This is taken from a transcript of a report given by David North, the then national secretary of the Workers League, and today national chairman of the Socialist Equality Party, on August 30, 1988.
It is difficult to believe that less than three years have passed since the crisis which was to lead to a split with the Workers Revolutionary Party erupted inside the International Committee of the Fourth International. Since our own October Revolution of 1985, a vast transformation has taken place inside the International Committee. From the standpoint of Marxism, it is now clear that that split was the outcome of a protracted conflict between two irreconcilable tendencies that had developed inside the International Committee. One was a petty-bourgeois nationalist tendency, represented above all by Healy, Banda and Slaughter; and the other was a Marxist proletarian-internationalist tendency.
For more than a decade, the latter tendency had been suppressed by the opportunists who, as a result of their many years of experience and personal authority, dominated the International Committee. As far back as 1971, the Sri Lankan section had attempted to provoke a discussion on the political line of the International Committee; and there is even in existence today a document written by Comrade Wickremasinghe, alongside those of Comrade Keerthi, in which he warned that the position advanced by Michael Banda on the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 would have grave consequences for the International Committee. Later, between 1982 and 1984, the Workers League raised detailed and extensive criticisms of the Workers Revolutionary Party’s abandonment of the strategical gains won by the International Committee in the struggle against Pabloism.
The WRP leadership, resorting to the worst forms of political skullduggery, managed to hold back this challenge. But they won what proved to be a short-lived and pyrrhic victory. The price of their so-called victory was the complete political and moral disintegration of the leadership. By July 1985, years of accumulated contradictions in the political line of the WRP exploded in the form of a devastating organizational scandal. The organization then began to break down with astonishing speed into its myriad constituent parts. Virtually every disoriented petty bourgeois in the WRP represented his or her own individual political tendency.
In the incredible confusion which prevailed during those brisk days in October 1985, only the delegates representing the majority of the International Committee were able to understand the rapidly unfolding events, relate them to the entire historical experience of the Fourth International, and advance on that basis a Marxist program for the resolution of the crisis.
There is indeed no more explicit vindication of the power of Marxism as a method of political orientation than the documents produced during that period by the International Committee in the midst of a shattering crisis. While hysteria reigned within the camps of Healy, Banda and Slaughter and with the Clapham headquarters of the WRP strewn with all sorts of human wreckage, the International Committee majority was able to maintain complete scientific objectivity and explain, with almost Olympian detachment, the source of the crisis within the Workers Revolutionary Party. I quote from the resolution of October 25, 1985:
At the root of the present crisis which erupted with the exposure of the corrupt practices of G. Healy and the attempt by the WRP Political Committee to cover them up, is the prolonged drift of the WRP leadership away from the strategical task of the building of the world party of socialist revolution towards an increasingly nationalist perspective and practice....
Now the ICFI calls on all leaders and members of the WRP, whatever their legitimate political differences on perspective and program, to subordinate themselves to the discipline of our international movement and uphold its authority.
In the second resolution, dealing with the expulsion of Healy, the International Committee explained:
The political and personal degeneration of Healy can be clearly traced to his ever more explicit separation of the practical and organizational gains of the Trotskyist movement in Britain from the historically and internationally grounded struggles against Stalinism and revisionism from which these achievements arose.
Less than one month later, amidst growing signs that the WRP was preparing to break entirely from the ICFI, the central committee of the Workers League warned:
The basic source of our disagreement and the cause of the increasing friction between us is that the Workers Revolutionary Party leadership is not prepared to acknowledge, except in a verbal and platonic form, the authority of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Precisely because it does not recognize that the most essential feature of Healy’s political degeneration was his subordination of the international movement to the practical needs of the British section, the WRP leadership is in real danger of continuing, albeit in somewhat different form, the same nationalist-opportunist course....
In our opinion, the most important lesson of the present struggle that must be grasped by every cadre of the International Committee is the enormously reactionary practical implications of any retreat from the defense of Trotskyist principles and the struggle against all forms of revisionism.
There has been a remarkable consistency in our political line over the last three years. We recall these documents not to congratulate ourselves, but because they prove that the ICFI fought from the very beginning of the struggle against the WRP renegades on the basis of a genuine revolutionary internationalist line, from which we have at no point diverted. The forces which are present at this congress are those which have been assembled on the basis of the struggle for proletarian internationalism. It is first of all necessary that the objective significance of this congress be understood.
The composition of this congress, with its delegations from all over the world, expresses in the most concrete form the changes which have taken place during this last period. There has been a definite change in the International Committee. It is not the same organization it was in 1985. The departure of the WRP renegades and the petty-bourgeois nationalists from Greece, Spain and Peru marked the beginning of a qualitative transformation of the International Committee.
