Confucius once wrote: “There are three things that cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.” The decision of the Fundación Federico Engels to republish the Spanish translation of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme could not be more opportune. 20 years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, followed later by the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time many people thought that Communism and Socialism were dead.
The bourgeoisie was euphoric. They talked about the “end of history” and predicted a wonderful future of peace and prosperity on the basis of “the free market economy”. Now, only two decades later, all the dreams of the bourgeoisie and the defenders of capitalism lie in ruins and the ideas of socialism and Marxism are once again on the order of the day.
What failed in the Soviet Union was not socialism or communism, but a bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature that arose on the basis of the isolation of the Russian Revolution in conditions of extreme material and cultural backwardness. The bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution gave rise to the monstrous dictatorship of Stalin. As a result, the genuine ideas of revolutionary Marxism were isolated from the labour movement for decades
By 1938, all of the collaborators of Lenin had been murdered in the monstrous Purge Trials organized by Stalin and the bureaucracy whose interests he represented. Like any criminals, the usurpers did not want to leave behind any witnesses. Only one man remained to raise his courageous voice against the crimes of Stalin, in defence of the real traditions of Leninism and the October Revolution: the traditions of workers’ democracy and socialist internationalism.
After being expelled from the USSR, Trotsky and his followers in the Left Opposition, attempted to reform the Communist Parties and the Communist International and return them to the ideas and programme of Lenin. Trotsky expected that the victory of Hitler in 1933 – the direct result of the policies of Stalin – would cause a ferment in the Communist Parties internationally. But already by this time the Stalinist degeneration of the Comintern had gone too far. The Stalinists proclaimed that the victory of the Nazis would be short lived and launched the incredible slogan: “After Hitler, our turn!” The biggest Communist Party in the world outside the USSR was annihilated, followed by the Social Democrats and the trade unions.
After the German experience, Trotsky drew the conclusion that the Communist International had followed the path of the Second (Socialist) International and was dead for the purpose of the revolutionary transformation of society. Realising that a new world war was inevitable, Trotsky proclaimed the need for a new banner, a new programme and a new International. He wrote the Transitional Programme as the programme for the founding congress of the Fourth International two years before the outbreak of war.
But the forces of the Trotskyists (Bolshevik Leninists) were miniscule, isolated and subject to the most ferocious persecution. In Germany its followers were in the prisons of the Gestapo, in the USSR in Stalin’s concentration camps, in Spain in the cellars of the GPU. Trotsky wrote the Transitional Programme in order to overcome their isolation and build a bridge to the workers in struggle.
The demands worked out by Trotsky did not drop from the sky. They are rooted in the programme and policies of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, and they are the distilled essence of the programmatic documents of the first four congresses of the Communist International, many of which were written by Trotsky. Here we have the summing up of the ideas, programme and methods of scientific socialism, first worked out by Marx and Engels over 150 years ago in the Communist Manifesto.
There is a clear line of continuity in these ideas. This or that detail may have been changed, but in essence the ideas of Marxism remain as true today as they were in 1938 or for that matter in 1848. By contrast, the bourgeois economists and politicians would be ashamed to republish today what they wrote only 18 months ago.
Intensification of exploitation
For decades the economists argued that Marx was wrong and that crises were a thing of the past. But events have exposed the hollowness of the economic predictions of the bourgeois economists. Now the world economic crisis poses the question of socialism point blank. The ruling class is now “tobogganing toward catastrophe with its eyes closed”. These words of the great Russian revolutionary might have been written yesterday.
The long boom in the USA appeared to hold out the possibility of individual solutions: by working hard, overtime, etc. But the onset of recession has shattered this bubble and compelled people to question the existing system. In reality, this questioning of capitalism has already begun. It will be intensified in the turbulent period that lies ahead. Once the working class begins to move, the mood will change swiftly. What appeared to be fixed will dissolve into the air, compelling men and women to seek a way out along a different road.
In Spain and in other countries the boom did not provide real benefits to most workers. Living standards went up in absolute terms but only on the basis of an intensification of exploitation, part time working, long hours of overtime, increased stress for all workers, including the white collar workers like teachers who in the past were regarded as privileged layers. There was also a huge increase in debt everywhere. The proportion of the national income dedicated to wages is at a record low in all countries, while the proportion dedicated to profits is at a record high.
