The central task of the International Committee is to construct a Trotskyist vanguard in the working class that will be able to intervene in the mass, spontaneous struggles of the working class, combat and politically defeat the trade union bureaucracy, and the Stalinist, revisionist and centrist agencies of the ruling class, and arm the masses of workers with a clear revolutionary program and perspective. At all times, the Trotskyists of the International Committee must fight to establish the independent line of the proletariat. This requires an implacable struggle against all forms of opportunism, whose corrosive influence is the chief cause of the disunity and setbacks suffered by the proletariat.
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 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 global contradictions, 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.
From this standpoint, the party patiently educates the working class and develops socialist class consciousness. The organization of the working class for the seizure of state power can be achieved only on the basis of Marxism, the only scientific revolutionary ideology. Marxism is the conscious expression of the objective revolutionary role of the working class. It alone lays bare the nature of imperialism, explains the mechanism of capitalist exploitation in the purchase of workers’ labor power and the theft of surplus value, exposes the fundamental contradictions of the profit system, reveals the essential political content of every manifestation of the class struggle, and, on this scientific foundation, elaborates the strategy and tactics of the socialist revolution.
Marxism is not the spontaneously produced ideology of the working class. The whole history of the international workers’ movement demonstrates that the working class, independent of the revolutionary party, can develop no further than trade union consciousness. Trade unionism—the recognition of the necessity to unite against the employers by forming and defending mass workers’ organizations for the improvement of wages and working conditions—arises spontaneously in the working class movement out of its bitter experiences of struggle against the capitalists. But trade union consciousness, no matter how militant, remains bourgeois consciousness. It aims at ameliorating the conditions of workers under the wages system, but not the abolition of wage slavery itself. While the working class, driven forward by the crisis, resolutely seeks a way out of the quagmire produced by capitalism, it cannot, without the intervention of the party, grasp the whole political and revolutionary content of the class struggle waged on a world scale, of which the trade union struggle is an essential part.
The party and its members must at all times fight for the political program and principles of the party in the working class, and not flinch from telling the working class the truth, even if it conflicts with the immediate moods and consciousness of workers, and results in the short term in the apparent isolation of the party from the masses. As the International Committee has stated: “The Marxist understands that the education of the proletariat in a scientific appreciation of its long-term historical tasks requires a principled line. He therefore prefers temporary isolation to short-term gains that are purchased at the expense of the political clarification of the working class” (Fourth International, March 1987).
The struggle to raise the consciousness of the working class to the level demanded by its objective historical tasks, and not “bow to spontaneity” is at the heart of the struggle for Marxism against all forms of opportunism, and goes back to the foundations of communism. As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”
The work of the International Committee is based on The Transitional Program developed by Trotsky in the founding document of the Fourth International. Despite the passage of 50 years, the essential theoretical, strategic and programmatic conceptions have lost none of their historic relevance. Even the specific “transitional” demands which Trotsky proposed—the sliding scale of wages and hours, factory committees, abolition of business secrets and workers’ control of industry, expropriation of private banks and nationalization of the banking industry, the formation of workers’ defense guards, the establishment of a workers’ and farmers’ government—retain their vitality as practical levers for the revolutionary mobilization of the working class.
In advancing these transitional demands, the sections of the International Committee strive to overcome the gap between the maturity of the world crisis and the immaturity of the consciousness of the proletarian masses. For this very reason, the raising of transitional demands must never be counterposed to or isolated from the revolutionary socialist perspective upon which they are based. Not least among the betrayals of the Pabloites has been their persistent effort to transform The Transitional Program into a recipe book for opportunist adaptation and centrist evasion; that is, by tearing isolated demands out of their genuine revolutionary context and suggesting that they be presented to the working class as a substitute for a genuine revolutionary program. According to the proponents of this revisionist method, transitional demands are a means of adapting to, rather than combating, the backward consciousness of the masses. In essence, the proponents of this position deny the necessity of any open struggle for socialist consciousness in the working class. It is not necessary, they claim, to patiently nourish the workers’ movement with the rich fruit of Marxist culture. Rather, it is enough to dish out a few simple demands which will supposedly entice the masses and lead them to socialist revolution without even being conscious of their ultimate destination.
