On May Day 1991, the International Committee of the Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution founded by Leon Trotsky, issues a call for the convocation of a World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism. This conference will be held on November 16 and 17, under the auspices of the International Committee, in Berlin—the very city where Karl Liebknecht, 75 years before, issued his immortal denunciation of the first imperialist world war. This conference will not be a showcase for demagogic phrases and empty slogans. For such political theatrics the working class has absolutely no use. Instead, the conference, as conceived by the International Committee, will 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. The central aim of the conference will be to renew the great traditions of socialist internationalism—betrayed by the social democrats, Stalinists, and all the other representatives of opportunism—in the ranks of the world proletariat.
The Persian Gulf war has laid bare the utter worthlessness of the traditional labor parties and trade union organizations of the working class. Nowhere in the world was there any significant organized working class opposition to the war against Iraq. Despite the honest outrage and disgust of millions of workers, their instinctive class opposition to the imperialist onslaught was not allowed to find any organized and independent political expression. Where demonstrations and protests could not be entirely prevented, the labor bureaucracies, social democratic as well as Stalinist, saw to it that they did not assume a form threatening to the war policies of “their” governments. All the old organizations of the officially-sanctioned labor movement, staffed by thousands of lethargic petty-bourgeois functionaries, have been completely transformed into appendages of the capitalist state. In terms of their practice and even their official programs, the political distinctions between the Stalinists, social democrats and the official bourgeois parties have been virtually obliterated. The “socialist” government of Francois Mitterrand banned antiwar demonstrations in Paris and sent its planes to bomb Iraqi women and children. Only the fact that the social democrats were not in power in Britain prevented them from doing the same; although Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party, availed himself of every opportunity to salute the Union Jack and grovel at the feet of the Tory prime minister. The German social democrats joined the CDU in endorsing the war against Iraq and did everything in their power to strangle the opposition to the war among the workers and youth. As for the Stalinists, the war has finally demolished what little there remained of the old myth that the Soviet bureaucracy represented some sort of “anti-imperialist” force in world politics. The open drive of the Gorbachev regime to restore capitalism within the USSR found its most criminal international expression in the Kremlin’s endorsement of the war against Iraq. The unabashed alignment of the labor bureaucracies behind the imperialists is a warning to every class-conscious worker: there is no time to lose in building up a new revolutionary leadership that will spearhead the struggle against imperialist militarism.
All the great historical and political tasks that confronted the working class and the oppressed masses at the beginning of the 20th century are now posed in their starkest form. The savage bombing of Iraq and the virtual destruction of its industrial infrastructure marks the beginning of a new eruption of imperialist barbarism. Capitalism cannot survive without enslaving and destroying millions. Twice in this century, in 1914 and 1939, imperialism plunged mankind into world wars whose toll in human lives numbered in the tens of millions. The Persian Gulf war, whose dead have yet to be counted, has served notice that an even greater world conflagration is now being prepared. It is almost as if some master dramatist had decided to restage, with mankind as his audience, the bloodiest events of the first half of the 20th century.
After all that has happened since August 1990, only the incurably naive can still believe that the war in the Persian Gulf was merely an isolated episode, provoked solely by Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait and unrelated to any broader imperialist interests. The transformation of the oil-rich gulf states into virtual protectorates of the United States has been followed, in the aftermath of the war, by the occupation of northern Iraq by the armies of a number of imperialist powers. This ongoing and de facto partition of Iraq signals the start of a new division of the world by the imperialists. The colonies of yesterday are again to be subjugated. The conquests and annexations which, according to the opportunist apologists of imperialism, belonged to a bygone era are once again on the order of the day.
In their determination to destroy and plunder Iraq, the imperialists displayed an astonishing unity of purpose. The proceedings at the United Nations, the rather seedy center of imperialist debauchery, were as dignified as those of a military brothel, with scores of bourgeois diplomats lining up outside the doors of the Security Council to “get in on the action.” The call issued by the United States for the assault against Iraq was answered not only by Britain, France, Germany and Japan, but also by a host of lesser imperialist powers—Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland, to name only a few. Even Norway, which annually dispenses a prestigious “peace prize” in honor of the inventor of dynamite, made a contribution to the anti-Iraqi crusade. Underlying the broad participation in this coalition was the unstated understanding that the war against Iraq would legitimize a revival of colonial policy by all the imperialist powers. Support for the American-led war was viewed by the other imperialist states as a necessary down payment for future US acquiescence, if not full support, for their own enterprises in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. In providing the United States with facilities at the Moron air base near Seville, the Spanish government was seeking to win “Great Power” backing for its own plans for a greater role in the Maghreb. In return for supporting the United States, the Dutch government received support for its reestablishment of control over the foreign policy of its former colony, Suriname. One can only imagine how many similar payoffs were agreed to by Bush and Baker as they assembled their coalition. But there is no friendship among thieves; and the resurgence of colonialism will have far-reaching and disastrous consequences. As in the years before 1914 and 1939, the plundering and enslavement of small and defenseless countries is inextricably linked to the intensification of disputes and struggles among the imperialist powers.
Notwithstanding the many changes which have taken place in the form and structure of world capitalism since 1945, the same conflicts—over markets, sources of raw materials, and access to “cheap labor”—which led to the First and Second World Wars are leading relentlessly to the Third. Science has achieved “miracles” in the course of the 20th century. It has transformed man’s understanding of the laws which govern the movement of the universe; it has initiated the practical exploration of space; and it is mapping with ever-greater precision the genetic structure of human life, thereby laying the basis for the “perfection,” at least in terms of biology, of the human species. But science cannot and will not find a way to peacefully resolve the crisis of the capitalist system. The global integration of production, which responds to the electronically-transmitted impulses and demands of a world market, smashes against the limits of the obsolete national state form in which the capitalist system is historically rooted. This contradiction, in turn, accelerates and intensifies the basic conflict between the private ownership of the productive forces by a small number of capitalist conglomerates and the social character of a productive process which involves the labor of hundreds of millions, requiring ever more complex forms of organization and planning.
