Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.4, Fall 1958, pp.140-146. 
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.
After the big achievements of the 1917 Revolution, socialism was set back for twenty years by Stalinism. A new upsurge, begun during World War II, now points toward final victory
“Proletarians of both hemispheres! The First International gave you a program and a banner. The Second International raised the widest masses to their feet, The Third International gave the example of revolutionary action. The Fourth International will bring final victory!” Leon Trotsky (Manifesto for the Fourth International, March 1934).
The scientific socialist movement announced its entry into the world with the publication of a program, The Communist Manifesto gave it so solid a theoretical foundation that the events of the next century neither shattered nor invalidated its conclusions but confirmed them in all essentials. It is the only one of all the political documents issued by the political parties of the various classes at that period which has withstood the test of time and remains today a living, guiding force.
The enduring influence of The Communist Manifesto is the most convincing testimony to the importance of theory and program in creating a sound workers’ movement. But Marxist theory is a guide to class action. And the scientific theory contained in that program exhibited its power in practice by the fact that it inspired and directed the second stage of the international socialist revolution. This period was ushered in, not by a programmatic pronouncement, but by a world-shaking action: the victory of the Bolshevik party at the head of workers and peasants in the Russian Revolution of 1917.
This has been the most momentous and far-reaching mass action in modern history. It initiated a new stage in the progress of the socialist workers movement. For the first time a section of the working class definitively defeated the forces and resources of capitalist reaction; installed itself in power; proceeded to defend its government and reorganize society in the interests of the toiling masses. The Russian workers demonstrated that workers power was not a dream but could become a reality; that socialism was not a utopia but a genuine and realizable goal. What an immense, almost immeasurable step!
The success of the revolutionary socialists (Lenin’s Bolsheviks were not called Communists until after their victory) settled many serious theoretical issues. Who makes history – brilliant individuals or insurgent masses? How is society remade – by the piling up of reforms or by revolutionary action? What kind of party and leadership are required for such gigantic tasks – a loose movement with an opportunistic leadership or a disciplined party with Marxist fortitude and vision? All these questions had been the subject of intense theoretical debate. They were answered in the events and outcome of the Russian Revolution by the more decisive proof of practice. And nothing that has happened since has nullified these lessons in their essentials.
The October Revolution did more than lift world socialism on to a higher level from which it has never been toppled. It inaugurated an entirely new era in the development of mankind – the post-capitalist era. Since 1917 modern history has been divided into three great stages: the pre-capitalist, the capitalist, and the post-capitalist. These are embodied in three different though intermeshed and interacting sectors of society – the backward and colonial countries, the imperialist metropolises, and the workers states.
Last October marked the fortieth anniversary of the Bolshevik victory. The consequences of this event have molded the history of our time, just as the unfolding of the French Revolution dominated the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. The internal development of the Russian revolution, and its impact upon the rest of the world over the past four decades, breaks up into three distinct periods.
The first lasted for six years from 1917 to 1923. This was the ascending curve of the revolution, its most heroic and creative period.
The second stretched out over twenty agonizing years from 1923 to 1943. These two decades witnessed the descent of the Russian revolution from its high point to the consolidation of the Stalinist police state in the Soviet Union and the reinforcement of capitalist reaction elsewhere in the world.
We are still in the midst of the third period which started during the Second World War and has yet to unfold all its consequences. This present period is characterized by the crumbling of colonialism and the weakening of world capitalism owing to the immensely powerful and sustained upsurge of the international revolution. On top of its blows against imperialism, this new rise in the tide of revolution has served to undermine the foundations of Stalinism and revive the activity of the masses in the Soviet zone.
Let us review the salient features of each of these three successive stages in the ebb and flow of the world revolution from 1917 to 1957.
* * *
The achievements of Bolshevism at its zenith surpassed those of any other party in history. Lenin’s party piloted the Russian workers to the heights of power in Russia, laid down the foundations of the first working-class republic, cleared away most of the dead wood of feudalism and capitalism, created the Red Army and successfully defended the new regime against its formidable internal and external enemies. The Bolsheviks did more than break the shackles that bound the Soviet peoples to the past; they also showed advanced workers everywhere how to cast off the restrictions of reformism.
