The Third International after Lenin

Sunday, September 13, 2015

George Novack in defense of Leninist perspectives in post-World War 2 Europe.

From: Revolutionary Policy in Western Europe:  An Answer to Comrade Morrow

By William F. Warde [George Novack]

Written: 1946
First Published: January 1946
Source: Fourth International magazine.

....We have such differences; they flow from our divergent analyses of the present objective situation and its main lines of development. Morrow denies that the prevailing situation in Western Europe is revolutionary. We maintain that despite the temporary ebb in the tide of struggle, it remains objectively revolutionary.

Morrow contends that the dominant trend is "an evolution toward bourgeois democracy in Europe as the objective resultant of the class struggle and of the struggle between the contending capitalist classes." ( Fourth International, May 1945.) Why must this be the organic and inevitable development? The European bourgeoisie, he tells us, is pushing in this direction. U.S. imperialism favors democratic methods of rule. The workers are dominated by democratic illusions. The CP and SP are pulling the masses into this channel. Finally, the Trotskyist parties are too weak to change this course of events.

In our opinion this appraisal is false and misleading. The main lines of political development in Europe do not converge on the single track of bourgeois democracy, as Morrow's scheme depicts it, but diverge sharply according to the interests and aims of the principal contending classes. The capitalists seek the solution to their problems, not in bourgeois democracy, but through military-monarchist dictatorships. They find a rearguard and reserve in Anglo-American imperialism. But owing to the depth of the social crisis, their discreditment and manifest incapacity, the revolutionary temper of the workers, the discontent of the middle class, the capitalists are not now in a position to carry through their own political plans. They are thus forced to resort to democratic maneuvers and play around with parliamentary forms in order to dupe the workers and obstruct independent working class action. Meanwhile they are building up their own forces in the army, the police, the bureaucracy, and even within the masses (the Mouvement Republicain Populaire in France, l'Uomo Qualunque movement in Italy, etc.). Resisting to the utmost the efforts of the people to democratize political life, they are nevertheless compelled by the relationship of class forces to yield concessions here and there in order to gain time for the organization of their counter campaigns.

It is true that the Stalinists and Socialists seek to solve the crisis by means of social reforms through "democratic" collaboration with the bourgeoisie and its "liberal" parties. But this program is nothing but the reactionary utopia of the petty-bourgeoisie covered with socialist phrases. It is reactionary because this policy runs counter to the basic course of development which imperiously commands the proletariat to take power in order to lead the nation on to the road of socialism. It is utopian because it fails to reckon with the acuteness of the social crisis and the sharpening of the class antagonisms which forbid the restoration of durable bourgeois-democratic regimes based upon class collaboration. It is petty-bourgeois because it rests upon a denial in theory and a blunting in practice of the class struggle.

At the bottom of all our differences with Comrade Morrow is the question of method. As scientific socialists, we proceed in all questions from an analysis of the objective situation which is determined by the class relationships. From the results of this analysis we derive our program, strategy and tactics.
Morrow here as elsewhere proceeds in a different fashion. He takes as his point of departure, not a rounded examination of the existing economic and political conditions, but his impressions of "the present stage of political consciousness of the European proletariat." This is the method of literary impressionism, not Marxism.
When Trotsky first projected in 1938 the program of transitional demands which was later adopted by the Founding Conference of the Fourth International and is today its political guide, certain comrades objected that the program was too advanced for the mentality of the American workers. "We have repeated many times," Trotsky replied, "that the scientific character of our activity consists in the fact that we adapt our program not to political conjunctures or the thought or mood of the masses as this mood is today, but we adapt our program to the objective situation as it is represented by the economic class structure of society. The mentality can be backward; then the political task of the party is to bring the mentality into harmony with the objective facts, to make the workers understand the objective task. But we cannot adapt the program to the backward mentality of the workers. The mentality, the mood is a secondary factor—the prime factor is the objective situation. That is why we have heard these criticisms or these appreciations that some parts of the program do not conform to the situation . . .