These contradictions—between social production and private ownership, between the world character of production and the national-state system—are the basic source of the economic breakdowns and violent political eruptions that have repeatedly shaken the planet in the course of the 20th century. Despite all the efforts to suppress them, they are once again building toward an explosion. There is no way to prevent a Third World War except through a victorious international proletarian revolution and the overthrow of capitalism. All other proposals for preventing war—from calls for nuclear “nonproliferation” treaties and proposals for disarmament to pacifist appeals to the bourgeoisie, conscientious objection and prayer vigils—are little more than exercises in cynicism or self-deception.
The Lessons of History
The struggle of the proletariat against imperialist war must be grounded in a study of the objective experiences and lessons of the 20th century. Both the First and Second World Wars were waged, in the final analysis, to settle economic and political disputes among the main imperialist powers. The war which erupted in 1914 had its roots in fundamental changes in the nature of the capitalist system during the final three decades of the 19th century. The relatively free competition which had characterized capitalism prior to the 1870s was supplanted by an enormous concentration of production in the hands of massive cartels and trusts. The age of finance capital had arrived. Colonialism, which had been on the wane, suddenly underwent an explosive revival as the need arose for new and protected markets to consume the vast output of commodities by the advanced capitalist countries. “European consumption is saturated,” Ferry, one of the founders of the French imperialist movement, warned in the 1880s. “It is necessary to raise new masses of consumers in other parts of the globe, else we shall put modem society into bankruptcy and prepare for the dawn of the twentieth century a cataclysmic social liquidation of which one cannot calculate the consequences” (Langer, William L., European Alliances and Alignments 1871-1890 [New York, 1950], p. 287).
The great powers of Europe—principally Britain, France and Germany—acquired colonial empires based on the conquest and exploitation of the masses of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Before the turn of the century, the United States and Japan, far younger capitalist powers, embarked upon their own program of imperialist expansion. The diplomacy of imperialism, despite the veneer of official civility, was centered on a ruthless and predatory struggle among rival groups of national capitalists for the strengthening of their world economic and strategic position. The massive increase of spending on armaments arose organically out of the inter-imperialist rivalries. Behind every clash of interests lurked the possibility of an all-European and even global war. In the ceaseless struggle among the imperialists to establish their hegemony, even the most remote regions acquired a strategic significance which often outweighed their immediate economic importance. Alliances shifted continuously as the imperialist powers maneuvered among each other for even small advantages. Britain and France, “friends” for much of the 19th century, were transformed into enemies under the pressure of competing interests in North Africa and the Middle East. Only the French decision to recognize British supremacy in Egypt pulled the two powers back from the brink of war and transformed them into “friends” once again. In the meantime, Britain and Germany, who had been united in their opposition to France, were by the beginning of the 20th century transformed into bitter opponents. The fragile “balance of power” upon which imperialism depended to preserve the peace finally broke down beneath the pressure of conflicting interests. A seemingly minor incident in the inflammable Balkans—the assassination of an Austrian archduke in the town of Sarajevo in June 1914—provided the spark which ignited the world war.
The development of the revolutionary socialist movement was inseparably bound up with the struggle against imperialism and its war-mongering policies. The finest representatives of the Second International, founded in 1889, warned that imperialism was preparing a bloody catastrophe which could only be averted by the revolutionary struggle of the working class. “World politics and militarism,” declared Rosa Luxemburg in 1911, “are nothing other than capitalism’s specific method for both developing and resolving international contradictions.... Only those who believe that class antagonisms can be softened and be blunted, and that capitalist economic anarchy can be contained, can think it possible that these international conflicts can subside, ease, or dissolve. For the international antagonisms of the capitalist states are only the complement of class antagonisms, and the world political anarchy is but the reverse side of the anarchic system of capitalist production” (Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1984], pp. 72-73). The congresses of the Second International, most notably at Stuttgart in 1907 and Basel in 1912, resolutions were passed pledging opposition to imperialist war and the governments that waged it, regardless of who fired the first shot. The manifesto approved unanimously at Basel called “upon the workers of all countries to rally the power of international proletarian solidarity against capitalist imperialism” and warned the bourgeoisie that the launching of war would give rise to revolutionary struggles (Ibid., p. 89). But the political content of these words was diminished by the steady growth of opportunism within the parties of the Second International, which more and more openly identified the interests of the working class with that of the capitalist “fatherland.” Thus, when war erupted in August 1914, the main parties of the Second International, in violation of their own declared policies, voted in their respective parliaments to support the demand of their capitalist governments for war credits. This marked the collapse of the Second International. Only a relative handful of socialist leaders opposed the shameful capitulation of the opportunists to the wave of imperialist chauvinism. The most far-sighted of these revolutionary internationalists was Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party, who issued the call for the founding of a Third International.
The Consequences of World War I
None of the imperialist governments which launched the war had foreseen its consequences. Europe was transformed into a mass graveyard for millions who perished in battles or from disease. In the end, Britain and France emerged victorious over their German adversary; but the terrible cost of their dubious triumph ensured the eventual loss of the very empires they had gone to war to defend. The only imperialist powers to emerge strengthened from the war were the United States and, to a lesser extent, Japan. The old political and social equilibrium of pre-1914 Europe was irretrievably shattered. The conquest of power by the Bolsheviks in Russia called into question the very survival of bourgeois “civilization,” if that word can even be used in relation to an economic system responsible for the nightmare of World War I. If ever a society stood condemned by its own crimes, it was certainly that created by capitalism. But there did not exist anywhere in Western Europe a revolutionary party comparable to that which had overthrown the Russian bourgeoisie. The ruling classes were therefore able to beat back, with the decisive help of the social democrats, the threat of social revolution. But they were not in a position to create a new equilibrium upon which the recovery and expansion of European capitalism could be based. In the words of Keynes, the Europe which emerged from the war resembled a madhouse.
