From The New International, Vol.12 No.7, September 1946, pp.205-210.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The rich and noble history of the Communist International, formed in a period of tremendous class struggles, has yet to be written. Trotsky has contributed a considerable amount of material toward that history and a portion of it is now available in The First Five Years of the Communist International.  Since the formation of the Comintern in 1919, a new generation of revolutionaries has grown up. It knows little about the travail which attended its birth, the heroic period of its early growth, the tremendous figures – martyrs all – of the world revolutionary movement who directed its destinies, the body of Marxian theory which it developed, and the enormous contribution to strategy and tactics of revolutionary struggle which it gave as a legacy to the movement of today.
The Stalinist era is better known, being still with us. The crippling blows of its revisionism and then outright counterrevolutionary practices are felt with particular severity today in a period of the deepest depression the world revolutionary movement has ever known.
Since the failure of the German revolution of 1923, the proletariat has experienced little else but uninterrupted defeats, the rise of fascism and, finally, the chaos, destruction and mass misery of the Second World War. Some have learned to associate crafty politics, opportunism, bureaucracy, ruthless-ness, deception, assassination and counter-revolution with the whole history of the Communist International, unaware that the pre-Stalinist era of the Comintern contains within it the lessons for the future emancipation of the proletariat.
The material in Trotsky’s book has an extraordinary value for us in the present historical period. We have just lived through a second imperialist war and are in the midst of a post-war period of capitalist decay on a world scale. The re-emergence of imperialist rivalries occur even before the dead of this war have all been buried. Disequilibrium remains the basic characteristic of present-day economic, social and political life. Thus, all the objective conditions for the revolutionary overthrow of world capitalism are overripe.
The war, as could have been foreseen, was unable to solve any of the problems of imperialism. In this respect, then, the post-war conditions of 1945-46 are approximately identical to the post-war conditions of 1918-19. This similarity in the objective condition of world capitalism between the two postwar periods is, however, of no fundamental importance. It is the dissimilarity in the subjective conditions, between the two periods, namely, the state of the world revolutionary movement, which is of quintessential importance. And on these grounds it is necessary to say the proletariat of the present period, in contrast to 1918-19, finds itself in an unfavorable position. In 1918-19 there was a revolutionary movement on the Continent. The Russian proletariat had taken power. Shortlived Soviet republics existed in Bavaria and Hungary. The first German revolution had begun and the Italian workers were preparing to seize the factories. In all other countries the revolutionary movement was growing swiftly. The formation of the Communist International, as the guide and spirit of the world-wide upsurge of the revolutionary movement was itself a factor of inestimable value for giving the elemental movement organization and direction. But even then, as we shall see, the weaknesses of the revolutionary party, i. e., of revolutionary leadership, or the absence of such leadership, resulted in the defeat of the proletariat of Europe and the isolation of the Russian Revolution!
To begin with the subjective factor first because in “the epoch of wars and revolutions” it is the decisive factor, one must acknowledge that it does not exist today in any formidable shape or form. Certainly it does not exist in any comparable degree to the movement of 25 years ago. Except for the tiny organizations of the Fourth Internationalist movement, there is nothing on the Continent which resembles the mass revolutionary parties of the first post-war period. Moreover, there is no continuity of leadership or organization. Add to this, the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the reactionary influence of Stalinism and you have the explanation for the absence of great class battles in Europe, where the decay of capitalism is far deeper than it has ever been before. We shall seek the explanation for this a little further on. But first, to return to the formation of the Communist International.
The Communist International was not an insidious product of the Russian Bolsheviks, as the bourgeois and social democratic critics of the International maintained. The victory of the Russian Revolution coming on the heels of the collapse of the Second International in the war, made it inevitable that the re-emergence of a new world organization of the proletariat would take place in revolutionary Moscow. How else could it have happened? The Second International was rent by social chauvinism. The leading parties which dominated the International and controlled its policies were at war with each other, having joined their respective ruling classes in the imperialist conflict. The official organizations of the working class, parties, trade unions, fraternal societies and cooperatives, under the leadership of traitors, merged with the state apparati of the warring powers and were drenched in the flood-waters of imperialist nationalism. What an inglorious chapter in the history of proletarian struggle! The “socialists” at war with each other! Over what? The imperialist interests of their respective ruling classes! No wonder the bourgeoisie snickered and marveled at its own imagined power.
