Some Reflections on the Founding of the Fourth International and the Relevance of its Programme
By Daniel Gluckstein and François Forgue
On 3 September 1938, in a barn in a small rural community of the Paris region, 22 militant activists representing organisations from 11 countries met for a single day. Thus was founded the Fourth International.
Its forces at the time were extremely modest. In this issue of our review, Jean-Jacques Marie recalls the initiatives taken before 1938 to try to build the Fourth International on the widest possible basis. But those attempts did not succeed. As far as Trotsky was concerned, in 1938 it was no longer possible to postpone a declaration which in his eyes had already been too long in coming. The time had come to crystallise the forces of the revolutionary vanguard – however modest they may have appeared. War was looming; a phase of history was in the process of being completed. That crystallisation was needed in order to face the next stage, the stage of the war which Trotsky had forecast would be, at least for an initial period, a factor for fragmentation and dispersal (which was confirmed by events, starting with the assassination of Trotsky himself in August 1940).
“This is not yet the programme of the Fourth International”
A few weeks before the founding conference of the Fourth International, Trotsky wrote to Rudolf Klement:
“I am sending you the draft transitional programme. You will see that it is a very broad document that encompasses all of the questions that are on the agenda. This will also be the document that I present to the IS and which the IS, if it approves it, can present in its own name to all the sections (…).
I imagine that some elements might perhaps voice protests against the “hasty” presentation of the programme. Now, this document does not contain any new principle. It synthesises everything that we have said many times. The most burning questions (Spain, USSR, China) have been amply discussed by all the sections. On these subjects also, the document does nothing more than draw the balance-sheet. I also believe that there is nothing hasty in the presentation of the document.
I emphasise that this is not yet the programme of the Fourth International. The document contains neither the theoretical part, in other words the analysis of capitalist society and its imperialist stage, nor the programme of work for the intermediate period. It seems to me that it is precisely such a document that our sections need. The true programme of the Fourth International should be drawn up by a special commission set up by the conference.”
Despite the limitations pointed out by Leon Trotsky himself, it was this programme, whose actual title was The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International and subtitle The Mobilisation of the Masses around Transitional Demands to Prepare the Conquest of Power, which the founding congress of the Fourth International adopted as its programmatic document – with Trotsky’s agreement.
As Trotsky himself emphasised, moreover, one cannot separate the Transitional Programme from the drafting process which preceded it, from the rough drafts of a programme of transitional demands (for example, the French Bolshevik-Leninists’ programme of work for 1934), nor from the theoretical analyses of the decay of imperialism, the USSR and Stalinism, which cover the undeveloped parts of the 1938 programme. The Transitional Programme as such concentrates and brings together the programmatic basis and the principles on which the Fourth International and its work were founded.
As paradoxical as it might seem, this International constituted by a handful of revolutionary cadres straightaway set itself the task of the “mobilisation of the masses around transitional demands to prepare the conquest of power”. Another apparent paradox: at the very moment when the Fourth International was being set up, Trotsky was trying to convince his American comrades to take part in building a broader party, on a programme which would not necessarily be that of the Fourth International: the Labor Party. As for the members of the French section, Trotsky invited them to enter into a centrist party resulting from a split in the Socialist Party, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Socialist Party (PSOP) of Marceau Pivert.
How can these apparent paradoxes be reconciled? In reality, there is neither paradox nor contradiction. The very essence of the Fourth International was being expressed here: the crystallisation of a revolutionary group (with resources limited by circumstances) on the basis of the programme of the Fourth International, the search for a link with the masses through the Labor Party in the United States or the PSOP in France, and the formulation of “transitional demands” as a lever for mobilising the masses to prepare for the conquest of power.
Finding the path of the masses
At the time it was being founded, exceptional historical circumstances had reduced the Fourth International to a modest number of cadres who were sometimes isolated from the working class. But Trotsky’s constant preoccupation was for the militant activists of the Fourth International to find the path of the masses, both through the trade unions and through entry – when and if possible – into the mass labour parties. The Transitional Programme explicitly condemns “self-isolation of the capitulationist variety”. This is not a stylistic formulation. Even though circumstances had placed the Trotskyists, for a period in their history, in a situation of isolation relative to the heart of their own class – due first and foremost to the terror carried out by Stalinism as it usurped the prestige and flag of October 1917 among the working masses around the world – they had never intended or wanted this. Their objective – expressed in a concentrated way by the programme of the Fourth International – was to help humankind to open up a solution for itself in the face of capitalism’s death-agony, and to this end to work towards the mobilisation of the masses around a programme of transitional demands.
A programme for the whole working class…
As we have seen, Trotsky defined the Transitional Programme not as the Fourth International’s private property, but as a programme for the whole working class. Straight away, the programme entered into meat of the matter, developing several essential points that are interlinked, and whose relevance deserves to be assessed and discussed today. The first idea:
“The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterised by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.”
The second idea, which substantiates first one:
“The economic prerequisite for the proletarian revolution has already in general achieved the highest point of fruition that can be reached under capitalism. Mankind’s productive forces have ceased to grow. Already new inventions and improvements fail to raise the level of material wealth.”
The third idea:
“All talk to the effect that historical conditions have not yet “ripened” for socialism is the product of ignorance or conscious deception. The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only “ripened”; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”
A crisis whose solution can only be devised in relation to the activity of the working class at the international level and in each country: “The emancipation of the workers will be the act of the workers themselves.”
This slogan of the First International lies at the heart of the Fourth International, which precisely formulated it as follows:
“The orientation of the masses is determined first by the objective conditions of decaying capitalism, and second, by the treacherous politics of the old workers’ organizations. Of these factors, the first, of course, is the decisive one: the laws of history are stronger than the bureaucratic apparatus.”