By the end of the 1920s, the fragility of the postwar order was exposed by the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange which marked the beginning of the worldwide Depression. Had there existed competent revolutionary leadership in the international workers movement, the victory of the socialist revolution throughout Europe and eventually the world would have been assured. But the Communist International, founded in 1919 under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, had by the beginning of the 1930s undergone a terrible degeneration. On the basis of the reactionary theory of “socialism in one country,” the Soviet bureaucracy led by Stalin had converted the Communist International into an auxiliary instrument of the Kremlin’s diplomatic maneuvers with world imperialism. The control exercised by the Kremlin over the Communist parties in Europe led to a series of catastrophic defeats, above all in Germany, where the Nazis came to power in January 1933. It was this historic betrayal which led Trotsky to issue the call for the founding of the Fourth International. But under conditions of isolation and relentless persecution not only by Stalin’s secret police, but also by the fascist and “democratic” imperialists, the Fourth International was unable to reverse the tide of reaction. The further betrayals, in the years following Hitler’s victory, of the proletariat in Austria, France and, finally, Spain, cleared the way for the outbreak of the second imperialist world war.
World War II
The war began in September 1939 as an attempt by Germany to reverse the consequences of its defeat 21 years earlier and establish its dominance in Europe. However, within little more than two years the war was transformed into a global conflict. To obtain the resources required for a protracted struggle with the British empire and, across the Atlantic, with the United States, Hitler brushed aside his “nonaggression” pact with Stalin and hurled his armies against the Soviet Union in June 1941. In the meantime, Japanese imperialism, despite its victories in Asia, realized that there existed no means of securing guaranteed access to vital raw materials without challenging American control over the Pacific. For its part, the United States did everything in its power to close off to Japan any possibility of a peaceful resolution of their differences. The attack on Pearl Harbor finally provided the Roosevelt administration with the long-awaited opportunity to settle scores with Japan and to enter the ongoing war in Europe.
Notwithstanding the democratic and “antifascist” rhetoric of Roosevelt and Churchill, the objective interests underlying the war aims of the United States and Britain were no less imperialistic than those of Germany and Japan. Britain was fighting to preserve whatever it could of its vast imperial holdings. The United States was intent on establishing its position as the leading imperialist power. Only in the case of the Soviet Union did the struggle against Hitler contain, despite the perfidy of the Kremlin bureaucracy, a genuinely progressive and antiimperialist element. The conquest of the USSR by German imperialism and the liquidation of the nationalized property relations established in 1917 on the basis of the October Revolution would have represented a crushing defeat for the Soviet and international working class. Only the determination of the Soviet people to defend their revolution can explain the gigantic scale of the sacrifices which they made to defeat the Nazi armies.
However, despite the heroism of the Soviet people, the policies which guided the Kremlin’s conduct of the war were of a fundamentally reactionary character. No less than the “democratic” imperialists of Britain and the United States with whom it was allied, the Soviet bureaucracy feared nothing more than the prospect of a general revolutionary upheaval at the end of the war. Stalin calculated that a socialist revolution in Germany, Italy, France, or, for that matter, in any of the capitalist states shattered by the war, would electrify the Soviet proletariat and encourage it to settle accounts with the Kremlin Mafia. Thus, in a series of conferences held between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt (and, after the latter’s death in April 1945, Truman)—at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam—the Kremlin made it clear that in return for specific guarantees for the inviolability of Soviet territory, it would collaborate with the imperialists in preserving capitalist rule in Western Europe and, due to its strategic significance, Greece. Later, in his memoirs, Churchill recounted how during a meeting in Moscow in 1944 he sketched on a sheet of paper an outline of the political and territorial division of postwar Europe. Despite the fact that partisans led by the Communist Party had spearheaded the fight against the Nazi occupation and were in a position to take power in Greece, it was marked in Churchill’s outline as remaining in Britain’s sphere of influence. “I pushed this across to Stalin,” wrote Churchill, “who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time that it takes to set down” (Churchill, Memoirs of the Second World War [Boston, 1987], p. 886).
The Postwar Order
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the bourgeoisie was able to achieve what had eluded it following World War I—a viable international equilibrium upon which the restoration and expansion of the capitalist order could be based. The outbreak of World War I had marked the beginning of a protracted period of instability in the affairs of capitalism as a world system. An unprecedented and uncontrollable breakdown occurred in the complex and delicate mechanisms regulating the relations between the interacting components of the world economy, between the capitalist states, and between the social classes in the capitalist countries. The meltdown of the world capitalist system continued for more than three decades, until it was finally brought under control following the conclusion of World War II.
The necessary political preconditions for the restoration of the equilibrium were provided by the treachery of the Kremlin bureaucracy and its satellite parties. They actively opposed and sabotaged the revolutionary struggles of the proletariat in Europe and internationally. In France and Italy, the Stalinists devoted their energies to the political rehabilitation of the discredited bourgeoisie and the reconstruction of the capitalist state. In Eastern Europe, their role was no less vital. As in Western Europe, the political intervention of the Soviet Union was directed, above all, against the working class and the prospects of a genuine socialist revolution. The main concern of the Kremlin was to bring the workers movement under control, and to subordinate the interests of the proletariat to the dealings between the Soviet bureaucracy and world imperialism. Eventually, the Kremlin was obliged to go further than it had originally intended: the Stalinist parties were instructed to take power into their own hands. But notwithstanding the imperialists’ complaints over the expropriation of the local bourgeoisie, Stalinist domination of Eastern Europe had the effect of imposing a degree of political order, unknown since the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, over a region whose deep-rooted social contradictions had contributed so greatly to the general instability of Europe between 1900 and 1945. Moreover, the division of Europe, and especially of Germany, served the immediate interests of the imperialists, who were inclined to welcome all measures which tended to mitigate the contradictions which had led to two world wars in the space of less than 30 years. The carve-up of Germany provided for the imperialists an answer to the perplexing problem of integrating this potentially too powerful state into the framework of a postwar Europe. In addition, the postwar political settlement divided not only the states of Europe between East and West, but also the working class. And it was this brutal splitting of the European proletariat with barbed wire, concrete walls and mine fields that proved to be the political factor most detrimental to the struggle for socialism.