The international delegations assembled in this hall represent the crystallization of a new proletarian vanguard on a world scale around the revolutionary program of the International Committee of the Fourth International. It is the conscious expression of profound changes which are now taking place in international class relations and within the proletariat itself.
The main document which is being presented to this congress, the perspectives resolution of the International Committee, represents and explains these historic changes. In essence, this document deals with two fundamental and interrelated objective processes: the development of the world capitalist crisis, the crisis of the capitalist mode of production, and the crisis of revolutionary leadership in the proletariat —and, within that, the historic crisis of the Fourth International itself.
The document reviews the postwar development of world capitalism and analyzes the global contradictions that are rapidly preparing a new eruption of revolutionary struggles by the proletariat. It explains, from the actual changes which have taken place in the capitalist mode of production during the past 40 years, why the struggles of the proletariat will assume, to a historically unprecedented extent, an international character; and it reveals, therefore, the organic connection between the objectively determined form of the class struggle and the historical development of the Fourth International itself.
Moreover, in its exposition of the capitalist crisis, the document analyzes the relationship between the world economic situation and the historical development of the class struggle. We establish, if only in outline form, that world capitalism passed through the greatest revolutionary crisis in its history between 1968 and 1975; and that its survival was possible only through the betrayals of the working class by its leadership; and that the subsequent offensive against the working class by the international bourgeoisie is the product of these betrayals.
Furthermore, we examine these developments in relation to the history of the Fourth International, and in this way we reveal the significance of the protracted struggle within the Fourth International against Pabloite revisionism and opportunism.
I am sure that the delegates will agree that these sections of the document, especially paragraphs 33 through 58, mark a great advance in the International Committee’s comprehension of both the postwar period and especially the last 20 years, and the whole history of the Fourth International. For too many years, no serious discussion on the strategical experiences of the international working class was possible within the ICFI. The “theory” of the “undefeated working class” served to minimize the crisis of revolutionary leadership and justify an evasion of basic political and theoretical tasks. This theory was, in fact, the outcome of an ever more pronounced turn away from the struggle against Pabloism by the leadership of the British section in the aftermath of the 1963 split with the Pabloites. Indeed, this “theory” of the “undefeated working class” was largely borrowed from the Pabloites themselves, who generally employed such abstract characterizations of the historical process to justify their adaptation to Stalinism, social democracy and bourgeois nationalism.
Combined with regular denunciations of what they called propagandism, the theory of the “undefeated working class” became the basis for the development of unrestrained opportunism within the leadership of the British section. We now know the real content of those endless denunciations of propagandism: their purpose was to justify the suppression of Marxist theory and Trotskyist principles inside the International Committee. And it can be easily demonstrated that Healy’s “practice of cognition,” that is, the substitution of pragmatic intuition for Marxist analysis, flowed organically out of the campaign against “propagandism.”
This evaluation of the period of 1968 to 1975 as a period of betrayed revolutions provides the key to a concrete understanding of the present situation and the tasks which it poses to the revolutionary movement. To all the petty-bourgeois renunciationists, the 1980s represent the final and decisive triumph of capitalism. Regretting the excesses of their youth and craving respectability, they are eagerly donning business suits and, undeterred by the Wall Street crash, striving to make their fortunes. That particularly loathsome literary genre, the memoir of repentance, is once again in vogue. We have recently learned that none other than Tim Wohlforth has entered the literary sweepstakes, with a soon-to-be released book called The Prophet’s Children. A better title would be “How I learned to stop worrying and love imperialism.”
One is reminded of Cannon’s description of the renegades of the 1940s. He wrote of them: “One and all, these fugitives from the revolution think the late Thomas Wolfe was off base when he said, ‘You can’t go home again,’ and refute him with pragmatic proof: ‘We can and we did.’ To anyone who values and respects human dignity, they present a most unattractive spectacle. Their performance borders on obscenity when they take time out from ballyhooing the ‘Truman Doctrine’ to deliver little homilies about ‘independence’ and to expatiate, like any hypocritical crook, mammon-serving sky pilot or confidence man on the well-known virtues of ‘morality.’ They are just about as independent—and just about as moral —as advertising copy-writers or the authors of radio commercials, including the singing variety.”
One couldn’t say it better.
Indeed, as one surveys the social character of these renunciationists, one is continually astonished, and we’re learning more and more about them. And not long ago, a trial took place in Leeds in which we learned that the offspring of Mr. Slaughter has been engaged in activities with fascist thugs, organizing attacks on blacks throughout England. The case of Patrick Slaughter has become a veritable cause of the Workers Revolutionary Party, which informs us that this is a struggle which must be taken up within the revolutionary movement. Well, we’ve given our answer to that preposterous claim.
