmed, and fatally disoriented, a whole proletarian generation whose hopes and aspirations had been lifted to new heights by the Russian Revolution, appears about to be consumed in the degeneration and decay of Stalinism. However, even as this stagnation and decline seems to reach its lowest depths fresh mass forces are entering the arena of the class struggle.
Colossal upheavals, of an all-embracing nature, have set the whole Asiatic continent aflame. Its teeming millions of people, more than half of mankind, are fired with nationalist aspirations of freedom from imperialist exploitation. Events there, to be sure, have not yet reached the stage of direct proletarian struggle for power. Moreover, in China, which is the very pivotal point, Stalinism has gained new strength from the great military conquests of its peasant army.
But alongside of these gains, the organic crisis of the bureaucracy is transferred to a new and larger arena. First reports indicate this very clearly. The attempts of the Stalinist leaders to reach an agreement with the bourgeoisie have already resulted in a prohibition of further land seizure by the peasants, together with decrees tightening the shackles of the proletariat to Mao Tse-tung’s “new capitalism.” What could possibly bring the Stalinist rule into sharper conflict with the needs of the masses and the needs of the whole objective situation? Can there be any doubt that the internal dynamics generated by the civil war will produce a new and relentless pressure of class forces?
The real issues remain as stated by Trotsky in The Third International After Lenin:
“The third Chinese revolution, despite the great backwardness of China, or more correctly, because of this great backwardness as compared with Russia, will not have a ‘democratic’ period, not even such a six-month period as the October Revolution had (November 1917 to July 1918), but will be compelled from the very outset to effect the most decisive shake-up and abolition of bourgeois property in city and village.”
It is precisely because of this situation that, alongside of this recent Stalinist advance, Trotskyist parties are growing and consolidating on a firm Marxist foundation throughout Asia including China. These parties have already proved themselves capable of intervening effectively in the unfolding events. In this fact lies the priceless promise that the powerful upsurge which has begun in Asia will, not be derailed or strangled but must ultimately proceed to greater heights of triumph.
But also within the Western Hemisphere the dynamics of sharpening class antagonisms in the United States will tend to revolutionize the entire development of the American proletariat. Having attained trade union organization and consciousness in less than a decade, this movement stands forth as the strongest proletarian force in the world. As the slowly encroaching economic depression and crisis in the United States envelops the capitalist system in its deadly grip, we may confidently expect that this mighty American proletariat, relatively unencumbered by the debilitating poison of social-reformism, either of a social-democratic or Stalinist variety, will again advance – and this time toward political consciousness preparing it for the direct leadership of the revolutionary party.
Most certainly new impulsions for new revolutionary growth, on a scale far larger than hitherto, are now in the making.
Does history thus merely repeat itself in what appears as recurrent cycles? No. The cycles recur but each time in infinitely larger dimensions and on a higher level of development.
Capitalist decay, regardless of relative and temporary revival here and there, is proceeding apace. Colonial imperialism has suffered a death blow from which it will never recover. New crises, new imperialist wars, colonial upheavals, and civil wars, all merge into the ever more complex pattern of the class struggle. This complex of economic, social, and political conditions poses ever more sharply the needs of the proletarian revolution. The revolutionary movement is no longer confined to the continent of Europe. The proletariat, together with the oppressed colonial people, is being drawn into the revolutionary vortex on a truly world scale. It is this complex which again sets the proletariat into motion in its progress toward greater political consciousness, all remaining illusions, deceptions and betrayals notwithstanding.
This is how the question of the proletarian capacity of transforming society should be posed. All that is settled so far in regard to this question is the utter bankruptcy and treachery of the existing proletarian leadership. Between this hopelessly degenerate and incompetent leadership and the inexorable need of the masses to extricate themselves from the deadly consequences of capitalist decay lies a great chasm still to be bridged. Yet our epoch remains revolutionary; and the struggle for the ideological influence in the ranks of the proletariat still continues. Trotsky said in In Defense of Marxism:
“The selection and education of a truly revolutionary leadership, capable of withstanding the pressure of the bourgeoisie, is an extraordinarily difficult task.”
That task still remains the very crux of the question.
The proletarian leadership does not reflect the class simply and directly but is subject to the influence and pressure of other forces. Nor is the leadership created by the proletariat in general, or in the abstract, but rather in the concrete. Its selection proceeds from the requirements of the historical epoch and is determined essentially and primarily by the conditions previously prepared, i.e., by the lessons learned from past experiences and the resulting degree of ideological rearmament. The most conscious and the most militant section of the class takes the initiative in this selection.
The Bolsheviks gave an affirmative answer to the question of proletarian ability to select and educate a truly revolutionary leadership. Their answer took as its point of departure the responsibility of social-reformism for the failures of the past. Their victory gave concrete proof of what the proletariat can do. It is this concrete proof which has become the starting point for the present generation of revolutionists.
