In 2003, the Communist Organization for the Fourth International adopted a new fundamental statement of its revolutionary Marxist world view. Expanding on COFI’s founding Political Resolution, the document presents a fundamental theoretical and programmatic viewpoint. In its new version it also addresses the specific challenges of building the working-class revolutionary party in the post-September 11 world.
Our new document develops our understanding of the collapse of Stalinism and the decay of Social Democratic reformism and “Third World” nationalism. It also expands our analysis and program for the struggle in important areas of revolutionary work, from trade unions to the fight against racism, with new attention to the fight against rising anti-Arabism and anti-Semitism.
The document’s overall theme is the task of re-creating the Fourth International – the authentic Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyist World Party of Socialist Revolution. It emphasizes that just as only the working class can overthrow capitalism, only the working class can build the revolutionary party leadership it requires. This is a classic Marxist principle that is much abused by middle-class “Marxists,” the “condescending saviors” who claim that the working class is incapable of coming to communist self-consciousness and who proclaim the need for the enlightened intellectuals to lead the struggle against capitalism. Reinforcing these arguments is a new section that addresses the degeneration and collapse of the original Fourth International as a revolutionary organization, a history that must be understood if it is not to be repeated.
The objective basis for socialist revolution and the creation of workers’ states throughout the world is fully mature. The decisive challenge for revolutionaries today lies on the subjective level: raising the revolutionary communist consciousness of the working class by building its most important weapon, the vanguard revolutionary party.
The specter of communism does not haunt the world today. Across our planet, in recent decades the working class has risen up time and again against the murderous and exploitative rule of capitalism. But since the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, its struggles have not led to the creation of new revolutionary workers’ states, much less communism.
The working class does not need still more middle-class and bureaucratic “condescending saviors.” They have been a big part of the problem and not the solution. The reason our class has not been able to take power has been the absence of a genuine proletarian leadership. The Communist Organization for the Fourth International (COFI) fights for the renewal of that class-conscious Bolshevik leadership. COFI stands for the resurrection of the theory and practice of authentic revolutionary Marxism. We seek thereby to organize and help educate the vanguard layers of the working class in the struggle to re-create the Fourth International, the proletarian world party of socialist revolution.
The working class is the one class capable of achieving socialist consciousness through the lessons it learns in the course of struggle. Proletarians with the most advanced consciousness are driven by the class struggle to form their own vanguard communist party, the key to the successful seizure of state power and the formation of workers’ states. In contrast to middle-class tendencies around the world today which present themselves as Marxist, we adhere to this fundamental outlook, the actual world-view fought for by Marx, Engels, Lenin (after 1905) and Trotsky.
Under the banner of authentic communism, in open and defiant hatred of our own ruling classes and the imperialist system, we dedicate our lives to this struggle. In the spirit of the Communist Manifesto, we refuse to hide our political identity. Loyalty to our class, in Trotsky’s words, means that we “Say what is!” As he pointed out, our program can be summed up in two words, “socialist revolution.” Trickery will not advance the cause of revolution – working class consciousness of reality, and therefore the truth about what must be done, will. We call upon all genuine proletarian communists everywhere to join us in the fight for humanity and a classless world!
The building of COFI is vital to the struggle. As Trotsky insisted, the essence of the crisis of our epoch is the crisis of proletarian leadership. The most fundamental principles of Bolshevik-Leninism, the Marxism of our epoch, have been gutted and turned to their opposite by most of the organizations that claim to carry its banner. Elementary communist principles have been abandoned: that the working class alone has been created by capitalism itself to be its gravedigger; that the independence of the working class is a prime necessity for proletarian class consciousness; that the party of revolution is the party of the proletariat itself and is composed of its most advanced, conscious members; that the vanguard party must be international and interracial, internationalist and interracialist, and is the absolutely indispensable element in each country if the socialist revolution is to triumph.
COFI’s reason for independent existence is not tactical but fundamental. Our differences with the various pseudo-Marxist tendencies are those of class. While we welcome into our ranks dissidents from other strata who have proven themselves loyal to the interests of the proletariat, the vanguard party acts to zealously preserve its working-class composition and political character.
We stress two principles that distinguish COFI from other organizations claiming to be socialist or communist. One, our efforts are devoted to exposing, not hiding, the vacillations, capitulations and betrayals of the reformists who presently lead the mass organizations of the workers and the oppressed. That is, we act at all times for the advance of revolutionary proletarian consciousness.
Two, only the proletariat can make the socialist revolution. The notion that non-working-class forces could carry out the socialist revolution – that is, create workers’ states – became the view not just of Stalinists; it signaled the material degeneration of the Fourth International (FI) in the post-World War II years. Under the leadership of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel, the FI came to reflect the views of the vast new bureaucratic middle class and labor aristocracy which arose in the imperialist countries during the prosperity boom of the late ’40’s and the ’50’s. Whereas Trotsky had considered the Stalinist and social-democratic purveyors of class collaborationism to be counterrevolutionary, the Pabloites (the defenders of “deformed workers states”) saw them as too-limited progressives who could create workers’ states if prodded by the mass struggle and the urgings of “Trotskyists.”
The abandonment of genuine Marxism was not the result of some evil conspiracy; it was the consequence of betrayals of a class character. The isolation of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia initially resulted from the counterrevolutionary efforts of reformist social democracy, rooted in the layers of the labor aristocracy. The material backwardness of the workers’ revolution led to the growth of the Stalinist bureaucracy and then its counterrevolutionary triumph in the USSR in the wave of bloody purges in the late 1930’s. Although Trotsky saw the purges as a “preventive civil war” against the proletariat, he did not believe that the rapidly degenerating workers’ state had yet been overthrown.
