In preparation for the International Debate Conference for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International issued by the Internationalist Bolshevik League (LBI) of Brazil and the Revolutionary Workers’ Party (POR) of Argentina, the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) of the United States wishes to state where we stand on the key political questions raised in the Conference Call of April 1999.
In the spirit of frank and loyal debate that the Call invokes, we will indicate some of our areas of agreement and disagreement with the political line presented in the Call, in the hope that this will lead to more productive discussions. In some cases our disagreements are fundamental; in other cases they may simply be points of clarification that do not indicate fundamental disagreement. Comrade Sy Landy’s statement for the LRP, Stalinist Expansion, the Fourth International and the Working Class, which has been already printed in the Tribune of Debates, outlined some of the differences we have with the positions of the LBI and POR, particularly over the nature of the Stalinist USSR and the so-called deformed workers’ states that were created following World War II.
We agree that the USSR in the 1930’s was a degenerated workers’ state, but we believe that the Stalinist counterrevolution went further than Trotsky understood and destroyed the workers’ state by the end of that decade. We do not agree that the Stalinist states created after World War II were workers’ states of any kind. We affirm the essential Marxist understanding that workers’ states can only be created by working-class revolutions. We believe that the states created by Stalinism were forms of statified capitalism. Our position is analyzed in full in our book, The Life and Death of Stalinism.
We distinguish between the defense of the remaining gains held by the workers of the Stalinist and ex-Stalinist states, on the one hand, and the defense of the Stalinist state apparatus (army, police, bureaucracy, etc.), on the other. For example, we opposed the privatization of the economies of the USSR and Eastern Europe. Defense of these gains required revolutionary opposition to the Stalinist states and bureaucracies, which initiated the attacks on the working class long before the changes in governments took place. The Stalinist state apparatus itself defended privatization of nationalized property; the contending factions of the Stalinist rulers differed only over the pace of privatization. We believe that to consistently defend the Stalinist states meant to defend privatization, the market and the deepening ties to world imperialism.
We therefore do not defend the Berlin Wall, the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the Jaruzelski coup in Poland and other acts of repression by the Stalinist state apparatus to defend itself from the struggles of the proletariat. We believe that the Call is inconsistent in implying defense of the Berlin Wall while opposing the other outstanding Stalinist attacks. The Wall was a weapon against the working class, and the troops who manned it were responsible for murdering proletarians for the benefit of their bureaucratic masters.
We agree with the Call that the Stalinist states were taken over by “governments and regimes totally subordinated to imperialism... [which] transformed these countries into literal examples of capitalist barbarism, marked by hunger, misery, unemployment and prostitution.” But the fact that the new reactionary regimes were dominated by leaders of the former Stalinist ruling parties and states confirms our judgment that the counterrevolutions were political, not social: one section of the ruling class replaced another, with many of the same bureaucrats still on top.
The Call refers to the “still-existing workers’ states” – China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. We agree with defending these states against imperialism – since we defend any oppressed country against imperialist attacks – and with defending the remaining workers’ gains contained within them. But we feel confident in predicting that the assault on the workers’ gains will continue to be led by the Stalinist bureaucracies that rule these states today, in conjunction with open agents of imperialism.
We agree with the unconditional defense of the nations oppressed by imperialism. We agree that “only the proletariat is capable of consistently leading the fight against national oppression and achieving the remaining democratic tasks.” Where the Call puts forward “a revolutionary program which links the defense of the oppressed nation with the fight for power by the exploited,” we would clarify that we stand for the taking of state power by the proletariat supported by the other exploited classes. We believe that drawing the line between different classes is always important, and nowhere more important than when dealing with questions of state power.
On the question of the so-called “anti-imperialist united fronts,” there can be no general expectation that national bourgeois forces will stand with the workers and peasants against imperialism. We believe that it is possible to enter temporary and tactical military-technical blocs with elements of the national bourgeoisie when they are momentarily compelled to confront imperialism. But the proletariat and its organizations must form no political or governmental blocs with even the most left-wing bourgeois elements and should not credit them with any “anti-imperialist” program.