In opposition to the wave of renunciation, the International Committee has now analyzed the underlying political events upon which the temporary restabilization of capitalism in the late 1970s and 1980s was based. The vast Latin American debt and the resulting destitution of millions of workers and peasants are not merely the outcome of abstract economic processes. All economic processes are mediated through the struggle of social classes. The conditions of the 1980s in Latin America are the direct product of the defeats of the Bolivian, Chilean and Argentine workers. Indeed, the working class all over the world, including in the United States, has been paying the price for the betrayals of its leadership.
It is precisely this relationship between the developing contradictions of world capitalism and the crisis of revolutionary leadership that invests this congress with such vast importance. At long last, at what is a very crucial turning point in the world economic and political crisis of capitalism, the ICFI is consciously assimilating the essential strategical lessons of the most important experiences through which the international working class and the Fourth International have passed, especially during the last 20 years. We are in the process of analyzing the past period as Trotsky did the period between 1923 and 1938. He answered all those who proclaimed that the defeats of the working class had proved the organic incapacity of the working class to take power by explaining the objective conditions which gave rise to Stalinism and the causes for the subsequent defeats of the working class. He insisted, on this basis, that the answer to the problems of the working class lay in the resolution of the crisis of leadership.
Now, after many years, it has become possible, as the product of the struggle which has been waged inside the International Committee, for this committee to look back upon the last 20 years and begin a concrete analysis of the bitter experiences of the working class in every part of the world; to explain the causes of the defeats in Chile, in Bolivia, in Argentina; to analyze the role of Pabloism; and to demonstrate that the present situation is the product of these previous betrayals. Indeed, the working class confronted between 1968 and 1975 an unparalleled, really historically unprecedented series of opportunities to take the power. The victory of the working class in any one of a number of countries would have transformed the world situation.
Who can claim that the 1980s would be anything like what they have been had the working class in Chile successfully taken the power? What would have been the consequences of a Chilean revolution for the struggles in Britain, the struggles in Portugal, the struggles in Spain? Would not such a victory —which was eminently possible, even as late as June 1973, when the Chilean workers in response to an aborted military coup seized all the factories and began to mobilize in the hundreds and thousands—have had profound international reverberations? What would have been the consequences had the Chilean workers not been blocked by the Pabloites, by the Stalinists and by the social democrats? We’ll speak later in this congress more explicitly about some of these experiences, but it must be stressed here that if it were not for the liquidationist policies pursued by the Pabloites in Latin America from 1963 on, the direct product of the reunification organized by Hansen and Mandel, there is no question but that the policies of Allende could have been defeated and the working class could have been successfully mobilized to take the power.
When we grasp in concrete terms the actual experiences of the working class, then this sort of frozen appearance, to which all renegades submit, dissolves and we can see the real dynamic in terms of the class struggle upon which the long protracted stabilization of capitalism was based. It didn’t just fall from the sky. The working class is paying the price for those betrayals, just as the working class paid the price for previous betrayals.
The very fact that we now are beginning to make a detailed assessment of these experiences signifies that as a class, the proletariat is beginning to assimilate its own history, and on this basis preparing for the next wave of struggle.
The struggle between political tendencies is, as historical materialism has established, an expression in the political superstructure of essential changes in the economic base of society. It is in this way that we comprehend the history of the Fourth International, and it has been documented in The Heritage We Defend. At every point, the struggle within the Fourth International reflects shifts in class relations. They cannot be explained in any other way. Something so fundamental as the movement of Healy, Banda and Slaughter into the camp of Stalinism and popular frontism has profound historical significance. There can be no question that the split of 1985 arose out of fundamental changes in the economic base which have, in the period since the split, become far more apparent.
The developments in the mode of production, which we have carefully analyzed, have brought to a head the fundamental contradiction between the globalization of world production and the nation-state system. The modification which was introduced last year at the Workers League’s summer camp has been completely justified. The very contradiction upon which we placed such emphasis last year and in this document is now the dominant preoccupation of every government. Moreover, that contradiction announced itself in a most explosive way not long after that camp—in the Wall Street crash of October 19, 1987.