....This does not mean that the workers are free of illusions. On the contrary, their movement has been derailed precisely because of their lack of political clarity. Morrow's error on this question comes from his misunderstanding of their principal illusion. What so cruelly deceives the workers is not naive trust in bourgeois democracy, as he declares, but their misplaced confidence in the Communist and Socialist parties.
The Communist Party is today the most powerful party in France, the continental home of bourgeois democracy. It has a million members and received five million votes. The working masses have not swarmed into this party because it appears to them as the champion of bourgeois democracy but because they regard it as the party of communism, as the opponent of capitalism. The urge to satisfy their social needs is so compelling that it serves to override revulsion against the monstrous crimes of Stalinism and its totalitarian regime in the USSR. In the eyes of millions of workers and peasants the Communist parties in Western Europe appear not as the counter-revolutionary agencies of Stalin but as the Bolshevik combat parties of Lenin. They support the CP not because they want to maintain private property and revitalize bourgeois rule under democratic forms but because they desire to take over the means of production and establish workers' democracy. Similar anti-capitalist sentiments, although to a lesser degree, animate the Socialist Party ranks. But instead of leading the workers forward to their own October Revolution, the Stalinists—and Socialists—pull them backward through the People's Front coalitions into collaboration with the capitalists.

Leninist Tactics

Thus the European workers have been led into their present blind alley primarily because of their erroneous belief that the CP and SP could satisfy their demands for a revolutionary change and show them the way to socialism. This is the illusion which must be broken down. This is the great tactical problem now confronting the Trotskyist.
Morrow's recipe is simple. The Trotskyist must take the lead in fighting for democracy, more democracy, and still more democracy. "In the fight for the most complete democracy, the Bolsheviks can demonstrate to the workers that it is the revolutionists and not the reformists who are the most devoted fighters for the needs of the people." This is Leninism a la Morrow.
But Leninism proceeds from the proposition that even the broadest arena of democracy under capitalist rule cannot satisfy the pressing needs of the people. It certainly cannot overcome the profound economic, social and political crisis gripping Western Europe. This is not an anarcho-syndicalist error, as Morrow asserts, but sober socialist truth which must be hammered home to the masses. They must be taught that the fight for democracy acquires significance and can have fruitful results only in connection with their class struggle for power, for the expropriation of the capitalists, and the establishment of worker's control over economic life.

What the working class must do now is fight for power, more power and still more power. In order to accomplish this central task the workers must first free themselves from captivity to the Popular Front alliances which shackle them to the bourgeoisie. They must regain their independence of action. That is why the Trotskyist parties in Western Europe address the following slogans to the workers who adhere to the CP and SP: "Force your parties to break the coalition with the capitalists and expel their representatives from the government. Let the worker's organizations take power on a socialist program of action. Form a Communist-Socialist Government." This is Leninist tactics because it is based upon the dynamics of the class struggle and directed toward the conquest of power.
Our divergent estimates of the political situation and our contrasting conceptions of the tasks confronting the revolutionary vanguard have naturally also engendered disagreements over the application of the program of the Fourth International in Western Europe today. In words it appears that we subscribe to the same formula expressed in the resolution adopted by the 11th Convention of the Socialist Workers Party: "to rally the masses for revolutionary struggle, the revolutionary Marxist party will elaborate a bold program of transitional and democratic demands corresponding to the consciousness of the masses and the tempo of developments. . . ." But the differences in our viewpoints emerge as soon as it comes to the practical application of this formula.