The Fourth International now repeats that affirmative answer. Its answer proceeds not only from the responsibility for failure of social-reformism, but even more from the causes of the monstrous degeneration of Stalinism and the defeats it has inflicted on the proletariat. This is the Marxist method: to create the new out of criticism of the old, not to discard Marxism which has stood the test of the vicissitudes of history – the exhilarating test of proletarian triumph as well as the terrifying isolation of struggle against the stream. Turncoats and renegades may do so to conceal their own cowardice and futility. But to restore Marxism to its proper place within the vast and serried ranks of the proletarian movement – that is the first task for revolutionists of our epoch.
Accepting this task, the Fourth International is proceeding to create the new proletarian leadership. Thereby it gives proof in the process of real life that the revolutionary forces constantly renew themselves despite setbacks, defeats and destruction.
As the Bolshevik Party grew out of the lamentable failure and betrayals of social democracy, so the Fourth International grows out of the horrible wreckage of Stalinism. Trotsky often stressed the incomparable role and stature of Lenin’s leadership in the ideological rearmament of the Bolshevik Party and of the Russian proletariat. So the forces of the Fourth International affirm with no less emphasis that they owe their understanding of how to carry out this first task of the epoch primarily and above all to the genius of Trotsky. Marxism has been enormously enriched by his contributions. The disciples of Trotsky, in their understanding of the history and role of Stalinism, will advance Marxism another stage higher.
A thoroughly scientific analysis of history is possible only through the medium of Marxism; for only through this medium is it possible not merely to view history as the process of evolution of humanity, but also to discover and to understand the laws of that process. The Marxist method is dialectic materialism which permits the study of all phenomena in their origin, their reciprocal relations, their change and their disintegration.
A study of the history and development of proletarian parties proves the great advantage of this method. Supplementing our concrete experiences this method enables us to understand the conditions under which changes have
occurred, their causes and the elements of disintegration they embody. From this flows our conclusion that the regeneration of proletarian socialism can only take place through a new party – the Trotskyist party. The very evolution of human society itself, stimulated by its unresolved contradictions and its unpostponable problems, gives this task its historically imperative character. Marxism proceeds in its analysis from the stubborn facts of reality, from the economic foundation of this historical process. Preeminent is the twofold conflict created by the capitalist mode of production which can find its solution- in no other way than by a complete social transformation, not only of the classes created by this mode of production, but also of the productive forces and the forms of exchange, or the property relations. Within the gigantic productive forces developed by capitalism there also emerges the means to end the conflict – the modern proletariat.
This invests Marxism with its scientific socialist nature. Scientific socialism in turn becomes the conscious expression of the unconscious historical process out of which it arises and through which it finds its reaffirmation in each new social and political experience. Once the laws of that historical process are thoroughly understood the modern proletariat will be in a position to take matters into its own hands and subordinate these laws resolutely to its own invincible powers.
In this sense the proletariat, and no other force in society, represents historical progress. It is the special and essential product of the development of modern industry. The solution to the otherwise insoluble contradictions of Capitalism is inherent in the very position occupied by the proletariat. Marx pointed out in his answer to Proudhon that the question is not what the proletariat “may imagine for the moment to be the aim,” but rather
“what it will be compelled to do historically ... The aim and the historical action-of the proletariat are laid down in advance, irrevocably and obviously in its own situation in life and in the whole organisation of contemporary bourgeois society.”
Let us not forget, however, that the proletarian revolution is far more fundamental than was the bourgeois revolution. The latter merely changed the forms of property relations and exploitation; it replaced older forms with newer ones. The proletarian revolution, on the other hand, does away with all forms of private property in the means of production; it abolishes classes and class rule, and, with it, the exploitation of one class by another. It follows, therefore, that the proletarian revolution encounters far greater obstacles and difficulties. Capitalist resistance to socialism is far more violent, far more stubborn and enduring than was feudal resistance to capitalism.
It is precisely in this sense that Marx contrasted the more fundamental and permanent character of the proletarian revolution with the bourgeois revolutions of the nineteenth century which were motivated by transitory and limited aims:
“Proletarian revolutions,” said Marx in The Eighteenth Bromaire of Louis Bonaparte, “such as those of the nineteenth century, on the other hand, criticise themselves ceaselessly and interrupt themselves constantly in their own course. They return to what has apparently already been accomplished in order to begin it again and deride with ruthless thoroughness the half-heartedness, weakness and wretchedness of their first attempts. They appear to throw their adversary to the ground only in order that he should draw renewed strength from the earth and rise again still more powerfully before them. They recoil again and again from the uncertain and tremendous nature of their own aims until a situation is created which makes retreat impossible and the circumstances themselves cry out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta.”
Last updated: 8.6.2005