This is particularly true of Spain, where the feverish speculation in housing reached unprecedented levels. The consequent boom in house building was accompanied by a horrific increase in accidents on building sites and a boom in profits for the bosses. Now all this has collapsed, leaving the Spanish economy more exposed than any other in Europe. Dialectically, everything will turn into its opposite. This fact will be burned into the consciousness of the working class in the coming period.
Bourgeois economists regard the business cycle as the expression of the expansion and contraction of credit. They constantly talk about the “credit crunch”. However, the shortage of credit is really just a symptom of the boom-slump cycle, not its cause. The real cause of the crisis is the revolt of the productive forces against the private ownership and the nation state, which constitute the real barriers to the further development of human progress.
After all the brave talk about the superiority of the market economy, the fact is that capitalism has failed the human race. Despite all the advances of science and technology, in the first decade of the 21st century, most of humanity lives on the edge of starvation. Millions of people have little or no access to public services, such as a safe water supply, roads, healthcare and education. Yet the money spent on bailing out the banks alone would be sufficient to solve the problem of world poverty for 50 years.
Poverty is not confined to what is often referred to as the “Third World”. With a population of 301 millions, the USA is the richest country in the world. Yet in this country 28 million people (9.3 percent of the total population) has to rely on food stamps to feed themselves and their families, that is, just to survive. The programme of food stamps was introduced in the 1960s and has never before reached the current level. The present number of recipients of food stamps is up from 26.5 million in 2007.
The overall unemployment rate in the USA is already more than six per cent. Many ordinary Americans are losing their houses, the pace of job losses is accelerating, and all this is accompanied by fast-rising prices. Moreover, this is the state of affairs before the crisis has really begun to bite. As somebody wrote recently, things are bad in Wall Street but even worse in every other street inhabited by working class Americans.
Let us take the state of Michigan as an example. It has seen a collapse of its industrial base in the last few years, in particular car production, with the result that one of every eight inhabitants of the state depends on food stamps. This is twice as much as it was in 2000! Forty other states have experienced an increase in applications for the stamps.
The crisis of capitalism means that everywhere the bourgeoisie wishes to place the entire burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of the people who can least afford to pay: the workers, the middle class, the unemployed, the old and sick. The Transitional Programme therefore acquires an extraordinary relevance to the present situation.
The struggle for reforms
Our task is to conquer power. But before we conquer power, it is first necessary to conquer the masses. For that a long period of preparatory work, of organization, propaganda, education and agitation will be necessary. The building of the revolutionary party would be a very simple task if all that was necessary was to proclaim it. Unfortunately, it is not so simple. In order to reach the masses with our ideas we must set out from the situation as it is, not as we would like it to be. We must take our starting point from the real level of consciousness of the workers, which is not revolutionary in all times and places.
We must build a bridge to the masses, basing ourselves on their real concerns and aspirations. The central problem is: how do we relate the finished, scientific programme of Marxism to the necessarily unfinished, unclear movement of the workers? Unless we are able to answer this question, we will reduce ourselves to the level of a sect. Trotsky in the Transitional Programme worked out part of the solution of this problem. Here is a concrete proposal for demands that offer a practical alternative to the programme of reformism.
The difference between revolutionaries and reformists is not that the former do not fight for reforms. On the contrary, the Marxists have always been in the front line of the fight for reforms and improvements in the living standards, wages and conditions of the masses. The socialist revolution would be unthinkable without the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism. Only through these struggles can the masses acquire the experience, cohesion and organization that are necessary to change society.
Our criticism of the reformists is not that they fight for reforms but that they do not fight with sufficient determination and energy. In fact, under modern conditions, reformism does not signify reforms but, on the contrary, it means counter-reforms. In every country, all governments, whether Social Democratic or Conservative, “Left” or Right, they are carrying out the same policies of cuts and reductions in living standards.
The reason for this is not the incompetence or bad faith of individual politicians. It is a law. Either you carry out a socialist policy and defend the interests of the workers, peasants and poor people, or you accept the capitalist system, in which case you will be compelled to carry out a policy in the interests of the landlords, bankers and capitalists. There is no middle way.
