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Fourth International 1990: The end of the Soviet Union

Discussion on Resolution Three at Berlin conference

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.

Ulrich Rippert, national secretary of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter of Germany, introduced the resolution on the defense of the working class in the USSR and Eastern Europe.

This international workers conference today marks a fundamental turning point both for the building of our world party, the Fourth International, and the development of the international working class. It is the result of a decades-long struggle against opportunism and nationalism. Emerging out of this conference, we will bring forward the international unity of the working class based on a revolutionary socialist program in every country throughout the world.

In the current situation, proletarian internationalism also means the struggle against capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China. The working class in every country has to understand that their achievements are very much connected to the Russian October Revolution of 1917. The defense of the Soviet Union always was a task not only of the Soviet but of the international working class.

This is why we declare in this resolution, “On the Defense of the Working Class in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union”:

“The International Workers Conference of the Fourth International assures the workers in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China of its unswerving solidarity in their difficult struggle against both the Stalinist criminals and the capitalist gangsters who equally threaten their vital interests.”

We will exert all our strength and political energy in order to mobilize the international working class along with the Soviet working class against the restoration of capitalist exploitation.

Comrades, let us say a few words on the events of the years 1989 and 1990. These years mark the final and irreversible end of Stalinism. There is no power in the entire world that is capable of reviving this corrupt bureaucracy that terrorized the working class for decades. Completely vindicated are Trotsky’s words from the dark days of the 1930s, when the betrayals of Stalinism led to terrible defeats of the working class: “The international working class will rise again—Stalinism never.”

What was this Stalinism that was ruling over such mighty states, parties and trade unions? It was the biggest obstacle on the way to the world socialist revolution.

Hand in hand with social democracy, the Stalinists blocked every revolutionary movement of the working class for decades by physically liquidating an entire generation of Marxists and undermining the socialist consciousness of the working class by means of the crimes they carried out.

The fact that the character of Stalinism is reactionary through and through is no longer a question of theoretical debate. Where today is the self-reform of the Stalinist bureaucracy that Ernest Mandel has been preaching about for decades?

History gave its verdict not only on the Stalinist bureaucracy, but also on its Pabloite defenders. There is an important question that arises out of the events of 1989-90. Why was the bourgeoisie initially capable of taking advantage of the collapse of Stalinism and gaining the dominant position over the working class?

The reasons for this are mainly to be found in the crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracy itself. They systematically destroyed the Marxist culture that was established in the working class by the great socialists, beginning with Marx and Engels and later August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. They transformed Marx and Engels into icons and falsified their work.

Frightened of his ideas, they ossified Lenin into statues and locked him behind concrete walls. Trotsky was condemned and banned. The suppression and persecution of Marxism was nowhere so intense as in those countries where the Stalinist bureaucracy was in power.

The Pabloites did their part to suppress Marxism. In 1951 they dissolved the German section of the Fourth International into a Tito-oriented party, the Independent Workers Party of Germany, and subsequently joined social democracy.

On that basis the petty-bourgeois “zeros” of the New Forum—the incarnation of German philistinism—were able to dominate the political scene in the fall of 1989 and clear the way for the capitalists’ attacks on the working class. Their glorious speeches about freedom and democracy were followed by caterwauling lament. But the champagne parties in the corporate headquarters are over now as well; the hymns to the victory of capitalism have come to an end.

This is not the way the bourgeoisie had envisioned the reunification. One year after the Anschluss, the crisis of German imperialism has intensified enormously. Just to give you some figures: the foreign trade surplus of 130 billion marks in 1989 was transformed during this summer into a deficit that will amount to 40 billion marks by the end of the year. At the same time, they expect unemployment to rise to seven million between west and east Germany.

Driven by this crisis, German imperialism is moving in the same direction as it did in the 1930s: militarism and war. As if there had not been 1933, Nazi gangs are set up in an attempt to transform the growing social antagonisms into racial hatred.

In this situation, the German bourgeoisie proves itself more incapable and cowardly than ever before in history. When the German state was founded, they still had somebody such as Bismarck, but today they have nothing more than Kohl. The often praised “social consensus” in Germany is falling apart. Sections of the bourgeoisie put all their hopes into the SPD, but they look just as poor. Previously the SPD had leaders such as Ebert and Noske to defend the bourgeoisie; today the SPD only has an Engholm.

Everything depends now on the working class, i.e., on its revolutionary vanguard. Never before has the working class been so alienated from the official labor movement.

When miners occupied several mines during the past year, they did so in defiance of the betrayal of the trade union bureaucracy. The chairman of the national mine workers union came to these mines and the workers greeted him with a banner saying “You Judas,” and there were real physical confrontations between the trade union leaders and the workers.

All political parties and organizations have been tested in the events of 1989 and 1990. It was, one could say, a battle drill, and all these organizations were to be found on the side of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its program of capitalist restoration. There was only one party that represented the interests of the working class in these events; this was our international party and its German section, the BSA, and comrades, we are proud of that.

I don’t want to say that everything will be easy and without any problems. Not at all. The working class is facing great dangers and has to make a conscious step forward. But the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracy has opened up a new chapter in the struggle for the world socialist revolution and vindicated our analysis entirely. In this lies the strength of this conference and this is the source of our revolutionary optimism.