Their example and teachings gave new hope and new life to the entire working class and pointed out a new road for world socialism. Through the formation of the Third International the Leninists reorganized its most virile forces, reinspired the older generation, and educated the youth in the real meaning of Marxism in theory and in practice. The Third International challenged and displaced the Second International as the authentic representative of the showdown struggle against capitalism. The Leninists did everything – and a bit more – that could be demanded of them to fulfill the principal tasks of revolutionary leadership. These consist in fortifying the positions of the working class to the utmost in their own country while helping to promote the movement against the old order in other parts of the world. The most backward country produced the most far-sighted leadership.
Whatever mistakes the Bolshevik pioneers made – and being neither Popes nor Stalins, they admitted their fallibility – sink into insignificance beside their colossal unforgettable achievements.
More decisive in the long run thanany incidental and inescapable errors or even their correct policies – were the enormous objective obstacles that confronted the Russian revolutionists. These could not be easily cleared from their path.
These adverse conditions forced a retreat on the economic front (known as the New Economic Policy) after the military victory of the Russian revolution in 1921.
This retreat then became the starting point for an unexpected and involuntary recession of revolutionary energy and optimism. After the loss of hope in the German revolution in 1923 and Lenin’s death in 1924, the conservative and bureaucratic tendencies which had been gathering momentum in the Soviet government and the Communist party were unleashed. That produced a sharp and irreconcilable realignment of forces within the ruling circles. The faction headed by Stalin most clearly and consistently spoke for the mounting resistance to further revolutionary change.
This first period was dominated by the expectation that the problems of Russian backwardness would find the material means for their solution through the spreading of workers power from the East to the West. The Bolshevik leaders believed that the merger of German industry with Russian man power and resources would provide an unbeatable team for traveling fast toward the objectives of socialism. However, this gateway to the West was barred by the postwar treachery of the Social Democratic leaders and the immaturity of any revolutionary replacement for them.
This objective situation produced a fundamental crisis of program, policy and perspective within the Russian Communist party. The ensuing parting of the ways was so far-reaching that it proved fatally decisive for the entire subsequent evolution of the international labor movement and reverberates up to the present time throughout its most advanced sectors.
The opposing positions were put forward most forcefully and fully by the Stalinist faction on one side and the Trotskyist Left Opposition on the other. The gist of their dispute can be summed up as follows: Should the expansion of the world revolution be considered as concluded for the entire next historical period; should rescue from that quarter be written off and everything be concentrated upon safeguarding and developing what had already been achieved in the Soviet Union? This was the position epitomized in the theory of building socialism in one country which was first put forward by Stalin late in 1924, in violation of all the previous traditions and program of Bolshevism.
This outlook was predicated upon a total lack of confidence in the prospects of important victories for the socialist revolution elsewhere. For, if the extension of the revolution was a genuine possibility, then why was it necessary to erect the idea of socialism in one country into an unassailable dogma and defend it with such ferocity that its critics were expelled from the party, jailed, exiled and exterminated?
The conservatism of the Stalinist faction was expressed negatively in their turning away from the prospects of victory on the world arena and positively in the declaration that everything essential for the construction of a harmonious socialist society was present or potential within the boundaries of the Soviet Union. These were two inseparable sides of the same position. If this was so, then there was no need to run the risks and exert the efforts involved in promoting the socialist revolution elsewhere. Henceforth, in their eyes, the workers movement in other countries had to play not an independent but an auxiliary role. Its primary duty would be to serve as border guards of the Soviet Union where socialist construction was going forward and subordinate their struggles for power to the shifting requirements of the Soviet bureaucracy.
The Leninist opposition pointed out the fallacies in this position. It is of course imperative, they said, in view of the retarded development of the international revolution and the pressing needs of the Soviet people, to go ahead and strengthen the economy and defenses of the Soviet Union as much as possible. For this purpose they proposed a program of rapid industrialization under a socialist plan. There was no basic dispute between them on this point, although there were differences over questions of timing and method.