The collapse of the International made inevitable the formation of a new world body. After the fateful day of August 4, 1914, new organizations, groups, and factions of revolutionary internationalists made themselves heard all over Europe. Under the leadership of the Russian Bolsheviks and the brave revolutionists of the other Continental countries, a new voice was heard in the din of the war: the voice of revolutionary socialist internationalism. Zimmerwald and Kienthal were the first organized expression of the revival of internationalism in the workers movement in the midst of the war. The Russian Revolution then occurred as the mightiest force for the reconstitution of the new, Third International. The victory of the Russian working class was like a fresh breeze on a Europe befouled by imperialism and the treacherous social democratic leadership.
Given these conditions it was logical that the International be reconstituted on the soil of revolutionary Russia which heralded the new society, the new fraternity of the exploited. With the convening of the founding congress in Moscow on March 2, 1919, the continuity and integrity of the revolutionary socialist thought and practice was saved. Its formation marked a new stage and task for the modern proletariat.
The First International “laid the foundation of the international struggle of the proletariat for Socialism.” It disseminated the scientific principles of socialism developed by Marx and Engels and destroyed for all time the power and influence of utopianism, “true” socialism and anarcho-communism, and gave the coming movement of the proletariat its scientific basis. The First International of Marx and Engels disappeared with the defeat of the Paris Commune and the beginning of a new epoch in the expansion of world capitalism. But it had sown the seed of the future.
In assessing the role of the Second International, one must not lose sight of the fact that it too had a grand history. There was the International of Engels, the elder Liebknecht and of Bebel, just as there was the International of MacDonald, Bernstein, Scheidemann, and Hillquit. Before its collapse in the Great War, the Second International had been a preparatory school of working class organization. And Lenin, in an historical appraisal of this body, once wrote:
When it is stated that the Second International is dead and has suffered shameful bankruptcy, it needs to be properly understood. It signifies death and bankruptcy of opportunism, reformism, petty bourgeois socialism. For the Second International has to its credit a service ELS A’EI (for all time) which no intelligent working man will ever repudiate, and that is – the building up of mass labor organizations, co-operative, trade union and political; the utilization of bourgeois parliamentarism, and generally all bourgeois democratic institutions, etc.”
The Communist International took over all that was good in the previous history of the Second International, but it gave the new movement a rekindled spirit of internationalism, the lack of which caused the old organization to founder. The historic place of the Communist International is thus secured by the fact that it became the International of proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the “International of the deed.”
Trotsky’s book is a summation of this heroic period of the Communist International. It presents one of the most stirring stories of an era of intense class struggle and presents a panorama of revolutionary strategy, purposeful in design, by the most complete revolutionary internationalists the world has ever known. Trotsky contributed an enormous amount of this history himself. The vibrant call of the manifesto of the first congress was his. He wrote the manifesto of the second congress. The main report at the third congress and the theses of that gathering, perhaps the most important in the history of the Comintern, were also his. Between these great documents, there are speeches and articles outlining the strategy of the Comintern which remain living documents to this very day and are invaluable source material to revolutionary Marxist thought.
This volume of Trotsky’s book can be readily divided into two distinct periods: the First and Second Congresses, and the Third Congress. The first two gatherings occur in the post-war revolutionary period; the third in the period following the defeat of the European proletariat in its initial struggles for power. Unavoidably, then, the material which composed the deliberation of these congresses dealt with the problems which arose in the transition from the stage of proletarian offensive to defensive; from the stage of capitalist decomposition to one of relative stabilization.
The First Congress of the Communist International was held in Moscow on March 2, 1919. It was attended by 51 delegates from 17 countries. The Allied blockade of Russia prevented wider representation. Delegates sent by their respective organizations never arrived in Moscow, but representatives of the most important areas of Europe were present.
