International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 15 No. 3-4 (July-December 1988)

On the Perspective of the Fourth International

The publication in this issue of The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International—the Perspectives Resolution of the International Committee—marks a historic advance for the world proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard. At a time when the working class is being betrayed by all its traditional leaderships, when even the most elementary class principles are being scorned in what amounts to an orgy of class collaboration, and when the most fundamental Marxist concepts of class struggle and social revolution are being ridiculed and renounced by legions of renegades who believe devoutly in the invincibility of imperialism, here at last is a document which declares war on all the petty-bourgeois capitulators and unfurls the banner of Trotskyism—that is, genuine Marxism—and its program of proletarian internationalism and world socialist revolution.

The significance of this document can be understood only in the context of the historically-interconnected crises of the world capitalist system and of revolutionary leadership in the international proletariat.

As the Perspectives Resolution of the ICFI establishes, the world capitalist system is now entering a period of the greatest revolutionary upheaval since the end of World War II. All the fundamental economic and political relations upon which the post-World War II restabilization and expansion of world capitalism were based are breaking down. The astonishing technological advances during the past four decades have accelerated the process of international economic integration. But rather than heralding a new era of “peace and prosperity,” the global character of capitalist production finds its sharpest expression in the resurgence of bitter interimperialist and nationstate rivalries. Moreover, the inability of the United States to continue in its traditional post-1945 role as the hegemonic imperialist power has fatally undermined the viability of all the international political institutions created to prevent the eruption of the devastating economic, political and military conflicts which characterized the first half of the twentieth century.

It is generally recognized that the economic and political restabilization of world capitalism in the aftermath of World War II was dependent upon the vast expansion of international trade. Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) provided the mechanisms through which the traditional conflicts of interests were mitigated. The present period is now witnessing the reversal of these processes. “Multilateral” agreements which were so common during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are giving way to unilateral ultimatums. The December meeting of GATT in Montreal broke down amidst bitter recriminations. A furious struggle for markets and sources of raw material and labor power is being waged by the major imperialist powers. The creation of massive trading blocs—exemplified in the signing of the US-Canadian Trade Agreement, the European preparations for 1992 and the attempts by the Japanese to forge their own trade bloc among the “Newly Industrialized Countries” of East Asia—is setting the stage for another interimperialist struggle for global hegemony and a new redivision of the world market. Thus, the global integration of production is raising to a new level the basic historical contradiction between the world market and the nation-state system.

The dangers which this poses for the future of capitalism are recognized by the most perceptive strategists of the bourgeoisie. As Robert Gilpin, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs at Princeton University, has recently written:

“The long-term survivability of a capitalist international market system, at least as we have known it since the end of the Second World War, continues to be problematic ... continuing conflicts among capitalist societies over trade, foreign investment, and international money affairs in the contemporary world remind us that the debate between Lenin and Kautsky over the international nature of capitalism is still relevant. As American power and leadership decline due to the operation of the ‘law of uneven development,’ will confrontation mount and the system collapse as one nation after another pursues ‘beggar-my-neighbor’ policies, as Lenin would expect? Or, will Kautsky prove to be correct that capitalists are too rational to permit this type of internecine economic slaughter to take place?” (The Political Economy of International Relations, Princeton University Press, p. 64).

Nothing expresses more succinctly the desperate crisis of world capitalism than the fact that the bourgeoisie openly wonders whether the future of its system will vindicate the teachings of Kautsky or Lenin!

Inevitably, the breakdown of the old economic equilibrium of world capitalism portends vast changes in class relations and the eruption of revolutionary struggle by the international proletariat. As the sole international class whose existence is not rooted in nor dependent upon the nation-state system, the proletariat is the only social force capable of smashing through the historical impasse at which capitalism has arrived and creating new paths for the progressive development of mankind.

The objective development of the capitalist crisis is creating entirely new conditions for a resurgence of revolutionary proletarian internationalism. The treacherous leaderships of the traditional organizations of the working class—the Stalinists, social democrats and, in the US, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy—all base themselves on economic and political nationalism. Clinging to the rotting corpse of the nation-state system, they are incapable of defending a single historic conquest of the working class and have become the policemen of the capitalists within the labor movement of every country. The new upsurge of the international working class, expressed in the revolt of the semi-colonial masses in Burma, the movement of the workers in the advanced capitalist countries and the uprising of the workers of Poland against the Stalinist bureaucracy, can only be united in a victorious world socialist revolution under the banner of the Fourth International.

The most favorable objective conditions are now emerging for a powerful revival of the authority of Marxism—i.e., Trotskyism—in the ranks of the international proletariat. All the political agencies of imperialism to which opportunism has adapted are being mercilessly exposed. It is only necessary to refer to two of the most recent political developments, which occurred within one week of each other, to illustrate the bankruptcy of the petty-bourgeois apologists for Stalinism and bourgeois nationalism.