The suppression of the revolutionary threat in the immediate aftermath of the world war provided imperialism with the opportunity to work out a new foundation for the reconstruction of capitalist rule in Europe, without which the survival of imperialism as a world system would not have been possible. Here the decisive role was played by the United States. Its ability after 1945 to assume a hegemonic role, based on its massive industrial power and vast economic reserves, provided the crucial political and economic fulcrum for realizing precisely what had eluded the world bourgeoisie at the end of World War I: a new global equilibrium among the capitalist states. The bitter inter-imperialist rivalries that had led to the two world wars were finally superseded by the emergence of the United States as the undisputed arbiter of the affairs of world imperialism. It created the political and economic institutions—the Marshall Plan, NATO and related military pacts, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade—which provided the foundation for the postwar survival and expansion of world capitalism.
The Crisis of the Postwar Order
As long as there existed no other capitalist state, or, for that matter, combination of capitalist states, that could challenge the economic supremacy of the United States; and as long as the international bourgeoisie depended upon American military forces in the event of a clash with the Soviet Union, world capitalism was able to maintain its equilibrium on the basis of the postwar settlement. However, its very success in reviving world trade and rebuilding European and Japanese capitalism steadily undermined the equilibrium upon which the stability of the world system depended. The gradual decline of the economic hegemony of the United States was recorded, from the late 1950s on, in the mounting deficits in its balance of payments and trade. By 1971 the United States was compelled to abandon the system of dollar-gold convertibility that had been the linchpin of the postwar economic order. In one industry after another, American dominance came under attack. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, the annual trade deficits of the United States began to assume staggering dimensions, particularly in relation to Japan. In 1985, the United States became a net debtor country for the first time since World War I. The decline in the world position of the United States inevitably called into question the viability of the postwar equilibrium. The worsening trade disputes and the division of the world market among hostile regional blocs (North America, Europe and Asia) more and more resemble the trade warfare which characterized the years leading up to World War n.
Moreover, the developments in science and technology have themselves become a crucial element in the destabilization of world capitalism. While the shifting balance of economic power intensifies the conflicts among capitalist states and drives them further apart, the impact of the microchip revolution on the methods and means of production, design, planning, transport and communications had led to an unprecedented integration of the world economy. The modem transnational corporation has, from an economic standpoint, completely outgrown the old and puny parameters of the national state. Its directors are compelled to think and act in terms of world production, world markets, world finance and world resources. The old distinctions between the home market and world market are in the process of being entirely effaced. The modem transnational corporation, regardless of the geographical location of its home base, is involved in a life-and-death struggle for dominance in the world market. But even as the national state loses its objective economic significance, its role as the political-military instrument of the competing national cliques of capitalists in the struggle for world domination grows enormously. This fact finds its most powerful expression in the accelerating preparations for a new world conflagration.
The Growth of Inter-imperialist Antagonisms
The postwar equilibrium of imperialism, which provided the political foundation for the massive worldwide expansion of capitalism, has broken down. It cannot be restored peacefully, for the relations between all the component parts which comprised the old equilibrium have been transformed. It is not a matter of the subjective desires of the individual leaders of bourgeois states, but of the objective consequences of economic and social contradictions which are beyond their control.
At the center of the disequilibrium of world imperialism is the crisis of the United States. It is one of the more peculiar ironies of history that at the very moment when the Soviet bureaucracy is glorifying the United States as an example of what can be achieved under capitalism, America is blighted by a social crisis that has exposed the putrefaction of all the institutions of the “free enterprise” system. The third major recession within 16 years is threatening to bring about the collapse of countless banks and corporations that expanded during the 1980s on the basis of massive borrowing. The old reformist nostrums of the New Deal, New Frontier and Great Society, belong to the distant past. Not a single significant piece of social legislation has passed through Congress in more than two decades. Massive budget cuts have destroyed what remained of the old social programs. The crime statistics are merely the most obvious symptom of the malignant state of social relations. Amidst rapidly growing unemployment and, for those who still have jobs, declining wages, the state of education, housing and medical care is nothing less than catastrophic. A third of the population is functionally illiterate. Not even the mass media can avoid reporting on a daily basis some of the more spectacular “horror stories” of lives destroyed by the impact of the social crisis: homeless people freezing in cardboard boxes, cancer victims being denied treatment because they have no medical insurance, and unemployed workers and their families committing suicide. A columnist in a leading capitalist newspaper casually observed, as if reporting a well-known fact, that the political leaders of the United States long ago came to the conclusion that nothing can be done to arrest, let alone overcome, the decay of its social institutions and the impoverishment of ever wider layers of the population. For the preservation of social stability the American bourgeoisie is compelled to rely on the police and still more on the unlimited treachery of its agents in the labor movement, whose social function is to suppress and sabotage every sign of independent struggle by the working class.
Against the background of the worsening social crisis and its potentially revolutionary consequences, the drive of American imperialism to restore its position of world dominance constitutes the single most explosive element in world politics. The international policy of the United States is increasingly concentrated on extricating itself from its economic crisis at the expense of its European and Japanese rivals. The Bush administration has gone to war twice in little more than a year, first against Panama and then against Iraq. The increasing recklessness and bellicosity of American imperialism represents, in the final analysis, an attempt to offset and reverse its economic decay through the use of military power—the one area in which the United States still exercises unquestioned domination. Far more important to the United States than the “liberation” of Kuwait was the opportunity to provide an international demonstration of the destructiveness of American weaponry. During the war Bush publicly noted the dependence of America’s principal trade rivals on Persian Gulf oil, and suggested that the war would increase American “persuasiveness” and “lead to more harmonious trading relationships.” Indeed, the idea that military power can be used to extract concessions from the Europeans and Japanese has seized hold of broad sections of the ruling class in the United States. “Force is a legitimate tool of policy; it works,” declared the Wall Street Journal at the end of the war. “For the elites themselves, the message is: America can lead, stop whining, think more boldly. Starting now.”