As the organizing congress of the Communist International, the first meeting had a provisional character. Yet it was to clear away the ideological debris of social democracy and its traditions and set the theoretical sights of the new world party. Convening in the midst of the social decay of capitalism and proletarian struggle for state power, the congress naturally reflected the intense revolutionary situation in Europe. If one bears in mind the confusion created by the betrayals of the Second International, it will be easier to understand why the Congress dealt with the following subjects: Bourgeois Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship; the Berne Conference and our Attitude Toward Socialist Tendencies; the World Situation and the Policy of the Entente, and the Manifesto.
The manifesto which Trotsky wrote and presented to the congress clearly delineates the purposes of the new international and the period in which it emerged: Capitalist chaos and disintegration! Mass unrest and a will to struggle on the part of the working masses. Toward the revolutionary seizure of Power! No wonder the manifesto is a stirring call to action:
“Our task is to generalize the revolutionary experience of the working class, to purge the movement of the corroding admixture of opportunism and social patriotism, to unify the efforts of all genuinely revolutionary parties of the world proletariat and thereby facilitate and hasten the victory of the Communist revolution throughout the world.”
And it concludes with this ringing challenge:
“Bourgeois world order has been sufficiently lashed by Socialist criticism. The task of the International Communist Party consists in overthrowing this order and erecting in its place the edifice of the socialist order. We summon the working men and women of all countries to unite under the Communist banner which is already the banner of the first great victories.
“WORKERS OF THE WORLD – in the struggle against imperialist barbarism, against monarchy, against the privileged estates, against the bourgeois state and bourgeois properly, against all kinds and forms of class or national oppression – UNITE!
“Under the banner of Workers’ Soviets, under the banner of revolutionary struggle for power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, under the banner of the Third International – WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!”
The manifesto of 1919 became a rallying force for the new world organization of the revolutionary proletariat. Eighteen months later the Second Congress convened. This intervening period was the most revolutionary in the history of Europe. Throughout the continent the Communist International established new sections. Its growth was phenomenal and reflected the turbulent character of the class war that girdled the globe. Thus, the Second Congress concerned itself chiefly with the struggle for power as an immediate prospect.
Clarification of principle became indispensable for the future development of the new movement; a world party engaged in the struggle for power in the name of the only progressive class in society.
As in all periods of revolutionary upswing, the movement attracted dubious elements of every description, organized in their own parties, factions or groups, or unattached. These hybrid elements brought with them an assortment of theoretical and political ideas which ran the gamut from sectarianism to opportunism. The excursion train was a long one and tended to slow the progress of the revolutionary engine at its head. The congress therefore had to return to basic principles: the role of a revolutionary party, shall revolutionaries participate in parliamentary activity?; shall Communists work in reactionary trade unions? On all these questions, the congress rejected the sterile doctrines of sectarianism which could only lead to isolation from the masses. It then adopted conditions for admission into the Communist International, the basic premise of which was the acceptance of the revolutionary doctrines of Marxism.
The continuation of the intensive revolutionary offensive was also reflected in the manifesto of the Second Congress which Trotsky wrote, too. So sure of the future were the leaders of the International, that the manifesto, issued again as a call to action, proclaimed:
“Civil war is on the order of the day throughout the world. Its banner is the Soviet Power ... In different countries the struggle is passing through different stages. But it is the final struggle.”
How nearly true these stirring words were, we can only appreciate in retrospect. The failure of the victory, however, was revealed as a failure of leadership! Only a few years afterward, Trotsky was able to write:
“War did not lead directly to the victory of the proletariat in Western Europe. It is all too obvious today just what was lacking for victory in 1919 and 1920: a revolutionary party was lacking.”
This statement by Trotsky is in apparent contradiction to the reality, the existence of the Communist International. Yet, actually, its formation was belated. Had the Communist International been formed during the war, it is likely that the parties which adhered to it would have passed through their formative, preparatory stages in time. Instead, the First and Second Congresses met in the course of the revolutionary wave and had to carry through the task of clarification and education during the battles itself. Thus, the struggle for power was pursued in the midst of a process of clarification and education in which the advance guard of the proletariat had to discard the ideological trash of social democracy and to learn, for the first time, the theory and practice of revolutionary Marxism, of revolutionary strategy and tactics. Before this process of rearming was nearly completed, the revolutionary wave had passed.