Transitional and Democratic Demands

In general, we consider it necessary for the revolutionary vanguard to place its emphasis upon the transitional demands which can mobilize the masses in struggle under the leadership of the advanced workers for the conquest of power. It is necessary to place before the masses a program of revolutionary action which clearly poses the problem of power. This is the key question in political life today. That is why, as Comrade Simmons insists, the parties of the Fourth International must put forward as their most pressing demand the expropriation of the capitalists and the socialization of the means of production.
Does this mean that we ignore the value or deny the necessity for democratic demands? Not at all. Such sectarianism and ultra-leftism is totally alien to the realistic revolutionary politics of Bolshevism. We fight for democratic demands just as vigorously as for immediate economic demands. It is obvious that the more democracy the workers can wrest from the capitalist rulers, the more their confidence in their independent strength will be enhanced, the easier will be the further struggle for power, the greater prestige will accrue to the party which heads the fight for democratic rights.
Parenthetically we may add that it is odd of Comrade Morrow to attribute such ultra-left infantilism to our party which in the Minneapolis Labor Case under conditions of wartime repression and reaction conducted the most intransigent fight in defense of democracy the American labor movement has ever known. To be sure, Morrow may object that this was done in the United States from 1941 to 1945 while we are here concerned with Europe in 1945. Nevertheless how does he account for the apparent contradiction that the same party which stands in the forefront of the fight for democratic rights in the United States has, if he is to be believed, suddenly denied the necessity for an equally uncompromising struggle for democracy in Europe today?
But even from the standpoint of democracy this is only one side of the question. As Comrade Simmons pointed out, at the present stage of social developments the success of the fight for democratic liberties is itself bound up indissolubly with the success of the struggle for socialism. The bourgeoisie will grant political and economic concessions only bourgeoisie tow loss of all its privileges. Thus the democratic concessions which have already been won and will be won by the masses must be viewed as by-products of their revolutionary struggle. Moreover, they can be secured and guaranteed only by the complete conquest of power.
Democratic slogans, properly employed, can promote the class struggle and have an important place in any realistic program of revolutionary action today. But by themselves such slogans are entirely inadequate to meet the needs by the present revolutionary situation. They have only a subordinate and episodic role to play in comparison with the transitional demands which correspond to the vital economic needs of the workers and clearly indicate the path to power.

For Comrade Morrow, however, they have a quite different significance. He maintains that democratic demands and slogans must be emphasized above all and made predominant in the activities of the vanguard during the present period. He is very explicit on this point. "The way (to win the masses) lies through the struggle for the republic and the Constituent, there is no other way (our italics)," he tells us. "The slogan of the republic ... is today in Italy the lever for the other slogans." The primary and central role he assigns to the democratic demands leads to the inescapable conclusion that the transitional demands must be subordinated to them.
This program which Morrow proposes as the master key to the present stage of the class struggle in Western Europe could only serve to divert the workers from the correct course and hamper the growth of the Fourth International. The future of the Fourth International can be assured only along the road of intransigent struggle for socialism at the present time. While fighting for the widest extension of democracy under bourgeois rule, while defending the immediate interests of the masses, the Trotskyist must come forward first and foremost as the tireless champions and organizers of the revolutionary struggle for state power through independent mass action. This is the method by which they can liberate the masses from the deadly influence of the Stalinists and Socialists; mobilize them against the unfolding bourgeois reaction; win them to the revolutionary ranks; and rearm them for the new offensive.

In this connection it is relevant to recall that in Whither France Trotsky lashed the Stalinist leaders for proposing a program of "immediate demands" when the situation demanded a broad political offensive to capture power based upon a well-elaborated transitional program. "The chief obstacle on the path to the development of the revolutionary struggle right now," he wrote, "is the one-sided, almost maniacal program of 'immediate demands,' which contradicts the whole situation.... A revolutionary offensive, which opposes one class to another, cannot be developed solely under slogans of partial economic demands".—pp. 61-62. In what respect is Morrow's program of "democratic demands" superior to the Stalinist program of that time? It may not be amiss to mention that the theoretical motivation for Morrow's program of "democratic demands" is the same as the Stalinists then gave for their program of "immediate demands".; the situation is not revolutionary.
Morrow attempts to fortify his position by means of a theory of stages. First, the European proletariat must pass through a period of bourgeois democracy and later will launch into a direct struggle for power. Now the revolutionists must go along with the masses in their democratic illusions to help get rid of them. The main theme of his reply to Simmons is that the masses are too immature, too unprepared, too unclear in their consciousness to realize the necessity to fight for power. To date they've advanced only far enough to demonstrate for the democratic republic and the Constituent Assembly. Their understanding that these democratic institutions are insufficient "still lies in the future."

