The World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism was held in Berlin on November 16-17, 1991 under the auspices of the International Committee of the Fourth International. The conference was convened on the basis of the May 1 manifesto, Oppose Imperialist War and Colonialism! and was attended by more than 200 delegates.
Peter Schwarz, secretary of the International Committee of the Fourth International, introduced the resolution on the building of the Fourth International.
At the start of the discussion, I want to introduce the resolution “Build the Fourth International as the World Party of Socialist Revolution.”
Comrade David North has already outlined the essentials in relation to this resolution in his introductory report and so I will restrict myself to the most important points.
In the fourth paragraph we write: “The United Secretariat of Ernest Mandel does not represent a trend within the Trotskyist movement but, as its whole history and program show, functions as nothing less than a political agency of imperialism. In the full scientific sense, Mandel is a bourgeois politician.”
This is not a subjective evaluation. It is not simply a propaganda formulation which we have developed in order to express our hostility towards Mandel more sharply. This evaluation has been proven in the course of great objective events. Mandel and the entire Pabloite tendency have not simply revised Marxism. They not only provide a theoretical cover for social democracy and Stalinism, but today they openly join forces with the state against the working class, under conditions where the state itself is shaken to its foundations and urgently seeks the support of the Pabloites.
In November 1989 Mandel placed himself on the side of the SED-Stalinists in the German Democratic Republic and joined the battle against the BSA. We wrote in an editorial in the Neue Arbeiterpresse on the significance of the struggle of the International Committee against Pabloism: “It will now become clear that this struggle, which for a long time was only consciously followed and understood by a few thousand people, which was continuously taken by centrists of all shades as proof of the apparent sectarianism of the Fourth International, has decisive significance for the revolutionary battles of millions of workers.”
The same applies to the role played by Mandel in Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka. This is itself the clearest expression of the advanced nature of the revolutionary period we have entered with the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in 1989.
The resolution “The Struggle against Imperialist War and Colonialism” sums up the objective basis of this revolutionary period. It makes unequivocally clear that all the mechanisms which lent imperialism a certain stability during the last four decades have collapsed. Today there is not a comer of the globe where the deep crisis of the world economy has not already been translated into political and social upheavals. Comrade Beams correctly said that the dissolution of the national borders in the Balkans in a bloody civil war in Yugoslavia only signals the beginning of the disintegration of the European nation-state system.
Numerous election results in the past months have shown that the masses have become completely alienated from the political structures through which the bourgeoisie regulated their rule for decades. In the past, electoral gains or losses of 10 percent counted as massive swings. Now in one country after another we witness the phenomenon of parties which once had an absolute majority sinking to insignificance in one fell swoop. The great majority of the electorate simply stay away from the polling booths. At the same time, we are experiencing the rise of every possible kind of populist and right-wing demagogue—a clear indication of the instability of political relationships and especially of the middle classes, which formed the “cement” for the stability of political relations in the postwar period.
And, finally, there are clear signs of a growing radicalization of the working class. Here in Germany, the mining industry was for decades a classic example of corporatism. The trade union bureaucracy appeared to have everything firmly under its control. Now we suddenly witness hundreds of miners occupying their pits and engaging in bitter struggles against the bureaucracy. In eastern Germany demonstrations and protests, most of which are hardly even reported, are taking place almost daily against factory closures and social destruction.
In France, which set the pace in every revolutionary wave of the last 200 years in Europe, a strike has shut down the car industry for weeks. There have been bitter struggles between nurses and the police, a general strike and, in addition, half a million farmers marching through Paris. One could continue the list endlessly. I will just call to mind the general strike in South Africa.
But without doubt the clearest expression of the revolutionary character of the period we are in is the rightward turn of the Pabloites and the deep gulf which has opened up between the International Committee of the Fourth International and every other political tendency.
Historical experience has shown that revolutions do not begin with the main classes colliding frontally in a decisive battle. This decisive battle generally occurs at a very advanced stage of social development. Every revolution in history has been preceded by a process of political differentiation. Those classes, those social layers which will finally fight out this revolution must first form themselves, reorganize and become conscious of their own interests. This process begins in the revolutionary vanguard, i.e., in those political parties which consciously formulate these interests.
Let us take the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin split from the Mensheviks in 1903, and it speaks for his genius that he recognized the role and significance of opportunism so early and so clearly. His struggle against opportunism was decisive for the victory of the October Revolution. But even Lenin was not able to sever all organizational and political connections with Menshevism until 1912. In 1906 he was even forced to hold a joint congress with the Mensheviks. Only the changes in the objective situation finally made it possible to complete the break.