First, on December 7, 1988 Gorbachev ascended the podium in the United Nations to proclaim that the notion of the class struggle is no longer relevant in the modern world and to pledge the cooperation of the Soviet bureaucracy in the defense of the international imperialist status quo. Declaring that the Russian Revolution of 1917, like the French Revolution of 1789, belongs to ancient history, Gorbachev said that “today we face a different world, for which we must seek a different road to the future.... It would be naive to think that the problems plaguing mankind today can be solved with the means and methods which were applied or seemed to work in the past.”

One week later, PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat capitulated to the demands of the US State Department by renouncing the PLO’s own democratic program and accepting the legitimacy of the Zionist state of Israel. The magnitude of this betrayal is indicated by a description of the probable outcome of Arafat’s capitulation given by the leading voice of American imperialist, the New York Times:

“When—or is it if—the dream of a Palestinian state is realized, it is likely in no way to resemble the grandiose dream, advocated by Mr. Arafat and others only a few years ago, of ‘a secular democratic state where Jews, Moslems and Christians live together.’

“Instead it is likely to be no more than a smallish state on the West Bank and Gaza, affiliated somehow with Jordan, and toothless in the sense of having no army to speak of, in order to reassure Israel that it will not be a springboard for future attempts to regain the rest of the land, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, that the British ruled under the Palestine mandate. Neither is it likely to be able to accommodate the 4 million Palestinians scattered in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and elsewhere; such a truncated state would have room for only the 1.5 million Palestinians now living on its lands.

“This has been hard for the Palestinian leadership to swallow, but Mr. Arafat appears to have come full circle to this realization and is now in the process of selling it to his people—and trying to sell it to Israel. His message is that a smaller Palestine is better than none at all.”

Despite the differences in the social forces represented by Gorbachev and Arafat—the former representing the interests of a privileged bureaucracy and the latter that of the Palestinian bourgeoisie—the breathtaking pace of their attempts to secure an accommodation with world imperialism is the product of their overriding fear of the working class. The policies of Gorbachev are a response to the bureaucracy’s fear that the crisis of the Soviet economy—which is the direct product of the reactionary and bankrupt policies of “socialism in one country”—will spark a revolutionary movement of the proletariat against the Kremlin parasites. As for Arafat, history will record that it was not Israeli tanks and bombers that provoked his capitulation, but the intifada of Palestinian workers and youth on the West Bank. That is, the emergence of the working class as the decisive force in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination has exposed the class divisions within the national movement and has compelled the Palestinian bourgeoisie to accept the same type of rotten deal with imperialism which has betrayed every movement for national liberation in the backward countries since the end of World War II.

But the capitulation of the PLO and the formal renunciation of socialist revolution by the Soviet bureaucracy are by no means cause for mourning. All class relations are becoming more distinct, and thus it is becoming easier to define the social interests served by different political tendencies. The working class is strengthened by the exposure of all political fictions. And as these political fictions are exposed, so are anti-Marxist revisionist charlatans who have opportunistically based their existence upon them.

A characteristic of virtually all the petty-bourgeois skeptics and cynics who have betrayed Trotskyism is that they habitually speak of the “crisis of the Fourth International.” This crisis, they contend, is expressed in the “failure” of the Fourth International to overcome its “isolation.” In one form or another, they claim that the source of this isolation has been the futile adherence to sectarian conceptions which are the product of another political era. Isaac Deutscher, who opposed the decision to found the Fourth International and later became one of the principal ideologists of modern opportunism, bluntly wrote more than 25 years ago that Trotsky’s failure was the failure of classical Marxism, which, Deutscher claimed, was rooted in its misguided faith in the revolutionary capacities of the proletariat and its all-too categorical condemnation of the Soviet bureaucracy. This, essentially, has been the political outlook of all opportunist revisions of Marxism throughout the postwar period. However, they vary in their precise formulations, all these revisionist conceptions were based on an uncritical adaptation to the political relations developed by imperialism in the aftermath of World War II to prevent the eruption of proletarian revolution.

The postwar economic expansion of capitalism would not have been possible without the specific political arrangements through which imperialist interests were safeguarded against the threat of socialist revolution. In return for the systematic betrayal of the proletariat of Western Europe, imperialist leaders recognized at the end of World War II the hegemony of the USSR in Eastern Europe. In order to placate the radicalized proletariat in the advanced capitalist countries, the bourgeoisie secured the collaboration of the social democrats in the implementation of Keynesian social welfare policies. In the backward countries, imperialism turned to the representatives of bourgeois nationalism to prevent the struggle for national liberation from being realized in the form of a socialist revolution led by the proletariat and resting on the support of the oppressed peasantry.