All over the world, for reasons deeply rooted in the economic crisis, the bourgeoisie is seeking to mobilize the middle class and the more backward layers of the proletariat around the banner of nationalism. The Marxists, on the other hand, are rallying the working class on the basis of revolutionary internationalism, in opposition to the nation-state. The conflict between revolutionary socialism and petty-bourgeois radicalism finds its most essential expression in the struggle between proletarian internationalism and petty-bourgeois nationalism. Imperialism assigns to its servants among the petty-bourgeois radicals the task of inciting national chauvinism within the workers’ movement. Attempting to fulfill this role, the WRP renegades direct their fire against the internationalism of the International Committee. Thus, in an extremely important recently published article which appeared in the Newsline of Ms. Sheila Torrance, Ray Athow mocks the emphasis placed by the Workers League’s election platform on the struggle for proletarian internationalism. He quotes the following passage from our platform:
“In order to defeat the capitalists, who operate on a global scale, the American workers must adopt an international revolutionary strategy and unite their struggles with those of their class brothers in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Regardless of their country, language, religion or skin color, workers share the same concerns and confront the same capitalist enemy.”
This seems very trite to Athow. He writes: “We don’t want to belittle North’s contribution to ‘Marxism’, but Marx himself did put this question more briefly 140 years ago when he declared: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ “.
So, that settles it! What more is there to add to what was said on the subject 141 years ago? It does not occur to Athow that the historical development of the bourgeois mode of production and the class struggle itself has invested this phrase with a far richer content than that which it had in 1847.
Nor does he ponder the fact that it has proven far more difficult than even Marx could have envisaged to establish the international unity of the proletariat. No less than four Internationals have been devoted to this task. The First, given the historical conditions of its existence, could do no more than theoretically anticipate the development of the proletariat as an international class.
The Second International arose on the basis of national labor movements whose existence were bound up with the consolidation of the national state system in Europe and North America. Only in a formal sense could the practice of its main sections in Western Europe be described as truly internationalist. Ultimately, the Second International fell victim to the pressures exerted by the national state upon the indigenous labor movements.
The Third International, which arose on the basis of a rebellion of the proletarian internationalists against the social chauvinists in the leadership of the Second, articulated the historical tasks of the international proletariat in the new epoch of imperialism. However, it was destroyed by the betrayal of proletarian internationalism by a bureaucracy which proclaimed a national road to socialism.
The Fourth International, founded by Trotsky as the World Party of Socialist Revolution, has spent 35 of its 50 years fighting revisionist tendencies which, in the final analysis, based themselves on different forms of national opportunism.
Thus, it is not enough to repeat the words “Workers of the world, unite.” First of all, the content of internationalism must be derived and developed from a study of the concrete evolution of world economy and its impact upon the class struggle. Like all scientific Marxist concepts, that of internationalism has evolved in accordance with the objective development of the world capitalist system.
In the epoch of the Second International, there existed a real historically-determined gulf between the slogan advanced by Marx at the very dawn of the international workers’ movement and the given stage of capitalist development within which the new mass working class parties were taking shape. Within the framework of the national state in the last decade of the nineteenth century, there were still progressive tasks which preoccupied the immediate attention of the young social democratic parties and largely determined the character of their practical work.
But that period of organic development, which witnessed the cooptation of the social democratic leaders by the capitalist nation-state, came to an end in 1914. An epoch of world politics announced itself with the eruption of the first global imperialist war. But it would be a manifestation of hopeless formalism not to notice that the capitalist world has undergone a vast transformation during the last 75 years.
In the world in which Lenin lived, there were large portions of the globe where capitalist industry was only making its first appearance and where the proletariat hardly existed as an independent social force. Of course, the tendencies toward economic integration and the dissolution of the nation-state system were already present; but, compared to the present level of development, such tendencies now appear relatively primitive.
But today, the globalization of production has attained awesome dimensions. It is shattering the entire national state system and, with it, any possibility for the progressive development of the working class within the framework of a national policy. The concept of internationalism must incorporate the level attained by the global development of the productive forces. That is, it must serve as the theoretical foundation for the practical, concrete and conscious unification of the international proletariat.
Athow, the mouthpiece for the petty-bourgeois British chauvinists of the WRP, cannot recognize this essential theoretical premise of a genuine revolutionary practice. Insofar as he is even prepared to acknowledge internationalism, it is only as a holiday phrase, a few words written by Marx in 1847. But that internationalism constitutes the foundation of the daily practice of the Marxist party, regardless of the bourgeois national entity within which it happens to work, is a concept which strikes Athow as utterly incomprehensible.
Thus, he writes that the “almost religious nature of this [Election] program is revealed by statements such as ‘the Workers League brings to the labor movement in the United States the strategy of world socialist revolution.’” Athow simply doesn’t know what we’re talking about. How can you bring to a national labor movement the strategy of world socialist revolution? What is that supposed to mean?