But that does not close the question, the opposition stated. You claim that a socialist structure standing on a higher economic and cultural level than capitalism can be built in our country alone. But capitalism was built from its beginning upon a world-wide market. How then, can a higher type of economy, guaranteeing a higher living standard and more freedom, be raised upon far smaller material foundations?
The fact is, they continued, that even to solve our own national problems, not to speak of creating socialism, the workers have to take power elsewhere so that the Soviet Union can have free access to the resources of the most advanced countries. That is one reason why continued adherence to Lenin’s program of revolutionary internationalism is not a mere dogma but an imperative necessity for the further advance of the Russian revolution. Even more. Such a correct and energetic policy is necessary to protect and preserve the conquest already made. For, unless the pressures and the menace of imperialism are removed by the revolutionary action of the working class in the Western world, the Soviet Union will be in constant danger of attack and have to divert its resources to unproductive military purposes. Even more. If the attempt is made to create a socialist paradise in a backward country encircled by capitalism, this unrealistic course will have results unintended by its authors. It will cripple the world revolution and eventually, if the revolution does not break through in time elsewhere, will lead to the degeneration and the downfall of the revolutionary conquests themselves.
The Russian revolution and its results are not self-sufficient or all-sufficient – it is no more than a link in the international revolution. The Soviet Union is dependent on that revolution; that revolution cannot be made subservient to the demands and dictates of the Soviet bureaucrats.
The Stalinist faction triumphed, as is known. Not because their arguments were superior from the Marxist standpoint, but because of the greater weight of the anti-proletarian social forces mobilized behind them in the country and in the world. They rose to power upon the ebbing of the international revolution while the Leninists were pushed out of power.
* * *
The second phase of the international revolution, which began in 1924, coincided with the victory of the Stalinist reaction within the Soviet Union. From that time on the interaction of these two forces – the Stalinist bureaucracy and the movement of the advanced workers – has determined the course and outcome of world socialism.
The next twenty years was a disheartening period of uninterrupted defeats for the world working class in its crucial encounters with the ruling classes on the political arena, despite the instability of world capitalism. Let us recall the main landmarks. After the default of the German revolution in the Ruhr crisis of 1923 and the triumph of Fascism in Italy came the defeat of the Second Chinese Revolution in 1925-27 and the fiasco of the British General Strike in 1926. The decade of the 1930’s was dominated by Hitler’s coming to power in 1933 and the spread of fascism throughout Europe, the debacle of the Popular Front in France from 1936 to 1938, the betrayal of the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, the support to Roosevelt from 1936 to 1940, climaxed by Stalin’s pact with Hitler which gave the green light for the Second World War.
The principal political factor responsible for these disasters was the false policies of the Stalinized Third International with an occasional assist from the Second International. The Kremlin converted Lenin’s International from the leadership of the international struggle for socialism into an agency for promoting the interests of the bureaucratic ruling caste at the expense of the interests of the world workers movement – until Stalin junked it at Roosevelt’s request in 1943.
Meanwhile, within the Soviet Union extremely contradictory developments took place. The workers democracy of Lenin’s time became converted into an ultra-bureau-cratized despotism whose ugly features Stalin’s successor Khrushchev has belatedly unveiled. All major institutions from the Communist party, the Soviets and the trade unions to the army, the secret police and the educational system became agencies serving the exclusive interests of the ruling bureaucracy who centralized all power in its hands through the one-man dictatorship of Stalin.
While this terrorist totalitarian apparatus was being installed in the political superstructure, the basic economy was spurting forward. Successive five-year plans elevated Russia from a predominantly agricultural country into an industrial power of the first rank. It is customary for apologists of the Kremlin to point to these economic achievements to justify Stalin’s dictatorship and whitewash its crimes. After all, they ask – without consulting the Soviet people who paid it – wasn’t it worth the price?
Their error consists in identifying two different social processes based upon powers which were in reality opposed to one another and moving in opposite directions. The Stalinist autocracy did not represent the interests of the Russian workers or the continuation of their revolution. It directly represented the privileged top layer of the Soviet population, the specialists in government, defense, industry and science who resisted the further development of the revolution. This could be seen in the police regime they directed against the masses.