Despite the pretentious rhetoric of Bush’s “new world order,” the United States lacks the material resources necessary to reestablish its dominant position in the affairs of world capitalism. The crude shakedown of its allies for money to finance the cost of the war only called worldwide attention to the disparity between America’s military pretensions and its financial means. Moreover, it is easier for the United States to bomb defenseless Baghdad than it is to recapture from Japan the leading position in the world market for semiconductors, the core commodity upon which modem technology is based. Far from creating a new equilibrium in the relations between the imperialist states, the war has merely provided further proof of the demise of the old one. As the economic weakness of the United States becomes apparent, the European and Japanese bourgeoisie assert their own interests more aggressively. The triumphal shouts of the American bourgeoisie following the victory of “Desert Storm” were brought to a sudden end when the Bush administration realized that the European bourgeoisie was successfully exploiting the plight of the Kurds to assert its own strategic interests in the Middle East. As if to counter the American military forces stationed in the Persian Gulf and on the southern border of Iraq, the Europeans began moving their forces into north Iraq. The European and Japanese imperialists do not intend to leave their fate in the hands of the United States. In the aftermath of the war, the Europeans have taken steps to establish their own “rapid deployment force,” independent of the NATO structure in which the United States still plays the leading role. The German ruling class has made it clear that it cannot accept that its position in world affairs in the 21st century should be determined by the military defeat it suffered in the middle of the 20th. Under the guise of “humanitarian relief’ for the Kurds, the German army initiated its first operation outside Europe since the defeat of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. In a remark which recalled the “blood and iron” speech of old Bismarck, Manfred Womer, the German Secretary-General of NATO, declared, “There are cases where diplomacy, without the sword, is impotent.” And, at the same time, the Japanese government began its first post-World War II deployment of military forces beyond its own borders.
Not since the end of World War II has there been such uncertainty in international relations. The predictable channels through which international diplomacy flowed during the Cold War have been superseded by events. Old alliances are breaking down; and new ones are still in the process of formation. The struggle of the powerful transnational corporations for world domination imparts a terrific tension to international affairs. The possibility of war between the United States and Japan is already being discussed in the pages of the world press. And the increasingly chauvinistic tone of American politicians is aimed at preparing public opinion for the possibility of an attack sooner rather than later, before Japan has the opportunity to concentrate its formidable economic power and organizational skills on the task of creating a military force powerful enough to confront the United States. But it cannot be predicted with certainty that the clash of economic interests will lead first to a military conflict between the United States and Japan, however likely this appears at the present time. A war between the United States and a number of European powers, including Britain, is also a possibility. Moreover, it cannot be excluded that a future war will find the European states themselves divided on different sides of the barricades. The unification of Germany has completely altered the old balance of power on the European continent. The alignment of “friends” and “enemies” may yet take a quite unexpected form. But imperialism being what it is, the clash of interests leads inevitably toward war. To believe that the imperialists will avoid such a drastic outcome because the results, given the existing technology, would be too terrible, would be a fatal political error. The fear of catastrophe does, indeed, exert some influence on the conduct of international relations. In their saner moments, the leaders of world imperialism probably realize that World War III could be the tomb of civilization. But historical experience testifies eloquently to the fact that it is the objective contradictions of imperialism, not the moral qualms or subjective fears of capitalist politicians, that decide the issue. The only force in the world that can prevent another world war is the revolutionary working class.
The Collapse of the Stalinist Regimes in Eastern Europe
In the final analysis, the same fundamental contradiction that underlies the breakdown of the imperialist equilibrium—between the world economy and the national-state system—is the cause of the explosive collapse of all the Stalinist regimes. Neither concrete walls nor other forms of impenetrable state-imposed barriers to trade could immunize the Eastern European economies against the pressure of the world market. The attempts to place upon Marxism responsibility for the collapse of the Stalinist regimes are as fraudulent as the earlier claims of the Stalinist bureaucrats to be building socialism in their economically-backward national states. Far from representing the implementation of a revolutionary program, the artificial isolation of the Eastern European states from the world market and international division of labor represented the desperate attempt of the Stalinist bureaucracies to establish a peculiar modus vivendi between their backward national economies and world imperialism. Cutting through the distracting and cynical rhetoric of the Stalinist scoundrels, an objective examination of their autarkic programs of national economic development shows them to be the absolute antithesis of Marxism, which takes the development of world economy as the starting point of genuine socialist construction. Indeed, the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Stalinist regime in the USSR is the most powerful vindication of the Trotskyist movement’s unrelenting struggle, dating back to 1924, against the reactionary and anti-Marxist program of “socialism in one country.”
The disequilibrium of world capitalism has been intensified by the events in Eastern Europe and the USSR. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, the international bourgeoisie was exuberant. Capitalism, it believed, had won a colossal victory. Overwhelmed by the general euphoria, one scholar proclaimed that “the end of history” had arrived: there was nothing left for mankind to do but contemplate the triumph of capitalist democracy. Now, more cautious voices are beginning to be heard. As they survey the political and economic wreckage left behind by the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, the more thoughtful elements among the bourgeoisie are beginning to remember the decisive contribution that the postwar domination of Eastern Europe by the Stalinists made to the restabilization of world capitalism. The long-suppressed but never resolved national and ethnic conflicts which plagued Eastern Europe and the Balkans since the breakup of the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires are once again discharging their old but still potent toxins into the atmosphere of international politics.