Athow continues: “North’s schema, the ‘Simple Simon’s approach to socialism,’ is that in every country of the world, except the Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe, you have capitalism, with workers fighting capitalists, and the answer is the world struggle for socialism.” Now he thinks he’s insulting us. He thinks he’s made a powerful point. We have been duly chastised. Everyone who reads Athow’s article is supposed to nod his head and say, “Yes, the Workers League has really gone off the deep end.” It seems as plain as day to Athow that there is no such thing as “the world struggle for socialism.” Indeed, from his standpoint, there is no international proletariat as such. Rather, there are only self-contained struggles of various national working classes, arising from the peculiar and exceptional conditions which exist within each given country. On this basis, Athow announces: “The world revolution only develops through its national parts.” I want to repeat this: “The world revolution only develops through its national parts.”
For Athow, the “world revolution” (and he never speaks of world socialist revolution) is a mere abstraction—a mental category that refers only to the accumulation of “concrete,” “national revolutions.” Considered from the standpoint of philosophical method, the world socialist revolution occupies for Athow the same position that the universal does in the thinking of neo-Kantians, that is, they see it merely as a subjective category of thought, not as a reflection in the human mind of an objective property of the material world.
Insofar as Athow’s formula has any rational political content, it reflects the type of reactionary national socialism to which the declassed petty-bourgeois radical tends to gravitate. It is quite appropriate to note that the policies of Hitler, the epitome of the declassed petty bourgeois, sought to create a national economic autarchy.
Now for Marxists, the world socialist revolution is not a mere accretion of “national revolutions” any more than the “world economy” is the sum total of national economies. The world economy is a gigantic force which, in this historical epoch, constitutes the supreme reality. It doesn’t simply manifest itself in national economies, but rises above them and, in a fundamental sense, determines the fate of its national branches. Indeed, the world economy as such has entered into profound contradiction with the vestigial national organs which are the decaying remnants of an earlier historical stage in the development of capitalism as a world system.
Likewise, the world socialist revolution is not simply the sum of national revolutions. Were it merely that, then the concept of world socialist revolution would hardly be of any special significance, inasmuch as it would only be used to describe a completed process. But the world socialist revolution is itself a definite historical epoch, not a series of isolated events. It is a world epoch. The “national parts” develop in accordance with the laws which govern this world historical process.
Each “national revolution” arises, at any rate, only within the context of a very definite set of international relations. The tasks which confront the working class —which is the international class—are essentially determined by the nature of the epoch. Thus, the socialist character of the Russian Revolution was determined not by the national development of the productive forces within Russia, but by the international development of capitalism.
If the world revolution exists only as the accumulation of national revolutions, what then is the basis of the World Party of Socialist Revolution? What need is there for an international party if world socialism is simply realized on the basis of an unconnected succession of national struggles, or national struggles which are only linked through moral solidarity or a vague form of political sympathy? The necessity of the world party flows precisely from the fact that the world socialist revolution must be fought for and can only be realized as the consciously integrated and unified struggle of the international proletariat.
The world socialist revolution seems abstract only to those whose political outlook is based upon an ignorant, uncritical acceptance of the historical forms of capitalist development, the old worshipping of the accomplished fact. It never occurs to such philistines that there once was a time when the concept of national unity, as opposed to the existing reality of feudal particularism, appeared utterly abstract. Christendom, based on the theological supremacy of the Mother Church, was the only true universal in the Middle Ages.
The Torrance group epitomizes the nationalism upon which the WRP was based, and from which the International Committee has irrevocably broken. If we put aside all the secondary features of the split and the immediate circumstances which attended it, what we are left with is a division between petty-bourgeois nationalists and proletarian internationalists. The collapse of the WRP represented the inevitable, historically necessary shipwreck of the nationalist perspective which guided its work: the conception that the world party was merely the byproduct of the growth of the British organization. The national orientation provided the soil for the growth of a whole series of opportunist practices which were justified as the necessary means for the building of the national revolutionary party, the so-called national revolutionary party; the two are a contradiction in terms.
There exists an indissoluble connection between nationalism and opportunism. Only on the basis of proletarian internationalism can the historically-developed framework of bourgeois rule, whose basic unit is the national state, be transcended. It is no accident that the outcome of Torrance’s formula—”The world revolution only develops through its national parts”—is the subordination of the proletariat of every country to its own national bourgeoisie.
The conflict between the ICFI and the renegades is nothing less than the most conscious manifestation of the contradiction between the historical interests of the proletariat as the international class and the national chauvinist policy which is strangling the workers’ movement in each country. The present-day crisis of the workers’ movement on a world scale signifies, above all else, the utter bankruptcy of all national-reformist perspectives.