In the past the Social Democrats stood for reform. In periods when European capitalism was going forward (such as the periods before World War One and after World War Two) the bourgeois could afford certain concessions. But now every reform will have to be fought for. The bourgeoisie will only be prepared to concede meaningful reforms when they are afraid they will lose everything. In this sense, in the present period, reforms are only a by-product of the revolutionary struggle to change society. At the same time the struggle for reforms acts as a preparatory school for revolution.
The struggle against unemployment, against factory closures, for better wages and conditions, will inevitably raise in the workers’ minds the central question: who controls society? Under present conditions, every fight for reforms, if it is pursued consistently, will inevitably lead to a challenge to the existing society and existing property relations.
In the last three decades (the so-called neo-liberal period) there was a tendency towards privatisation, but now there is a swing back to statization. It is ironic that this has occurred just when the leaders of the Social Democracy and the former Communists have abandoned nationalization. Now even George Bush has been compelled to nationalize the banks. This detail exposes the retrograde mentality of the reformist leaders who have forgotten everything and learned nothing.
Naturally, this kind of nationalization has nothing in common with socialist nationalization. It is a kind of state capitalism designed to protect the interests of the bankers and capitalists. We demand the expropriation of the land, the banks and big enterprises under the democratic control and management of the working class. The question of compensation is not a principled question, but we are radically opposed to the state paying exorbitant sums either to bail out or to buy banks or other enterprises that have been ruined by their owners. At most we would be prepared to consider limited compensation to small investors (pensioners and so on) on the basis of proven need only.
It is often objected that nationalization would alienate the middle class. This is entirely false. It is the banks and big monopolies that are ruining the middle class. The banks refuse to provide credit or money for small businesses or mortgages for house buyers. The big supermarkets are squeezing the farmers and offering ridiculous prices for their products. We should point out to the middle class that the nationalisation of the banks and the elimination of a whole series of middlemen will mean cheap credit and lower costs.
Ultimately, it will only be possible to solve the most pressing contradictions in society through the introduction of a socialist planned economy in which the means of production are the common property of society and all the key decisions that affect people’s lives are taken democratically, in the interests of society as a whole, and not for the enrichment of the wealthy few.
The trade unions
Different countries have different traditions that affect the way in which the workers move. In the countries of northern Europe, the workers are generally slower to move than in the south, but they have stronger organization. The Latin workers have an insurrectionary tradition and are faster to move, but they do not have the same organizational traditions as their brothers and sisters in northern Europe.
Although the unions in Spain have a long history, the present union organizations (UGT and CCOO) were born out of the revolutionary struggle against the Franco dictatorship. The workers made extraordinary sacrifices to create their mass organizations, and will not easily abandon them. This revolutionary tradition must never be forgotten. But in the decisive period of the struggle the leaders of both the unions and the workers’ political parties (PSOE and PCE) had no perspective of overthrowing capitalism. They used all their authority and influence to divert the workers’ revolutionary struggle onto the “democratic” path. The result was the abortion of the so-called Transition – the fraud of the century.
The apparent inertness and apathy of the workers in the last period was largely the result of this fraud. A big part of the problem for the past three decades has been the conduct of the trade union leaders, both the UGT and the CCOO, which demoralized a large part of the old activists. However, whenever there has been even half a lead given, the workers have responded. Every time the union leaders, under pressure from below, have called general strikes and demonstrations, the workers have participated enthusiastically. But the leaders see such things as a means of blowing off steam, or at best as a means of pressure. Once the strikes and demonstrations are over, they return to their policies of class collaboration.
The bureaucratic machine of the unions still works and is a powerful weapon in the hands of the reformist union leaders. The latter do not want strikes and disturbances. They want what all bureaucrats want: a peaceful life. But under present conditions a peaceful life will not be granted to them. They may temporarily succeed in holding the masses back. That, after all, is the function that the ruling class has allotted to them, and tolerates them only to the degree that they fulfil that role. But they cannot hold back the masses forever, and the longer they do so, the more violent will be the explosion when it comes. And come it will.
At present the number of strikes is not great. That is logical. The rapid rise of unemployment creates a mood of fear and uncertainty. The union leaders offer no alternative. But this will not last forever. The idea will spread among the workers: “This is intolerable. We must do something.” The movement can start with small strikes that escape the control of the bureaucratic apparatus. The workers will seek contacts with workers from other areas. The movement of the rank and file will grow. We already saw this in the 1980s with the spread of what was called “trade union indiscipline”. There can be a movement towards factory occupations to prevent closures.