By 1939, Trotsky believed that the Soviet proletarian dictatorship was so degenerate, contradictory and near-terminal, that he characterized it as a “counterrevolutionary workers’ state.” Contrary to his prediction, rooted in the mistaken belief that it was still a “hollow” and “weak” workers’ state, World War II led not to the collapse of Stalinism but rather its expansion. From the outset, workers’ revolts in East Europe were smashed by the Stalinists. In no case were any of the new popular frontist “People’s Democracies” created by working class revolutions. The FI at first understood that the new East European regimes were state capitalist, but late in the 1940’s it concluded that they were “deformed workers states.”
Under the rule of Stalin, the various Communist Parties of the Third International, like the social-democratic parties, came to reflect the interests of the middle strata and the labor aristocracy within the international workers’ movement. In the mid-1930’s, the Stalinists with social democratic help promoted populism, the idea that “the people” as a whole irrespective of class differences could advance the cause of human progress, prevent fascism and prevent more wars. Inevitably, this led to support of bourgeois reform politicians as the leadership of “broad” social movements and in elections. It led to support for popular front governments, subordinating workers’ interests to those of collaborating bourgeois parties. It undermined over time the deeply felt class consciousness once widespread throughout the international proletariat. It led to nationalism as a substitute for internationalism. It eroded the Marxist conception that the working class, under its own program, must lead the rest of its allies among the oppressed strata. Thus populism paved the way for working-class defeats, the betrayal of mass movements, fascist triumphs and imperialist world war. In propping up and attempting to give capitalism a humanist face, it served to preserve the system in all its ugly imperialist glory.
In the 1950’s in the imperialist countries, as the reformist parties began moving to the right toward open class collaboration, Trotsky’s epigones of all varieties – Pabloites, Shachtmanites, Cliffites, etc. – called for “deep entry” into the Stalinist and/or social-democratic parties, not to destroy them but to urge them forward.
By 1952, the qualitative degeneration of the vestiges of the revolutionary proletarian FI was completed. In the Bolivian revolution of the early ’50’s, the important FI section in that country supported the left bourgeois nationalists. That betrayal helped destroy the revolution, and no force of consequence within the FI opposed this utter capitulation. That fact signified the end of the FI as the revolutionary center. By the ’60’s and ’70’s, the splits led by a variety of epigones often supported middle class-led peasant guerrillaism, student vanguardism or electoralist reformism. The myriad splits, which mostly emerged soon after the Bolivian betrayal, all bore the marks of reformist or centrist capitulation.
At one time the reformist parties – Stalinist and social-democratic alike – had stood as a major prop for the preservation of imperialist capitalism. The collapse of their support within the working class was made evident by their inability to control, corral and divert the massive proletarian upheavals that rocked almost every corner of the globe in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Since then, the Stalinist bloc has collapsed and the Communist parties in most countries have become shadows of their former selves. The social-democratic and labor parties have veered sharply to the right as the crisis of capitalism deepened.
Today, under the impact of that crisis, many of the left reformist and centrist pseudo-Marxist groupings are moving to fill the vacuum left by the traditional reformists. Some have abandoned even the semblance of Trotskyism and the quest for a proletarian party and are disappearing into the ranks of what is left of the traditional mild-left reformists. Others seek to launch new, supposedly unblemished, left reformist parties and alliances to replace the old parties. Whichever road to reformism they choose, they use their new formations to promote class collaborationist populism and popular frontist blocs with “Greens” and other radical bourgeois reformers. They have taken up the role, virtually abandoned by the traditional parties, of left defenders of the capitalist system in the guise of its opponents.
COFI stands for the resurrection of proletarian revolutionism. We will fight for the restoration of authentic Marxism in opposition to the bourgeois interpretations which now constitute “orthodoxy.” We pledge an unrelenting struggle against the middle-class Marxists who befoul our struggle. We see that the crisis of capitalism is now undermining and disintegrating the middle strata and the labor aristocracy around the world. The ability of the capitalist system to cede reforms has vastly diminished. The role of class collaborationist reformism of all varieties, therefore, has become more and more limited. As the crisis deepens, and the proletarian struggle rises, we expect that the centrist forces will polarize, and those elements who are searching for a genuine working-class outlook will crystallize and emerge out of the morass. COFI pledges that it will never allow organizational and political sectarianism to deter us from welcoming and uniting with all serious communist forces around the world in the struggle for humanity.
We are at a key turning point in world history. In 1990, in our book The Life and Death of Stalinism, we contrasted the first half of the 20th century – with its two world wars, Great Depression, fascism and Stalinism – with the present:
On the surface it may not look like we still live in the epoch of decay. ... Even through the postwar boom has come to an end and the possibility of severe crisis is now openly discussed within the Western bourgeoisie, the predominant view ... is that capitalism is successful. The collapse of the Eastern ‘socialist’ regimes provides confirmation.” (p. 243)
Only a few years later, appearance came into line with reality. The supposed New World Order of U.S.-led stability after the “triumph of capitalism” now evokes only derisive laughter. The new order means anything but stability. The world economy has suffered several years of zero growth. The proletariat is now over half the world population, yet more than one-third of its members are jobless. The gap between rich and poor, between countries and within them, grows ever wider. Even in the U.S., the world’s richest country, two-thirds of working people live at or below the standard officially described as “necessary for health, efficiency, the nurture of children and participation in community activities.” In other words, the proletarian commodity, labor power, on which capitalism depends for its very existence, is being systematically destroyed.
The more all justification for class rule crumbles, the more the capitalist rulers show they will stop at nothing to stay in power. Yesterday’s genocide in Rwanda and today’s Zionist pogromist campaign against Palestinians are only extreme examples of the vicious nationalist wars waged in the Middle East, Africa, ex-Yugoslavia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. On all continents, tidal waves of refugees flee their homelands. Reactionary forms of terror designed to stop the depredations of bestial imperialism around the world have only led to accelerated and far more devastating terror campaigns by the “advanced” Western capitalist powers. Capitalism offers no solution but only one savagery after another, in order to make a genuinely human existence appear hopeless.