The ferocious competition between various national and continental blocs of capitalists requires, as a matter of urgent necessity, the complete integration of the workers’ organizations into the productive mechanisms of state-finance capital. There exists no room for independent, or even quasi-independent, reformist labor organizations. Trade unions are being directly transformed into instruments through which the intensified exploitation of the proletariat in the interest of the national state is realized. Herein lies the source of the prostration of all the existing labor bureaucracies. The search for national solutions to the international crisis leads inevitably to the subordination of each national labor movement to the trade-war policies of the bourgeoisie. There is no way out of this impasse except on the basis of revolutionary internationalism, and we mean by this not the invocation of holiday phrases. The supreme strategical task that confronts the Trotskyist movement is the unification of the working class of the entire world into what Trotsky once referred to as “a single international proletarian organization of revolutionary action having one world center and one world political orientation.”
We do not conceive of this as some sort of utopian mission. Our scientific analysis of the epoch and the nature of the present world crisis convinces us not only that this unification of the proletariat is possible; but also that only a party whose daily work is based upon this strategical orientation can become rooted in the working class. We anticipate that the next stage of proletarian struggles will develop inexorably, beneath the combined pressure of objective economic tendencies and the subjective influence of Marxists, along an internationalist trajectory. The proletariat will tend more and more to define itself in practice as an international class; and the Marxian internationalists, whose policies are the expression of this organic tendency, will cultivate this process and give it conscious form.
Allow me to stress this last point. A Marxist perspective is always rooted in objective reality—though be it understood that we make a distinction between reality and appearance. The latter is only an incomplete, contradictory and transient manifestation of the former. The perspective is only correct to the extent that it is derived from a scientific analysis of the relations of production within capitalism and, on that basis, anticipates the necessary forms of the development of the class struggle. I am convinced that the perspective of the ICFI is precisely such a correct anticipation of the general features of the coming struggles of the working class.
At this point, let me stress one crucial lesson that we have learned from the history of the International Committee. A split is always a milestone in the struggle against revisionism, but woe to the party that rests content upon its laurels. Revisionism, having been thrown out through the front door, will make its way back into the party, if not through the back door, then through cracks in the windows. The defeat of the external enemy must be of necessity followed by the struggle to internally assimilate, as profoundly as possible, the lessons of that struggle. We can’t simply meet year after year as veterans of the class of ’85, and talk about the glorious good ol’ days of the struggle against the WRP renegades.
The tragic fact is that if you keep on doing that, one day you’ll find yourself amongst them. And then you too will be writing articles about the tragic mistakes which were made in 1985. I’m not saying this as a personal rebuke, this is an objective historical law. We’ve all seen it many times in our own experiences. No one thought, Healy least of all, that he would one day find himself not just back in the camp of the Pabloites, but sitting in Red Square alongside of the worst traitors to the international working class, the Stalinist bureaucracy. Herein lies the significance of the past period of political discussion within the ICFI and its sections. Having broken with the national opportunism of the WRP, we have been able to make great advances toward dissolving the national barriers between the sections of the ICFI and creating unparalleled conditions for the construction of the Fourth International as the World Party of Socialist Revolution.
The emphasis which we place on internationalism is utterly incomprehensible to petty-bourgeois chauvinists like Athow. He dismisses internationalism as an abstraction; and places primary emphasis on the national struggle for socialism. His conception is really no different from the position which developed inside the Second International and which led ultimately to social patriotism. The development of this social patriotism in the Second International took the form of the ever more open subordination of international proletarian solidarity to the more immediate and concrete requirements of the national struggle against the local bourgeoisie. Let me cite an extremely important illustration of this process.
At the founding congress of the Second International in Paris in 1889, May 1 was established as the international day of the proletariat. It was proposed that mass demonstrations be called in support of the international socialist revolution. However, while the overwhelming majority accepted the principle of an international proletarian holiday, a number of differences emerged.
The Germans argued that they couldn’t organize mass demonstrations on May 1 because it was a work day and it would be illegal to call a nationwide stoppage. Thus, it was accepted as a compromise that the holiday could be celebrated either on Sundays or in evening meetings held after work. Also, rather than organizing the celebrations on the basis of the international socialist revolution, it was proposed that the theme be centered on a more practical demand which corresponded to the more immediate tasks of workers in different countries, i.e., the struggle for the eight-hour day.
As Trotsky would later explain, “The May Day holiday gradually turned from a means of struggle of the world proletariat into a means of struggle of the workers of each separate country for their local interests.”
This raises a very profound issue: If the education of the working class is about the development of class consciousness, the transformation of the proletariat into a historically self-conscious class depends, above all, upon its self-identification as a class which possesses no country.