We agree that “the central task of the revolutionary party is the fight for the taking of power by the working class by means of proletarian revolution.” We agree that there is no bourgeois-democratic or electoral road to socialism.
We agree that the working class and its party must be “the most outstanding fighters for the destruction of every military and police apparatus of the bourgeois state” and must work for creating armed militias of the working class and for arming strata of the population allied to the proletariat. We believe that the statement in the Call for “armed militias of the entire people” is a formulation that can lead to popular-frontist misunderstandings at important junctures in the class struggle.
We believe that the revolutionary vanguard party represents the most advanced layer of the working class and that it is the party of only one class and centers its work within the working class. Building the vanguard party requires distinguishing between layers within the class in order to win the emerging vanguard; even mass revolutionary parties do not attempt to skip over the advanced layer in order to lead the mass of workers at a less-advanced level.
We believe that the proletariat requires no middle-class or petty-bourgeois elements to lead it. Nevertheless, the party welcomes intellectuals, middle-class and petty-bourgeois people into its ranks, provided the working-class composition of the vanguard group is maintained. They must be tested over time and must break from their previous class backgrounds in order to represent proletarian interests. At all times, communists work to establish the working-class nature of the party in its social composition as well as its program.
This is especially important because of the conservative role of the labor aristocracy and the real divisions that exist within the working class, divisions which block the development of revolutionary consciousness and which must be overcome in the struggle to build the revolutionary party. As the LRP document in the Tribune of Debates points out, the degeneration of the Fourth International involved not just the erroneous views on Stalinism but an orientation to the expanding middle-class layers after World War II and the rejection of the revolutionary role of the proletariat.
Many “Trotskyists” believe that they are following Lenin in holding that revolutionary consciousness develops outside the proletariat and is brought into the working class from outside the class. But this is a petty-bourgeois outlook (often reflecting the viewpoint of the labor aristocracy) that was rejected by Lenin and Trotsky and that has led centrists to look to alien class forces to make the socialist revolution in place of the proletariat. Rather than seeing the proletariat as the conscious force for revolutionary change, these centrists reduce the working class to a battering ram to be used and manipulated by saviors drawn from the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia.
Therefore we think that a discussion of the concept of the party must take into account the questions of the development of revolutionary consciousness within the proletariat and the divisions within the working class – in particular, the role of the labor aristocracy.
We agree with the call for constructing Bolshevik parties in each country as sections of a reconstructed Fourth International. (We use the slogan “Re-create the Fourth International,” because the slogan of reconstructing the FI has sometime been used to mean uniting existing centrist organizations that label themselves fourth internationalist.)
In our view, the Fourth International, as exemplified by its failure to understand the nature of Stalinism, turned the basic principles of Marxism upside down. By the 1950’s, the FI demonstrated that it no longer represented the revolutionary working class but had degenerated into petty-bourgeois centrism, representing alien class forces within the working class. As our Tribune document states, the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, in a country where the FI had an important influence within the working class, was a decisive test of revolutionary politics. This test was failed, not only by the Bolivian POR led by Lora, but by the Fourth International as a whole.
In this light, we find that the Call’s stated intention to “advance the discussion for the construction of a new Fourth Internationalist tendency” seems insufficiently explained, since it does not make clear what view of the history of the FI lies behind the call for a new tendency.
We think that the Call lacks a sufficiently specific statement about Popular Frontism (even though it indicates opposition to Popular Frontism in general), since there are many disputed examples of adaptation to Popular Frontism within the world pseudo-Trotskyist milieu. For example, we oppose any form of electoral support to the ANC in South Africa, as was given by several “Trotskyist” organizations.
We also think that the Call is deficient for not including an assessment of the present state of the class struggle internationally: what is the present balance of class forces internationally?; what period we are in?; what is the line of march for the world proletariat?
Despite our political disagreements, some of them on fundamental issues, we welcome the Call for an International Debate Conference made by organizations which have broken to the left from the opportunist tendencies they had formerly been part of.
For many years, we have maintained that the debates over the nature of the Stalinist states were not about theoretical abstractions but were at root about the revolutionary nature of the proletariat and the struggle to advance revolutionary class consciousness. These debates are vital for all those dedicated to re-creating the World Party of Socialist Revolution.