In his Third International After Lenin, Trotsky wrote of this period between the second and third congresses, relating specifically to the lack of maturity of the communist parties:
“When we looked forward at that time to an immediate seizure of power by the proletariat, we reckoned that a revolutionary party would mature rapidly in the fire of the civil war. But the two terms did not coincide. The revolutionary wave of the post-war period ebbed before the communist parties grew up and reached maturity in the struggle with the social democracy so as to assume the leadership of the insurrection.”
(Henceforth, in at least four other significantly revolutionary situations, especially in Germany in 1923, the defeats of the proletariat were attributable to a new failure in leadership resulting this time from the degeneration of the Communist International under the aegis of Stalinist revisionism.)
But before the Third Congress had convened, the leaders of the Comintern had sufficiently clarified theoretical questions and, above all, established the international character of the movement as its primary manifestation. Reflecting the international character of capitalism (the interdependence of nations, the primacy of the world market, the world division of labor and exchange of goods), the Comintern was not a “sum” of national parties each devoted to their national tasks. “It is,” as Trotsky wrote, “the Communist Party of the international proletariat.” As such it “represents a unified, independent, international organization, pursuing definite and precisely formulated aims through definitive revolutionary means.”
Corresponding to the imperialist epoch, the proletarian struggle was essentially “international in substance but national in form.” No party can estimate the objective situation in its country, or develop strategy and tactics for its working class, without giving first consideration to the international situation and the condition of the world movement of the proletariat. For a party to do otherwise would result in its degeneration after the manner of the Second International.
These ideas hammered home, the CI arrived at its very important Third Congress. The revolutionary wave, as we have already indicated, had subsided. The proletariat, worn out from years of war and revolutionary struggle, exhibited marked tendencies of fatigue and disillusionment at the failure of their revolutionary parties. The failure of the revolution gave capitalism a new breathing spell and the opportunity to reestablish a measure of economic equilibrium.
The Third Congress which met mid-year of 1921, was attended by more than 500 delegates from 48 countries. The most important subject before the congress was the report made by Trotsky (in complete agreement with Lenin) on the World Economic Crisis and the New Tasks of the Communist International. The main content of this report and the resolution which formed its basis is already indicated. In summary, Trotsky’s report showed the delegates the dialectical relationship between an objectively revolutionary situation and the problem of leadership, the subjective element. He illustrated, by example, how the failure of the revolution gave world capitalism the opportunity for reorganizing the chaotic economy and reestablishing a measure of stabilization. Given the failure of the revolutionary parties, the exhaustion of the proletariat, Trotsky was able to pose for the first time since the end of the war this type of question:
“Does development actually proceed even now in the direction of revolution! Or is it necessary to recognize that capitalism has succeeded in coping with the difficulties arising from the war? And if it has not already restored, is it either restoring or close to restoring capitalist equilibrium upon new post-war foundations?”
The report already indicated the answer in its opening remarks in which Trotsky said:
“Capitalist equilibrium is an extremely complex phenomenon. Capitalism produces this equilibrium, disrupts it, restores it anew in order to disrupt it anew, concurrently extending the limits of its domination ... Capitalism thus possesses a dynamic equilibrium, one which is always in the process of either disruption or restoration. But at the same time this equilibrium has a great power of resistance, the best proof of which is the fact that the capitalist world has not toppled to this day.”
There follows a mass of evidence indicating how capitalism was gaining strength and confidence, repairing its tottering economy, plugging gaps here and there and reaching the road toward a stabilization of the system. “The bourgeoisie gains appeasement” said Trotsky. But with this difference: whereas in the period of capitalist growth and expansion, crises were of brief duration and “prosperity” longer lasting, in this period of capitalist decay and decline, the “crises are of a prolonged character while the booms are fleeting, superficial and speculative.” Thus the prospects of economic crises and sharp dislocations are ever present. Then Trotsky made clear that even boom and stabilization did not automatically preclude the prospects of great class struggle. On the contrary, a favorable economic conjuncture can “reassemble the demoralized and devitalized workers who had lost their courage.” And then he added, “Such a change (stabilization) could prove harmful only in the event of a long epoch of prosperity.” Denying this prospect, Trotsky contends that the future will offer favorable opportunities for victory. And it did.