A human existence is possible. The productive forces have reached the point where life without starvation and homelessness is within reach, for all. Only the rule of one class over the rest prevents it. Clearly the world faces a choice between authentic socialism and an increasingly apparent barbarism. There is no room left for any alternative but proletarian revolution. Yet the bulk of the world’s left remains dedicated to bourgeois “realism”: populism, electoralism, “democracy” and “progressive” nationalism. And a corrupted and gutted doctrine which passes off as Marxism.
Consciousness of the need for revolutionary change is growing, but given the past, respect for Marxism as the guide to revolution is at its lowest point in the century. Under these conditions COFI has the task of further restoring and re-elaborating the most basic principles of authentic Marxism on which all hope for humanity rests. The Marxist dialectic teaches us that it is impossible to restore past conceptions without giving them further development. The world and all phenomena within it are in constant change, and so Marxist understanding itself must evolve as well.
Capitalism, the most advanced form of class society, is based on the extraction of surplus value through wage labor. The two main classes in capitalist society, the bourgeoisie (capitalists) and proletariat (workers), are fundamental to the mode of production and stand in antagonistic relation to each other. As Marx stressed, classes are collections of individuals but are determined by their relationships with one another. The essential relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is exploitation at the point of production.
Although capitalism has gone much farther than any previous society in controlling nature, it has the least capacity for controlling its own social relations. Not only does the ruling class confront a hostile and powerful proletariat; in its internal relations the capitalists face one another only as owners of individual capitals. Among them anarchy reigns, so that the social relations of production assert themselves only through the system’s blind laws.
The bourgeoisie is the class of large property owners who live off surplus value produced by others. It centers around the owners of the major means of production and finance. It has been the ruling class in the most advanced countries for two hundred years and has been unchallenged for world domination throughout the 20th century. Today, in one form or another, it rules everywhere.
The proletariat is the class of all those who own no significant property and are therefore compelled to live by the sale of labor power for wages, and to engage in a daily struggle for existence with the bourgeoisie. It centers around the mass workforces in industry and transport, key to the production of surplus value. The system itself has developed the modern working class through cooperative patterns of work and social organization in production, poised in struggle with the ruling class over surplus value. Thus the system rests upon and has created its own gravedigger, a class which finds that its objective interest lies in the achievement of a cooperative instead of cutthroat world.
The petty bourgeoisie consists of small property owners who primarily produce their own surplus value and exploit few if any workers. A major section of the petty bourgeoisie in many countries is the peasantry. This class is also exploited by the bourgeoisie, which appropriates much of the surplus value the petty bourgeoisie produces.
Between bourgeoisie and proletariat stand the “middle-class” layers of salaried and self-employed professionals, managers, academics, etc., layers greatly expanded by capitalism in its epoch of decay in order to control and buy off the proletariat. These layers interpenetrate with the working class at one end and with the upper petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie at the other.
Once progressive, capitalism has brutally developed the productive forces to the point where class society and exploitation are no longer necessary. Capitalism is therefore the last class society in human history. Since it persists, as a world system it is reactionary and counterrevolutionary.
In the epoch of decay, capitalism’s tendencies toward concentration and centralization of production have reached the point of monopolization. As a result, capitalism has ceased to develop the productive forces organically and has become a fetter on them. It generates severe international depressions, which inevitably worsen the longer the system survives. They can be postponed, but the delay leads to even more devastation once they break out.
The international counterpart of monopoly is imperialism. The world is dominated by a small number of imperialist powers which systematically appropriate surplus value from the weaker countries dependent on them and subordinate independent capital formation.
In its historical development capital produced the political instrument appropriate to it: the nation-state. The bourgeois state is an organ of the ruling class designed to regulate through its monopoly of armed force the internal affairs of the bourgeoisie, the class conflict with the proletariat and international conflicts with other bourgeois forces. The state served to promote and shelter the formation and development of capital within its borders.
In the epoch of capitalist decay, the nation-state has economically outlived its usefulness, since the means of production are now international and constantly confront national limits. Nevertheless, the nation-state remains a political necessity for capital, both as a tool for waging the struggle against rival capitalists and for dividing the working class. Attempts at peaceful international capitalist unity are doomed to failure. Capitalism remains a system at war with itself.
Only under the hegemony of dominant or conquering national powers can capitalism achieve a degree of temporary unity. Hence the system is driven, on the one hand, toward imperialism and imperialist war and, on the other, towards the defensive bourgeois nationalism of imperialism’s victims.
The growth and organization of the proletariat compels the ruling class to use much of its surplus value not for productive accumulation but for stabilization and repression as well as war with rival capitals. The system greatly expands the state apparatus to control and buy off the masses as well as to regulate the intensifying competition within the ruling class.
The reserve army of the unemployed has grown to mammoth proportions and is a world-wide phenomenon. The imperialists are now able to use the threat of unemployment to reduce wages on an international basis.
Capitalism in decay steps up nationalism and militarization to divert and repress the class struggle. Fascism, the mobilization of petty-bourgeois, lumpen-proletarian and labor-aristocratic elements on a radical “anti-capitalist” but in reality anti-working-class program, is the final resort of unstable national capitals. Fascism promotes all of the system’s inherent tendencies toward racism, national chauvinism and war. Intensification of the current crisis will inevitably mean the triumph of fascism in key nations unless the socialist revolution can prevent it. If the revolution does not prevent it in time, there is no doubt that the present tensions which permeate relations between the imperialist powers will explode into World War III.
Capitalism exacerbates every social division to keep the working class divided. It has extended the pre-capitalist oppression of women through the “double burden” of the family institution and exploitative labor, among other things. It has invented the reactionary ideologies of racism and imperialist nationalism. The age-old weapon of anti-Semitism has been revitalized to murderous proportions in order to deflect attacks on capitalism itself. Today, imperialism is also actively promoting anti-Arabism and a reactionary chauvinist campaign against Muslims of all backgrounds. Oppression of gays and lesbians, at times the most virulent of all, derives from capitalism’s need to maintain the sanctity of the family and remains strong today.
Racism, originally called into its murderous existence by emerging capitalism in order to justify slavery in the Western hemisphere, became an instrument to create and defend imperialist domination of the “third world.” Its super-exploitation of layers of the working class undercuts all proletarian wages. In this epoch racism has become a major world-wide defense for dying capitalism, even to the point of inspiring genocide.
In this epoch, the demands of capitalism have resulted in the greatest migrations of human beings the world has ever known. Thus the proletariat has become even more interdependent. However, anti-immigrant chauvinism, spawned by imperialism, has been joined to racism and has been accelerated as a means of dividing the working class.
The crisis is now so profound that even the mighty U.S. economy cannot benefit from the economic disasters circling the rest of the world as it did in the past. Whether a depression on the scale of the 1930’s – or greater – will come in a year, two years, or more, we cannot foretell. However, the world is tipping inescapably upon that edge.
World capitalism in its death throes is presenting us with horrors that will vastly dwarf those that already torture the planet. At this moment, the hesitant but relentless offensive conducted by the world bourgeoisie against the working class has accelerated as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which played into the hands of the U.S. capitalists. Under the cover of anti-terrorism, the imperialist ruling classes led by Washington are whipping up patriotic chauvinism in preparation for imperialist wars to strike fear into rebellious masses – and imperialism’s own conniving pawns – worldwide.
The state and industrial bureaucracies that flourish in this epoch have their counterparts in the workers’ organizations, their parties and unions. Imperialism promotes a layer of the working class with a stake in the system: the “labor aristocracy” of the highest paid and most secure workers, especially in the imperialist powers.
Resting on the aristocratic layer is the labor bureaucracy that serves capitalism as brokers of the workers’ labor power. As such it is petty-bourgeois in its class nature, not proletarian. Its existence depends both on the survival of capitalism and on the continual reform of the system to bring gains to the workers in order to tie them to capitalism’s survival.
Ideologically, the labor aristocracy and bureaucracy reflect the middle-class and petty-bourgeois interpenetration with the working class. Historically, they developed the social-democratic theory called revisionism, the notion that socialism could be achieved not through revolution but out of the workers’ constant pressure for reforms, which in any case would be the normal result of capitalism’s development and modernization.
During prosperity, reformism favored limited reforms that would benefit the working class within the framework of capitalism. Today it basically stands for the retrenchment of past gains. Tomorrow, given a workers’ upheaval to betray, some sections of the reformists will talk of gains once again. Given the crisis and the class polarization, the advocates of reformism are continually forced to align themselves in collaboration with openly bourgeois forces and have now ceased to babble about reforms. The traditional reformists have already done this blatantly. The more left elements, while they continue to advocate reforms, are now also being forced to move in that same direction.
Today, the systemic crisis is eating away at the middle class and labor aristocracy. Sections of these strata are plummeting into the lower reaches of the working class. For individuals and sections of these layers, the crisis itself will sort out which class formation they owe their loyalty to.
Through the victory of the counterrevolution in the USSR, the bureaucracy was transformed into a statified capitalist ruling class. Forced to maintain nationalized property it used the state to extract the surplus value it lived off. It served as a regent class for the absent private property-owning bourgeoisie.
The social goal of the Stalinist ruling class was to defend and expand its national capital through relative autarky and incorporation of the proletariat: capitalism in one country was its reactionary utopian goal under its ideological slogan of “socialism in one country.” Thus the persistence of capitalism in its epoch of decay brought about a distinct form of decadent capitalism which then acted to prop up the system.
In weaker nations where the local bourgeoisie was discredited and could not defend its class power, and where the working classes had been significantly defeated, efforts to defend against imperialism led to a vastly expanded state capitalism. In extreme cases this resulted in the construction of the post-World War II states modeled on the Stalinist Soviet Union. Statification of property by pro-capitalist class forces was only possible through defeating and decapitating the proletariat beforehand. This is a negative confirmation and extension of the theory of permanent revolution.
In the colonial and semi-colonial world, the Stalinists always stood for restricting the revolutions which broke out in the post-World War II world to the level of the bourgeois stage. At all costs, they worked to prevent the workers from transcending class collaboration and the rule of capital. Thus, unable to break from the world imperialist market, the Stalinists were instrumental in paving the way for the neo-colonialism that dominates those areas today.
Stalinism tended to develop in areas of the world where traditional decadent capitalism was too weak to maintain its grip and could not contain explosive masses. Mainly in countries of combined and uneven development, featuring a combination of dangerous working classes with outmoded social and economic conditions, Stalinism utilized both terror and concessions to the proletariat in order to maintain the rule of capital. Even after the counterrevolution, the Stalinists in the USSR were forced to keep some of the gains of the October revolution in order to exist: nationalization, full employment, etc. The post-WWII Stalinist governments elsewhere had to adopt similar measures to stay alive and contain the workers.
Stalinist methods could at best achieve temporary success. Dragged down by the remaining workers’ gains, the Stalinist states produced a wasteful and inefficient capitalism that could not resolve economic crises and thereby made them permanent. Underneath the “planning,” the economy was an anarchic shambles. Increasingly, the ruling class met growing working class rebellion as it tried to deepen exploitation and remove past gains. This led inevitably to the devolution of Stalinism towards more bourgeois methods and its eventual collapse.
Stalinist states were (and, to the extent that they still exist, are) counterrevolutionary obstacles to socialism. The USSR was imperialist in its own right, subordinating its internal prisonhouse of nations as well as the satellites it had conquered. Despite their anti-imperialist self-definition, and the real rivalry with the West, these states were props for world imperialism and played a crucial role in the postwar decades to keep the masses down in areas where the world fabric of capitalism had frayed. While the Western imperialists waged a cold war against the USSR, the Stalinists in all countries sought to collaborate with whatever “peaceful and progressive circles” they could find.
The deepening of the world capitalist crisis undermined the ramshackle Stalinist economies. Working class uprisings toppled the regimes. But in the absence of revolutionary parties, the revolts were hijacked by the bureaucrats, who were in the process of becoming private property bourgeois. Stalinism died, but not before it had carried out its mission of preserving imperialist capitalism for half-a-century and more.
The full development of the forces of production, the achievement of abundance for all and the flowering of humanity and human culture, require the establishment of communism, a classless society. Communism can be achieved only by the revolutionary transformation of society by the proletariat.
This transformation is carried out through transitional societies under workers’ states (proletarian dictatorships). The tasks of a workers’ state are to overcome the class divisions, oppression and economic barriers of capitalism, in order to develop the productive forces (above all, the working class itself) and a centralized, planned economy truly based on mass consciousness. Planning under the workers’ state aims at producing more and more products for human use rather than for profit. New technology and machinery no longer means lower wages and unemployment, it means greater abundance and the shortening of the workday for all. As accumulation grows, the old blind laws of scarcity that drove capitalist class society begin to lose their grip over the allocation of resources and the emerging society itself. The workers’ state withers away as the proletariat disappears as a separate class.
A workers’ state must be based upon the actual rule of the working class itself, exercised through mass-based institutions like soviets or workers’ councils. Proletarian democracy demands the dictatorship of the proletariat, not over the proletariat. Workers’ councils become and remain revolutionary so long as they are democratically led by the most advanced workers and their party. As workers advance in consciousness, the transformation to socialism and communism becomes ever more determined.
A workers’ state can only succeed in maintaining itself and in creating abundance if it is part of an international confederation of such states. So long as capitalism still hangs on, a workers’ state must also be a center of the international class struggle against that pestilential system. “Socialism in one country” is an impossible goal and a self-defeating strategy.
A workers’ state can be created only through a socialist revolution that overthrows the capitalist state. We reject the theory of “deformed workers’ states” not created by any workers’ revolution. There can be no peaceful transformation from capitalism to socialism: the capitalist state must be smashed through an armed workers’ insurrection.
A socialist revolution must be led by a proletarian vanguard party. Soviets, workers’ councils, etc., the highest forms of the workers’ united front, can act as vehicles for the revolutionary conquest of state power though the leadership of the vanguard party. “Spontaneous acts” of the working class – that is, mass acts of the proletariat without organized leadership and control of defined political forces – can and do have great positive significance. In fact, the growth of advanced consciousness occurs as a result of lessons learned in such preliminary struggles. However, as long as such struggles are dominated by non-revolutionary consciousness – that is, not led by the conscious working class vanguard – they cannot achieve proletarian revolution.
In no country is a bourgeois-democratic or any further capitalist, “mixed-class” or “non-class” stage necessary. The working class must seek to lead other classes and class elements, such as the peasantry and the lower middle strata, in a revolutionary alliance for international socialist revolution.
Given that in this epoch the proletariat has grown into a powerful and independent force, the bourgeoisie is forced to align with remnants of utterly reactionary pre-capitalist classes. Imperialist to the core, it itself must resort to reactionary anti-“bourgeois-democratic” means to defend its rule. In relatively prosperous times, the imperialists prefer to cloak their armed power – or that of their pawns – in democratic clothing. However, in today’s crisis, the fist is evermore apparent. However, in this epoch, no matter the level of crisis the remaining democratic tasks of the bourgeois revolutions can only really be achieved, much less secured, by the working class through socialist revolution. That is, the democratic “revolution” is now a by-product of the socialist revolution, not an inevitable stage ahead of it. This is the theory of permanent revolution.
Since capital is international and depends upon fratricidal nationalism to survive, the proletariat must be internationalist. A proletarian revolution in one country must spread especially to the proletariat of the dominant, economically-advanced, imperialist powers, if the workers’ state is to be able to develop into socialism and communism.
The revolutionary vanguard party represents the most advanced class-conscious layer of the working class. Since the working class must be independent of all other classes, Lenin and Trotsky correctly stressed that the vanguard party is the party of only one class and centers its work within the working class. The vanguard party in each country must be a section of the re-created authentic Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution.
The International and its parties are democratic centralist fighting organizations: they embody strict, disciplined unity in action combined with internal democracy. Within the party and International, the basic right of a majority is that its policies are carried out as party policy. The basic rights of a minority group or faction is that its views can be heard and considered within the party and that they are appropriately represented on leading party bodies.
The fundamental task of communists is to build the vanguard party. This requires distinguishing between layers within the class in order to win the emerging vanguard. Leninists know that even mass revolutionary parties cannot skip over the advanced layer in order to lead the broad mass of workers without disastrous consequences.
The workers’ International is always necessary; building it is the prime task of all communists at all times. An International is not the fortuitous outcome of a process of building parties in each country, a nationalist federational strategy in disguise. Building the International must occur in lockstep with building the national section.
At all times, communists work to maintain the working-class nature of the international party in its composition as well as its program.
The International is Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyist. We trace our heritage to the Communist League and First International of Marx and Engels; the Second International and, after 1900, its revolutionary wings led by Lenin and Luxemburg; the Russian revolution and the Third International of Lenin and Trotsky; the Left Opposition, International Communist League and Fourth International; and the fight led by Trotsky against middle-class influences in the Fourth International.
Today the revolutionary banner is carried by pre-party propaganda groups, currently COFI. Pending the re-creation of the Fourth International, COFI operates in the spirit of democratic centralism; it is prevented from becoming fully democratic centralist solely by limited resources.
Our resurrection of Marxist theory and practice began with the fight in the International Socialists (U.S.) in 1972-73 that led to the founding of the Revolutionary Socialist League in 1973 and the League for the Revolutionary Party in 1976. We have developed our views from the main lessons of the first four Congresses of the Third International, the documents and struggles of the Communist Left Opposition and the Fourth International – and the gains of COFI itself as embodied in the political thrust of LRP-U.S. convention documents, our book The Life and Death of Stalinism, Proletarian Revolution magazine and other documents and publications developed by comrades in Australia and Germany.
The test of all theory is practice. Only the final triumph of socialist revolution and the successful transition to communism will constitute full proof of authentic Marxism. One immediate guideline to testing the validity of theory is its proven predictiveness in actual world events. In this regard, the political tendency now embodied in COFI has successfully passed that test to a degree not even approached by any other tendency that we know of on this planet. When, in the late 1970’s, the various groups on the “Trotskyist” left saw the USSR, for good or bad, as a wave of the future and a powerful planned alternative to Western capitalism, we pointed to its weakness. The Shachtmanite “bureaucratic collectivist” theory saw dynamic Stalinism fighting with socialism over dying capitalism. The Cliffite theory claimed that “state capitalism” had supplanted imperialism as the last and highest stage of capitalism. The Pabloites saw Stalinism as post-capitalist and economically far in advance of capitalism. We pointed not only to an imminent collapse of Stalinism as a patchwork, anarchic and wasteful brand of capitalism, but we added that it would be forced to devolve in the direction of traditional capitalist market forms in order to boost its rapidly declining rate of profit.
When at the height of the Cold War, the epigones were all predicting that the future third world war would be between the USSR and the West, we pointed out that while the Soviet Union was militarily strong, it was far too much of an economical disaster to rival Western imperialism on the world scene. For all the genuine rivalry between the two blocs, the Stalinists essentially played the role of a prop supporting the continued existence of world monopoly capitalism. We alone predicted the likelihood that the Cold War would end without world war and that, if socialist revolution did not prevent it, World War III would be fought out between the U.S., Germany and Japan as the major players. Russia and China would serve as junior allies and/or spheres of contention. While the combatants for the future war are not yet determined in practice, all serious observers see the rising tensions between the major imperialist powers. We remain confident of our prediction which posits that the now-unchallenged (by the other imperialists) U.S. superpower will inevitably have to contend with German and Japanese power in the struggle to re-divide the world production of surplus value. Lenin stressed that there could be no revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory. On the far left today, rationalization and ex-post-facto judgments have supplanted even the attempts at serious theoretical work. Predictability is no longer even a real goal as each tendency clings to its version of orthodoxy in order to stay alive. Political zombies will never re-create the Bolshevik-Leninist workers’ International.
We stand for vanguard party leadership of all workers’ struggles. We oppose all attempts by capital to intervene in working-class organizations. Democracy and other workers’ gains can only be achieved by fighting the ruling class and its state, not by collaborating with them.
The mass workers’ organizations today are led by reformist bureaucrats who inevitably side with the interests of capitalism in the class struggle. In all struggles communists warn and fight against the role of the labor bureaucracy in holding back the workers organizationally and ideologically.
The Communist, social-democratic and labor parties, by and large, were gains of the working class that formed them. Today in general, outside of the ex-Stalinist and Stalinist countries, they mostly remain bourgeois workers parties. Their characteristic contradiction is that they still reflect the workers’ past achievements but are used by the bourgeoisie against their working-class base. After the reformist social-democratic parties made their inherent commitment to the bourgeoisie clear in practice during the First World War, Leninists have considered them to be counterrevolutionary. In the late 1930’s, the Stalinist betrayal of the Spanish revolution, through class collaborationism, led Trotsky to point out that the Communist Parties had become thoroughly counterrevolutionary.
Participation in and critical electoral support for some of the Communist Parties, the social-democratic and labor parties are possible tactics because of their still-independently organized proletarian base. These are tactics to be used when the mass of workers see them as viable alternatives to the openly bourgeois parties and when their use is the best way to expose their treachery. We combat the view that they are workers’ institutions that require permanent electoral support.
Likewise, we stress the fact that the workers in struggle both need and want class unity against the capitalists. We fight for the united front of the working class, openly warning our fellow workers that the reformist leaderships will seek to betray our class.
In contrast to the bourgeois workers’ parties, the trade unions, even when led by betraying social democrats or other reformists, are not inherently counterrevolutionary institutions, and communists do not favor their termination. They represent historic gains of the working class, and their membership is restricted to that class. While they are not revolutionary institutions, we can fight within them for revolutionary leadership and the necessity to politically challenge state power. Often the union federations are crucial in strategic industries where the proletariat has enormous potential power. History has proven time and again that the labor bureaucracy must be challenged and exposed within the unions and that short-cut attempts to avoid such clashes are utterly self-defeating for the revolutionary vanguard.
The difference between the labor and social-democratic parties and the trade unions is that the former is a category of political party, while the latter is a special form of the united front of the working class. Many tactics, including united front, critical support and entry, can be appropriate for building the revolutionary party – by splitting the working-class base away from the reformist parties. In the case of the trade unions, the task is not to split the workers from the unions but to replace the bureaucracy with the leadership of the revolutionary party.
Even with our small forces today, we conduct propaganda work and even some agitational activities within the trade unions. The idea that such experience is of little value is patronizing. The idea that the revolutionary vanguard does not have to build trust over the years by its dedicated work is delusional.