The most explicit attempt to reinterpret The Transitional Program in the spirit of Pabloite opportunism was made by the Socialist Workers Party which, several years after the reunification of 1963, compared the program “to a multipurpose tool kit, and so we do what a good craftsman does with it. If there’s a particular job to be done, look in the kit for the particular tool that is best suited for the job. Take out of the Transitional Program whatever is timely and appropriate for the degree of development of the mass movement, the consciousness of the masses, their readiness to act on this or that element of the program. And if it doesn’t contain the right one for the occasion, it may be necessary to devise one or two” (George Novack, “The Role of the Transitional Program in the Revolutionary Process”).
Trotsky, in explaining the purpose and significance of The Transitional Program, had said the exact opposite. Responding to those who warned that The Transitional Program was too advanced for American workers, Trotsky replied: “Here we must ask ourselves if the program should be adapted to the mentality of the workers or to the present objective economic and social conditions of the country. This is the most important question... The program must express the objective tasks of the working class rather than the backwardness of the workers. It must reflect society as it is and not the backwardness of the working class. It is an instrument to overcome and vanquish the backwardness. That is why we must express in our program the whole acuteness of the social crises of the capitalist society, including in the first line the United States. We cannot postpone or modify objective conditions which don’t depend upon us. We cannot guarantee that the masses will solve the crisis; but we must express the situation as it is, and that is the task of the program.... What can a revolutionary party do in this situation? In the first place give a clear, honest picture of the objective situation, of the historic tasks which flow from this situation, irrespective of whether or not the workers are today ripe for this. Our tasks don’t depend on the mentality of the workers. The task is to develop the mentality of the workers. That is what the program should formulate and present before the advanced workers. Some will say: good, the program is a scientific program; it corresponds to the objective situation—but if the workers won’t accept this program, it will be sterile. Possibly. But this signifies only that the workers will be crushed, since the crisis can’t be solved any other way but by the socialist revolution. If the American worker will not accept the program in time, he will be forced to accept the program of fascism. And when we appear with our program before the working class, we cannot give any guarantees that they will accept our program. We cannot take responsibility for this. We can only take responsibility for ourselves” (Leon Trotsky on the Transitional Program, May 19, 1938).
In every spontaneous struggle of the working class, whatever its immediate cause or the immediate goals of the workers involved, the sections of the International Committee must tirelessly explain the indissoluble connection between the economic struggle at hand and the political struggle of the entire working class against capitalism. Particular emphasis must be placed on the struggle against all forms and reflections of national chauvinism in the working class, pushed with such ferocity by the bourgeoisie and their lackeys in the workers’ movement. The sections of the ICFI must fight intransigently for proletarian internationalism against all backward prejudices—protectionism, national exclusiveness, anti-immigrant sentiment, racism—which pit one section of the international proletariat against another.
The new stage in the world crisis of capitalism, dominated by the irreconcilable contradiction between the development of the world economy as an objectively interdependent whole and the archaic system of nation-states, is the driving force for a revolutionary upsurge of the working class on a global scale. The great historic goal of unifying the heterogeneous national contingents of the international proletariat into a single army can now be realized. The battle cry of revolutionary Marxism, “Workers of the world, unite!”, will become the basis of the class struggle in every country. The old Stalinist and social democratic parties, the rotting remains of the long-dead Second and Third Internationals, cling with ever-greater desperation to the obsolete nation-state system and its capitalist overlords. Thus, the epoch of the Fourth International has arrived. The task of the International Committee is to assemble the international cadre that will act decisively upon this perspective, rally the working class to the banner of the Fourth International and prepare the victory of the coming world socialist revolution.