Even if this were so, it would not obligate the revolutionary party to subordinate the transitional demands to the democratic ones. But the most pernicious feature of this theory is its misrepresentation of the mood of the masses. They are not simply demanding greater democracy, as Morrow would have it. In France, Italy and elsewhere they are insistently clamoring for the nationalization of the banks and key industries. This is not a democratic but a socialist demand. So powerful is their pressure that even de Gaulle is obliged to appease them by sham nationalization measures. Here the task of the revolutionists is to expose the fraud of such measures and lead the struggle for genuine socializations under the control and through the class action of the workers.
But "of what body ... do you demand expropriation of the capitalists and socialization of the means of production?" Morrow inquires with an air of triumph. He infers that this demand can only be presented either to "non-existent soviets" or to already established Constituent Assemblies. In reality; the demand for expropriation must be directed at the Communist and Socialist parties, whether they are in the Constituent or in the Soviets. They have the majority; they presumably base themselves on a socialist program. Bolshevik tactics teaches that the most effective way to expose the servility of these parties to capitalism is to demand that they carry out their professed program.
Morrow's attempt to impose upon the unfolding class struggle the idea of two separate stages—the present when democratic demands are paramount and the future when the transitional program will be pushed to the fore—would be disastrous. It would in practice place the Trotskyist vanguard in the shameful position of trailing behind the reformist parties which are forced to pay lip-service to the masses' desires for such thoroughgoing social demands as nationalization. It would facilitate the schemes of the bourgeoisie and their agents to confine the struggle exclusively within the restricted parliamentary framework where they hope to strangle it. At every turn of events today the unpostponable need to reconstruct the shattered national economies on new foundations raises the questions of property and state power. Recognition of this fundamental fact which determines the character of the present stage must be the point of departure for revolutionary tactics.
This brings us to our third main point of difference with Comrade Morrow. He does not share our conception of the tasks of the American party in regard to the European struggle and therefore follows a different procedure than we do. The conditions under which the class struggle unfolds and with which the revolutionary vanguard must reckon in Europe today are extremely complex, unstable and shifting. Sharp and abrupt turns are inherent in the situation. It would be highly doctrinaire to lay down in advance tactical recipes for the conduct of this struggle in any country. It would be no less foolhardy for any person or party removed from the theater of action to do so.

....The Main Danger

Our controversy with Comrade Morrow takes place at a time when other individuals and groups are shouting to the world that the program of the Fourth International has become outmoded, unrealistic, inadequate to cope with the problems of European politics. This is not a new cry and this time too it has produced familiar results. In their quest for a new revelation, the would-be innovators have fallen back upon the tattered formulas of democracy.
Comrade Morrow's "method of democratic demands," sanctified as a panacea for the solution of the manifold problems confronting the European revolutionists, can only help to feed and fortify these revisionist tendencies. But there is a still greater danger. Life for the worker and peasant masses in Europe has become intolerable under the existing capitalist chaos. Having turned to the Stalinist and Socialist parties for a radical way out of their terrible predicament, they are already exhibiting signs of disappointment. The Popular Front coalitions are aggravating the crisis and not alleviating, let alone solving, it. If the Fourth International should follow Morrow's prescriptions and appear as nothing more than the extreme left-wing of the "democratic front," the advanced workers would find no alternative party to lead them in the coming revolutionary struggles. The masses, bereft of firm revolutionary socialist leadership, could then again become the prey of neo-fascist formations which will demagogically promise to satisfy their social needs by direct action. Such tendencies have already sprung up in Italy and elsewhere.

Only by resolutely adhering to the program of the Fourth International and correctly applying it can the Trotskyists frustrate further disillusionment of this kind and become mass revolutionary parties in Western Europe.


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