…that is still relevant
These introductory points today lie at the foundation of the Trotskyists’ policy. In this 70th anniversary year of the founding of the Fourth International, its supporters in the United States are engaged in a fight to help set up a “Reconstruction Party” as a component of the fight for the Labor Party; at the same time in France, the militant activists of the Fourth International have just participated in the foundation of an Independent Workers Party (POI) of 10,072 members, side by side with other workers, elected representatives and activists of every background of the labour movement. This party has not been founded on the programme of the Fourth International; however, from the point of view of the members of the Fourth International, it falls within the process of achieving the main task laid down by the programme: to help resolve the crisis of leadership of the working class.
Let us repeat: the Fourth International has never wished to be on the margins or even isolated in the labour movement. The origins of the Fourth International lie in the struggle of the Left Opposition within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, then within the Communist International. As left opposition groupings battling inside the Communist Parties, they could not call for a wider deployment among the broader masses. Just after being forced into exile in Prinkipo, near Istanbul (Turkey), in 1929, Trotsky wrote:
“Currently, opposition is forming on the basis of a differentiation of ideas from the point of view of principles rather than of mass activity.”
But the more Stalinism’s decay weighed upon the fate of millions of working men and women with the risk of a major defeat, the more the Trotskyists’ activity tended towards formulating – even within the framework of an “internal opposition” – a policy aimed at the broadest masses. Faced with the rise of fascism in Germany, they were led to struggle publicly for the achievement of a Socialist-Communist united front, as the only means of preventing Hitler from coming to power. In the months following January 1933, when the defeat of the German Communist Party marked the turning-point for Trotsky, leading him a few months later to move towards the Fourth International, the need was immediately posed for a turn towards the masses. Opening the perspective of a new International, Trotsky envisaged the possibility that this new International would not be set up on the basis of the programme of the International Left Opposition (which from 1933 onwards was called the International Communist League, and subsequently would become the Movement For the Fourth International).
The “Declaration of the Four”
In August 1933, the “Declaration of the Four” on “the necessity and principles of a new International”, countersigned by the International Left Opposition, but also the SAP of Germany, the RSP of Holland and the OSP of Holland – these last three parties not being members of the Left Opposition – set out to lay the foundations of a new International using as its starting-point an 11-point programme, the essential content of which could be found, five years later, in the founding documents of the Fourth International.
Due to the later development of these currents, this attempt was not to succeed. But this marked a first stage. After 1933, faced with the threat of fascism, the masses became radicalised. As part of their movement, they were to try to make use of the existing organisations, especially – in a certain number of countries – the Socialist Parties, pushing them to the left.
Trotsky recommended at that time to the supporters of the Fourth International to enter into those Socialist Parties – most notably in France, the United States and elsewhere.
“One step forward of the real mass movement”
As far as Trotsky was concerned, this entry into the Socialist Parties was justified by a necessity: without in any way giving up the programme, to link up with the movement through which the masses were trying to resist, to link up with the practical movement of the masses who were gripped with fear and were seeking out the path to a victorious solution against fascism. The same policy applied when the new trade union federation, the CIO, was created in the United States. Trotsky said: “We must be among the masses.” This was his constant preoccupation. No wish for marginalisation, for sectarian and capitulationist self-isolation. No wish to have dealings only with each other. Absolute confidence in the programme. But a total understanding of the fact that a programme that is cut off from, not inserted into, the masses, is the opposite of a programme. Marx’s famous saying: “One step forward of the real movement is worth a hundred perfect programmes” is not simply a nice-sounding formulation: it is the essence of Marxism. If the finest-sounding programmes are not linked up to the capacity of the masses to carry them out, they remain a dead letter.
It is on the basis of this understanding, expressed by Trotsky, that the militant activists who have based their fight on the Transitional Programme have always sought to develop their activity.
The Fourth International was founded in a situation that was more than exceptional.
“Sceptics ask: But has the moment for the creation of the Fourth International yet arrived? It is impossible, they say, to create an International “artificially”; it can arise only out of great events, etc., etc. All of these objections merely show that sceptics are no good for the building of a new International. They are good for scarcely anything at all. The Fourth International has already arisen out of great events: the greatest defeats of the proletariat in history. The cause for these defeats is to be found in the degeneration and perfidy of the old leadership. The class struggle does not tolerate an interruption. The Third International, following the Second, is dead for purposes of revolution. Long live the Fourth International! But has the time yet arrived to proclaim its creation? …the sceptics are not quieted down. The Fourth International, we answer, has no need of being “proclaimed”. It exists and it fights. It is weak? Yes, its ranks are not numerous because it is still young. They are as yet chiefly cadres. But these cadres are pledges for the future. Outside these cadres there does not exist a single revolutionary current on this planet really meriting the name. If our international be still weak in numbers, it is strong in doctrine, program, tradition, in the incomparable tempering of its cadres. Who does not perceive this today, let him in the meantime stand aside. Tomorrow it will become more evident.”
The discussion on the Labor Party
In the course of the discussion which Trotsky was leading at that same time on the subject of the Labor Party, he came up against serious misgivings on the part of his American comrades. For example, the objection was made to him that the leaderships of the trade union organisations were reformists, so declaring oneself in favour of a Labor Party based on the trade unions amounted to declaring oneself in favour of a reformist party, not a revolutionary one. Trotsky replied:
“It would be absurd to say that we are defending a reformist party.”
For all that, should the precondition be made to the building of a Labor Party that it should define itself as a revolutionary party? Trotsky replied:
“Of course, we must say to the workers that they cannot impose their wishes through a reformist party, but only through a revolutionary party.”