The emphasis given to this problem by Trotsky was made necessary by the presence at the congress of an ultra-leftist faction led by Bucharin whose major premise was his own version of the “permanent revolution”:
“Since capitalism had exhausted itself, therefore the victory must be gained through an uninterrupted revolutionary offensive.”
It was against this pernicious theory of the “uninterrupted revolutionary offensive” that the big guns of the conference were turned. The report declared that the great task, in view of the changing world situation, was to win the support of the majority of the working class everywhere. “To the Masses,” became the slogan of the Congress. But not simply that. “To power through a previous conquest of the masses!” The emphasis laid on this point was to defeat all ultra-leftist and sectarian ideas which arose in the congress. The ultra-leftists proceeded on a single note: this is the period of the decay of capitalism. All the objective conditions for the overthrow of capitalism are ripe. Therefore we must adopt the policy of “continuous revolution.” And in this way they overlooked the dynamics of the revolutionary struggle and the fact that “the revolution has its own fluctuations, its own crises and its own favorable conjunctures.”
The Third Congress, however, met at the end of one wave of revolution. It was necessary to reorient the International to a new stage of the struggle. This stage Trotsky summarized in the Third International After Lenin as follows:
“The Third Congress of the Comintern was a milestone demarcating the first and second periods. It set down the fact that the resources of the communist parties, politically as well as organizationally, were not sufficient for the conquest of power. It advanced the slogan: ‘To the Masses,’ that is, to the conquest of power through a previous conquest of the masses, achieved on the basis of the daily life and struggles. For the mass also continues to live its daily life in a revolutionary epoch, even if in a somewhat different manner.”
And out of this congress came the tactic of the united front to serve as a means of developing the class struggle and achieving leadership of the masses. How? Through the united front tactic, to fuse the masses “on the basis of transitional demands!”
“It is economics that decides,” wrote Trotsky, “but only in the last analysis.” In other words, it is not merely the decay of capitalism, the “objectively revolutionary situation” which is decisive, but the state of the revolutionary movement, the maturity of the parties, their leadership over the masses, the will to struggle on the part of the proletariat and their confidence in the revolutionary party. And the absence of these conditions, given the defeat of the post-war revolutionary movements, brought about a new political stage in Europe and the decisions of the Third Congress.
Capitalism saved itself, but it was a wounded giant. The healing process left it alive but it was not the youthful, strong, expanding capitalism. The fact was, as Trotsky reported at the Third Congress, that “Europe has been hurled back ... The Balkan countries are completely ruined and have been thrown back into the economic and cultural conditions of barbarism.” He speaks of a “regression in economic life.” However, all is not lost for the bourgeoisie so long as the proletariat does not take power.
In 1921, still living under the influence of the post-war revolutionary situation, Trotsky did not believe that capitalism could survive another decade or two. But he did postulate the future, saying:
“If we grant – and let us grant it for the moment – that the working class fails to rise in revolutionary struggle, but allows the bourgeoisie the opportunity to rule the world’s destiny for a long number of years, say, two or three decades, then assuredly some sort of new equilibrium will be reestablished. Europe will be thrown violently into reverse gear. Millions of European workers will die from unemployment and malnutrition. The United States will be compelled to reorient itself on the world market, reconvert its industry, and suffer curtailment for a considerable period. Afterwards, after a new world division of labor is thus established in agony for 15 or 20 or 25 years, a new epoch of capitalist upswing might perhaps ensue.” (Emphasis in original – A.G.)
How prophetic Trotsky was! A new upswing has not occurred and will likely never occur. But a new period of stabilization did arrive. The United States did orient itself on the world market and did “suffer curtailment for a considerable period.” This whole course of development continued approximately until the outbreak of the Second World War. For a second time within living memory the imperialist powers went to war to seek a new redivision of the earth.
But whereas in 1914 it was possible to depict the great revolutionary upheavals during and after the war, one could not justifiably make such predictions for the recent war and post-war period. And this was due, not to the absence of favorable objective conditions. This period of capitalism remains a period of “wars and revolutions,” of capitalist decline and disintegration. This past war was far more destructive than the first, far more dislocating in its effects. If Trotsky declared that Europe was “hurled back” after the First World War, what would he have said today! If the Balkan countries lived under “economic and cultural conditions of barbarism” in the ’20’s, what can one say of Europe today, Europe of the concentration camps, labor camps, forced migrations of peoples; Europe, the economic wasteland. These, then, are the fruits of modern capitalism.
Why did not the proletariat revolt and take power after World War II? Why no class battles, no revolutionary offensive comparable to 1919 and 1920? The answer is simple: no revolutionary organization of the working class; no revolutionary parties.
Revolutionary Marxists cannot approach this question sentimentally or emotionally. One must apply the power of Marxist analysis to the world situation in order to understand precisely the conditions under which we live, what the prospects of the class struggle are, and how the revolutionary socialists must orient themselves.
Delusion is the greatest danger to the movement today! The delusion lies in the failure to recognize that all talk of an immediate successful overthrow of capitalism in this period is criminally disorienting given the absence of the revolutionary organization of the proletariat, the absence of mass revolutionary parties, the absence of experienced cadres, i.e., leadership, and the absence of a revolutionary international with authority over and the following of the majority of the working class of Europe.
Yet it is upon such leadership and proletarian organization that the whole future depends. If one does not recognize this task, then the reconstruction of the movement is an impossibility!
Can a small party (not of hundreds, but of thousands) achieve the strategic goal? Perhaps. Says Trotsky:
“And therefore if it is true – and it is true – that under certain conditions even a small party can become the leading organization not only of the labor movement but also of the workers’ revolution, this can happen only with the proviso that this small party discerns in its smallness not an advantage but the greatest misfortune of which it must be rid as speedily as possible.” (Emphasis mine – A.G.)
This was said against those who developed putschist concepts and the idea that the revolution is the task of a small minority party whose will is decisive, no matter what the objective conditions and the state of proletarian organization.
“A purely mechanical conception, of the proletarian revolution,” said Trotsky, “which proceeds solely from the fact that capitalist economy continues to decay – has led certain groups of comrades to construe theories which are false to the core: the false theory of an initiating minority which by its heroism shatters ‘the wall of universal passivity’ among the proletariat. The false theory of uninterrupted offensives conducted by the proletarian vanguard, as a ‘new method’ of struggle; the false theory of partial battles which are waged by-applying the methods of armed insurrection.... It is absolutely self-evident that tactical theories of this sort have nothing in common with Marxism ... The economic preconditions for the victory of the working class are at hand. Failing this victory, and moreover unless this victory comes in the more or less near future, all civilization is menaced with decline and degeneration. But this victory can be gained only by the skilled conduct of battles and, above all, by first conquering the majority of the working class. This is the main lesson of the Third Congress.”
We continue to live in the epoch of “wars and revolutions.” But that docs not wholly describe our epoch. It is also the epoch of Stalinist counter-revolution which has burst forth from the failure of the European revolution and the persistent decay of imperialist capitalism. The past twenty years have been years in which the proletariat of Europe and the colonial peoples of Asia have suffered uninterrupted defeats. These defeats have taken a heavy toll, but heaviest has been the destruction of the revolutionary world organization of the proletariat. Nor is there an end of “favorable prospects,” of “revolutionary objective situations.” There is much evidence of the deep dissatisfaction of the masses throughout Europe and the colonial world. There have been many struggles already in Italy, France, Belgium, etc., many more will follow. These struggles have the potentiality of great class battles for power. But all of them pass by so long as the instrument to take advantage of these “favorable objective conditions,” i.e., the revolutionary party, synthesized in the revolutionary international, does not exist. It is true, compared to the great movement of the Second International, the revolutionaries during the last war were small in number. But the recuperative powers of the then undefeated working class were yet great. There was in existence a Bolshevik Party. The Russian proletariat had taken power and the working class thereby had a fortress embracing “one-sixth of the earth.” Parties were formed in the heat of the battle. The hope of the Russian Revolution was an international unifying force.