Where the unions become obstacles in the path of the workers, all kinds of rank and file ad hoc committees can spring up. We must participate in them and, where possible, take the initiative in creating them. But it is necessary always to link them to the unions themselves. Under no circumstances can such ad hoc organizations replace the unions or act as a substitute for them. The efforts of the sects to counterpose rank and file committees to the unions have always led to disaster. We will fight for the transformation of the unions into genuine organs of struggle, while taking initiatives to set up committees of struggle and workers’ control. We will link this, in turn, to the demand for the expropriation of the banks and big industries.
In the long run, there is no substitute for fighting to transform the unions. The mood will change gradually, creating the conditions for a serious opposition inside the unions – even the most right-wing and bureaucratic ones. We are implacably opposed to splitting the unions or setting up “revolutionary” unions. At first the mood of opposition will not be seen in the official union congresses, which are manipulated by the bureaucracy and are not a faithful expression of the mood on the shop floor. But sooner or later, as the class moves into action, the mood of opposition will grow and find an expression.
The idea so beloved of the reformist union leaders, of a non-combative, class collaborationist, non-political unionism based on “services” is now hopelessly inadequate to meet the needs of the situation. Conditions do not allow the workers to sit with arms folded. In the past it was possible to obtain concessions without a struggle. But that is not the case today. Every demand, no matter how modest, will have to be fought for.
The union leaders thought that if they moderated their demands they would obtain concessions. This was incorrect even before the crisis, since all past experience shows that weakness invites aggression. But with the onset of crisis this is now completely impossible. No concessions are on the table, and the unions can only defend living standards through a serious struggle. The leaders will resist this as long as possible. But it will be impossible for them to persuade their members to modify their claims or hold them in check for long. The stage will be set for ferment and crises inside the unions.
We must bear in mind that things always move in a contradictory way, dialectically, and not in a straight line. In a crisis the more backward and “apolitical” workers can sometimes jump over the heads of the advanced layers. One sees this very often in strikes. There can be many surprises. In France the CFDT was a right wing Christian union, but during the revolutionary general strike of 1968, it moved far to the left of the CGT. Similar developments can take place in Spain.
There is a more serious attitude now, as the workers begin to grasp the real extent of the crisis. In the past period we were swimming against the stream. Now we are beginning to swim with the tide of history. We can expect sharp and sudden changes in the situation. Under these conditions, even a small group of revolutionary trade unionists who know what they want and how to get it, can have an effect far greater than their actual numbers would suggest. It is necessary to be audacious, but without shrill denunciations and ultra-left tactics that can only alienate the average trade union activist.
Our task is to patiently explain, while participating actively in every struggle of the workers. The days of non-political trade unionism are over. Under conditions of capitalist crisis, every serious struggle raises political questions: the attitude of the government, the law, the conduct of the police, workers’ rights, etc. Using skilful methods and a language that workers can understand, we must inject politics into the discussions that take place in the workplace whenever we can. Basing ourselves on the existing levels of understanding, we must help the class to draw the correct conclusions and raise its consciousness to the level posed by history.
The Spanish bourgeoisie has always been a particularly vicious and reactionary ruling class. As long as it lived in fear of the revolutionary movement of the workers, it was compelled to hide its repulsive features beneath a mask of pseudo-democracy. Even this “democracy” has a limited and distorted character. And as the crisis deepens and the class struggle develops, there will be further attacks on democratic rights.
Marxists also defend every democratic demand, insofar as they still retain any progressive content. The onset of the crisis means that those democratic rights that were conquered by the working class in the past are under threat. It is no accident that even before the crisis started, right wing parties like the PP, which still has in its ranks not a few old members of the fascist Phalange, began to use the language of the Franco era in its attacks on the Left.
The head of state, the king, has never been elected but was nominated by the dictator Franco on the basis of an accident of birth and loyalty to the fascist principles of the Movement. In what way this is compatible with a real democracy we leave it to the reformists to explain to us. We stand for the abolition of the Monarchy. However, the struggle for a democratic republic, if it is serious, signifies a struggle against all the accumulated rubbish of the past, including the repugnant privileges of the Catholic Church. This, in turn is inseparably linked to Capital.
The Spanish capitalists, landlords and bankers form a reactionary bloc that seeks support in the Monarchy, Church, the army, police and Civil Guard – in short – the whole of the old state apparatus that was inherited from Franco. It is impossible to touch one part of this edifice without threatening to bring down the whole structure. That is why the slogan of a bourgeois Republic in Spain has not the slightest basis in reality.
A serious struggle against the Monarchy can only be realised through the abolition of the dictatorship of the banks and big monopolies. A Republic can only be realised as the by-product of the struggle for the socialism The workers of Spain must never forget that the attempt of the reformists and Stalinists to limit the revolution to the defence of the bourgeois Republic led to a terrible defeat and 40 years of Franco dictatorship. Our flag is not the tricolour of the bourgeois Republic but the Red Flag of the Socialist Revolution. Our slogan is not the bourgeois Republic, so beloved of the radical petty bourgeois and hopeless nostalgics, but a Workers’ Republic in which the land, banks and industries will be in the hands of the workers and poor peasants.
The Catholic Church, which is still permitted to exercise a stranglehold on the schools, while shamelessly filling its pockets with money from the state, is leading the reactionary campaign, with mass demonstrations against the Socialist government under the banner of the “pro-life” lobby, against abortion, rights for gays, etc. Nowhere is the democratic demand for the complete separation of Church and State so urgent as in Spain.
But the separation of church and state is insufficient. The property of the Church, which is an important part of Capital in Spain, and which has been paid for by the generous donations of the taxpayer, should be expropriated and used for helping the poor by building new houses, schools and hospitals. This is in complete agreement with the original philosophy of the Founder of Christianity. It does not signify the prohibition of religion, or a limitation on the right to worship (or the right not to worship), only that those who wish to inculcate religious notions into the heads of their children must do so outside the schools and exclusively with money paid by the voluntary donations of the faithful.
The most fundamental character of the present period is extreme and universal instability. This expresses itself most clearly in the extreme volatility and restlessness of the petty bourgeoisie and especially the middle class youth. For us this is highly important, of course, but its importance is symptomatic, more than anything else. Phenomena that seem to have no connection and are indeed contradictory really express one and the same thing.
The anti-globalisation movement that assumed a mass character a few years ago is one such phenomenon. The violent swings of public opinion shown in recent elections in France and the Netherlands, the dramatic turnaround in the USA, are another. What do these things have in common? They both manifest (though in different and contradictory ways) the same phenomenon: a growing ferment of discontent in society in general and the middle class youth in particular.
Unfortunately, a large part of the Left (including some who call themselves Marxists) has fallen into a trap. They refer, not to a struggle against capitalism, but a fight against so-called neo-liberalism. That is to say, they do not propose a struggle to abolish capitalism but only a change of model. They say, in so many words, “we do not want this nasty capitalism; we want another nicer, more humane capitalism.” This chorus is often sung by reformist groups like Attac and “Left” intellectuals like Toni Negri and Heinz Dieterich – who have done a lot of damage in Venezuela and other Latin American countries.
Hiding behind a pseudo-left verbiage they systematically spread confusion and disorientation, while proposing a purely reformist (that is, anti-revolutionary) agenda. What do these people propose? Only this: that the rich are too rich and the poor are too poor. Therefore, the rich should agree to give up part of their riches so that the poor can be rather less poor and everyone will be happy. The bosses will still be bosses, and the workers will still be wage slaves but they will be happier wage slaves and therefore less inclined to rebel.
But it is neither new nor realistic. It is just a new variation on a very old theme: class collaboration. It is essentially the same procedure as that of the pre-Marxian Utopian socialists who spent all their lives trying to persuade the capitalists by rational argument that it would be in their own interests to give up some of their profits to improve the lives of the workers. The reformists do not understand that it is impossible to reconcile antagonistic class interests. It is impossible to reconcile the interests of wage labour and Capital. If you do not understand this, you will never understand anything.
Society is divided into antagonistic classes. An Irish socialist put it like this: there are two classes, those who produce everything and possess nothing and those who produce nothing and possess everything. That is a slight oversimplification, of course, because there are also intermediate layers, the middle class (to which the theoreticians of reformism inevitably belong). Nevertheless, it accurately describes the two main classes in society: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
That sections of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia are adopting radical and even semi-revolutionary positions is a source of satisfaction to the Marxists. However, we must be careful not to accept uncritically the ideas and philosophy of this layer, even when these appear to have a progressive content. Whereas the leaders of Izquierda Unida in Spain and Rifondazione Comunista in Italy have an uncritical attitude to these “alternative” movements, and capitulate to them, we must see that these movements also have a negative side. The first duty of a Marxist is to defend the ideas of Marxism.