Only when the Mensheviks were in power following the February Revolution and Lenin declared war on them in his April Theses did the gulf between Bolshevism and Menshevism become really unbridgeable. This clear demarcation was the precondition for the masses of Russian workers, who swiftly came into conflict with the Kerensky regime, finally going over to the side of the Bolsheviks.
Here you can draw a parallel with the struggle of the International Committee. In 1953 Cannon declared war on Pabloism. But this did not resolve the problem of Pabloism inside the Fourth International and we know that finally Cannon himself capitulated to Pabloism. In 1961 the Socialist Labour League in Britain declared that Pabloism did not represent a tendency inside the Fourth International. But they also were unable to carry this split right through and they themselves finally capitulated to Pabloism.
Only in the split of 1985-86—and herein lies its historic significance—was Pabloism driven right out of the International Committee and this enabled us to reunify the Fourth International on a common revolutionary program. The present strength of the International Committee lies in the extent to which it has been able to carry this demarcation through.
The form taken by the politics of the renegades since they were driven out of the International Committee has already been described. Some of these forms, as in the case of Vanessa Redgrave, are bizarre. Slaughter, who is perhaps the renegade to be taken most seriously, has desperately attempted to reorganize the Pabloites and to cobble together a new organization out of the elements of the disintegrating bureaucratic Stalinist and Pabloite apparatus, a sort of final lifesaver for the bourgeoisie.
In the last edition of Workers Press, which reported a meeting of Slaughter’s Workers International, this perspective was clearly articulated. The main orientation of the work of Slaughter’s group is towards the Communist Party of Great Britain and all those who come out of it (i.e., the Stalinists), the various revisionists and the trade unions (what is meant is the trade union bureaucracy).
Slaughter recently wrote an open letter to the members of the Communist Party of Great Britain in which he claims that these people joined that party to fight for communism. This is a patent lie; everyone knows that for decades the only reason for joining that party was to further a career in the bureaucracy.
Simon Pirani, a longtime editor of Workers Press and a close confidante of Slaughter, has now become the editor of The Miner, the official organ of the bureaucracy of the National Union of Mine workers. In addition, the Slaughter tendency is continually making advances to the Pabloites.
Since 1985 Slaughter has made many such attempts—and every one has failed. An important reason for this was our intervention, the fact that we immediately exposed and attacked every attempt. But more important is the fact that the social foundation for such bankrupt centrist organizations is itself disintegrating today.
The great achievement which the International Committee has secured in the last nine years, the unbridgeable gulf with every form of opportunism, was only possible because a fundamental shift had taken place in class relations themselves. The most important social pillars of imperialism in the petty bourgeoisie—the Stalinists, the social democrats, the trade union bureaucracy and all their revisionist and opportunist hangers-on—have collapsed.
In Eastern Europe the attempt to create such petty-bourgeois layers as the social basis for capitalist restoration and for the erection of a stable capitalist regime has already collapsed. The petty bourgeoisie is itself driven to impoverishment and only a small layer of criminals and mafioso has so far been able to profit from the restoration of capitalism.
The demarcation from Pabloism, the demarcation from those political tendencies which base themselves on these social layers and which have formulated policies which made it possible for these layers to dominate the working class and subordinate it to capitalism—this demarcation is the most important precondition for the International Committee becoming the crystallization. point for the presently developing radicalization of the working class, first, for the advanced workers and then, for the masses of revolutionary workers.
Karl Liebknecht, who himself fought against centrism, once summed up the necessity for such a demarcation with the concise formulation: “First clarity, then unity.” It is not our aim—and this applies to this conference and to all our activities as well—to bring together all possible so-called lefts in the name of greater numbers, as a sort of catchment area for “lefts.” Our aim is to reorganize the working class, and we can only do this insofar as the working class itself can understand the difference between our organization and every other.
The deepening of the gulf and the clear demarcation from revisionism and centrism is the basis for the growth of the Fourth International. Therefore, it is crucial that we carry through the changes being proposed in these resolutions, that we agree and reinforce what is said towards the end of the resolution: “The protracted struggle waged by the ICFI against Pabloite opportunism has established the basis on which the Fourth International will be built. There is no other foundation. The building of the Fourth International does not take place, as all the opportunists have tried to maintain, through a ‘regroupment’ of centrists, but through the continued separation and demarcation of the program of genuine Trotskyism from the forgeries issued by the political agents of imperialism.”
Greetings from Dave Hyland
Dave Hyland, national secretary of the International Communist Party, brought greetings from members of the British section of the ICFI.