The news accounts of contemporary events in the Balkans read as if they were written in 1930 or even 1910. The international press is again full of reports of conflicts between Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Bosnian Muslims; of battles over the fate of Kosovo; and of disputes over the definition of the national identity of the Macedonians. Each dispute over borders and conflict over the ethnic composition of national states contains within it the possibility of setting into motion an explosive political chain reaction with international ramifications. The dispute between the Czechs and the Slovaks cannot be separated from national questions involving Germany, Hungary, Poland and even the Ukraine. The dissatisfaction of national minorities in Hungary and Romania threatens to erupt into war between the two countries. The even more explosive disputes within Yugoslavia call into question the viability of the present-day borders of Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. Inevitably, the national and ethnic disputes of Eastern Europe as well as the Soviet Union become entangled in the machinations of the major imperialist powers. Regardless of the initial intentions of the different national groups, the local rivalries are manipulated and exploited by the imperialists to promote their own penetration of the region.
The crisis in Eastern Europe is only the most striking illustration of the international crisis of the nation-state system and the related problem of national self-determination, for which no genuinely democratic solution can be found under capitalism. The idea of redrawing national borders to accommodate the dubious ideal of absolutely homogeneous populations is a reactionary fantasy. But capitalism strives to divert the indignation of the people over the unjust distribution of wealth and resources into the blind alley of national and ethnic disputes. Seeking to prevent the unification of the working class and the robust development of the class struggle, the ruling classes seek out depraved petty-bourgeois demagogues who are eager to make their careers as the champions of one or another form of communalism. The success of such agitation is to be attributed not to the intellectual and moral power of nationalism, but to the political vacuum left by the prostration of the traditional organizations of the working class, which offer no way out of the crisis of the capitalist system.
The Fourth International consistently and intransigently supports the demand for national self-determination wherever it expresses the entirely legitimate and inherently progressive desire to overthrow imperialist domination or to end the suppression of the democratic rights of any national and ethnic group. But the Fourth International proposes to realize this vital aspect of its democratic program through the unification of the proletariat of all nations in the struggle for world socialist revolution. This means that the proletariat must push aside the reactionary demagogues of bourgeois nationalism and ennoble the fight for self-determination with the universal message of international class solidarity. Only in this way can national self-determination become a means for achieving the peaceful cooperation of all people in the economic and cultural development of mankind. As Leon Trotsky wrote 57 years ago: “The national problem merges everywhere with the social. Only the conquest of power by the world proletariat can assure a real and lasting freedom of development for all nations of our planet” (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933-34 [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972], p. 306).
The Proletariat in the Underdeveloped Countries and the Struggle against Colonialism
To the liberal reformists and pseudo-socialist opportunists, the postwar retreat of the European powers from their old colonial possessions and the granting of political independence to the colonies represented a positive and fundamental change in the nature of capitalism. It marked, they claimed, the abandonment of a discredited and outmoded form of political domination in favor of more humane and democratic relations between the economically advanced countries and the third world. Underlying such banal and really absurd assertions was the conception, exposed long ago by Lenin as scientifically untenable, that imperialism is merely a policy, rather than a specific historical stage of capitalist development based on definite economic phenomena. The granting of formal independence to the colonies did not represent a change in the nature of imperialism, but only in the political forms through which finance capital exercised its domination of these oppressed countries. In the face of the mass movement against colonialism that swept across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the imperialists decided to work out a political compromise with the representatives of the colonial bourgeoisie. An “orderly transfer of power” to the national bourgeoisie which preserved the essential economic interests of imperialism was preferable to an uncontrolled revolutionary upheaval which ended in the transfer of power to the working class. Thus, this necessary adaptation to the “winds of change” was an important tactical component of the postwar arrangements upon which a new imperialist equilibrium was based.
For the masses of workers and peasants, formal independence brought no enduring improvement in their social conditions. The national bourgeoisie proved incapable of liberating their countries from the economic domination of imperialism or of carrying through any of the basic tasks historically associated with democratic revolutions. However, in order to preserve some credibility among the masses, the national bourgeoisie sought to bolster its “anti-imperialist” credentials by exploiting the opportunities provided by the conflicts of the Cold War. By cultivating the patronage of the Soviet bureaucracy, the national bourgeoisie, especially in the Middle East, was often able to extract greater concessions than the imperialists would have otherwise made. The political crisis in the ruling circles of the American bourgeoisie following the debacle in Vietnam provided the national bourgeoisie with additional breathing space. However, this state of affairs, based on a peculiar and inherently unstable international conjuncture, could not last. The impact of the endless betrayals of the Stalinist and social democratic bureaucracies produced a drastic weakening of the international workers movement which provided imperialism with the opportunity to intensify political pressure upon the oppressed countries. The lessons of the Vietnam defeat were carefully studied in all the military academies of the imperialists. The British war against Argentina over the Malvinas (1982), the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut (1982), and the series of military actions undertaken by the United States since 1983—the intervention in Lebanon, the invasion of Grenada, the bombing of Libya, the invasion of Panama, and, finally, the war against Iraq—represent in their totality the return by imperialism to its traditional methods of asserting its interests in the oppressed countries. There is no question that the cynical abandonment by the Soviet bureaucracy of its longstanding “clients” in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America has removed all reasons for restraint and compromise on the part of the imperialists.
Recognizing the change in the international environment, the leaders of the national bourgeoisie are seeking desperately to work out an accommodation with imperialism that would still permit them to hold on to power. The participation of the Arab regimes in the assault against Iraq demonstrates the degree to which the national bourgeoisie has already reconciled itself to the status of semi-colonial subservience. No American-born colonial administrator could serve US imperialism more faithfully than the president of “independent” Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. The political groveling of the national bourgeoisie is only partially motivated by fear of a military assault. It is, more directly, a manifestation of the economic dependency of the oppressed countries upon imperialist investments. The pretentious programs of national self-sufficiency launched in the first years of independence by bourgeois nationalists like Nehru in India, Sukarno in Indonesia, Nkrumah in Ghana, and Nasser in Egypt ended long ago in bankruptcy. Far from striving to liberate their countries from the grip of international finance capital, the national bourgeoisie beg for the establishment of “special enterprise zones” in which the imperialists are permitted the unrestrained exploitation of the region’s natural and human resources.