But it was no less true of the role of this government in economic life. The forced collectivization of the peasants was so brutally and recklessly carried out that Soviet agriculture to this very day has not recovered from the damage, as Khrushchev has had to testify. And the headlong pace of the industrialization, accompanied by the waste and mismanagement of the all-powerful bureaucratic administrators, has greatly hampered the rounded development of the economy. It suffers from calamitous disproportions between heavy and light industry which in turn have brought about such a spread between industrial and agricultural prices as to depress the incentives for peasant production.
On the other hand, neither nationalized property nor the possibilities of planned production were created by the bureaucratic usurpers; these were the most enduring achievements of the masses and their Bolshevik leadership carried over from the preceding period. The industrialization under forced march was an assertion of the vitality inherent in the original revolution. The autocratic rule of the bureaucracy was, on the other hand, an expression of the revulsion against the program and the further needs of that revolution which threatened its very life and sapped its energy. To lump these two together, as the Stalinists do, is like a doctor who would identify a cancerous growth with the living body upon which it feeds because both coexist in the same organism.
Stalin and Khrushchev can no more be credited with the economic advances of the Soviet Union than Green and Murray can be credited with whatever growth American trade unionism experienced under their auspices. The conflict between the bureaucracy and the socialized economy could be masked for a time so long as the Soviet Union was primarily assimilating the technical achievements of the more advanced countries. But the higher its economy climbed, the sharper grew the friction between its bureaucratic maladministration and the needs of the economy, and the more urgent became the demands for workers democracy. This conflict has now become so apparent that even Stalin’s successors are obliged to take verbal notice of it.
There was another paradoxical result of the first stage in the expansion of the Soviet economy. The material basis of bureaucratic rule is the scarcity of consumers goods. The big bosses in Moscow decide who gets what and how much. In the sphere of the distribution of goods the advancing economy provided enough to give privileges to the favored few but not enough to assure even the basic necessities – food, clothing, shelter – to the masses. This inequality produced deep-going differentiations in the living standards of the various sections of the population. The resulting conflicts and discontent over the division of the national income forced the bureaucrats to tighten the screws of their dictatorship to the limit so that no dissent could be voiced, no opposition organized.
* * *
This twenty-year period witnessed the simultaneous triumphs of fascism in Western Europe and Stalinism in the Soviet Union. The spread of the most vicious capitalist reaction over Europe and the strengthening of the bureaucratic reaction within Russia were symmetrical and interlinked phenomena. Both were products of the prostration of the world socialist revolution. The series of defeats inflicted upon the labor movement from without and from within during the 1930’s permitted imperialism to unleash its Second World War with impunity at its close.
This second period brought to the fore the adverse effects of the uneven development of the revolution in this first phase of the transitional period from capitalism to socialism. This unevenness was not uniformly unfavorable. The backwardness of Russian capitalism was one of the major conditions for the mighty forward leap made by the proletarian revolution in the previous period. But at the next stage of Russian development this same material backwardness dragged the revolution down like a leaden weight. Why did this come about?
The political conditions for the taking of power by the workers in a country can mature much sooner than the economic conditions for their advance to socialism. The workers were able to take power in Russia because it was the weakest link in the chain of capitalism. But for that very reason it was least suited as a material basis for socialism. The first contingent of the proletarian revolution broke through the ring of capitalist rulership, not at its strongest but at its weakest point, not at its extremity, not in the most qualified but in the least developed country of Europe.
This same contradiction between advanced political conditions and a backward economy has not been overcome or lessened with the victory of the Chinese revolution. On the contrary, it has been duplicated, extended, generalized and intensified. Consequently, today we find that the material and cultural elements for the construction and elevation of the higher social system are split up and dispersed into opposing sectors of the world. Those economies which can provide the solidest supports for socialism are still held in the hands of capitalism while those countries where capitalist relations have been abolished have as yet inadequate material bases for a swift advance to socialism.
These objective disparities which have flowed from the irregular development of the international revolution since 1917 have created enormous difficulties in the way of world socialism. They are at the bottom of the tremendous deviations from the principled course of the class struggle and the monstrous antidemocratic deformities which have grown up in the inner life and political structures of the anti-capitalist countries. The only avenue of escape from this terrible predicament, as Lenin pointed out, was through the extension of the revolution into the West.
