International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International 1991: Oppose imperialist war and colonialism!


On May 1, 1991, the International Committee of the Fourth International issued the call for a “World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism” to be held in Berlin on November 16 and 17. As the conference manifesto explains, this conference will assemble the most class-conscious representatives of the international proletariat to “debate and adopt a socialist program for the revolutionary mobilization of the working class against the ‘new world order’ of war, colonial enslavement and mass poverty proposed by the leaders of the imperialist bourgeoisie.” In convening this meeting, the ICFI is placing itself in the leadership of the struggle to mobilize the working class against the preparations for imperialist war and the re-imposition of the most barbaric levels of exploitation on the masses of the ex-colonial countries. The Persian Gulf war demonstrated that the “new world order” proposed by the leaders of the world bourgeoisie promises to be the bloodiest chapter in the entire history of mankind. In the final decade of the twentieth century the necessity for the overthrow of capitalism confronts the international working class as never before.

The survival of capitalism into the final decade of the twentieth century is due not to any residual strength of its own. The system of nation-states based on private property has long been the principal obstacle to the development of the productive forces. Indeed, the eruption of crisis today is the outcome of the fundamental contradictions of the system which cannot be resolved within the framework of capitalism. Imperialism exists some seventy-five years after Lenin characterized it as “the eve of the social revolution” solely because of the betrayal of the struggles of the working class by its opportunist leaderships, in particular, Stalinism and social democracy. The struggle to overthrow capitalism today therefore demands that the advanced workers assimilate the lessons of the strategic experiences of the working class throughout the twentieth century. Putting an end to the system of exploitation requires the most thoroughgoing settling of political accounts with opportunism.

That the labor movement today is passing through a profound crisis is undeniable. This crisis does not, however, signal the end of the working class as a social force. Nor is it a crisis of Marxism. Rather, it betokens the terminal crisis of the labor bureaucracies, social democratic and Stalinist, which have dominated the workers movement for decades.

In government the social democratic organizations have spearheaded the attacks of the bourgeoisie on the conditions of the working class. Throughout Europe they have abandoned the welfare state policies they once espoused while the trade unions they control have proven themselves incapable of defending their members in any way at all. In Eastern Europe the disintegration virtually overnight of Stalinist parties comprising millions of members was one of the most spectacular events of 1989. And even where party and trade union apparatuses continue to exist in an organizational form their political authority has been completely eroded. But although the demise of the old organizations presents the working class with a considerable political and, indeed, organizational challenge, at the same time, however, it deprives the bourgeoisie of one of the principal vehicles through which it has succeeded in subordinating the working class to its interests. And an examination of the reasons underlying the decay of the old organizations points the way to the resolution of the crisis of leadership.

During the 1930s, for instance, Stalinism was able to falsely exploit the prestige of 1917 at a time when the vanguard of the working class continued to identify the Stalinist leadership, despite its crimes, with the revolution. In the Soviet Union the counterrevolutionary caste which had usurped power from the Soviet working class massacred the surviving generation of October. In Europe the Stalinists murdered revolutionists and suppressed those who opposed their popular front line. They strangled the revolutionary movement of the working class, first through an alliance with the bourgeois liberals and later with the fascists themselves. The catastrophic defeats suffered by the working class opened the way for the genocide of the Second World War.

Today, however, the failure of the Stalinist program of “socialism in a single country” is an established fact. The political bankruptcy of the policy through which the parasitic bureaucracy maintained its position of privilege and smothered the revolutionary struggles of the working class internationally underlies the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe and the profound crisis of the Soviet bureaucracy. Trotskyism’s long struggle against Stalinism and for internationalism has ceased to be a theoretical question. The bureaucracy which carried out the murder of Trotskyists in the 1930s, slandering them as agents of capitalist restoration, is itself today, as Trotsky predicted, the open advocate of the capitalist market. It is no longer possible to claim that Stalinism is in any way carrying out the legacy of the October Revolution. The collapse of the discredited Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, far from signaling the end of socialism, as the bourgeoisie and its apologists claim, is, in fact, the greatest confirmation of Trotskyism, that is, genuine Marxism.

This change in the relationship between Stalinism and Trotskyism is clearly visible in the Soviet Union. In this issue we reprint a few of the many letters which the ICFI is now receiving from Soviet workers and intellectuals which express a growing interest in the history and principles of Trotskyism. The replies to these letters, some of which we include in this issue also, record the ongoing political work of the ICFI of equipping the advanced workers in the USSR with an understanding of the lessons of the struggle of Trotskyism against Stalinism and the program of political revolution.

