A half-century after its formation in September 1938, history is vindicating the implacable struggle that has been waged by the Fourth International to resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership in the world proletariat. Outside the Fourth International, led by the International Committee, there exists not a single political party that is organizing and educating the working class for the revolutionary struggle against world imperialism. It is an indisputable fact that the labor movement is passing, on an international scale, through a period of intense crisis. The leaderships of the existing mass workers’ parties and trade union organizations have, without exception, nothing to offer the working class except betrayals, defeats, and demoralization. The old bureaucratic machines of the Stalinists, the social democrats, and the AFL-CIO in the United States, which have for so long faithfully served the bourgeoisie as its policemen in the labor movement, are being utterly discredited in the eyes of tens of millions of workers. In every country where there exists an organized labor movement, the story is the same: the bureaucracies function unashamedly as allies of the bourgeoisie, doing everything in their power to sabotage the struggles of the working class and to place the full burden of the capitalist crisis on its back.
The international working class is being betrayed and abandoned by its traditional leaderships, who refuse to defend even the most essential interests of the proletariat against the reactionary onslaught of the bourgeoisie. Rather, these bankrupt leaderships repudiate as anachronistic even the elementary conceptions that the proletariat exists as a distinct class in society and that it must defend its independent interests against capitalist exploitation. In their determination to serve the capitalist class, there is no line which they are not prepared to cross.
This phenomenon of “renunciationism” is manifested at every level of the labor movement: from the Kremlin bureaucracy and social democratic governments to trade union officials. Under the leadership of Gorbachev, the Stalinist bureaucracy now repudiates even its verbal allegiance to the conquests of the October Revolution and proclaims the superiority of capitalism. Taking Gorbachev’s cue, the local Communist parties avail themselves of the opportunity to complete their integration into the structure of national bourgeois politics. As for the social democratic organizations, they respond to the inability of capitalism to grant reforms by renouncing their old “minimal” programs. These reformist opponents of Marxism, who in the past justified their subservience to capitalism by dismissing social revolution as “unrealistic,” now accept, in the name of realism, wage cuts, mass layoffs, and the destruction of essential social services. Following the same pattern, the trade union bureaucracies act as the policemen of the bosses in the factories. Rather than functioning as defensive organizations of the working class seeking to alleviate capitalist exploitation, the trade unions increasingly operate in direct collaboration with the bourgeoisie, to perfect the techniques of that exploitation.
By virtue of its history and its program, the Fourth International is the sole revolutionary alternative to the betrayals of these rotten bureaucratic appendages of imperialism. The whole future of the international working class is bound up with the building of the Fourth International as the World Party of Socialist Revolution. Only now, in the context of the present world crisis of the capitalist system and its impact upon the working class, can the historic dimensions of Trotsky’s struggle to resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership be fully appreciated.
When Trotsky first issued the call for the formation of the Fourth International, the collapse of two mighty Internationals in the space of just 20 years—the Second International in 1914 and the Third International in 1933—had dealt a shattering blow to the entire political culture which had been developed by Marxism from the writing of the Communist Manifesto in 1847 to the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917. First social democracy and then Stalinism entered into the service of world imperialism and their betrayals were responsible for catastrophic defeats of the working class. Of the two agencies of imperialism, the role of Stalinism was infinitely more insidious. While social democracy openly repudiated the program of socialist revolution, Stalinism, whose international activities were materially based on the vast resources of the Soviet state, cynically exploited the banner of 1917 as it perpetrated the bloodiest counterrevolutionary crimes. It systematically falsified the history of the October Revolution, covered the names of the greatest Bolsheviks with slanders, destroyed Lenin’s party, and organized the assassinations of thousands of Marxists.
In the face of immense difficulties, Trotsky upheld the heritage of Marxism and defended the perspective of world socialist revolution against the reactionary program of “socialism in one country.” He demonstrated scientifically that the victory of the Stalinist bureaucracy over the Bolshevik Party represented the first stage of the bourgeois counterrevolution in the USSR, and that the defense of the first workers’ state and the gains of October 1917 required as a matter of historical necessity the overthrow of the bureaucracy in a political revolution. In advancing this perspective, Trotsky had to fight not only the Kremlin’s GPU Mafia, but also the centrist tendencies who claimed that it was impossible to found an international party in a period of defeats and isolation. In reply, Trotsky insisted that Marxist politics was based not upon what was or was not “opportune,” but rather upon a scientific appreciation of the historical tasks of the international proletariat. Moreover, he declared, the revolutions of tomorrow can be prepared only by those who are able to swim against the stream today.
This prognosis has been utterly vindicated. As the Soviet bureaucracy renounces any concern with the fate of international socialism, disassociates itself from all struggles, however limited, against world imperialism, and proceeds to liquidate the major conquests of the October Revolution and encourage the growth of capitalist relations in the USSR, the survival of the USSR as a workers’ state depends upon the construction of the Fourth International. The fact that Trotskyism alone represents the program and traditions of the October Revolution is beyond debate. The polarization of Soviet society between the working class and the parasitic bureaucracy has reached a level of unprecedented intensity. All the essential elements of a revolutionary situation—a nationwide crisis affecting all layers of society, the inability of the ruling circles to rule in the old way, and the unwillingness of the ruled to accept the existing conditions—are rapidly maturing in the USSR. Seeking a way out of the crisis through the integration of the Soviet economy into the structure of world capitalism and the expansion of capitalist relations within the USSR itself, Gorbachev’s policies threaten the nationalized property relations and the principle of state planning, which are the chief conquests of the Bolshevik Revolution. Inevitably, the impact of Gorbachev’s perestroika program will be the eruption of a revolutionary movement of the Soviet working class to defend the foundations of the planned economy.
It is usually the case that the death agony of a regime finds its first expression in the outbreak of bitter conflicts within its ruling strata. This historical tendency is being realized within the USSR. Thus, history has finally caught up with Stalinism and its crimes! The belated repudiation of the Moscow trials, the rehabilitation of its victims, and the admission that the Bolshevik leaders murdered by Stalin were not guilty of a single crime against the Soviet Union represent, regardless of the intentions and maneuvers of Gorbachev, a blow from which no faction of the Stalinist bureaucracy can recover. The monstrous falsifications which constituted the principal weapon of the bureaucracy in its war against Trotskyism—that is, genuine Marxism—have been exposed and discredited. The political crisis which has erupted inside the USSR has not only sounded the death knell of the Stalinist bureaucracy. It is the tocsin which proclaims that the era of the Fourth International, as the mass party of the Soviet and international working class, has arrived.