International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1990): 50 years since the assassination of Trotsky


Fifty years since assassination of Leon Trotsky

The murder of Leon Trotsky was the culmination of the bloody campaign undertaken by the Stalinist bureaucracy to physically exterminate the Bolshevik leaders who had led the October Revolution of 1917. Between August 1936, with the opening of the first witch-hunt trials in Moscow, and the assassination of Trotsky four years later, every significant representative of Marxism in the Soviet Union was put to death. Admiring Stalin’s work from afar, the fascist dictator Mussolini commented that neither he nor Hitler had murdered as many communists.

Trotsky’s death, during the first year of the Second World War, struck a devastating blow to the working class. It removed from the political scene the last and most brilliant representative of a luminous political culture of “classical” Marxism—revolutionary and internationalist, profoundly rooted in the genuine theoretical heritage of Marx and Engels—out of which the Bolshevik Party had emerged. The very timing of the assassination expressed the intense fear which Trotsky inspired in both imperialism and its Stalinist lackeys. All the representatives of international reaction, from Hitler and Stalin to Roosevelt, feared that the misery produced by war would, as it had in 1917, transform Trotsky from a political exile into the tribune of world socialist revolution.

Just days before the outbreak of World War II, the international press reported the text of a conversation held between Hitler and the French ambassador to Germany, Coulondre. In reply to Hitler’s angry threats, Coulondre asked the fascist dictator if he realized that the real victor in event of war might prove to be Trotsky. Upon hearing these words Hitler became apoplectic, and shouted: “I know, but why did France and Britain give Poland complete freedom of action?”

Reviewing this dialogue Trotsky observed: “Both of them, Coulondre and Hitler, represent the barbarism which advances over Europe. At the same time neither of them doubts that their barbarism will be conquered by socialist revolution. Such is now the awareness of the ruling classes of all the capitalist countries of the world.”

Even more frightened of Trotsky than Hitler and the “democratic” imperialists was Stalin and his coterie of Kremlin gangsters. As long as Trotsky remained alive, he would continue to embody not only the program and ideals of October, but also the Soviet masses’ seething hatred of the bureaucratic despotism led by the gravedigger of the Russian Revolution, Stalin. All the efforts employed by Stalin over the previous 17 years to silence Trotsky—the persecution of his coworkers, expulsion, exile, the deprivation of his Soviet citizenship, the murder of his cothinkers and children—had failed. Nothing was left in Stalin’s arsenal but the blow of an assassin; and the organization of that crime was entrusted to a special section of the GPU which had at its disposal the resources of the entire Soviet state. The assassin, Ramon Mercader del Rio, was only one of scores of agents in Europe and the Americas involved in the conspiracy to murder Trotsky. And while the death squads prepared to deliver the final blow, the Stalinist parties all over the world worked feverishly to create the necessary political climate for the assassination. The press of every Stalinist party was filled with slanderous denunciations of Trotsky that grew increasingly hysterical in the final weeks leading up to the assassination.

After the murder was carried out, the Stalinist press attempted to portray Mercader as a “disgruntled Trotskyite” while at the same time hailing his deed. The reaction of the Daily Worker, organ of the British Communist Party, was typical. “With the passing of Leon Trotsky,” it wrote on August 23, 1940, “the counter-revolution has lost one of its outstanding organizers and demagogues.... His hatred of Stalin became unbridled and he degenerated, as was proved in the Moscow Trials, into a Quisling, prepared to betray the socialist fatherland in return for a lease of power as a Fascist vassal in the remnants of a dismembered Soviet Union.”

But despite the assassination of Trotsky, the Stalinist bureaucracy could not destroy his political legacy. In the face of almost unbelievable obstacles, Trotsky had succeeded in laying down the theoretical, political and organizational foundations of the Fourth International. Reflecting upon his own life, Trotsky considered his struggle to found the Fourth International to be his most important contribution to the revolutionary workers’ movement, and this judgment was undoubtedly correct That Trotsky’s role in the preparation and organization of the October Revolution and then in the organization and leadership of the Red Army was of historic dimensions is beyond legitimate dispute. Indeed, with the exception of Lenin, there is no figure whose role even approached that of Trotsky in the founding and defense of the first workers’ state. And yet, given the presence of Lenin in 1917, it is debatable whether or not the victory of the October Revolution depended upon Trotsky. While the speedy victory of the Bolsheviks on October 24-25, 1917 was largely attributable—as Stalin himself declared, to his later regret, in early 1924—to Trotsky’s masterful tactics, the overthrow of the Provisional Government would probably have been successful even if its organization had been directed by a less brilliant leader. The same might be said, though perhaps with even considerably less certainty, of the construction of the Red Army and its victory over the imperialist-supported counterrevolution.