Another leader, Cannon, objected: “But then, should we conclude from this that it needs to be a revolutionary Labor Party?”
“I would not say that the Labor Party is a revolutionary party, but that we will do everything we can to make this possible. In each meeting, we will say: “I represent the SWP. I consider it to be the only revolutionary party. But I am not a sectarian. You are now trying to create a big working-class party. I will help you, but I propose that you consider a programme for that party. I make this or that proposal.” This is how I would begin. In those conditions, it would be big step forward. Why not openly say what there is to say? Without any camouflage, without any diplomacy”.
Another American militant activist then said to him:
“Now, with the imminence of the outbreak of war, the Labor Party can become a trap. And I cannot yet understand how the Labor Party can be different to a reformist, purely parliamentary party?”
“Your are posing the question in too abstract a fashion: naturally, it can crystallise into a reformist party (…). We always emphasise our programme. We always say to the workers: “You need your own programme for this Labor Party: here is mine.” And we propose our programme of demands and transition”.
As far as Trotsky was concerned, being in favour of a Labor Party was not contradictory to the act of submitting the slogans of the Transitional Programme, in an appropriate form, to that same Labor Party.
The Fourth International and the independent workers’ party
Whatever the circumstances, the militant activists of the Fourth International cannot give up the idea of explaining the whole of their politics within the workers’ party. Not in order to impose them on it, but to submit them for discussion. There is no no-go area in the politics of the Fourth International which should not be raised within the framework of an independent workers’ party.
In fact: Why should the Labor Party not straight away be the party of the Fourth International? To this objection, Trotsky replied:
“The Socialist Workers Party, section of the Fourth International, clearly understands the fact that, for unfavourable historical reasons, its own development has lagged far behind the radicalisation of broad layers of the American proletariat, and that it is precisely for this reason that the creation of a Labor Party is placed on the agenda by the whole course of development.”
But he added:
“When the SWP defends the Labor Party against the attacks of the bourgeoisie, it does not wish to take upon itself the responsibility for this party. The SWP maintains a critical attitude towards the Labor Party at every stage of its development. It supports the progressive tendencies against the reactionary tendencies, and at the same time pitilessly criticises the two-faced character of those progressive tendencies.”
“Are we for the creation of a reformist Labor Party? No! Are we for a policy which would give to the trade unions the possibility of throwing their weight into the balance? Yes! It could become a reformist party, that depends on the development. Here the question of programme is posed (…) We must have a programme of transitional demands, the most advanced of which is the demand for the workers and farmers’ government. We are for a party, for an independent party of the working masses that will take state power”.
“We are desirous of nothing so much as criticism ”
At that same time, Trotsky was continuing the political battle to convince his French comrades to enter into Marceau Pivert’s PSOP. The tactical reasons for entry into the PSOP in 1939, which were particular and linked to the specific situation, were very different in many respects to the most fundamental of principled reasons that were put forward in the discussion on the Labor Party in the United States (see the article in this issue by Jean-Jacques Marie). But an element of method links the two approaches. Less than a year after the founding conference of the Fourth International, Trotsky recommended that a discussion be started with Marceau Pivert:
“Last autumn, a year ago, our international conference adopted the programme of Transitional Demands corresponding to the tasks of our epoch. Is Pivert familiar with this program? What is his attitude towards it? For our part we are desirous of nothing so much as criticism. In any “tone” you please, but getting to the heart of the matter!
Here is a concrete proposal which I take the liberty to make “from outside”; to proceed immediately to a discussion and an elaboration of an international program of the proletariat and to create a special publication for an international discussion on this question. As a basis for this discussion I propose the programme of the Fourth International, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. It goes without saying, however, that our International is prepared to accept as a basis for discussion another draft if it is forthcoming. Perhaps Pivert and his friends will accept this proposal? It would undoubtedly be a great step forward!”
As a supporter, obviously, of the programme of the Fourth International, Trotsky was prepared to engage in a discussion on founding a working-class party using criticism of the programme as a starting-point, or even on the basis of any other draft programme proposed by Pivert. That just shows how the programme of the Fourth International is anything but an ultimatum, to be proposed on a “take it or leave it” basis!
In a preface to a French edition of the Transitional Programme, Pierre Lambert wrote:
“We, the supporters of the Fourth International, consider that the Transitional Programme, adopted in 1938, has been verified by events to this very day. But we do not present the programme as an ultimatum. We say that the indispensable task of building independent working-class parties must be brought to a successful conclusion. We put forward as a basis for discussion the programme on which we are organised as sections of the Fourth International. For it is only through the widest possible free political discussion and comparison, in a word, through applying and respecting the rules of labour democracy, that the difficulties and pitfalls introduced into the class struggle by class collaborationist parties will be overcome.”
The world economy in 2008: what future for capitalism?
Today, just like 70 years ago, the programme of the Fourth International is submitted for free criticism and free discussion by every current in the labour movement. In particular, to what extent does the world economic situation in 2008 confirm the assessment whereby “mankind’s productive forces have ceased to grow. Already new inventions and improvements fail to raise the level of material wealth”? in this issue of La Vérité-The Truth, the article by Alan Benjamin and Frank Wainwright demonstrates the tragic consequences for the workers of the United States of the “subprime” crisis and the recession that has resulted from it. For his part, Pierre Cise establishes in his article that we have reached an unheard-of stage in the crisis of the decay of the capitalist system founded on private ownership of the means of production.