These postwar arrangements provided the material and social basis for the development of innumerable political illusions which dismissed the revolutionary role of the proletariat, grossly exaggerated the power of Stalinism, and mythologized the revolutionary and anti-imperialist capacities of bourgeois nationalism. These illusions found their most complete expression in the revisions of Trotskyism introduced into the Fourth International beginning in the early 1950s by the Pabloite opportunists.

In 1951, the secretary of the Fourth International, Michel Pablo, sought to substitute for Trotsky’s scientific definition of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a counterrevolutionary caste, the idealist theory of bureaucratic self-reform, and to replace the integrated world revolutionary strategy of the Fourth International with a series of national opportunist tactics. Sections of the Fourth International were instructed to surrender their independent banner, abandon their socialist program, and subordinate themselves to whatever political leadership—Stalinist or bourgeois nationalist—dominated the mass movement of any given country. This was how Pablo, Mandel and their supporters proposed to overcome the “isolation” of Trotskyism.

The International Committee was founded in 1953 to combat this pernicious opportunism which sought to liquidate the existing Trotskyist parties and cadre into the Stalinist and bourgeois nationalist movements. Thus for 35 of its 50 years, the Fourth International has been dominated by the life-and-death struggle against revisionism and opportunism. The bogus attempt in 1963 by the revisionist leadership of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Pabloite International Secretariat to “reunify” the Fourth International based upon opportunism and the explicit rejection of any discussion of the 1953 split proved an unmitigated fiasco, leading to only new splits within the ranks of Pabloism.

Far more importantly, however, the working class was forced to pay the price for this opportunist maneuver in rivers of blood. The immediate product of the bogus reunification was the entry of the LSSP, the Sri Lankan section of the Pabloite “international,” into a bourgeois coalition government in 1964, directly entering into the service of imperialism and the native bourgeoisie. In less than seven years, this party participated in the massacre of peasant youth who participated in the 1971 uprising.

In Latin America, the counterrevolutionary role of Pabloism was realized in the liquidation of the cadre assembled by the Fourth International into petty-bourgeois centrism and guerrilla adventurism. Thousands were led to their deaths and entire parties were destroyed in countries such as Chile, ensuring that no revolutionary Trotskyist alternative was presented to the working class under conditions in which Stalinist popular frontism was paving the way to horrific massacres by fascist-military regimes.

The Perspectives Resolution establishes that the inability of the Fourth International to take full advantage of the last wave of revolutionary crisis to engulf the capitalist world—between 1967 and 1975—was the product of the destructive role played by Pabloism within the Trotskyist movement. Thus, the essential lesson of this entire period of revolutions betrayed by Stalinism and Pabloite revisionism is that the preparation of the coming revolutionary struggles can only take place through the building of the Fourth International based on an unrelenting struggle against opportunism and centrism.

The fate of the American Socialist Workers Party demonstrated that the split of 1953 provided no guarantee against the danger of subsequent opportunist degeneration. Precisely because the growth of Pabloism was rooted in definite political and social relations, the defense of the Trotskyist program could be conducted only on the basis of a relentless theoretical, political and practical struggle against the social pressure exerted upon the Fourth International by imperialism, especially through the medium of its petty-bourgeois agencies. The International Committee was not immune from such pressures, and the internal divisions that have repeatedly emerged within it since 1953 have expressed the ongoing conflict between Trotskyism and those tendencies which have reflected the pressure of alien classes.

The International Committee of the Fourth International represents the continuity of Trotskyism not because its history represents some sort of mystical unfolding of “pure” Marxism, developing entirely apart from the conflicts and contradictions that inevitably arise in class society. No such vacuum-sealed political laboratory exists in the real world. Rather, we base our claim to continuity on the fact that the International Committee is the sole tendency whose entire history is bound up with the struggle against opportunism which initially erupted inside the Fourth International in 1953.

It is for this reason that the opportunist degeneration of the British Workers Revolutionary Party, whose leaders had themselves once led the fight against Pabloism and which was for many years the dominant organization within the ICFI, encountered ever greater and more conscious resistance. This resistance is recorded in documents which clearly opposed the opportunist line of the WRP leadership. Despite the efforts of the right-wing clique of Healy, Banda and Slaughter to suppress this opposition, it finally broke through in 1985. The majority of ICFI sections came out decisively against the betrayals of the WRP leadership, dealt a body blow to opportunism, and restored the authority of the internationalist program and principles of Trotskyism.

This decisive struggle, of which this Perspectives Resolution is the most important product, has inaugurated a new and redoubled struggle against Pabloite opportunism by the ICFI and thereby opened the way to the resolution of the crisis Pabloism created in the Fourth International for the past 35 years.