It is not possible to reconcile the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. One can support the interests of the working class, who are the great majority of society, or one can support the interests of the minority of wealthy parasites – the bankers, landowners and capitalists. But one cannot support both. By trying to reconcile irreconcilable class interests, the reformists in the end inevitably support the ruling class against the working class.
This will satisfy nobody. The policies of reformism are too little for the masses and far too much for the ruling class. They make impossible the normal functioning of capitalism and lead to inflation and even deeper crises. This infuriates the middle classes and drives them into the arms of reaction. Thus, the policies of reformism always produce results that are diametrically opposed to those that were intended.
In 1938 Trotsky wrote that within ten years not one stone upon another would be left of the old workers’ parties – the Social Democracy and the Stalinists. This prediction was falsified by history. The Second World War worked out in a way that was not anticipated by Trotsky – or by Hitler, Stalin, Churchill or Roosevelt. The leadership of the Stalinists and Social Democrats aborted the revolutionary wave that began in 1943. This laid the basis for the recovery of capitalism and a new economic upswing that lasted for decades.
When Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent in 1940, the movement was deprived of its most important leader and theoretician at a decisive moment. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Fourth International were not able to rise to the level demanded by history. They made one blunder after another, staggering from ultra-leftism to opportunism and back again. In a war, when the army is advancing good generals are important. But when the army is forced to retreat they are a hundred times more important. With good generals, the army can retreat in good order, preserving its cadres for a future advance when conditions permit. Bad generals will turn a retreat into a rout, which is what happened to the Fourth International.
Lenin and Trotsky frequently castigated those ultra-left sectarians on the fringes of the labour movement who ignore the mass reformist organizations. Of these people Trotsky wrote:
“They remain indifferent to the inner struggle within reformist organizations – as if one could win the masses without intervening in their daily strife! They refuse to draw a distinction between the bourgeois democracy and fascism – as if the masses could help but feel the difference on every hand!”
The mass organizations have big reserves of support in the masses. When the workers move into struggle they will always first express themselves through their traditional mass organizations. They will test them many times and only after going through a whole series of experiences, involving many ebbs and flows, crises and splits, will they look for an alternative. This is a book sealed by seven seals for the ignorant sects. All these confused ideas will be swept aside as soon as the masses enter into struggle. At a certain stage the mass organizations of the working class will be affected by the crisis. In the recent period there have been strikes and general strikes in Greece, Belgium, France, Italy and Portugal. Explosions are being prepared and the hammer blows of events will lead to a complete transformation in consciousness.
In spite of having the correct ideas, for a whole historical period the forces of genuine Marxism were isolated and condemned to swim against the stream. But now, with a delay of over half a century, the conditions are being established for a crisis in every one of the mass reformist organizations. At first sight it may seem that the powerful bureaucratic apparatuses of the old parties are capable of suffocating any opposition. But this is an illusion. All of history proves that no apparatus, no matter how powerful, can prevent the movement of the masses once it begins. The hold of the bureaucracy will be shattered once the workers are on the march.
A quick movement towards reaction or revolution is ruled out. Therefore the revolutionary period will last not months but for some years, because it is not possible to resolve the crisis in one way or the other. There will be big victories but also big defeats: periods of advance but also periods of tiredness and even demoralization and reaction. One thing is certain: at different times and speeds the workers will move. But whether they will be successful or not depends on their leadership.
Crisis of leadership
Objectively, the position of the bourgeoisie is much weaker than in the past. When Trotsky wrote the Transitional Programme the ruling class had powerful reserves in the shape of the peasantry, but this no longer exists. At that time most of the students were from rich families and supported fascism. Now they are overwhelmingly left wing, anti-capitalist and inclined to be revolutionary. Even in the USA, large sections of the middle class, crushed by the crisis, have begun to question capitalism. The vote for Obama was a vote for a radical change in society. Obama will not give them what they want, but that is another matter.