Ruling-class ideology has invaded the working class, not only through reformism and Stalinism but also through middle-class tendencies which falsely speak in the name of proletarian revolution: the centrists and left reformists. It is crucial to expose and combat such leftists. Their vacillations can destroy consciousness. Worse, many of the centrist groups have proven that they seek to use the working class as an unconscious battering ram in the interests of populism and its variant of capitalism, all done in the name of socialism.
The revolutionary party combats pseudo-Marxist theories that give a central role to the middle class, whose members are often hostile to both the anarchic bourgeoisie and the “out of control” working class. They promote a “socialism” that offers intellectuals and managers power over workers (in the latter’s name) in a “planned” and ordered economy run by savants. Hence the “middle-class Marxist” theories justifying or rationalizing or simply tailing Stalinism and social democracy.
We also single out for attack those tendencies which immerse themselves in middle-class student politics today under the claim that tomorrow they will “orient toward the working class.” Thus, in practice they demonstrate what class they believe is the vehicle for socialist consciousness. On the other hand, activity among working class students is a vital task for building proletarian cadres.
We support all struggles against oppression, subject only to the higher interest of the international working class. We promulgate permanent revolution: the unfulfilled bourgeois-democratic tasks can be carried out only through socialist revolution. We stand for working-class leadership of all struggles against the ruling class.
In the fight against imperialism, oppression, racism, national chauvinism, sexism, clerical fundamentalism and fascism, we combat reliance upon bourgeois populist forces. The mass organizations of the oppressed are led by middle-class reformists. We counterpose proletarian leadership to all these forces, no matter how militant their rhetoric.
We defend struggles for women’s liberation, always emphasizing the conditions and needs of working-class women. We stand for the right of women to work outside the family as wage laborers and for their complete equality. We fight for full democratic rights for gays and lesbians.
We defend all struggles for equality and justice by racial and national minorities, fighting for leadership by working-class sections of such groups.
We defend the rights of immigrants and campaign for the end of all discriminatory barriers against refugees fleeing political persecution or economic misery.
In countries where the peasant masses demand division rather than collectivization of the land, communists will in general support this demand in order to demonstrate by example, not force, the need for socialist farming.
Authentic communists are materialists and atheists. We oppose all religious hierarchies, which use the idea of a supernatural realm to defend class society in general and decadent capitalism in particular. They take advantage of the masses driven into deeper and deeper misery by capitalism who seek solace in religion. So-called liberation theology and its perpetuation of superstition is no answer to clerical fascism and its superstition. Fundamentalism which claims to be hostile to imperialism is a reactionary obstacle to the necessary fight against imperialism, the world’s greatest enemy.
However, since religious persecution may in some cases play the same role as racial, national or sexual oppression, we defend the right of the masses to practice their religious faith; religion will fade away as a result of consciousness gained through struggle. The present rise of reactionary anti-Islamic and anti-Jewish chauvinism is to be vigorously fought.
As Leninists and internationalists, we always and everywhere defend the rights of oppressed nations against their oppressors. We defend the right of self-determination for oppressed nations. We give military-technical support to oppressed nations and nationalist forces in military combat with imperialism. This implies no political support to nationalist leaders and nationalist ideologies, which are inherently bourgeois.
We defend those nations which wish to secede and in numbers of cases, we have advocated secession. However, we argue against the masses choosing national independence whenever that separatist path can be avoided. Our attitude toward the national question is governed by the need to win the masses of oppressed workers and above all by the paramount interests of the world proletariat.
In inter-imperialist wars we oppose all sides. In any imperialist country our policy is revolutionary defeatism. We reject pacifism and campaign for the tactics of Trotsky’s proletarian military policy: arming and training the workers under the control of their own class organizations. In no case do we align ourselves with the nationalism of imperialist powers, no matter what benevolent disguise it may take – including economic sanctions or wars presented as means of forcing an end to oppression in other countries.
We oppose the formation and strengthening of imperialist blocs, without favoring in opposition the nationalism of individual imperialist countries. Today, the United States is the dominant superpower, the chief bastion of world imperialism. As it pursues its inherent drive to maximize its portion of surplus value in a plunging world economy, the war of all against all endemic to capitalism will inevitably create first trade war and then the potential for a third intra-imperialist war, which if not prevented by socialist revolution could annihilate millions and millions of people. The quest for an American Empire in order to police and stabilize the world will only accelerate a blood-drenched world war.
The revolutionary party uses all tactics consistent with our goal of advancing proletarian consciousness and socialist revolution. The working-class vanguard must understand who its allies and enemies are. In particular, we always call by their right names bourgeois nationalists, counterrevolutionary reformists and vacillating centrists, especially if we are forced to temporarily ally with such elements in concrete actions.
We reject long-term entries into Social-Democratic, Labor or Stalinist parties, and long-term united fronts. Both tactics, thereby rendered into strategies, become blockades to the formation of the vanguard party.
We reject electoralism as a strategy for socialist revolution, since it is necessarily reformist. Nevertheless, the party should intervene in bourgeois elections with propaganda, candidates and critical support tactics, in order to take the opportunity to popularize the need for socialist revolution. Leninists generally reject boycotting of elections until they have a real revolutionary alternative means for the masses to exercise their will.
We reject popular fronts between the working class and bourgeois parties. The working class cannot share political power with even the shadow of the bourgeoisie; governmental alliances with such elements mean subordination to bourgeois politics. Party members may not occupy positions in bourgeois governments – including those of “third world,” Stalinist and post-Stalinist countries as well as in the imperialist powers. We reject so-called anti-imperialist united fronts as a version of the popular front; they stand in absolute contradiction to the permanent revolution.
We reject guerrillaism as a strategy for socialist revolution: it runs counter to class struggle and the development of proletarian class consciousness. Nevertheless, the vanguard party may use guerrilla tactics as an adjunct to the mass struggle in specific situations.
Entry, critical support, united fronts and military-technical support are weapons in our arsenal. In using such tactics revolutionaries maintain our political independence and act on our right to publicize our own views and fight for the revolutionary party.