But the creation of the Fourth International was a task of an entirely different historical magnitude—comparable only to Lenin’s creation of the Bolshevik Party. Trotsky represented the sole and irreplaceable human link in the Marxist chain of historical continuity. At a time of the most devastating defeats of the international working class and the monstrous degradation of Marxism at the hands of a bureaucracy armed not only with the resources of a powerful state, but also with the prestige of the October Revolution, Trotsky had to defend, under conditions of terrible isolation, the theoretical and political heritage of Marxism. With unflinching scientific objectivity, Trotsky explained the causes of the degeneration of the October Revolution and analyzed the contradictory nature of history’s greatest enigma, the Soviet Union.

The greatness of Trotsky’s theoretical work perhaps can be appreciated when one considers the astonishing immediacy of Trotsky’s writings and program. Without detracting from the monumental and enduring character of their work, it can be said that the political writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin all bear the stamp of their time, of the specific historical context and stage of the class struggle within which their work unfolded. In a general sense, that is, of course, true for Trotsky as well. And yet there is nothing “dated” about Trotsky’s works. It is hard to believe that his Revolution Betrayed was written 54 years ago, or the Transitional Program (the founding document of the Fourth International) 52 years ago. These remain contemporary political documents in the most concrete sense of the word. Even today, a thoughtful reader who studied only Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed would have a far more profound and “up-to-date” understanding of the nature of the Gorbachev regime and the political implications of its perestroika than one who waded systematically through the hundreds of volumes produced on the subject by Sovietologists during the last five years.

To borrow a metaphor from Trotsky, only those who stand on the greatest heights can scan such great distances. While the petty-bourgeois academics and pundits, not to mention the sundry representatives of the countless shades of opportunism that infest the present-day labor movement, have difficulty seeing beyond their own noses, Trotsky’s thought sweeps majestically across decades. But the exceptional immediacy of Trotsky’s writings and teachings cannot be explained only, or even primarily, by reference to his genius: it is, above all, an expression of the fact that the specific political phenomena and problems with which Trotsky grappled remain those which still confront the international working class. He is a man of our times. For all the vast changes which have taken place during the last half-century, the essential features, issues and, we might add, basic vocabulary of political life have not been fundamentally altered. Despite the passage of 50 years, 1940 and 1990 are part of the same political epoch.

Fifty years after the death of Marx and Engels, the character of international and working class politics had been profoundly altered by the advent of the imperialist epoch. When Marx died in 1883, the international workers’ movement was still in the early stages of its development and the Second International had not even been founded. A half-century later, in 1933, not only the Second International but also the Third lay in ruins. When Engels died in 1895, the newly formed Second International was still summoning the international proletariat to resist the incipient tendency toward capitalist militarism. The new and powerful parties of the working class marched proudly under the banner of Marxism and had not yet been internally corroded by opportunism.

By 1945 capitalism had long since entered its imperialist stage and had plunged mankind into two wars of unprecedented global destruction. As for the mass working class parties, social democratic and Stalinist alike, the development of opportunism had for several decades progressed far beyond theoretical revisions. Rather, it had, on a mass scale, produced a political phenomenon with which Marx and Engels were entirely unfamiliar: the direct collaboration of ostensibly working class parties in the bourgeois counterrevolution and the bloody suppression of the proletariat.

This last phenomenon was, of course, witnessed by Lenin; and he was the first to explain the historic significance of August 4, 1914 and establish the organic link between imperialism and the malignant growth of opportunism in the workers’ movement. But at the time of his death in January 1924, the degeneration of the Soviet regime and the Third International was only in its initial stages and its immense impact on the fate of the world communist movement and the international class struggle could not yet be foreseen. The terms “Stalinism” and “degenerated workers’ state” did not yet exist as political concepts.

The tragic experiences of the years between Lenin’s death and the founding of the Fourth International in 1938—the growth of the Soviet bureaucracy and its usurpation of political power, the destruction of the Bolshevik Party, the proclamation of the theory of “socialism in one country,” the subsequent defeats of the working class in Asia and Europe, the victory of Hitler and the collapse of the Communist International, the transformation of the Stalinist bureaucracy into a political agency of imperialism working consciously for the maintenance of the international capitalist status quo, the counterrevolutionary politics of “popular frontism,” and the resulting betrayal of the Spanish Revolution—determined the essential structure and content of political life for decades to come.

“The world political situation as a whole,” Trotsky wrote in 1938, “is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.” Fifty years after Trotsky’s death, the resolution of that crisis remains the life-and-death task confronting the working class. That the bourgeois order survived not only the global Depression of the 1930s and the ensuing world war but also the revolutionary upheavals and economic crises of the 1960s and 1970s was due, above all, to the treachery of the official leadership of the working class. Those who claim that the survival of capitalism refutes the historical prognoses of Marxism generally do not bother to examine the political circumstances which made its survival possible—as if the survival of capitalism in Western Europe at the end of World War II, or in Indonesia in 1965, in France in 1968, and in Chile, Portugal and Britain in the 1970s can be explained without reference to the policies pursued by the leadership of the mass Stalinist and social democratic organizations. Trotsky’s answer to the apologists of capitalism and its agents within the workers’ movement is as true today as it was in 1938:

“All talk to the effect that historical conditions have not yet ‘ripened’ for socialism is the product of ignorance or conscious deception. The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only ‘ripened’; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind” (Transitional Program, Labor Publications, pp. 1-2).

The Economist, a smug but highly classconscious journal of the British bourgeoisie, has recently referred to the “irrelevance” of Trotsky. The credibility of such assertions is belied by the regularity with which they appear in the capitalist media. Their tone of nervous mockery suggests that they are at least partly intended to reassure the bourgeoisie. Whatever the case may be, these stereotyped dismissals of Trotsky play a vital role in the present-day campaign against Marxism. The claim that the crisis of the Soviet regime “proves” the failure of socialism is based on the utterly false identification of Stalinism with Marxism. But that identification requires the cynical denial that there ever existed within the Soviet Union a Marxist opposition to the policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Within the Soviet Union, it is not possible to simply deny that there did exist an opposition to Stalin. The question of Trotsky’s role in the history of the Soviet Union cannot be ignored, let alone answered with the traditional lies (i.e., Trotsky was a fascist, a saboteur, etc.) But glasnost has by no means signified a lessening of the bureaucracy’s hatred and fear of Trotsky. The campaign against him continues, but the complete discrediting of Stalinism has forced the bureaucracy to develop lines of attack somewhat different from those pursued in the past. The academic courtiers of Gorbachev, who were only yesterday churning out lifeless and cliche-ridden monographs aimed at reconciling Marxism with the needs of the bureaucracy, now echo the international bourgeoisie by proclaiming that Marxism itself is responsible for the crisis of the USSR. Thus, according to this “school of thought,” both Stalin and Trotsky were Marxists and the development of Soviet society would not have been fundamentally different had the Left Opposition defeated the Stalinist faction. This argument finds its most vulgar expression in the writings of Aleksandr Tsipko, a Soviet “philosopher” who claims, “Stalin’s thinking and his idea of socialism were typical for Marxists of that time.... In his understanding of the ultimate goals of socialist economic transformations, Stalin did not differ ... with other leaders of the Party, such as L. Trotsky...” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, April 5, 1989, p. 4).

True to his Stalinist training, Tsipko cannot resist indulging his taste for falsification. “Long before Stalin,” he writes, “Trotsky anathematized equilibrium as an unworthy way of living: One transformation after another was what mattered to him.... Trotsky was also convinced that there is no greater evil than to realize ‘material benefit’ from one’s labor; he likewise thought that revolutionary morality goes downhill when people stop being hungry, and he put the starvation of millions during the period of ‘War Communism’ above the well-fed ranks of workers and peasants during the NEP” (Ibid., April 19, 1989, p. 21).

Were these lies not so disgusting, their pathetic crudity might almost evoke pity for their author. As the old saying goes, even slanders should make some sense. Those of Tsipko are simply nonsensical. Tsipko concedes that Trotsky was a Marxist—that is necessary for the sake of his argument—but the opinions he attributes to Trotsky simply could not be held by anyone who ascribed to the materialist conception of history. If the realization of “material benefit from one’s labor” is held by Marxists to be the greatest evil, their historical identification with the struggle of the working class for the full appropriation of the surplus value produced by its labor is utterly incomprehensible. Moreover, if Marxists believe that morality thrives under conditions of widespread starvation, it would follow that they view the capitalist societies of Africa, Asia and Latin America as the most moral on the face of the earth!

It is almost painful to comment on the views of a reconstructed Stalinist hack like Tsipko, who in recent years has been an official adviser of the central committee of the Soviet Stalinist party. But it is necessary to point out that Trotsky insisted that the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state arose out of the economic backwardness which the October Revolution inherited from the tsarist past To explain the striking gap between the Communist vision and the Soviet reality, Trotsky recalled the words of Marx: “Law can never be higher than the economic structure and the cultural development of society conditioned by that structure.” Far from glorifying poverty as the source of a higher morality—one shudders upon reading such a malevolent lie—Trotsky laid bare the inner relation between “generalized want” and the totalitarian dictatorship of the bureaucracy:

“The basis of bureaucratic rule is the poverty of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each against all.... When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the power of the Soviet bureaucracy. It ‘knows’ who is to get something and who has to wait..

“The social meaning of the Soviet Thermidor now begins to take form before us. The poverty and cultural backwardness of the masses has again become incarnate in the malignant figure of the ruler with a great club in his hand” (Revolution Betrayed, Labor Publications, pp. 96-97).

Tsipko and others like him can lie with impunity only to the extent that Trotsky’s writings remain unpublished in the Soviet Union and unavailable to class-conscious workers and intellectuals. As long as there exists little if any opportunity to study the works of Trotsky and his comrades in the Left Opposition, such as Rakovski and Preobrazhenski, the theoreticians of perestroika hope that they can blame Marxism for the crimes of Stalinism. It should come as no surprise that Tsipko supports the restoration of capitalism. [1]

Despite the lies of the Stalinists (or “ex-Stalinist” converts to perestroika) and even without the approval of the bourgeois media, historical events have fully vindicated the program and perspective upon which Trotsky based the struggle of the Left Opposition and then the Fourth International against Stalinism.

It is not Marxism that has been refuted by the crisis of the USSR, but the anti-Marxist program of “socialism in one country” which was first proclaimed by Stalin and Bukharin in 1924. What is known as Trotskyism took shape in the struggle against this fundamental revision of Marxist internationalism. As Trotsky wrote in 1930:

Marxism takes its point of departure from world economy, not as a sum of national parts but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labor and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets. The productive forces of capitalist society have long ago outgrown the national boundaries. The imperialist war (of 1914-1918) was one of the expressions of this fact In respect of the technique of production socialist society must represent a stage higher than capitalism. To aim at building a nationally isolated socialist society means, in spite of all passing successes, to pull the productive forces backward even as compared with capitalism...

A realistic program for an isolated workers’ state cannot set itself the goal of achieving ‘independence’ from the world economy, much less of constructing a national socialist society ‘in the shortest time.’ The task is not to attain the abstract maximum tempo, but the optimum tempo, that is, the best, that which follows from both internal and world economic conditions, strengthens the position of the proletariat, prepares the national elements of the future international socialist society and at the same time, and above all, systematically improves the living standards of the proletariat and strengthens its alliance with the nonexploiting masses of the countryside. This prospect must remain in force for the whole preparatory period, that is, until the victorious revolution in the advanced countries liberates the Soviet Union from its present isolated position (Permanent Revolution, New Park, pp. 22-32).

Today, the Kremlin does not attempt to defend the theory of economic autarchy. It acknowledges the dependence of the Soviet Union upon the world market and the international division of labor. But from the belated recognition of this dependence, it draws conclusions of an entirely reactionary character, i.e., that it is necessary to liquidate central planning and nationalized industry in order to integrate the Soviet economy as quickly as possible into the structure of world imperialism. Thus, while appearing to break with the autarchic economic program which the Soviet Union has pursued for decades, the Gorbachev regime does so only to fulfill the political legacy of Stalinism—the restoration of capitalism. And in doing so it fully substantiates Trotsky’s definition of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a counterrevolutionary caste hostile to socialism.

In the aftermath of 1917, the defeat of the socialist revolution in Western Europe perpetuated the imperialist encirclement of Soviet Russia and strengthened the tendencies toward bureaucratic degeneration. By the mid-1920s, the usurpation of power by the Stalinist bureaucracy had become a major factor in the defeats of the international working class. Within the USSR the bureaucracy viciously protected and sought to enhance its own material privileges at the expense of the economic, social and cultural development of Soviet society. On the international arena, the Stalinist regime, fearing the impact of a successful social revolution beyond its borders on the political consciousness of Soviet workers, systematically betrayed the interests of the working class for the sake of its diplomatic alliances with world imperialism.

Trotsky explained that the Stalinist bureaucracy only defended the property relations established on the basis of the October 1917 Revolution to the extent that its own material privileges were based upon them. In practice, this meant the steady erosion of the foundations of the nationalized property and the mechanisms of central planning. Far from seeking to develop the nationalized property on a truly socialist basis—which requires the fullest democratic participation of the laboring masses in the formulation and adoption of the central plan—the bureaucracy utilized its totalitarian monopoly on political power to plunder the state property. As Trotsky explained, the ruling elite’s “appropriation of political power in a country where the principal means of production are in the hands of the state, creates a new and hitherto unknown relation between the bureaucracy and the riches of the nation. The means of production belong to the state. But the state, so to speak, ‘belongs’ to the bureaucracy. If these as yet wholly new relations should solidify, become the norm and be legalized, whether with or without resistance from the workers, they would, in the long run, lead to a complete liquidation of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution” (The Revolution Betrayed, p. 211).

Trotsky rejected the arguments of those who claimed that the bureaucracy was a new class of “state capitalists.” This theory, he wrote, “will obviously not withstand criticism. The bureaucracy has neither stocks nor bonds. It is recruited, supplemented and renewed in the manner of an administrative hierarchy, independently of any special property relations of its own. The individual bureaucrat cannot transmit to his heir his rights in the exploitation of the state apparatus. The bureaucracy enjoys its privileges under the form of an abuse of power. It conceals its income; it pretends that as a special social group it does not exist. Its appropriation of a vast share of the national income has the character of social parasitism. All this makes the position of the commanding Soviet stratum in the highest degree contradictory, equivocal and undignified, notwithstanding the completeness of its power and the smoke screen of flattery that conceals it” (Ibid., p. 212).

The parasitic existence of the bureaucracy is based on forms of distribution which are of an essentially bourgeois character. Trotsky foresaw that inequality in the sphere of distribution constituted, in the long run, a mortal threat to the survival of the workers’ state. He warned that it would lead, unless prevented by the revolutionary movement of the working class, to the restoration of capitalism. Appraising the future evolution of the USSR, he wrote in the founding document of the Fourth International: “The political prognosis has an alternative character either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the working class back to capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to socialism” (Transitional Program, p. 33).

This prognosis has now been fully vindicated. The fact that the conscious and immediate aim of the Gorbachev regime and its perestroika is the restoration of capitalism and the final liquidation of the heritage of the October Revolution is by now so obvious that it is denied only by the most crass apologists of the Stalinist bureaucracy—that is, the Pabloite opportunist renegades from Marxism.

For decades the opportunists claimed that Trotsky’s insistence on the counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism, his warning that the bureaucracy was preparing the ground for capitalist restoration, and that the survival of the USSR depended upon the revolutionary overthrow of the bureaucracy was extreme and had been disproven by subsequent developments. The central thesis of the revisionists was that Trotsky had incorrectly discounted the possibility of prosocialist reforms by the bureaucracy itself. Isaac Deutscher, whose writings provided much of the original inspiration for the opportunist revisions of Pablo and Mandel, rejected the conclusions of The Revolution Betrayed, arguing that Stalin’s successors had begun “grudgingly yet unmistakably to bring the norms of distribution into closer correspondence with the socialist property system,” and that “Trotsky’s hypothesis about the rise of a new possessing class appears therefore unduly pessimistic...” (The Prophet Outcast, Vintage, pp. 308-09).

As recently as 1989 Ernest Mandel denounced “the ridiculous theory that the Soviet leader is trying to reintroduce capitalism in the Soviet Union” (Beyond Perestroika, Verso, p. 129). Unable to restrain his enthusiasm for the policies of the Soviet regime, Mandel baldly declared that “if Gorbachev’s reforms are allowed to continue and the impetus is not lost or reversed: then perestroika will begin to deliver fruits after a period of time and the living standards of the people will improve” (Ibid., p. xv). This same position has been echoed by the anti-Trotskyist renegades of the British Workers Revolutionary Party, who have repeatedly denounced the International Committee of the Fourth International’s warning that the policies of Gorbachev threaten the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. In May 1989 the Workers Press attacked the International Committee’s “estimation of developments in the USSR. They see in Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika nothing but a deliberate and conscious move to bring back capitalism.”

The extent of consciousness and deliberation in the bureaucracy’s drive to restore capitalism is made clear enough by a new law which took effect in the Soviet Union on July 1, 1990. It gives private property legal protections as sweeping as those found in any capitalist country. The key passages declare:

The right of ownership is recognized and protected by law in the USSR.

An owner possesses, utilizes and disposes of property belonging to him as he sees fit

An owner has the right to do anything with his property that does not violate the law. He may use his property to carry out any sort of economic or other activity that is not prohibited by law....

Property may consist of land, mineral resources, water, plant and animal life, buildings, structures, equipment, objects of material and spiritual culture, money, securities and other assets.

The results of economic utilization of property (output and income) belong to the owner of this property unless otherwise stipulated by law....

An owner may demand the elimination of any violation of his rights, even if such violations do not involve deprivation of possession.

Protection of the right of ownership is provided by a court, the state arbitration service or an arbitration tribunal.

The rights provided for in this article are also enjoyed by a person who, although not the owner, is in possession of property with the right of complete economic control, day-to-day management, or a lifetime possession with right of inheritance, or on some other grounds stipulated by law or contract.

The implementation of legal foundations for the ownership of the means of production has been accompanied by what amounts to a full-scale wrecking operation aimed at destroying even the possibility of maintaining state ownership of the means of production. The real achievements of the Soviet economy on the basis of nationalized industry, realized despite the mismanagement and corruption of the bureaucracy, are being systematically destroyed as the connections between different sectors of industry are severed. As the consequences of the regime’s policies take effect, Gorbachev’s economic advisers proclaim that there is no answer to the problems of the Soviet Union except the establishment of the capitalist market The real social goals of the Gorbachev regime were spelled out by a new member of the Leningrad City Council, Pyotr S. Filipov, who told the New York Times: “I agree with those who say we must hurry quickly away from Marxism-Leninism, through Socialism, to Reaganism.”

Stalinism, as Trotsky foresaw, has brought the Soviet Union to the edge of the abyss. Not since June 1941, when Hitler’s armies invaded, has the very existence of the USSR been placed in such immediate danger. What, then, are the prospects for its survival? As Trotsky would ask, “Whither the Soviet Union?”

The answer to this question requires that we examine not only the internal contradictions of the USSR, but also the development of the international situation and, above all, the mutual interaction of the essential domestic and world elements. As Trotsky stressed, “the fate of the October revolution is bound up now with the fate of Europe and of the whole world” (The Revolution Betrayed, p. 247).

According to some of the ideologists of perestroika, the triumph of the market in the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism will lead to the flowering of democracy. To the extent that these ideologists actually believe this themselves, the assumption underlying this claim is that the full integration of the Soviet economy into the structures of world capitalism and the denationalization of its industry will produce a significant improvement in the living conditions of the masses. Therefore, the popular resistance to the restoration of capitalism will be relatively insignificant and easily placated or marginalized by the economic advances of a rejuvenated capitalist Russia.

For anyone who attempts to work seriously through political and economic questions, these assumptions are obviously ridiculous. The integration of the Soviet Union into the structure of international capitalism would be—as the experience of Eastern Europe is now demonstrating—at the expense of large sections of its industry. The fundamental problem of the Soviet economy, its inefficiency relative to the advanced capitalist countries, would be resolved in a capitalist Russia through the liquidation of the uncompetitive sectors. The resulting unemployment would be measured in the tens of millions.

Moreover, even those sectors which were not overwhelmed in the initial stages of capitalist restoration would inevitably require vast infusions of capital in order to function at internationally competitive standards. In the capitalist reorganization of the few viable sections of the Soviet economy, the new Russian bourgeoisie could only be comprador agents of imperialist finance capital as it rapidly assumed control over the Soviet Union.

It is obvious that the reorganization of the Soviet Union along these capitalist lines would entail a counterrevolution of an almost unimaginably violent character. Bluntly stated, capitalist restoration can be achieved only by starving masses of Soviet citizens. To think that a democratic regime can be erected on the basis of such a program is to take leave of one’s senses. Capitalism, as Trotsky insisted, cannot be imposed peacefully. As its consequences become more apparent, the movement toward restoration will evoke the most bitter resistance from the working class. Genuine democracy can only be achieved on the basis of a workers’ antibureaucratic political revolution which sweeps away the Kremlin regime and thereby creates the conditions for the regeneration and progressive development of the property forms established by the October Revolution.

The essential program of the political revolution, as outlined by Trotsky 52 years ago, retains its full vitality:

A fresh upsurge of the revolution in the USSR will undoubtedly begin under the banner of the struggle against social inequality and political oppression. Down with the privileges of the bureaucracy! Down with Stakhanovism! Down with the Soviet aristocracy and its ranks and orders! Greater equality of wages for all forms of labor!

The struggle for the freedom of the trade unions and the factory committees, for the right of assembly and freedom of the press, will unfold in the struggle for the regeneration and development of Soviet democracy.

The bureaucracy replaced the soviets as class organs with the fiction of universal electoral rights—in the style of Hitler-Goebbels. It is necessary to return to the soviets not only their free democratic form but also their class content As once the bourgeoisie and the kulaks were not permitted to enter the soviets, so now it is necessary to drive the bureaucracy and the new aristocracy out of the soviets. In the soviets there is room only for representatives of the workers, rank-and-file collective farmers, peasants and Red Army men.

Democratization of the soviets is impossible without legalization of soviet parties. The workers and peasants by their own free vote will indicate what parties they recognize as soviet parties.

A revision of planned economy from top to bottom in the interests of producers and consumers! Factory committees should be returned the right to control production. A democratically organized consumers’ cooperative should control the quality and price of products.

Reorganization of the collective farms in accordance with the will and in the interests of the workers there engaged.

The reactionary international policy of the bureaucracy should be replaced by the policy of proletarian internationalism. The complete diplomatic correspondence of the Kremlin to be published. Down with secret diplomacy!

All political trials, staged by the Thermidorian bureaucracy, to be reviewed in the light of complete publicity and controversial openness and integrity. Only the victorious revolutionary uprising of the oppressed masses can revive the Soviet Union and guarantee its further development toward socialism (Transitional Program, p. 36).

But what are the possibilities for the realization of this program? We have argued that the trend within the USSR is toward the development of an open clash between, on the one side, the bureaucracy and the privileged and corrupt layers within Soviet society which are seeking to restore capitalism, and, on the other side, the working class and all those advanced elements who remain, despite the crimes of Stalinism, loyal to the ideals of October.

However, the future of the Soviet Union will be decided, to the greatest extent, by the international context within which its struggles unfold. If the robust image of capitalism presented by the Gorbachev regime corresponded to reality, then there would be little possibility that the Soviet state could survive its present crisis. But nothing illustrates the bankruptcy of the Stalinist perspective so much as its rose-hued vision of contemporary imperialism.

It is the deserved misfortune of the Kremlin bureaucracy that its drive for the restoration of capitalism unfolds under conditions of the greatest crisis of capitalism since the end of World War II. Indeed, the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe is part of a generalized breakdown of the postwar order that is rooted in economic contradictions that are of an international character. The vast expansion of transnational conglomerates, the globalization of production and unprecedented integration of the world market—processes accelerated by the technological revolution of the last 15 years—have once again confronted mankind with the insoluble character of the contradiction between the objective development of world economy and the nation-state system within which capitalism is historically rooted. The superstructural political and economic mechanisms created by imperialism at the end of World War II to suppress this contradiction are breaking down. For all the specific political circumstances that contributed to last autumn’s events in Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Stalinist regimes was the product, above all, of the pressure of world economy upon the most insulated, and, therefore, most vulnerable national economies. But the same economic tendencies are wreaking havoc within the centers of world capitalism. The most significant expression of the mounting crisis is the tremendous intensification of interimperialist antagonisms which raise the specter of a nuclear world war.

The most conscious sections of the bourgeoisie are aware of the precarious state of international relations. The most recent issue of Foreign Affairs warns:

U.S.-Japanese economic tension has already intensified, and U.S.-European confrontation could erupt as well. Any significant downturn of the U.S. economy could trigger an outbreak of protectionism (Summer 1990, p. 101).

It further notes, “The movements of globalized financial markets could now overwhelm the efforts of individual governments, or even several countries acting in concert New sources of conflict among nations could well result from contemporary changes in global politics and economic capabilities.

“The system no longer provides strong defenses against such threats” (pp. 104-05).

Each imperialist power is striving desperately for a dominant position on the world market The major contenders confront each other on every continent and in every country. Straining for competitive advantages, each national bourgeoisie seeks to strengthen its position by intensifying the exploitation of its “own” working class. Such a state of affairs does not lend itself to a peaceful settlement The equilibrium of the post-World War II era has been shattered; and the entire history of the twentieth century provides overwhelming evidence, much of it written in blood, that once the equilibrium of world imperialism is upset, it cannot be regained except through violent upheavals—i.e., wars and revolution—that will determine the fate of this planet

The unsettled and increasingly unstable state of international affairs precludes any speedy resolution of the crisis in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Even though the Stalinists have virtually placed state power in Eastern Europe in the hands of imperialism and its local agents, the consolidation of capitalist rule is by no means an accomplished fact. Great social struggles are still On the agenda; and the fate of Eastern Europe will be decided only through the working out of a new international order.

Moreover, the inevitable eruption of the class struggle in the advanced capitalist countries—and we are speaking in terms of months and years, not decades—will have the most profound impact on the political consciousness of the Soviet and Eastern European workers. How they view their problems and assess the political alternatives open to them will be drastically transformed by the resistance of the working class in the capitalist centers to the imperialist plans for its pauperization.

The historic conditions are now emerging for the unification of all sections of the international working class—in the imperialist centers, the backward countries and in those ruled for decades by the Stalinist oligarchs—in the struggle for genuine revolutionary socialism. A new era in the development of Marxism has begun. The stagnation and decline of the international workers’ movement beneath the weight of not only Stalinism but social democracy as well is coming to an end.

The Fourth International has withstood the test of time and its perspective has been vindicated by the greatest events of world history. There has never been a movement so rich in revolutionary tradition and experience. On the fiftieth anniversary of Trotsky’s death, his writings, program and principles are not merely relevant: they constitute the essential foundation for the building of the international revolutionary party with which the working class will sweep Stalinism and imperialism from the face of the earth and secure the future of mankind.

The International Committee calls upon the workers of the world to commemorate the anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination by joining the Fourth International and building it as the World Party of Socialist Revolution.


In a recent issue of Moscow News, dated July 8-15,1990, Mr. Tsipko completes his passage from Stalinism to neo-Romanov obscurantism. In a guest column entitled “Awakening Russia,” Tsipko proclaims:

“Do we realize what’s happening to us? After 70 years of Communist propaganda and expansion, after 70 years of fraternizing with the spectre of communism and mastering the Communist language, mentality and perception of the world; after 70 years of torturing ourselves and others, after violating common sense and life itself for so long—in comes Easter Sunday with church bells resounding all over Moscow. Like a thunderbolt Had our grandmothers and grandfathers risen from their graves they might have thought General Denikin of the White Guards had captured Moscow after all.... The spirit of restoration, a return to the past, has seized us even before the last witnesses of old Russia have died out We who live in Russia now have a chance to partake of her spirit, culture, faith and language preserved in exile. The last of the Mohicans are still alive to see how this nation, once mesmerized by communism, is waking up and returning to normal. The infatuation came and went in the lifetime of a single generation.”

The evolution of Mr. Tsipko is neither surprising nor unusual. Indeed, the passage from Stalinism to tsarism involves little more than the replacement of one form of virulent anti-Marxism for another. It is a historical fact that in its struggle against Bolshevism, the Stalinist bureaucracy relied to no small extent upon the supporters of the overthrown regime. The notorious Vyshinsky, who served as Stalin’s chief prosecutor during the Moscow Trials (punctuating his diatribes against Stalin’s victims with the bloodcurdling scream, “Shoot the mad dogs!”), was an active supporter of the Whites during the civil war. The Thermidorian reaction opened up for him and thousands of other servants of the Old Regime the possibility of a second career. Trotsky referred frequently to the “faction of Butenko” within the bureaucracy, Butenko being the name of a high Stalinist official who defected from the USSR in the 1930s and became active in fascist circles. Analyzing the aims of this fascist strata within the bureaucracy, Trotsky warned, “These candidates for the role of compradors consider, not without reason, that the new ruling layer can insure their positions of privilege only through rejection of nationalization, collectivization and monopoly of foreign trade in the name of the assimilation of ‘Western civilization,’ i.e., capitalism” (Transitional Program, p. 23).