In every one of the oppressed countries the story is the same. In Latin America, the older bourgeois nationalist movements—the PRI of Mexico, APRA in Peru and Peronism in Argentina—have all emerged as the direct agents of the International Monetary Fund in starving the masses in order to export capital to the Wall Street banks. In the case of Peronism, whose founder once claimed to have discovered a “third way” between capitalism and communism, the present representative, President Carlos Menem, rushed warships to the Persian Gulf, in hopes of winning a more favorable hearing from the IMF or a few Kuwaiti contracts for bankrupt Argentine capital.
Among the left bourgeois nationalists, such advocates of armed struggle for national liberation as the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka have each found similar paths to capitulation over the past period. All of them have renounced the most fundamental tasks of national self-determination and independence from imperialism while embracing the reactionary national divisions imposed by imperialism and subordinating themselves to one or another “peace” scheme originating in Washington. Joining them is the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro, who has been exposed as just another variant of bourgeois nationalism. During the buildup to the Gulf war, Castro’s representative repeatedly abstained on key resolutions legitimizing the US imperialist war of aggression. Having lost the backing of its Soviet patrons, the Castroite regime finds its national socialist pretensions untenable and is rapidly moving to reintegrate Cuba back into the imperialist world market.
The struggle of the oppressed nations against imperialist oppression cannot be waged successfully as long as the working class remains under the political domination of any wing of the national bourgeoisie. This rule applies no less to the workers of Iraq than it does to those of Egypt. The differences between a Saddam Hussein and a Hosni Mubarak are of a tactical, rather than principled character. While the working class was duty-bound to defend Iraq against the imperialist onslaught, it could not extend the slightest political support to Hussein’s regime. Hussein invaded Kuwait not to strike a blow against imperialism, but to strengthen the bargaining position of the Iraqi bourgeoisie with imperialism. The very manner in which Hussein conducted the war exposed the political priorities of his regime. His most experienced troops were held in the rear and in reserve, for use against the working class and national minorities within Iraq—not against the imperialist armies.
The struggle against imperialism must be waged by the working class on the basis of an international revolutionary program. The liberation of the masses cannot be achieved through the alteration of borders in favor of this or that country, but through the overthrow of the national bourgeoisie and the destruction of the imperialist-drawn borders of the national-state system which is an absolute barrier on the economic development of the oppressed countries. In place of the economically irrational patchwork of borders, the Fourth International calls on the proletariat of the semi-colonial countries to fight for the United Socialist States of Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
For the Overthrow of the Soviet Bureaucracy and the Defense of the Conquests of October
The words “treachery” and “betrayal” fail to convey the criminal dimensions of the role played by the Soviet bureaucracy in the Persian Gulf war. The Gorbachev regime must be considered fully responsible for the atrocities committed by imperialism against the Iraqi people. Its votes in the United Nations, first for the imposition of economic sanctions and then for the use of military force against Iraq, provided the necessary political cover required by imperialism to prepare its attack. The collaboration of the Kremlin in the imperialist war against Iraq is the historical culmination of the counterrevolutionary role which Stalinism has played for more than a half century both in the Soviet Union and internationally.
The open and unabashed alignment of the Gorbachev regime with world imperialism is the logical corollary of the drive by the Soviet bureaucracy to restore capitalism in the USSR. In the past, to the extent that the Stalinist bureaucracy felt compelled to defend the nationalized property relations upon which its own material privileges were based, it sought to defend the Soviet Union against imperialist provocations and the possibility of direct military attack. However, the methods employed by the Kremlin to counter imperialism had absolutely nothing in common with the revolutionary internationalism championed by Lenin. The Soviet bureaucracy, concerned only with the defense of its material privileges within the state borders of the USSR, never hesitated to betray the international workers movement in order to arrive at a deal with imperialism. The deliberate sabotage of the Spanish Revolution in the 1930s, the signing of the nonaggression pact with Hitler, the abandonment of the Communist Party partisans during the Greek civil war: these are only the most infamous examples of the Kremlin’s subordination of the international class struggle to its own reactionary and opportunist relations with imperialism. Even when it extended limited military and financial support to the states of the “third world,” it did so only to deflect imperialist pressure from the USSR.
The Soviet bureaucracy is well aware of the fact that its drive to restore capitalism in the USSR will inevitably arouse massive opposition from the working class. For this very reason it requires the closest collaboration with world imperialism. Thus, the central aim of the Kremlin’s foreign policy is to intensify, rather than deflect, imperialist pressure on the USSR. That is why the Soviet bureaucracy welcomes the deployment of hundreds of thousands of imperialist troops only several hundred miles away from the southern borders of the Soviet Union. And when Time magazine, the leading weekly journal of the American bourgeoisie, carried a detailed report on US planning for a military operation inside the Soviet Union in event of serious ethnic clashes in the national republics, the Kremlin did not even issue a public protest.
With the connivance of the Kremlin, imperialism is asserting with increasing brazenness its right to assume control of the vast territories of the USSR. It is impossible for the imperialists to ignore the economic significance of the Soviet Union’s raw materials, vast productive potential and huge market. Indeed, the fate of the USSR, as well as that of Eastern Europe, is already assuming a prominent place in the calculations and rivalries of the imperialist powers. In the internal conflicts within the bureaucracy and between the national republics, the competing interests of the imperialists assert themselves more and more openly. Fearing that the Germans, acting through Gorbachev, have acquired too much influence in the Kremlin, the United States has begun championing the cause of Yeltsin and the Russian Republic.
The fact that imperialism makes open use of the national republics to hasten the dismemberment of the USSR and restore capitalism does not invalidate the right of the national groups to self-determination. The interests of the Soviet and international proletariat are not served by preserving the “territorial integrity” of the USSR on the basis of the police-state regime of the bureaucracy and its arrogant suppression of national feelings. But if self-determination is not to be a mere cover for the restoration of capitalism and the partition of the USSR into impotent statelets, ruled by imperialism, then this struggle must be waged under the leadership of the working class, on the basis of an internationalist, socialist, working class program.