The bankruptcy of the theory of “socialism in a single country” is the bankruptcy of all national programs for the working class. Nearly sixty-five years ago Leon Trotsky stressed the futility of attempts to base the struggle of the working class against capitalism on a nationalist perspective when the world economy had developed as a mighty factor of economic reality. Since that time vast changes have taken place in the world economy which have immeasurably reinforced the truth of Trotsky’s political conclusions: the global integration of production, the development of computerized communications, the domination of the world market by transnational corporations operating with an unprecedented degree of international integration. Organizations of the working class which base themselves on nationalism can exist today, in the final analysis, only as appendages of the national capitalist state, facilitating the offensive of the world bourgeoisie against the working class. The most urgent task facing the proletarian vanguard is the fight to unify the struggles of the working class internationally on the basis of the program of world socialist revolution. It is for this reason that the ICFI has taken the initiative to convene the Berlin conference.

The breakdown of the Eastern European regimes is also the most powerful vindication of the struggle waged by the ICFI against Pabloite revisionism, the opportunist current which emerged within the Trotskyist movement at the end of the 1940s. Pabloism, whose best-known spokesman is the Belgian professor Ernest Mandel, represented an adaptation to the political arrangements worked out between imperialism and the Soviet bureaucracy after World War II whereby the imperialists were obliged to cede control over Eastern Europe to the Stalinists in exchange for the strangling of the revolutionary struggles of the working class, particularly in Western Europe. In establishing these “buffer states,” as they were called, the bureaucracy suppressed every vestige of the independent mobilization of the working class in those states which came under their control. Eventually, capitalist property was nationalized to a large extent. However, in no case were these states the product of the taking of power by the working class and the building of organs of workers power. Pabloism, however, claimed that the developments in Eastern Europe revealed that under the pressure of the movement of the working class Stalinism would be obliged to play a revolutionary role in spite of its treacherous past. The Pabloites hailed the Eastern European states as the first examples of the way in which socialism was to be achieved in the next historical period, a period which could last for centuries.

The battle conducted inside the Fourth International against this revisionist current was of decisive importance. The Pabloites were effectively abandoning the basic Marxist tenet that socialism cannot be achieved without the conscious action of the great mass of the working class. By adapting themselves to the “new reality” of the early postwar years the Pabloites played the insidious role of bolstering Stalinism right at the point when its grip on the working class was to face its first great challenges—in East Germany in 1953, then in Poland and Hungary in 1956. In 1953 the ICFI was founded to defend the principles and program of Trotskyism against the liquidationism of the Pabloites. Mandel, who was promoted by the bourgeoisie and its petty-bourgeois agencies during the postwar period as the “world’s leading Marxist economist,” plays the role today of helping to organize the orderly transfer of power from Stalinism to imperialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union right when the Stalinist bureaucracy is in its greatest crisis. The long political and theoretical struggle carried out by the orthodox Trotskyists against Pabloism was for several decades confined to a relatively small number of people. The political implications of this struggle, however, go to the heart of the major political questions now facing millions of workers. And despite the initial confusion which followed the events in Eastern Europe, the working class is now being assembled under the banner of the Fourth International.

In this issue we are also reprinting two lengthy statements dealing with the political evolution of Cliff Slaughter, one of the leaders of the Workers Revolutionary Party who broke with the ICFI in 1986. Slaughter’s opposition to the defense of the nationalized property relations in the USSR and his maneuvers in defense of imperialism in Namibia are the greatest vindication of the split in the ICFI. In 1985-86 the orthodox Trotskyists in the International Committee achieved a powerful victory over a Pabloite tendency which had developed in the leadership of the WRP. The Trotskyists were able to break the grip of the opportunists on the IC and begin the task of reorienting the movement along revolutionary lines. The split in the ICFI was the theoretical anticipation of the great events which erupted at the end of the 1980s, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. At the center of the split was the struggle for proletarian internationalism against national opportunism, the central questions in the struggles confronting millions of workers throughout the world.

The conference which will held in Berlin in November is the outcome of the long fight waged by the ICFI against Stalinism and its apologists. It will represent an important step in the struggle to resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Increasingly, workers are coming to identify Trotskyism as the bearer of the only viable program for the working class and the Fourth International as the means through which the struggles of the working class can be unified internationally.

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The Fourth International is the journal of record of the ICFI, presenting the major documents of the movement and its sections. With this issue we are introducing a new design together with a perfect-bound format. These changes are aimed at improving the readability of the magazine and also facilitating its distribution to an audience which is widening. It will be published twice a year.