Recession is hitting one economy after another in the most developed capitalist countries. Between June 2007 and June 2008, the stock markets lost 25 percent, 30 percent or even more of their capitalisation or value. The number of company restructurings is growing, bringing with them rounds of redundancies that are seeing thousands and tens of thousands of workers being laid off from every one of the biggest companies in the world. The IMF estimates the financial losses alone of the banks and other financial institutions as a result of the “subprime” crisis as being US$1,000 billion. Even state finances are being harmed. The price inflation for food products and oil products that was deliberately provoked under the auspices of the G8 has resulted in the price of oil going up five-fold in the space of 8 years, and the price of dairy and cereal products three-fold. Riots provoked by hunger have hit more than 30 countries since the start of 2008, and the International Herald Tribune sees this number going up in the coming months. While tent-villages are mushrooming in the United States, the official figure in France for people who are classified as poor is set at 8 million; in Scotland, the single price-hike of 35 percent for domestic gas in July 2008 amounts to a “death sentence” for the most vulnerable, to repeat the exact term used by the British press.
Despite the contortions of those economists who openly defend the capitalist system or call for the destruction of what they call neoliberalism, the world economy is today being ravaged by a profound crisis which is affecting every aspect of the functioning of the capitalist system, and which is destabilising the whole range of political and social relations.
Of course, within such a context, there is no lack of good souls calling for measures to be taken against speculation. The very reactionary French Minister Christine Lagarde has condemned the “collective responsibility of the private banks”, which, according to her, recently made “an act of repentance, admitting their excesses of greed which drove some operators to take excessive risks”. In the same hypocritical vein, Pope Benedict XVI has asked the heads of the G8 governments to take measures that will allow a response to “the needs of the weakest and poorest peoples, whose vulnerability has increased because of speculation and financial turbulence and its adverse effects on the price of food and energy.” Adverse effects, greed, repentance… the clerical lexicon is being made full use of by all those who, on the right as well as the left (including the far left), are protesting, hand on heart, against the “excesses” of speculation and are gravely arguing for the urgency of re-establishing rules of “re-regulation”. But will this be enough to mask the root-cause of the crisis?
Contrary to what the “globe-reshapers”, those supporters of “putting a human face” on capitalism and so-called opponents of neoliberalism, would have everyone believe, the problem that is hitting capitalism today is not the result of an “excess”, or a “deregulatory effect”, or an “anomaly”: it is the very essence of the system of private ownership of the means of production that is at work.
Where does speculation come from?
Where does speculation come from? Not from greed. It comes from a material reality: within the system of private ownership of the means of production, the source of profit lies in the extraction of surplus-value, in other words in the exploitation of the worker’s labour-power. The total value of capital and derivative capital in play on all of the world’s stock markets is around US$600,000 billion. The total value of production of goods on a global scale (global GDP) is around US$40,000-50,000 billion. How can US$600,000 billion be made to yield a profit on a production of US$40,000-50,000 billion? An insoluble equation. Nevertheless, within the capitalist system, capital must yield a profit. In Capital, Marx refers to “money in process”. As Pierre Cise demonstrates, if capital does not manage to yield a profit in the production of goods, it will look for every indirect means of being exploited. Means such as stock-market speculation, the arms economy, drugs, prostitution, etc., cannot resolve anything by themselves. At each stage, capital is confronted with its own reality: there are too many productive forces. At least, too many productive forces within the framework of the social system based in private ownership of the means of production.
The role of the destructive forces
In 1845 (it was still the epoch of ascendant capitalism), Marx wrote:
“In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer productive but destructive forces (machinery and money)”.
At the time, capitalism was developing and was able to overcome that crisis situation through the extension and growth of markets. At the start of the 20th century, Lenin demonstrated in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism that capitalism had reached a new stage. The fusion of bank capital with industrial capital under the auspices of bank capital formed what was henceforth called finance capital. This finance capital expects a return on investment equal to all the component parts of capital, wherever they may be invested. This is what Lenin already explained in 1916. We are now in 2008. In 1916, Lenin showed that the constitution of imperialism on the basis of the domination of finance capital necessarily brought with it the development of forces that are destructive of capital. This was the epoch of wars, revolutions, famine and widespread destruction. In these conditions, what Marx described as a tendency in 1845, and which Lenin then characterised in 1916 as a constant element of imperialism, has reached an unprecedented point in 2008.
Regarding the internet
What is destroying the productive forces today? Let us once again take up Marx’s formulation: “machinery and money”. The previous issue of La Vérité-The Truth (No.60-61, March 2008) published an extract from the pamphlet written by Comrade Pierre Lambert on automation, a pamphlet that was produced more than 40 years ago. There is not much to add today. Simply replace the term “automation” with “internet”. Internet? This is a technological and scientific process that could be a factor in the significant development of the productive forces and humankind. But how is it being used today? First and foremost towards the destruction of the productive forces: teleworking, atomisation, individualisation, offshoring, outsourcing, sub-contracting and other processes of deregulation designed to atomise the working class and smash “labour costs” to smithereens are being taken to an unheard-of level through the use of the internet, which is also being prolifically used to realise parasitic and speculative sources of profit (the most striking of which are the online “trades” related to paedophilia, human organs, etc.). Is this not the face in 2008 of the “automation-destructive force” that Marx was talking about?
Arms economy: a market surge
To which must be added the part played by the arms economy. Lenin said: “Imperialism is the epoch of wars and revolutions”. It is the era in which the arms economy plays an increasingly important role as a drive-wheel of the world economy. What about today? We heard repeated many times that the end of the Cold War would result in a reduction in arms budgets. But today, the arms economy is in full expansion.
According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending between 1998 and 2007 grew by 45 percent, reaching the figure of US$1,339 billion for 2007. The SIPRI report explains:
“The factors driving increases in world military spending include countries’ foreign policy objectives, real or perceived threats, armed conflict and policies to contribute to multilateral peacekeeping operations, combined with the availability of economic resources. Although expenditure overall increased by 45 percent, in North America alone it increased by 65 percent.”
The Institute points out that in 2007, the increase in military spending in the United States meant that it was higher than at any time since World War Two.
“Since 2001, US military expenditure has increased by 59 percent in real terms, principally because of massive spending on military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also because of increases in the ‘base’ defence budget.”
Obviously, on this basis, one will not be surprised to learn that arms sales by the 100 largest arms-producing companies (excluding China) increased by almost 9 percent in 2006 compared to 2005. The general tendency of a regular reduction in military spending registered in the 1990s was followed by a new upward curve from 1998 onwards. The cost of the war in Iraq alone has been estimated by American Nobel economics prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz as over US$3,000 billion. Global industry has gone into recession, but things are looking good for the arms industries!
But, as everyone will understand, there is a price to pay for this. The increase in arms spending is necessarily being done on the basis of a reduction in other sectors of state budgets. In the case of the United States, which is especially emblematic, it appears that this marked increase in military spending is happening on the basis of the destruction of social programmes, in other words public services, aid to the unemployed, aid to pensioners and to the sick. In the final analysis, it is the working class that is paying in flesh and blood for the consequences of the captive economy that is the arms economy. Which is therefore linked to “machinery” as a major element of the destructive forces.
“Money in process”
And what of “money in process”, which Marx designated as that other major destructive force? It is a fact that in recent decades, speculative bubbles have followed speculative bubbles. As pointed out by Pierre Cise, 2001 saw the internet (“dot.com”) bubble burst, followed by the bursting of the speculative real estate bubble in 2007-8; and again today, we are seeing yet another speculative bubble forming around speculation in oil. Symbolically, that mass of US$600,000 billion in capital that is searching at any cost for an investment opportunity is tending to be transformed as a whole into a force that is destructive of the productive forces. In its most visible form, it is the force destroying surplus capital itself: those waves of destruction of value on the stock markets, those brutal reductions in investment, that de-industrialisation, the closure of factories in every key sector if the world economy.
But the mass destruction of the productive forces always comes down to the mass destruction of the main productive force, the worker’s labour-power. What gives our epoch its ultra-reactionary character is that, almost through a mechanical need, capital can only survive by destroying the working class by whole industrial areas at a time, despite the fact that it is the only source of surplus-value. There is physical destruction, through wars, famine, etc. But also…through the destruction of the value of labour-power, which requires the dismantling of pension systems, of Social Security systems, of public services, collective agreements, and also through the policy of corporatist integration of labour organisations, aimed at making the labour organisations themselves take on the responsibility of breaking up the working class.
This policy aimed at destroying the working class is provoking the biggest of class struggles, the biggest of resistance processes at the world level. But the vital demands of those millions of proletarians who refuse to be destroyed cannot possibly find satisfaction in the policies that unrealistically aspire to “limit” deregulation, or to proceed, as claimed by Besancenot, to “another kind of wealth-distribution”. We must go to the root-cause: the system of private ownership of the means of production.
More than ever: socialism or barbarism
Seventy years after the founding of the Fourth International, are we not right to say that the developments in the world situation confirm every point of its analysis of the barbarism towards which the survival of the system of private ownership of the means of production leads? What can one counterpose to that barbarism, other than socialism, based on the collective appropriation of the means of production?
Which leads us to the crucial question: the crisis of humankind is reduced to the crisis of leadership. The dominant characteristic of the world situation is concentrated in the events marking the struggle for proletarian revolution. It is a world situation marked by the events of the revolution insofar as the working classes, despite undergoing terrible attacks, have not been defeated. The laws of the class struggle remain on the agenda, and are coming into conflict with the policy of the apparatuses. The latter continue to constitute the main obstacle in the path to the proletarian revolution and the main support for a capitalist class whose crisis of domination is continuously deepening.
Just after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, we wrote:
“Before September 11, we were in a situation where one could say that, in every domain, imperialism demonstrated its inability to find the means demanded by its policies and the preservation of its social system. It therefore needed to move on to a new stage. September 11, 2001, beyond the actual circumstances of the September 11 events as such, provided or was seized upon as that opportunity to reorganise imperialism’s whole policy based on Bush’s following formulation: “A global war on terror, social, political, military.” As Vice President Dick Cheney has said, “a war that will be pursued beyond the lifespan of those who lead the world today”.”
On the eve of the launch of the war on Iraq (March 2003), we defined the situation as “a turning-point in the world situation that threatens the foundations of civilisation (…). It is the beginning of a phase in the history of humankind where the very foundations of human civilisation are being directly threatened, where what is on the agenda is the dismantling of nations and states. This global war is concentrated today in the preparation to annihilate the Iraqi people, to launch a military operation with the explicit objective of wiping Iraq off the map of the world’s nations. This barbaric and inhuman undertaking is being challenged by the peoples and working masses of the world.”
The four years that have since passed have seen “this barbaric and inhuman undertaking” spread to every continent, in every domain and by every means, at the same time as the resistance of the workers and peoples has been restated, even in the worst conditions of disintegration.
US imperialism is destabilising the world
In a note drafted to prepare a meeting in May 2008, a member of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International wrote:
“The conditions for the survival of imperialism – in other words of the system of capitalist exploitation based on private ownership of the means of production – are concentrated in the survival of US imperialism, therefore in the maintenance of its pre-eminence. No capitalist power can envisage its security as being separate from that of US imperialism (…). The means that US imperialism has been led to use to defend itself have destabilised all of its partners: as Les Echos explained at the time, even to launch the invasion of Iraq, the United States had to turn to “a sort of institutional chaos in which, by waving the spectre of Saddam, America has undertaken the most important redealing of the cards since the fall of the Berlin Wall, bringing about, in the name of defence, the weakening of the pillars of the institutional order of which they (the United States) were themselves the founders, promoters and guarantors”. That “redealing of the cards” is one of the elements of the international crisis and the crisis in every country, threatening relations between states and all of the institutions developed by imperialism (for example the European Union) (…).
This was the result of the class struggle: without the resistance of the working class in each country and on an international scale, without the resistance of the peoples, the consequences would have been different. But the circumstances in which the class struggle has developed on an international scale and in each country were born out of what we had described as a “barbaric and inhuman undertaking”.”
In December 2007, the General Council of the Fourth International passed a resolution on the “subprime” crisis and the current moment of the decay of capitalism (see La Vérité-The Truth, Issue no.59), which said the following:
“The “subprime” crisis constitutes a new major episode in the decaying process of the capitalist system based on private ownership of the means of production. This stage takes the full range of the capitalist system’s contradictions to a previously unheard-of level. More than ever, the choice between “socialism or barbarism” is taking the form of a head-on impact between the march to barbarism already begun by the decay of the capitalist system, and the search by the exploited and oppressed masses not only to save themselves as a class through their class struggles, but also in the process to save the whole of humankind.”
A crisis that is “more worrisome and dangerous”
Coming back to the “subprime” crisis, the preparatory note for the International Secretariat meeting in May 2008 which we quoted above explains:
“It is a crisis whose starting-point is the pauperisation of a whole section of the US population in conditions of widespread speculation (who can no longer make their payments), people whom the crisis is going to drive out of their homes. As it develops, it is a crisis that threatens all of the internal and external balances on which the very functioning of US capitalism rests, and therefore threatens the course of the world capitalist economy.”
What this means has been outlined in a very clear-headed way by Felix Rohatyn, former US Ambassador to France and a big banker (he is Senior Advisor to the Chairman at Lehman Brothers). On 11 February 2008, just after a G8 meeting, he made a statement to the French financial newspaper Les Echos. To the question “Isn’t the financial crisis we’re in just another crisis?”, he replied:
“This crisis is different. It is more worrisome and dangerous. More worrisome, because we cannot clearly identify the problem nor measure its duration and scope. More dangerous, because it is hard to imagine solutions or remedies for the future. (…) This time, don’t be fooled, the crisis is not merely financial, but also in real estate, and this will have severe social consequences. (…) If we avoid having the world’s leading economy fall into a phase of deep recession, we probably can avoid the worst of it. But if the recession in the US is deep, so will be the crisis. We have put ourselves in a situation of vulnerability. One can admire the US for its flexibility and dynamism, but we have to observe that entire sections of our economy are in a crisis situation. Our traditional industry, such as automobile, is waning. Real estate and construction are doing badly. And now the financial sector is affected: three key sectors of our country are suffering simultaneously.”
As we can see, Rohatyn is not trying to hide the depth of the global crisis, both global and far-reaching, because it is hitting the United States first and foremost, in other words the centre of operations for the world capitalist economy.
“Without Roosevelt, America could have gone over to socialism”
Asked whether the economic recovery plan agreed by President Bush with Congress is enough, he replied:
“The stimulus plan is energetic but more needs to be done on a longer time period. (…) We also have to look at a much larger programme of investment into infrastructures and define great projects over tens of years. We have to reinvest in our country. (…) While remaining a fervent capitalist, I never have hidden the fact that I was a Keynesian (…). We have a tendency to forget it, but, with the New Deal, Roosevelt probably saved capitalism. Without his intervention during the great crisis of the 1930s, America could have gone over to socialism.”
Rohatyn’s ideas have great indicative value, not because his suggestions are realistic (in fact, the only “great projects” that can be envisaged are an increase in arms production and, eventually, the war economy), but because of the diagnosis that is made.
Rohatyn underlines the importance of the crisis in social terms. In other words, he addresses the situation in terms of class struggle.
If “Roosevelt probably saved capitalism” in the United States, as Rohatyn states, it was not on the level of technical measures, but politically: the mass rising of the American working class and the creation of the CIO posed in practical terms the question of a workers’ party, in effect opening the way to the overthrow of the capitalist system.
To be accurate, it should be added that Roosevelt was only able to succeed with the help of Stalinism. It was indeed, there as elsewhere, then as today, the question of revolutionary leadership that was crucial.
What is essential is that Rohatyn holds these ideas today. Does this not reveal the depth of the political and social crisis in the United States itself?
It is in this context that we must analyse the US elections and the position of a whole fraction of big capital, which Rohatyn expresses as follows:
“The presidential election is the opportunity to choose a leader who is likely to recognise the scope of the problems and to try to overcome them. And my preference, naturally, would be for a Democratic candidate to win.”
But the “choice” of a Democrat President is only made possible on condition that the United States labour movement is subordinated to the Democratic Party.
This therefore poses the whole problem of the independence of the labour movement, of the fight for the Labor Party.
Which brings us back to the founding programme of the Fourth International, to the responsibility of the apparatuses for the obstacles raised against the proletarian revolution, and therefore to the need to open up a solution to this crisis of leadership.
In France, the founding of the POI
Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Fourth International (without this being premeditated), an Independent Workers Party (POI) was constituted on 14-5 June in Paris. Its 10,072-strong founding members included, as a component part, the French section of the Fourth International. The party was founded on the basis of a manifesto and statutes which, without being contradictory to the programme of the Fourth International, are very far from restating the totality of that programme. The party has equipped itself with four national secretaries, of whom just one is a member of the Fourth International, the other three coming from other historic currents of the French labour movement – an organisational measure which flows from the reality of that party. What is at stake with this proclamation? In the course of a polemic with the Dutch militant activist Sneevliet, who was defending the POUM in Spain by arguing that it was a party with 40,000 members, Trotsky had made this objection:
“40,000 members doesn’t mean anything. With just 10,000 – but linked up with the masses in revolt – we can win in a revolution. But 40,000 members cut off from the masses, that means nothing.”
In a sense, this serves to express the whole issue of the proclamation of the POI for the members of the Fourth International. The POI was not improvised overnight. It is the result of an initiative launched more than a year previously, on 10 April 2007, jointly by Gérard Schivardi, Mayor of Mailhac and departmental councillor for Aude, who was a member of the Socialist Party for 25 years, and Daniel Gluckstein, National Secretary of the Workers Party and a member of its Trotskyist current.
That joint initiative, based on the campaign waged for the presidential election, invited all workers and labour activists of all tendencies to explore together the possibility of building a genuine working-class party founded on the class struggle, defence of the Republic and democracy, and who therefore declared themselves in favour of the independence of the labour movement and a break with the European Union. The preparation of the POI’s founding congress went through several stages. There was a Convention in November 2007, then the setting-up of a Permanent Committee For an Independent Workers Party, which gradually attracted workers and labour activists from all tendencies. This joint activity allowed for the preparation of a draft manifesto and statutes, the setting-up of committees throughout the country, and the issuing of 10,072 subscription cards. It was on this basis that the conditions for holding the founding congress came together, with 10,072 members each paying an average of about 8 euros for a founding member’s card of the Independent Workers Party.
Wide-ranging discussions took place within the committees with comrades and activists from the SP and CP (including some who were still members), mayors, elected representatives and trade unionists from every tendency, addressing the question of knowing if the time had come to set up such a party, the way it should be set up, and what principles should be followed.
The 46th Congress of the French section
Within the ranks of the CCI, the French section of the Fourth International, a broad discussion took place prior to the POI’s founding congress, in particular on the occasion of the 46th Congress of the French section of the Fourth International (22-4 March 2008). This Congress had a special double significance: it was the first to take place after the death of Comrade Pierre Lambert, and it was also the one which needed to collectively assess not only the possibility of laying the foundations of an Independent Workers Party, but also of drawing the balance-sheet of what had been done in the preceding period. For it was certain that the launch of the Workers Party (PT) in 1991 by activists of all tendencies (including the militant activists of the Fourth International) was potentially located on the same orientation as that which was leading us, 17 years later, to lay the foundations of an Independent Workers Party. The French section’s congress had to draw a basic balance-sheet on the building of the PT. It was undoubtedly a positive balance-sheet, because through the PT the Trotskyist militant activists learned how to build a joint political framework in common with others. They also learned how to link up with a broad layer of trade union activists, mayors and elected representatives, of which the Schivardi campaign was just one result, and which itself defined the possibility of setting up the Independent Workers Party in 2008.
At the same time, and with a clear-head analysis, the CCI members drew the balance-sheet of the CCI’s weaknesses and shortcomings in the building of the PT (notably the recurring tendency of what we have called hegemonism: not sufficiently acknowledging the equal status of all the currents within the PT). The balance-sheet also made it clear that the subjective factors were not the only ones involved. When the PT was set up in 1991, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was also a political situation which did not immediately see the delineation of very broad currents in the labour movement posing the question of class independence on the scale that one could have hoped for.
The discussion proceeded on a clear-headed basis in the French section of the Fourth International, resulting in a reflection upon what has been called the necessary political recentralisation of the CCI, which from the Trotskyists’ point of view is the corollary of absolute respect for the framework set by the Independent Workers Party, a party based on federalism. This discussion inside the CCI has allowed the militant activists of the Fourth International in France to be better prepared to assume their role in the founding and building of the Independent Workers Party, and through that role to understand the relationship that can exist between their specific membership of the Fourth International current and the building of the Independent Workers Party.
“10,000 linked up with the masses in revolt ”
Trotsky’s formulation of “10,000 linked up with the masses in revolt” is especially relevant to where we are currently in the situation in France. It is a characteristic of the French situation that since the victory of the “No” vote in the 2005 referendum, the political crisis in France has become an integral part of and is linked up with the crisis of the European Union. But this political crisis has reached such a degree that it has forced the government to seek to completely rely more and more each day on the support of the apparatus leaders of the organisations that lead the labour movement, simply in order to get its policies implemented. The consistent hallmark of the situation over the last 12 months in France is on the one hand a considerable increase in strength of the movement by the working class as it looks for a solution, and on the other an increase in strength of the leading figures of the sector that came out of the Stalinist apparatus and leads the main trade union confederation (the CGT) grouped around Bernard Thibault, each time going further in openly supporting the government and the bosses, but in return provoking a significant revolt against this policy – including within the CGT itself.
This is a novel situation. The precedent had already been set last autumn, when the railworkers were preparing to strike to defend their pension scheme in a profession led in the majority by the CGT. On the eve of the strike – which involved defending the special pension scheme jointly with all the workers concerned, in EDF-GDF, the postal service, etc. – they were astonished to hear Bernard Thibault speak out in favour of enterprise-by-enterprise negotiations, which would have the effect of breaking up the class movement and opposing the strike call.
Despite this, the railworkers, and especially the CGT railworkers, held out on strike for several weeks against the policy of Thibault. During every month from the start of 2008 onwards, there have been strikes and demonstrations in very many sectors of the public sector, but also in the private sector, against the threat being posed to recognised job-grades and collective guarantees. It was during this process that Bernard Thibault on behalf of the CGT, together with the originally-Christian CFDT trade union confederation, jointly signed with the bosses what is referred to as the “Common Position” on social dialogue and representativeness – a process that was publicly supported by Sarkozy. In her article in this issue of La Vérité-The Truth, Christel Keiser shows how this “common position”, which anticipates the demands of the European Union, has provoked a significant revolt even within the CGT itself. A revolt which in one way expresses and reflects the revolt by the whole working class, which does not accept the policy being carried out by the Sarkozy government – a policy which undoubtedly would already have been swept aside, were it not for the support of the apparatuses.
A contradictory movement
The whole situation in France is marked by this contradictory movement of a class trying to gather its strength in order to fight, while its leaders every day go further in supporting the policy of the French government and the European Union. This is where the building of an Independent Workers Party able to “link up with the masses in revolt” can become a determining element in the whole situation, representing a solid leverage-point that can be used by every labour activist, group and sector of organisation that is trying to resist on a class basis.
In order to be able to respond to this situation, we must correctly establish the relationship that exists between the Independent Workers Party and the French section of the Fourth International. The French section of the Fourth International can in no way impose, or seek to impose, its own orientation on the Independent Workers Party. But neither can it in any way carry out its intervention and orientation “alongside” the Independent Workers Party. It must learn to develop the policies of the Independent Workers Party within the framework of the Independent Workers Party jointly with all the component parts that are present, and at the same time not hesitate to make known and submit for discussion the specific initiatives that the militant activists of the Fourth International are led to take, especially on the battleground of the class struggle, on the ground of helping towards a united front in order to achieve demands, as the only path by which the working class will be able to open up a solution for itself in this situation. To do this is to apply to the concrete situation of 2008 what Trotsky, organising the Fourth International on the programme he had put forward, was proposing as political formulations for the fight for a Labor Party and inside a Labor Party.
If one wished to pursue the parallel between 1938 and 2008, one could say that the one element that has considerably changed the situation is the relationship of the Trotskyists to the working class. Let us say it clearly: Trotsky could only dream of a situation like the one familiar to the sections of the Fourth International today. In 1938, when Stalinism and Nazism were combining their efforts to hunt down the Trotskyists, the situation was difficult from the point of view of relations between the Fourth International and the broader masses. Today, there is no question that the Trotskyist militant activists – of whom Comrade Lambert often said that at one time they were exiles within their own class – henceforth occupy their rightful place within the working class and the labour movement (moreover, one of Comrade Lambert’s major contributions was the attention with which he fought so that the Trotskyists should become implanted in the working class, in the very movement through which he continued Trotsky’s work on what we have called the “transitional method in building the party”). But that process of putting down roots in the working class should not excuse the militant activists of the Fourth International from giving a political response to the situation.
Discussing the perspective of the Labor Party in the United States, Trotsky explained in 1938:
“If the class struggle is not crushed, if it does not give place to demoralisation, then the movement will find a new channel, and this channel will be political; this is the fundamental argument for this slogan.”
This is precisely the question that is posed today in France. The political and institutional crisis is deepening with each passing day. The conditions for a revolutionary crisis as given by Lenin – “when the “lower classes” do not want to live in the old way and the “upper classes” cannot carry on governing in the old way” – are seeking to come together.
The form of the party is a transitional configuration of the movement
What does the transitional method in building the party mean?
In his Afterword to the Second German Edition of Capital, Marx, polemicising on the question of the dialectic, wrote:
“Dialectic (…) regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence”.
Therefore, the actual form of the party is nothing more than a transitional configuration of the movement, in other words of the concrete forms of the movement of the class struggle within a specific set of circumstances. Trotsky expressed this idea in his own way when he said “40,000 members cut off from the masses is nothing, but 10,000 linked up with the masses in revolt is everything”.
The form of 10,000 members is given by the link with the masses in revolt. The form and viability of the Independent Workers Party is given by its content, in other words its capacity for giving expression to the very movement of which it is nothing more than a transitional configuration. Today the movement is the one through which the working class is seeking to rise up and put an end to the “European dictatorship”, as the French fishermen called it during their revolt, and in order to achieve this, to overcome the obstacles put in its way by the apparatuses that have submitted to the institutions of Brussels and Frankfurt.
One cannot cut off the organised form of the workers’ party from the movement by the class that is seeking to emancipate itself. From the point of view of its supporters, the programme of the Fourth International is the only one capable of helping the working class to emancipate itself, because it concentrates all of the experience of the labour movement. But the organised form of the party is inseparable from the concrete movement through which the masses are seeking to free themselves, on a line of class independence and the independence of its organisations.
The organised form of the Independent Workers Party in France in 2008 is inseparable from its capacity to express all the elements of indignation of the working class and the oppressed layers, of the elected representatives and the youth, to organise them on the level of a political campaign that poses the issue of unity, of independence and of breaking free: unity in the workers’ ranks so that their most vital demands are met; independence of the labour organisations, avoiding the trap of corporatism; and breaking with the European Union and the system of private ownership of the means of production, whose key institution it is across the whole of the European continent.
Within this framework, the militant activists of the Fourth International have been led to play their full role. Organised to help “the mobilisation of the masses around transitional demands to prepare the conquest of power”, they consider the class struggle to be the key instrument for resolving the situation, the one element that concentrates all the others. In the coming months, the Independent Workers Party can organise itself into a party of 15,000 members and more, members who will not be asked to agree with the programme of the Fourth International. They will organise themselves in the POI without any precondition, starting from their own willingness to fight, on the sole condition that the POI gives itself the political and organisational means to be the expression of that willingness to fight and rebel, the “developed social form” – and therefore politically organised form – of the “fluid movement” of the class struggle, which contains its historic objective: the triumph of the proletarian revolution.