Were capitalism to be restored in the USSR or in the Balkanized fragments left over from its dismemberment, it would mark the beginning of a tragic chapter in the history of the Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and all the other nationalities that presently comprise the Soviet Union. As the fate of Poland and East Germany already has demonstrated, the consequences of a “market economy” would be a horrifying decline in the social and cultural level of the Soviet people. However, the alternative to the restoration policies of the Soviet bureaucracy and the emerging class of venal comprador capitalists is not to be found in the revival of the “national socialist” policies which prepared the grounds for the present catastrophe. The defense of the basic conquests of October 1917 and their rejuvenation along socialist lines depends upon the revival of the world revolutionary program with which Lenin and Trotsky guided the work of the Bolshevik Party during its greatest years.
The fate of the Soviet Union has not yet been decided; and its future remains the most profound concern of every class-conscious worker in the world. The restoration of capitalism in the USSR and its reduction to the level of a semi-colony would represent a terrible defeat for the international working class. The struggle of the Soviet working class against the restorationist policies of the bureaucracy and that of the international working class against the imperialist bourgeoisie constitute interconnected components of the same world struggle. Their essential unity must be consciously realized through the development of the Soviet section of the International Committee of the Fourth International.
The Fourth International and the Struggle against Imperialism
More than 50 years ago, at the very beginning of the Second World War and only two months before his assassination at the hands of a Stalinist agent, Leon Trotsky 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 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” (“Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and Proletarian World Revolution,” Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40 [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973], p. 218).
In summoning the most class-conscious representatives of the world proletariat to gather in Berlin this coming November and to take part in its World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism, the International Committee of the Fourth International is preparing a decisive step forward in the resolution of the crisis of revolutionary leadership. Our aim is to firmly establish, on the basis of the entire historical experience of the Fourth International, the principles upon which the struggle to forge the international unity of the world proletariat must be based.
It is indisputable that the international workers movement is passing through its greatest crisis. But contained within this crisis is an unprecedented historical opportunity to transform the existing cadres of the Fourth International into the mass World Party of Socialist Revolution envisioned by Leon Trotsky. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes represents not the defeat of Marxism, but its greatest confirmation. The laws of history, as Trotsky predicted in the founding document of the Fourth International, have again proven more powerful than the bureaucratic apparatus. The influence which Stalinism once exercised over the international proletariat, the principal cause of virtually all the defeats suffered by the working class since the 1930s, has been shattered for all time.
The transformed relation between Trotskyism (that is, genuine Marxism) and Stalinism finds its most powerful expression within the Soviet Union, where the working class, as it throws off the shackles of the bureaucracy, is for the first time discovering the truth about its revolutionary heritage. The writings of Leon Trotsky are now being read by thousands throughout the Soviet Union. Correspondence from Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Lvov, Kharkov streams into the offices of the International Committee. Even in distant Vorkuta—once the site of a Stalinist labor camp where followers of the Fourth International, including Trotsky’s youngest son, were murdered—Soviet miners are studying and circulating the documents of the International Committee.
Less spectacular, but no less decisive, is the collapse of the political authority of the social democratic and reformist organizations. So complete is the integration of these organizations into the capitalist state that there no longer exist identifiable differences between the social democrats and the bourgeois “center-right” parties on any important political issue. As for the trade unions, their main function has become the enforcement of the austerity policies of the bourgeoisie.
Underlying the collapse of the Stalinist and social democratic parties and trade unions is the historical bankruptcy of all those organizations within the workers movement that are based on a national program. The possibility of realizing even small gains for the working class on the basis of the capitalist national state has been entirely exhausted. One after another, the bureaucracies hand back to the bourgeoisie the gains won by the working class in the struggles of bygone days. In the end, the national programs of the reformist bureaucracies boil down to subordinating the proletariat to the imperialist preparations for war.
The great historical potential of the Fourth International is rooted objectively in the fact that its program corresponds to the inner logic of world economic development and articulates the world historical role of the international proletariat. However, the victory of its program will not be automatically realized as a result of the spontaneous development of objective economic processes nor the instinctive disgust of the masses with their old leaderships. The revolutionary program must be fought for. The International Committee of the Fourth International will do everything in its power to facilitate the revolutionary regroupment of the vanguard of the working class under the banner of Marxism. This involves not only practical interventions in the daily struggles of the working class but also the waging of unyielding ideological warfare against all forms of opportunism. The Berlin Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism will be based on the rich legacy of the International Committee’s implacable struggle, dating back to its founding in 1953, against Pabloite revisionism, whose destructive political role as an accomplice of imperialism, bourgeois nationalism and Stalinism must be thoroughly exposed. The International Committee intends to utilize the opportunities provided by the Berlin conference to demarcate the genuine program of Trotskyism from all the various forms of opportunism, such as those led by Mandel, Slaughter, Torrance, Lora and Robertson. In this way, the International Committee will be following the example set by Lenin at the great antiwar conferences at Zimmerwald and Kienthal in 1915-16. At those conferences, Lenin insisted that the struggle against all shades of opportunism and centrism was the essential precondition for the successful mobilization of the working class against imperialism and the building of the revolutionary International.
In the preparation of the Berlin conference, representatives of the International Committee of the Fourth International will engage in the widest discussion with workers all over the world. Under conditions in which the ideas of Leon Trotsky are finding their way to an ever wider audience, we welcome a dialogue with all groups and tendencies which either already consider themselves to be partisans of the Fourth International or are still in the process of assimilating its program.
The defeat of imperialism and the menace of colonialism and war can be guaranteed only through the international unification of the working class. This unity can be achieved only through the building of the Fourth International—the World Party of Socialist Revolution.
Forward to the World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism!