Socialist Equality Party (Australia)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Australia)

The post-war upsurge

120. As World War II drew to a close in Europe, the bourgeoisie was economically devastated and politically discredited due to its collaboration with fascism. The British magazine The Economist described the forces unleashed by the defeat of Hitler’s regime: “The collapse of the New Order imparted a great revolutionary momentum to Europe. It stimulated all the vague and confused but nevertheless radical and socialist impulses of the masses. Significantly, every program with which the various Resistance groups throughout Europe emerged from the Underground contained demands for nationalisation of banks and large-scale industries; and these programs bore the signatures of Christian Democrats as well as of Socialists and Communists.” Pointing to widespread hostility to the bourgeoisie, it noted that, if in the 19th century the slogan of French socialism had been Proudhon’s “property is theft,” now it was “property is collaboration”.[1] The United States had recovered from the Great Depression. Nevertheless, according to the eminent bourgeois economist Joseph Schumpeter, it was “not open to doubt that the decay of capitalist society is very far advanced.”[2] In this situation, the Soviet regime and the Stalinist parties—using the political authority derived from the Soviet army’s defeat of the German armed forces—played the key role in stabilising the post-war order by opposing the taking of political power by the working class.

121. The political groundwork had been laid in May 1943 with Stalin’s dissolution of the Communist International—a guarantee to Britain and the US that the Soviet Union was opposed to social revolution. The post-war division of Europe, decided at conferences in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam, established that the bourgeoisie would be kept in power in the West and that the Soviet Union would seek only a “buffer zone” in Eastern Europe.

122. The Stalinist parties explicitly opposed the taking of power by the working class and the establishment of socialism. A publication of the French Stalinists in 1943 declared that all the old political differences “are now being relegated to the background.” Events leading up to the war and the collapse of France in June 1940 had demonstrated that for the French bourgeoisie the main enemy was not Hitler but the working class. However, for the French Stalinists, this was no obstacle to collaboration with the bourgeoisie. “Placing the interests of the French nation above everything else, the French Communists are closely collaborating even with those who, poisoned by a decade of Hitler propaganda, have dealt France a heavy blow by persecuting the Communists, which made considerably easier the capitulation …”[3] In Italy and Greece the political orientation was the same, while in Germany the Stalinists of the KPD (German Communist Party) came back from exile in Moscow to work for the dissolution of the anti-fascist and factory committees and replace them with administrative bodies in which the bourgeoisie was allowed to participate. During the war and in its immediate aftermath, the Stalinists supported bourgeois nationalist forces in the massive anti-colonial struggles that swept across Asia and opposed any independent struggle by the working class. This was in line with their so-called “two-stage” theory, which maintained that “national democracy” under the leadership of the bourgeoisie had to precede the taking of power by the working class. In Japan, this policy was adapted to hail General MacArthur and the American occupation force as agents of the bourgeois democratic revolution—a policy that played no small role in enabling the occupation force to suppress the powerful post-war upsurge of the Japanese working class.

123. The betrayals by Stalinism gave the United States, the dominant imperialist power, the necessary political conditions to rebuild the shattered foundations of European and world capitalism and lay the basis for the ensuing post-war economic expansion. In later years, the capitalist restabilisation was to be used as the springboard for attacks by various petty-bourgeois groups on Trotsky’s revolutionary perspective. Trotsky predicted a revolution, but it never came. Therefore the Fourth International’s perspective was false. Reflecting insights derived from decades of revolutionary struggle, encompassing the most diverse conditions, Trotsky emphasised that a perspective was not some kind of promissory note that could be “cashed in” on the due date. Rather, it defined a political orientation for an entire epoch. In one of his last major statements, he wrote: “The capitalist world has no way out, unless a prolonged death agony is so considered. It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades, of war, uprisings, brief interludes of truce, new wars, and new uprisings. A young revolutionary party must base itself on this perspective. History will provide it with enough opportunities and possibilities to test itself, to accumulate experience, and to mature. The swifter the ranks of the vanguard are fused the more the epoch of bloody convulsions will be shortened, the less the destruction will our planet suffer. But the great historical problem will not be solved in any case until a revolutionary party stands at the head of the proletariat. The question of tempos and time intervals is of enormous importance; but it alters neither the general historical perspective nor the direction of our policy. The conclusion is a simple one: it is necessary to carry on the work of educating and organizing the proletarian vanguard with ten-fold energy. Precisely in this lies the task of the Fourth International.”[4]


Philip Armstrong, Andrew Glyn & John Harrison, Capitalism since World War II, Fontana, London, 1984, p. 23.


Ibid., p. 43.


Robert Black, Stalinism in Britain, New Park, London, 1970, p. 218.


Leon Trotsky, ‘Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution’, Writings of Leon Trotsky: 1939–40, Pathfinder, New York, 1977, p. 218.