Therefore, in defining the responsibilities of the proletarian vanguard, Trotsky insisted that its responsibility was “to put forward and defend the overall interests of the whole proletariat in its totality independent of nationality. This is the very task which the socialist parties during the period of the Second International did not fulfill and this had a direct influence on the fate of the May Day holiday.” Let us consider this phrase used by Trotsky, “the whole proletariat in its totality independent of nationality.” That is the only scientific definition of the working class. The working class as a class cannot be conscious of itself, cannot be truly class-conscious in a scientific sense if it identifies itself as American, British, French, Italian, Brazilian, Argentine.
Of course, workers live in different countries, but the class-conscious worker defines himself from the standpoint of his class being, not his nationality, in its totality. Class consciousness can only arise on the basis of the struggle for proletarian internationalism.
The struggle for class consciousness in the proletariat means elevating the working class and its consciousness above the national state, explaining to the working class that it is the abolition of the nation-state system and the worldwide consolidation of the proletariat that is its supreme historical goal.
It is significant that following the October Revolution, Trotsky proposed that May Day 1918 be celebrated in a manner radically different than it had been prior to 1914. Emphasizing the need to “subordinate the interests of each country to the general interests of the international proletarian movement,” Trotsky proposed that the slogans of May Day throughout the world be: (1) The Third International; (2) The Dictatorship of the Proletariat; (3) The World Soviet Republic; and (4) The Socialist Revolution (The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. One, pp. 19-22).
The historical development of opportunism inside the Marxist movement has again and again taken the form of separating socialism from its internationalist essence. That is true not only in the Second and Third, but also in the Fourth International. As we point out in the perspectives resolution, Pablo sought to dissolve the international program into a series of national programs of action based on prevailing local conditions. And what was the justification? This was the best means of developing the fight against capitalist property relations in the given country, separated from the struggle for the international unity of the working class as a class.
We have stressed the issue of internationalism in this report. It is the essence of the perspective and the heart of the struggle to finally overcome the devastating impact of opportunism upon the Fourth International. As is stated in section 169 of the resolution:
Revolutionary internationalism is the political antipode of opportunism. In one form or another, opportunism expresses a definite adaptation to the so-called realities of political life as it takes shape within a given national environment. Opportunism, forever in search of shortcuts, elevates one or another national tactic above the fundamental program of the world socialist revolution. Considering the program of ‘world socialist revolution’ too abstract, the opportunist hankers after supposedly more concrete tactical initiatives. Not only does the opportunist choose to ‘forget’ the international character of the working class. He also ‘overlooks’ the fact that the crisis in each country, having its essential origin in contradictions which are objectively of a global character, can only be resolved on the basis of an internationalist program. No national tactic, however significant its role in the political arsenal of the party (e.g., the Workers League’s call for the formation of a Labor Party, or the placing of demands on the Labor ‘lefts’ by the Socialist Labour League in Australia), can preserve its revolutionary content if it is either elevated above or, what amounts to the same thing, detached from, the world strategy of the International Committee. Thus, the central historic contribution which the sections of the International Committee make to the workers’ movement in the countries in which they operate is the collective and unified struggle for the perspective of world socialist revolution.
This congress is the outcome of what I believe has been a successful struggle to raise the international program throughout the International Committee and to develop a consciousness of this program and the international tasks of the movement within every cadre of our party. That itself is a great gain. It’s not enough to have agreement among a few leaders. As Trotsky said, every cadre must consider himself an officer in the army of the proletariat. Every member of our movement must clearly understand the perspectives.
This congress is not some formal affair. We wish to consolidate the gains of this struggle within the membership of the Workers League and among all our international comrades, and we believe in the coming period, it will be necessary for similar congresses to be held in each section so that the gains of this struggle can be consolidated in all the sections of the IC. And that we have in this way established a firm international foundation, that is, one party, one program, one discipline; a discipline based above all on profound political and ideological agreement. That’s what we want.
We don’t have to introduce special resolutions giving anyone special authority. This is a party based on a program, not on individual leaders. Cadre must learn to fight intransigently for that program against all opponents, under all conditions. We are convinced that this will create the conditions for the organization of the working class on a world scale. Yes, we place great emphasis on the necessity of organizing higher forms of international solidarity—not holiday events, like a few bureaucrats walking across the border at El Paso to send sympathy to Mexican workers. We believe that it will be necessary in the coming period, and it will take place, for workers to unify the different struggles they face against the multinational organizations of the bourgeoisie. And certainly the entrance of workers into such forms of struggle would express a far higher level of consciousness than simply the formation of a labor party-type organization in the United States. International organization will arise out of the development of international consciousness in the working class, when workers identify the struggles of workers of other countries as their own struggles and consciously break with the nation-state form of organization.
In conclusion, I would like to say something about the way we conceive of program. We have sought in this resolution to sum up the experiences of our movement, not simply to provide a few handy slogans which may be useful for the immediate work which we have to carry out. Here too, we must return to the irrepressible Ray Athow, who has forgotten nothing that he was taught by his master. He writes:
Proceeding from the past to the present North is mainly concerned with seeking ‘correct’ perspectives for situations long ago. His 500-page tome, ‘The Heritage We Defend’ epitomizes this. Workers, peasants and youth seeking a ‘manual of action’ in the advanced capitalist countries or in the semi-colonial nations, will find only a ‘catalogue of truisms’ and subjective distortions.
This is the ignorant voice of the petty-bourgeois radical pragmatist who has no practical need for, and therefore no interest in, history. He operates exclusively on the level of the immediate, and he considers program to be nothing more than a set of agitational demands and slogans that are useful in a given situation. For such pragmatists, history is, as Henry Ford once put it, “bunk.”
But for Marxists, the program arises out of a profound assimilation of the world historical experiences in which the revolutionary workers’ movement is rooted. The party’s program can only take shape through a critique of the past, which reveals the process out of which this “present” emerged. Detached from its historical roots, the “present” is a mere facade, an appearance without texture, without depth and without truth.
Let us quote from Hegel, who has been greatly abused and misrepresented by the Healyites. Hegel understood very well the relationship of history to the present. And when comrades listen to this quote, they will understand the profundity of Hegel’s historical conceptions and his relation to modern dialectical materialism. You must compensate for the idealist formulations. He wrote:
The acts of thought appear at first to be a matter of history, and, therefore, things of the past, and outside our real history. But in reality we are what we are through history: or, more accurately, as in the history of Thought, what has passed away is only one side, so in the present, what we have as a permanent possession is essentially bound up with our place in history. This possession of self-conscious reason, which belongs to us of the present world, did not arise suddenly, nor did it grow only from the soil of the present. This possession must be regarded as previously present, as an inheritance, and as the result of labor—the labor of all past generations of men. Just as the arts of outward life, the accumulated skill and invention, the customs and arrangements of social and political life, are the result of the thought, care, and needs, of the want and misery, of the ingenuity, the plans and achievements of those who preceded us in history, so, likewise, in science, and specially in Philosophy, do we owe what we are to the tradition which, as Herder has put it, like a holy chain runs through all that was transient, and has therefore passed away. Thus has been preserved and transmitted to us what antiquity produced.
But this tradition is not only a stewardess who simply guards faithfully that which she has received, and thus delivers it unchanged to posterity, just as the course of nature in the infinite change and activity of its forms ever remains constant to its original laws and makes no step in advance. Such tradition is no motionless statue, but is alive, and swells like a mighty river, which increases in size the further it advances from its source. The content of this tradition is that which the intellectual world has brought forth, and the universal Mind does not remain stationary. But it is just the universal Mind with which we have to do...
[Its] activity presupposes a material already present, on which it acts, and which it does not merely augment by the addition of new matter, but completely fashions and transforms. Thus that which each generation has produced in science and in intellectual activity, is an heirloom to which all the past generations have added their savings, a temple in which all races of men thankfully and cheerfully deposit that which rendered aid to them through life, and which they had won from the depths of Nature and of Mind. To receive this inheritance is also to enter upon its use. It constitutes the soul of each successive generation, the intellectual substance of the time; its principles, prejudices, and possessions; and this legacy is degraded to a material which becomes metamorphosed by Mind. In this manner that which is received is changed, and the material worked upon is both enriched and preserved at the same time.
This is the function of our own and of every age: to grasp the knowledge which is already existing, to make it our own, and in so doing to develop it still further and to raise it to a higher level. In thus appropriating it to ourselves we make it into something different from what it was before. On the presupposition of an already existing intellectual world which is transformed in our appropriation of it, depends the fact that Philosophy can only arise in connection with previous Philosophy, from which of necessity it has arisen. The course of history does not show us the Becoming of things foreign to us, but the Becoming of ourselves and of our own knowledge (History of Philosophy, pp. 2-3).
I believe that on this date, just a few days short of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding congress of the Fourth International, this quotation is eminently relevant, and we should see ourselves and we should see this congress as the inheritors of this very rich legacy of political struggle and principle bequeathed to us by Leon Trotsky and all those who have fought for the principles of Marxism in the workers’ movement.