When this road was sealed off from 1923 on, the Russian revolution was pressed back upon itself by the tightening pressures of world reaction. Although its spring was never broken, it became so bent and twisted that many could no longer recognize the remaining conquest of the revolution beneath the grotesque disfigurement of the Stalinist regime.
* * *
It flows logically from this analysis that, once the power of capitalism was reduced and its pressure upon the Soviet Union relaxed, the spring of the revolution would start uncoiling there again. This is precisely what has been happening with the reversal of the world situation that has come about during and after the Second World War.
The stage of the world revolution we are now living through was not ushered in by a single dramatic event, like the victory of the Bolsheviks in 1917. It has been the product of a continuing series of interconnected developments which have converged to push the course of events in a different direction from the two preceding decades. The new stage began during the Second World War with a military victory – the defeat of the Nazi army at Stalingrad which marked the turning point in the Soviet-German war. This was followed by the fall of Mussolini in July 1943 which not only exposed the rottenness of that regime but signed the death warrant of European fascism which had been riding so high. At the same time the partisan struggles of the Yugoslav workers and peasants signalized the renewal of the revolutionary mass movement in Central Europe.
The end of the war saw a rush of developments which testified to the fragility of capitalist rule and the recovery of the labor movement from its paralysis. Heading the list were the Labor Party’s electoral victory in England, the emergence of the Communist parties as the dominant proletarian political influence in France and Italy, the postwar strike wave in the United States; the lightning-like resurgence of the labor movement in Japan. The Soviet armies took over Eastern Europe and several years later capitalist relations were abolished there. Despite the policies of the Communist parties which enabled capitalist rule to be reestablished in France, Italy and Greece, this world-wide assertion of labor power demonstrated that the balance of forces had shifted in favor of the working class.
But the major new factor in changing the world relationship of social forces since the close of the Second World War has been the colonial revolution. This movement, which embraces three-fourths of the earth’s population, has spread from one country to another and from one continent to the next with ever-increasing strength. Breaking out first in Asia, it has extended into the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. During its rise a growing number of colonial peoples have won their political independence such as India, Indonesia, Lybia and, most recently, Ghana and Malaya.
The high-water mark of the colonial revolution has been in China, North Korea and North Vietnam where it has conquered in the advanced form of a proletarian power, however distorted by its Stalinist leadership. The unfolding of the colonial revolution has been as irregular to date as the development of the socialist world revolution itself. Some peoples, like those in French Equatorial Africa, are only now entering the struggle; others like Indonesia, Ghana and Morocco have achieved national independence without winning economic freedom from imperialism; still others like China have torn loose from the clutch of world imperialism and become part of the anti-capitalist sector.
Here we cannot deal with the problems of their further development. The most important point to be noted is the stimulus the colonial struggles have given to world socialism. By upsetting the economic and political stability of the imperialist regimes, and then by their own independent national development, the still-mounting revolution in the colonies has been dealing blows to capitalism from which it can never recover. The setbacks inflicted upon the United States in the Far East by China, to England in Suez, and to France in North Africa testify to that.
The third major feature of this period has been the polarization of state power in the world between the United States and the Soviet Union which have placed themselves at the head of the contending class camps. The United States is supreme in the capitalist coalition; the Soviet Union occupies a parallel place in the anti-capitalist bloc. Because of their antagonistic economic foundations and class connections, the still unfinished cold war between them must be regarded as an expression through the system of states of the conflict between the forces of the old order and the new.
However, the most dramatic result of this shift in the world situation and the position of the Soviet Union has been the radical transformation of the fundamental conditions which fostered the power of Stalinism. As we have explained, there were three basic factors behind the rise of Soviet bureaucratism. One was the backwardness of Russian society, even after the elimination of capitalist ownership. Second was the isolation of the Russian revolution and the Soviet Union because of the failure of the socialist revolution to reach into the West. The third was the poverty in the means of subsistence, the scarcity in consumers goods.