Unity of our class in action is critically important, given the reliance of the imperialists on a divisive strategy toward the proletariat. Action precedes consciousness. Mass action is the key to carrying out our transitional demands, which help develop unity of the working class in struggle. In today’s world, we stress calls for particular mass actions like the general strike, which history points out is a vital tactic when class leadership is weak. Although the general strike is neither a panacea nor a revolutionary insurrection per se, it does pose the question of which class should rule, it does pose the question of state power. In fighting for the general strike we stress its political character in counterposition to the bureaucracy which if forced into leading such a strike tries to limit such actions to the industrial front. As well, in calling for these mass actions, we warn our class that the treacherous leaders will try to turn them away from mobilizations into stay-aways.
Although the immanent drive of the proletariat’s struggles is to challenge the capitalist system, the workers confront their class enemies before they are fully class-conscious. As they develop consciousness, they see many of their own true interests and want immediately to demand that the bourgeois state fulfil them rather than “wait” for socialism. We can neither issue a “socialist revolution or else” ultimatum nor urge workers to defer action until an insurrection occurs. Therefore the revolutionary party joins with non-class-conscious workers in struggle for the immediate interests of the proletariat and seeks to show that, whatever partial and temporary victories are won under capitalism in this epoch, the only real solution to the masses’ needs is socialist revolution.
Trotsky’s transitional program is designed as a bridge to advance the consciousness of the fighting masses in times of mass struggle. It consists of algebraically formulated demands which are part of the solution of the future workers’ state and which summarize fundamental needs of the workers as well as the exploited and oppressed masses. The demands are ones that can be fought for under capitalism but can only reach fruition under a proletarian dictatorship. Hence we are able to fight side by side with other militant workers while we attempt to prove to them in actual practice that these demands, their demands, can only be really achieved by the workers’ state, not the bourgeois state. The fight for transitional demands enables the vanguard to demonstrate the resistance of the bourgeoisie and the betrayals of the reformists, as well as the power of the working class and its drive beyond the limits of capitalism.
The transitional program is an action program of demands which the vanguard party can agitate for without requiring acceptance of socialist revolution by fellow workers in advance. For this to succeed, the advanced layer of workers must be constantly prepared by systematic propaganda for revolutionary socialist solutions and on the vanguard party’s use of the transitional program. There is no trickery involved. We say openly to the rest of our class, that we believe that socialist revolution is the only solution. To those who do not yet agree with us, we propose to fight together for concrete demands on the capitalists and their state; the struggle will show which strategy is right. As Trotsky insisted, the Transitional Program of demands is a substitute for the program of reforms but not a substitute for the maximum program that we openly fight for: socialist revolution. It is our claim that transitional demands lead to such a revolutionary challenge, if revolutionaries openly guide the way.
Tactical use of the transitional program depends on local and temporary conditions, above all the movement and consciousness of the proletariat. At times when the masses are not ready to go into motion, agitation (as opposed to propaganda) for the transitional program masks the socialist revolutionary program and promotes reformist illusions. Agitation for transitional demands at those junctures suggests that we believe the capitalist state can really carry out massive transformations in workers’ interests.
We list some transitional demands here, some of the most important for the present conjuncture, to illustrate the method.
Reducing the work force is increasingly becoming a key capitalist weapon in the class struggle. We stand for jobs for all, a full program of public works, and the sliding scale of hours to find jobs for all available workers. Since this directly confronts the capitalists’ need to reduce wages in order to raise the rate of profit, we insist that the demand is valid as a human need, independent of considerations of profitability. The wealth needed for these measures can be obtained only by violating capitalist property: Nationalize the Banks and Industries Without Compensation!
Inflation is an endemic disease of capitalism in decay, at various times in different countries. We stand for an escalating scale of wages, likewise independent of profitability.
Police violence against the working class, especially its oppressed sections, is rising, along with right-wing thug attacks. We stand for workers’ self-defense guards, workers’ militias and the arming of the proletariat as steps toward building the workers’ revolutionary armed force.
Privatization of state-owned means of production has become a widespread weapon of the ruling classes to cut back workers’ gains, especially in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist states. In opposing the drive towards bourgeoisification and privatization, we stand for nationalization, without compensation, of firms and branches of industry supplying products or jobs vital for the workers’ existence. We combat parochial and syndicalist forms of workers’ self-management as genuine solutions outside the context of the seizure of state power.
Today, COFI adds to the list of transitional demands the crucial slogan to Repudiate the Debt! This is applicable to the needs of countries oppressed and exploited by the imperialist banks such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is also useful in situations in which workers’ indebtedness to banks has reached staggering importance and to situations where state authorities use public debt to the banks and brokerages as an excuse to deny workers’ demands.
The revolutionary party must at all times make explicit the revolutionary implications of the transitional demands to the advanced workers. We combat all notions that reforms alone or sectoral struggles can win lasting gains in this period. The proletarian program points to the unification and centralization of workers’ struggles and the necessity of the workers’ state to carry it out.
In sum, the revolutionary party relies on the mass struggles of the proletariat and the development of its political consciousness, not on maneuvers hidden from our class. We do not believe in advocating a populist stage or a reformist stage as a prelude to a revolutionary working class stage in the bye and bye. We tell the truth now; if only a handful of vanguard workers will now listen, then those are the ones who will be the vital cadre for the future mass development. We do not go behind their backs to the less conscious workers. Ours’ is the Leninist approach to party-building. Prior to becoming a mass party, the nucleus of advanced workers raises mass agitational demands to show other advancing workers that we know the way forward.
As a principle, authentic revolutionaries do not hide their independent banner, program and party. We proudly tell the truth as we see it to the working class. And the leading formulation of what we are for and have to proclaim to our class is embodied in our name: the Communist Organization for the Fourth International.