I’d like to begin by stressing the remarks made by Comrade North in his opening report, which established the objective significance of this conference: the fact that it draws to an end an entire historical chapter, that of the postwar period, where because of the arrangements between Stalinism and imperialism, they were able to stabilize the world capitalist system and isolate the Marxists, while continuing the domination of all the petty-bourgeois forces over the workers movement internationally.
The end of that postwar period and the breakdown of those arrangements opens up a new period of wars and revolutions, which places the opportunity before the Fourth International of resolving the fundamental historical crisis of this epoch, the crisis of proletarian leadership, on the basis of the international program of the Fourth International.
This conference is a real celebration of the victory of the Marxists, the defense of that perspective through an extremely difficult period in history. Not the vicious assassinations of the Stalinists and the KGB or the attacks on the Marxists and the liquidation of Trotskyist cadre, nor the conditions created by the economic hegemony of American imperialism or the division of the working class by Stalinism have been able to destroy this movement. It has not just been a history of betrayals, but there has been the defense—by only one tendency—of this perspective which represented the defense of the historical interests of the working class.
In the conference we pay tribute to those comrades who took that struggle forward, and Comrade Bill Brust and Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya really epitomized the whole historical struggle for that perspective and commitment to the working class through this very difficult historical period.
In the opening of our manifesto, we explain that this is not an occasion for demagogic speeches and phrase-mongering platitudes. We don’t base our confidence on the numbers which are assembled here this weekend in Berlin, although that itself is not insignificant. All our enemies say that. We base our confidence on the entire historical struggle of our movement, and the fact that regardless of these attacks and the difficult objective period we’ve gone through, we are here. It was also explained that while in 1953 and between 1961-63, these represented absolutely crucial struggles in defense of that perspective, the split in 1985 took place under different objective conditions. Rather than a defensive struggle, it was an offensive struggle by the Marxists that had been led by the Workers League since 1982. It reflected an objective change in class relations, in the whole collapse of all the political mechanisms which had been utilized by imperialism and the bourgeoisie to contain the revolutionary strivings of the working class internationally.
It was also explained that we are responsible only to ourselves and that we understand that what we do is decisive in determining the outcome of the huge revolutionary movement of the working class that’s being provoked by unprecedented and intensifying developments in the crisis of world capitalism and the collapse of these political mechanisms.
That’s the significance of the struggle which has been waged by the Fourth International and the International Committee since the founding of the Fourth International in April 1938 in a suburb of Paris.
In 1985, at the time of the split, the renegades, expressing all the cynicism of the petty bourgeoisie and disregard for the history of the proletarian movement, would say, “Who do you think you are?” and turn these into personal questions, like, “You believe that you represent the future of the working class?” This was expressed in the articles written by various renegades, like the one written by Richard Price on “D. North and His British Disciples,” in which he said that the defense of this historical perspective was the “whiter than white” socialism and the “purest water” of smaller and smaller groups, smaller and smaller numbers. Hardly had the ink dried on the article than Price himself had split with the Torrance-Healy group, and today he brings out an irregular newspaper which defends the bureaucracy and his numbers amount to less than 20.
But these weren’t individual questions. The defense of a historical perspective was a commitment to the working class. Unlike the petty bourgeoisie, the proletariat recognizes that the defense of the history of its movement has enormous implications for the class, and that the working class can’t resolve the questions facing it on the basis of individual positions, but only as a class.
The renegades’ position was that they were breaking with sectarianism and the defense of that historical perspective and the perspective of the Marxist movement in order to integrate themselves into the mass movement. It was the continuation of the positions put forward by Slaughter in his book, In Defence of Trotskyism, in 1972, which has been explained in the article written by Comrade Peter Schwarz, “Cliff Slaughter Renounces Marxism.”
Having renounced this historical and international perspective and any commitment or responsibility to the working class under conditions of the developments in the 1970s and 1980s, the WRP leadership orientated not to the working class, but increasingly to the petty-bourgeois forces that dominated the workers movement and the national liberation movements in the oppressed countries.
In 1985 and 1986, having been unable any longer to suppress the Marxists in the International Committee, Cliff Slaughter believed that he could orientate towards the Stalinist and social democratic organizations and apparatuses and defeat the Marxists. But it is no longer the period of the 1950s and 1960s. These same apparatuses shifted like sand underneath his feet. He orientated to the Morenoite group in Argentina so as to claim that he had some international connections, when he was rejecting proletarian internationalism.
It didn’t matter to Slaughter or the rest of the renegades of the WRP that they were providing an internationalist cover for the most right-wing opportunist Pabloite tendency in Argentina and for the betrayal of the Argentinian masses. It was a whole cynical maneuver to continue the attack on the Marxists of the International Committee of the Fourth International.
His subsequent evolution to the Democratic Front in Namibia, his handshake with Monty Johnstone and, as comrades reported today, the fact that Simon Pirani has been made editor of The Miner, has become a professional for the NUM bureaucracy, are an expression of the class differentiation in the split in 1985. It was not fundamentally an intellectual question. It was a class question. I think in reviewing the developments over the last six years since the split, one comes more and more to understand the objective basis of that split and how decisive it was and what it means in terms of the tasks of the Fourth International and the class interests of the international proletariat.
Where is Slaughter, and the point has been made before, that he and Ernest Mandel represent no longer the revisionism of the immediate postwar period, but open bourgeois politicians and defenders of those organizations which are now carrying out the most fantastic attacks on the working class, rejecting any defense of its gains and implementing the massive unemployment and the war drive of their own national bourgeoisie.
Whereas these groups have all orientated to these class forces, in the last six years, based on the renaissance of Marxism and the international revolutionary movement, both politically and practically, the International Committee has always orientated to the working class throughout the world. That can be seen in the campaigns that the International Committee has launched over the past period.
At the Workers League camp last year, in the report given by Comrade North, he explained how the Persian Gulf war represented objective changes in class relations. Internationally, in terms of the relations within imperialism and its relations with the working class and the bureaucratic apparatuses of Stalinism and social democracy, American imperialism had lost its economic hegemony and launched the war in the gulf to set up a strategical base in the Middle East against its imperialist rivals, especially Germany and Japan. More significantly, it had only been able to carry this out because of the green light provided it by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Kremlin and the role of the labor and social democratic bureaucracies in the Western capitalist countries and the national bourgeois leaderships in the semicolonial countries.
The long period of the defense of the permanent revolution, of the analysis of Leon Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed, pointed the only way forward in which the working class can understand these questions and its own history. The International Committee took the responsibility of bringing out a new edition of The Revolution Betrayed with a new preface, bringing up to date the historical struggle for Marxism within the international workers movement.
When we met during the Eleventh Plenum in March in the immediate aftermath of the gulf war, we not only addressed what the triumphalism being expressed by the bourgeoisie objectively represented, but also the practices which had been carried out by the sections of the International Committee. On the basis of this historical and international perspectives and analysis, we understood it was necessary for the sections of the International Committee to take responsibility for the life-and-death questions facing the working class. No longer were the Stalinist bureaucracies or the social democratic bureaucracies or the leaders of the national liberation movements prepared to defend in any way the interests of the working class or the oppressed masses.
In that campaign, which was led by the referendum campaign of the Workers League, the sections of the International Committee fought to elaborate the growing opposition in the working class to that war. It wasn’t determined by the degree of opposition, but by an understanding of the changed objective relationship between the Fourth International and the working class and the responsibilities we had to lead the struggle, as we explained the historical role of Stalinism and social democracy, and our own history, of the only tendency which has defended the historical interests of the working class.
We characterized the campaign to call this international conference against war and colonialism as an offensive for Marxism. I think any objective review of the work that we’ve done since expresses the fact that that has been carried out, which is not just a personal but a political question. We issued the May Day manifesto, which explained that the enormous problems facing the working class, of unemployment, the destruction of social conditions, disease and war, were not conjunctural questions, but could only be resolved on the basis of understanding and assimilating all the political lessons of the twentieth century.
Hardly had the ink dried, had the manifesto come off the printer, than the Yugoslavian exStalinists were plunging thex Yugoslav masses into a civil war on the basis of the restoration of capitalism and opening up Yugoslavia and the whole Balkan region once again to imperialist colonization.
The collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union on August 19 expressed the final demise of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its reactionary program of “socialism in a single country.” It reaffirmed the historical perspective and the struggle that’s been waged by our movement since the Left Opposition and the founding of the Fourth International itself.
On the basis of this historical and international perspective, the International Committee has fought to practically organize its work and increase its influence within the world proletariat. Nowhere has that been expressed more than in the Soviet Union, where again the questions of the history of the struggle against Pabloism and the defense of Marxism were central to the education of the group which the International Committee has now brought forward in the Soviet Union.
At the same time, the publication of the book on the role of Gerry Healy in the history of the Fourth International is an important gain, not only in Britain but internationally, in explaining the historical struggle of our movement.
This is not only just a historical question, but the assimilation of the political questions involved in the defense of Marxist principles is intimately bound up with the practical tasks now facing this movement and the whole international proletariat.
So while the various renegade forces have orientated to sections of the bureaucracy and the middle class, the International Committee, based on a deepening of its analysis, has fought to orient to the working class, understanding that that is the responsibility of our movement. I think that the conference we’re holding today reflects this struggle.
I’d like to, in emphasizing the conditions confronting the working class internationally and how they’re expressed in Britain, first of all read from an article in the Washington Post, which I read at the BSA camp in July, in which the foreign service journalist had this to say about Britain, as the meeting of the G-7 went on. “Still mired in a deep recession, that cuts a swathe of devastation through many cities and towns, Britain’s economy by any statistical measures is in the worst shape of all the G-7 countries. Factory output fell by 6.8 percent over the last year, unemployment is 8 percent and rising rapidly, interest rates remain high and are the highest amongst the leading Western states, outside of Italy. Even though the base lending rate was cut last Friday to 11 percent, the only bright spot of inflation now down to half from seven months ago, the government has paid for it by dramatically dropping back growth and in allowing unemployment to rise.” Although the official figure is given as 2.7 million, the more complete figures are nearer to 5 million unemployed in Britain.
“All across Britain,” it goes on to say, “are empty shelves and ‘going out of business’ signs. One of the fashionable clothiers, the Burton group, that rose to the top in the retail boom of the mid-1980s, announced last week 1,600 job cuts and forecast their loss for the second half of the year. ‘It’s like pitching tents in an avalanche,’ said Burton’s chief executive, Lawrence Wooking, describing the chain’s attempt to weather the recession.
“The Paris-based OECD projects slight growth in the second half of the year, about half a percentage point, although a slightly larger increase in 1992, although a rate lower than the rest of the G-7 countries. Some analysts have said that signs of recovery are a mirage and a survey of 1,692 directors by Dun & Bradstreet showed that their companies were expecting lower profits, higher unemployment and further cuts in stocks and goods over the next six months. This coincided with the banking scandal of the BCCI and the announcement by Lloyd’s, the biggest insurance underwriters, of the loss of 500 million pounds.”
That itself is significant, because Lloyd’s was set up at the height of British supremacy on the high seas, the maritime insurers, more than 300 years ago. For years, Britain had an unrivaled position in commercial services, of which Lloyd’s is amongst the best known.
What the bourgeoisie in Britain is facing is a historical crisis of unprecedented magnitude, similar to that of the American bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie all over the world.
Now the question confronting us, although it’s important and vital to analyze the developments in the crisis of the bourgeoisie, is to explain the path forward for the working class. Regardless of its subjective intentions, the bourgeoisie in Britain, throughout Europe and internationally is driven towards war and recolonization, in which the oppression of masses of the semi-colonial countries and those throughout Eastern Europe is what faces the Soviet proletariat and the working class within the advanced capitalist countries themselves.
Along with these economic figures goes the massive destruction of the social conditions of the working class of Britain. Diseases not seen
since the 1930s are again becoming commonplace: rickets, tuberculosis and many other forms of disease. All the health systems and the system which had been used to maintain at least a certain standard of life for the working class are being completely destroyed. Against this drive of the bourgeoisie stands the perspective of the Fourth International, our program of the international unity of the working class, on the basis of an international program, the program of world socialist revolution.
Hand in hand with the destruction of the working class goes the repudiation by the social democrats and trade union bureaucracy of any defense of the working class, and this has been reflected over a whole period of time in the working class abandoning its old traditional leaderships. The membership of the Labour Party is down to 50,000, whereas the youth movement, the Labour Party Young Socialists, is down to less than 250 members. At the same time, the Militant tendency and its leader Grant, who represented one of these Pabloite forces who claimed there were other surrogates for the independent mobilization of the working class under the program of the Fourth International, announced its splitting apart through the papers of the bourgeois press. The whole perspective of the Pabloites is exposed as bankrupt.
The old forms of political mechanisms can no longer be used to corral the working class. And in this period, they’re relying increasingly on the role of the middle class radical tendencies such as the Militant and Cliff Slaughter. It’s precisely because of the continuing exposure of Mandel that Slaughter has tried his maneuver to reclaim the mantle of the historical struggle of the International Committee—up to the 1960s, that is—and use the confusion that has existed in the working class to tie the working class back to the bourgeoisie.
This emphasizes the importance of this conference because this conference has been fought for on the basis of proletarian internationalism, not the pseudo-internationalism of Slaughter or Mandel, which is used to conceal their support and encouragement of national forces and the defense of the national bourgeoisie and the Stalinists. It is a recognition that a whole historical chapter has come to an end and that what confronts this conference is the task of building the Fourth International in the next period.