The first two of these terrible constraints upon the Soviet Union have been considerably broken down in the postwar period. The expansion of Soviet power into Eastern Europe coupled with the triumphs of the Chinese and Yugoslav revolutions lifted the political blockade. What a difference from its situation when Hitler turned upon his temporary partner in 1941! At that moment the Soviet Union, thanks to Stalin’s unprincipled maneuvers, stood alone in the world; it was without an ally among other nations. Today, it is surrounded by anti-capitalist governments from the Baltic to the Pacific and meets with growing support from the colonial lands.
The unprecedented pace of industrial growth has converted the Soviet Union into the second economic and military power and created a qualified, literate and dynamic working class, fifty million strong.
One would think that all this would have made the Soviet bureaucracy impregnable. Actually, these developments have been shaking the ruling group to its foundations. The Stalinist autocrats know better than anyone else that the independent extension of the proletarian revolution to other countries not only imperils the monopoly of power they have wielded but undermines the reasons for their continued existence. That is why Stalin himself opposed the initiation of the Yugoslav and Chinese revolutions and then in 1948 came into headlong opposition to the further development of the Yugoslav revolution. We have since learned that friction between the Kremlin and Peking was extremely intense shortly before his death.
With Stalin gone, the dammed-UP demands for an end to bureaucratic domination began to break through the iron mesh from one end of the Soviet zone to the other. Insistent demands for equality, workers democracy and national independence are sparking the anti-bureaucratic forces. This mighty movement is only in its first stages. The outbreaks in East Berlin in 1953 and in Poland and Hungary in 1956 are premonitory manifestations of this death agony of the Stalinist rulership. It will come to a climax only when it moves from the outlying regions into the main centers of the Soviet Union and the workers there set up their own agencies of power and start throwing out the detested potentates of the Kremlin.
This brings us up to the present hour. Where do we stand now and what’s ahead? We have seen that over the past hundred years the socialist movement has immense achievements to its credit. Yet it remains far from its goals, even in those countries where the workers have taken power. A socialism worthy of its name as projected by the founders of Marxism means a substantial and sustained rise in the living standards of the people up to levels beyond those attained by capitalism. It means the establishment of free and democratic control by the workers over their government and their economy, the growth of internal and external relations of equality, the fraternal association as equals of all socialist peoples. The Stalinized regimes are a gross caricature of this concept of socialism – and that is why they are marked for extinction.
The forward march of the socialist movement is still held back by a ball and chain around its feet. The chain is the dire poverty in the means of consumption that plagues the Soviet countries and the colonial areas. Their economic underdevelopment retards their progress, generates sharp conflicts within their populations, leads to bureaucratic abominations and stifles democratic forms of government.
The leaden ball is the lagging of the socialist revolution in the most highly industrialized nations of Europe and North America. These are the two sides of the central historical contradiction of our time – and they are closely connected. The areas which contain the majority of mankind cannot solve their fundamental problems and throw off their age-old backwardness without assistance from the industrialized West. There, however, the latest productive forces, nuclear energy and automation, still await the advent of great new political forces that can take full advantage of them for all mankind. These can come only from the insurgent working class.
The major tasks for the next stage of the world revolution are set by these problems.
The purpose of these articles has been to summarize the past, not to predict the future. It is not easy to foretell what will bring about still another fundamental change in the world situation. The stimulus can come from diverse developments: an economic slow-down and political shake-up with revolutionary repercussions in the capitalist world; the restoration of workers democracy following the deposing of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union; the big blow-up of a Third World War. No one can say what the order and interlacing of such decisive events will be.
One thing is sure. Whatever the peddlers of sedatives for nervous ex-radicals may say, there will be sharp reversals of events in the future as there have been in the past. And the longer their arrival is postponed, the more explosive will be the events when they mature, because of the accumulation of tensions in the meantime.
In judging such gigantic movements as the change over from one social system to another, short-range views or a nationally limited outlook are worthless. In this world-wide struggle of social forces which has been going forward for a century tendencies dominant at one phase are overturned by contrary tendencies at the next big swing of events. This can be seen in the fact that the center of the socialist movement has shifted eastward from England, to Germany, to Russia, and presently to China. Its tour of the world has not yet been completed. And, we may be sure, that whatever the relays, this country of ours is on the schedule too.
It is necessary to make a realistic, properly proportioned appraisal of the world situation as it is at each stage. But a Marxist who understands that history is irreversibly on the move away from capitalism toward socialism must above all take note of what is coming to be. Many worshipers of the given fact can see no further than what is immediately dominant; they overlook or under-estimate the counter-tendencies which are undoing the status quo and setting the stage for the next act in the drama of socialist development.
A South American revolutionist once said:
“To follow the current is very easy; a dead and rotten fish with a bloated belly can do it. But in order to be able to go against the current, it is necessary to have ability, to exert energy and efforts, and even to risk death by drowning.”
We may add that, to keep from drowning, it is likewise imperative to have the life line of a scientific method for analyzing the course of events. That is provided by Marxism. To combine the two sides of the historical process – what is and what is coming to be – in theory and practice is the work of scientific socialism and the art of revolutionary politics.
This brings us to one final point: the question of leadership. The coming stage of the international socialist revolution for which the basic conditions are now being prepared will call for a leadership with a broad view of the historical process and its requirements, which has absorbed the achievements of the past and learned its lessons, which can find its way to the mass movement as it is in the present without sacrificing the needs of the future.
During the darkest hours of the Stalinist era, Trotsky pointed out that the world working class was most of all handicapped by the bankruptcy of its official leadership. He and his earliest associates set about to re-create that shattered leadership through the development of the program and the assembling of the first forces of the Fourth International. Trotskyism represents the continuation of the work of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Luxemburg in the epoch of the decay of imperialism and the degeneration of Stalinism. That is how its place in the historical sequence will be judged.
Its foremost achievement was to teach the vanguard of the working class what Stalinism really is, how it arose and why, how to fight and replace it without yielding an inch to imperialism or succumbing in ideology or practice to reformism. Trotskyism has yet to become a mass force or a state power, yet it is a growing influence and not a declining one on the world arena and in this country. That is because the very conditions which are undermining the power of imperialism and eroding Stalinism are lending strength to the ideas and outlook of living Marxism and genuine internationalism which our movement upholds.
Signs of the changing times within the Soviet Union itself were reported by Cedric Belfrage, correspondent of the National Guardian, from Moscow on September 2, 1957. The change in the highly educated younger generation, he wrote,
“... may be judged by two recent events: a successful strike against poor food in the commissary, and the appearance on a wall-newspaper board of a group manifesto against the distorting of Soviet history, including the role of Trotsky. This was removed and put back again, and finally the expulsion of five students connected with it was announced. A protest against this, which even the university Komsomol leader signed, was successful.”
* * *
Since 1848 the socialist movement has had four different international organizations. Some people may see in this a reason for despair. It should rather be seen as evidence of the irrepressible vitality of world socialism. When an organizational form no longer fulfills the functions which brought it into being, it is cast off by a living movement which then creates a new one in accord with the conditions and demands of its higher stage of evolution.
For example, since the Civil War the American workers in their struggles against the employers have had at least four national trade-union organizations: the National Labor Union, the Knights of Labor, the AFL and the CIO. It will very likely pass through others before the organized workers settle their final accounts with the bosses. How could it be any different in the more difficult fight on the world arena against the power of entrenched capitalism?
Some people are dismayed because the Russian workers, it appears, will have to pass through a second revolution, this time of a political nature, to secure freedom and democracy. They forget that even the American capitalists had to engage in two revolutions before they won their present supremacy.
What does an unprejudiced review of the experiences and outcomes of the first one hundred years of the workers drive toward socialism tell us? It entirely confirms what Marxist theory concluded and predicted back at its beginning: “Above all else, the bourgeoisie produces its own gravediggers. Its downfall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” This is the main line to hold on to firmly throughout all the inescapable twists and turns of the historical journey mankind is making from the twilight of capitalism to the dawn of socialism.
1. This is the second of two articles on the progress of world socialism since 1848. The first article, which appeared in our summer issue, brought the survey up to 1917.
Last updated on: 11.2.2006