How does the present post-war situation, from this point of view, compare to that period? Unfavorably. The only revolutionary socialist force in the world is represented by the Fourth Internationalist movement, small in number and isolated from the masses. It is necessary to recognize this fact, for it is impossible to change this situation, to grow, to become a mass movement by sell-deception. If you already believe that you are a mass movement, that you are a force to contend with, and that power is... well, almost yours, then it is impossible for you to do what is indispensably necessary to insure the future: rebuild the world revolutionary socialist movement, rebuild the revolutionary parties in all countries. Without this, the immediate future lies in the hands of capitalist reaction and Stalinism.
The world revolutionary socialist movement suffers from a crisis in leadership and organization. That is the outstanding feature of this post-war period. It is necessary to repeat this over and over again since the special and fundamental reason for the primacy of this factor lies precisely in the character of our epoch. Again, in the Third International After Lenin, Trotsky summarized the problem from the following viewpoint:
“The role of the subjective factor in a period of slow, organic development (of capitalism) can remain quite a subordinate one. Then diverse proverbs of gradualism arise as: ‘slow but sure,’ and ‘one must not kick against the bricks,’ and so forth, which epitomize all the tactical wisdom of an organic epoch that abhorred ‘leaping over stages.’ But as soon as the objective prerequisites have matured, the key to the whole historical process passes into the hands of the subjective factor, that is the party. Opportunism which consciously or unconsciously thrives upon the inspiration of the past epoch, always lends to underestimate the role of the subjective factor, that is, the importance of the party and of revolutionary leadership.”
However, can the present situation be changed? Can it change quickly? Yes. This social order has known many swift transformations. But that depends on how the Fourth Internationalists recognize the problem and judge the tasks ahead. Trotsky’s book is a guide to this epoch, a textbook in strategy and tactics. To absorb its teachings is the first guarantee of success. Unfortunately, the official Fourth Internationalist movement has not yet understood the monumental ideas which Trotsky, in common with the other deceased giants of the Comintern, had developed, It talks of power without a party, of the revolutionary offensive without a movement. It pretends to be what it is not: the leader of the European and American proletariat. It takes for granted what is yet to be accomplished. And all of this is done in the name of Trotsky!
It is impossible to close this review of one of the greatest books in Marxian literature without a comment on its editors. That the publication of the book is an invaluable contribution to the movement, goes without saying. The explanatory notes, however, arc sloppily done and unscholarly. They give all the evidence of slip-shod work and petty factional bias, lacking in objectivity.
But even worse than this is the introduction to the book. Nature and God were unkind to Joseph Hansen. They enabled him to write and what flows from his pen is indeed a commentary on the intellectual sterility of the theoreticians of the SWP. The introduction has no relation to the ideas in the book. Banalities and assertions replace reality. Sectarian braggadoccio substitute for the living movement. Thus, the introduction reaches its high point (or low, depending on your point of view) when Hansen asserts:
“... the organizations of the Fourth International ... find the world working class far more receptive to the program of Bolshevism than was the case in 1917-19.”
Were this only true! But one blinks his eyes upon reading such undiluted bureaucratic smugness which proclaims achieved that which is yet to be achieved, which counts as completed that which has to be done. Is it any wonder that the forces of the Fourth International make such slow progress? That despite the heroic activities of the European sections, they have failed to grow more rapidly. One of the reasons for this failure is that the concepts and practices of the SWP have exercised too great an influence upon these European sections. These sections have not absorbed the great teachings of Trotsky, the theoretician of revolutionary strategy and tactics of our era. They too are saturated with a sectarianism which casts a shadow over what is the main strategic task of our period: the building of the revolutionary socialist party.
1. The First Five Years of the Communist International, by Leon Trotsky. Pioneer Publishers. 320 pp.
Last updated on 13.9.2008