The only reserves the bourgeoisie now has are the leaders of the Social Democracy, the former Stalinists and the trade unions. These are the most conservative elements in society. The objective basis for the degeneration of the leadership of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties was the long period of upswing in world capitalism. It resembles the national-reformist degeneration of the Social Democracy during the long period of upswing before 1914.
However, the degree of degeneration is far worse now than at any time in the past. All these “clever”, “realistic” leaders were blind to the processes in society and the working class. They cheerfully consigned socialism to the dustbin and adapted themselves to the Market. Now, with the onset of a deep crisis of world capitalism, they display their complete impotence. The right-wing leaders of the workers’ parties and trade unions in Europe – the product of decades of reformist degeneration – have been holding the movement back. But in the next period these organizations will be shaken from top to bottom. At a certain stage mass left-wing tendencies will emerge, which will move in the direction of Marxism. There will be all sorts of changes, crises and splits. We must be prepared!
It is hard to see who has degenerated more, the Stalinists or the reformists. The leaders of the PSOE long ago abandoned all pretence to stand for socialism. That is clear. But the leaders of the Communist Party have followed the same road. They have long ceased to defend a Communist programme. As a result they have lost their identity and their reason to exist. The collapse of Stalinism means that they no longer have the same authority they had before. In the past the old Stalinist leadership at least had some resemblance to the traditions of Bolshevism. IU today is not even a shadow of what the PCE was in the past.
Ultimately, the success or failure of the movement depends on the ability of the Marxists to reach the advanced workers and win then to the ideas of Marxism. Events can move far more rapidly than we expect. The Communist International grew almost from nothing to mass parties on the basis of the experience of the Russian Revolution. But in every case the mass forces for the Communist Parties came out of crises and splits in the old parties of the Second International.
In the words of Trotsky, the crisis of humanity can be reduced to the crisis of leadership of the proletariat. These lines are truer today than ever before. In all countries an absolute abysm is opening up between the classes, yet the labour and trade union leaders have gone far to the right. Yet this too has its limits. Once the fresh winds of class struggle begin to blow, there will be a change in the psychology of the working class.
This does not mean that the revolution will take place next Monday at nine o’clock in the morning. The objective situation is still contradictory. The contradictory nature of the situation is an expression of the fact that this is a transitional stage between one period and another. The main contradiction is that the big battalions of the proletariat in the industrialized capitalist countries have only just begun to move. Like an athlete who has been inactive, the proletariat needs a little time to exercise its muscles.
The period 1917-39 was a period of deep social crisis. There were booms even then, often accompanied with class struggle as the working class fought to recover what had been taken away. This had an effect on the mass organizations of the proletariat. In Spain, Britain, France, Germany, etc., there was the emergence of centrist currents, crises and splits. This affected the Social Democracy but not the Communist Parties, which were completely monolithic, reflecting the colossal authority of the USSR.
All this has now collapsed. The Communist Parties have abandoned even any pretence at a revolutionary socialist perspective and have now completely degenerated into reformist parties. Therefore they will be affected by the general crisis of capitalism and reformism. Nevertheless, because of the bankruptcy of the Social Democracy, which in many countries has governed or is governing, the Communist Parties in opposition may pick up some support simply because they have the name of the “Communist Party” and this gives them a “left” aura with a section of the youth and radicalised workers. The deepening crisis will make itself felt not only in the trade unions and the Social Democratic parties but in the Communist Parties also. The creation of the Left Party in Germany is an early indication of this tendency.
The world situation does not present a nice, calm picture. On the contrary, there is a very explosive situation everywhere. The ruling class is paralysed. The reformists are in crisis. The workers and youth are more open than ever to revolutionary ideas. This gives us opportunities that did not exist in the past. The new conditions are more similar to the 1920s and 1930s than the last period. The question is not whether the working class will move but when it does move, will we be able to take advantage of the changed conditions to find a way to the masses and provide the necessary leadership to the movement?
The decisive task is to increase the forces of Marxists, of the International Marxist Tendency, to double and quadruple the number of cadres in the shortest time possible. This is no time for scepticism or routinism! Enormous possibilities are opening up for the Marxist tendency on a world scale. We can go forward with complete confidence on the basis of the ideas, which have been shown time and again to be correct. We must go forward with a sense of urgency, full of confidence in the ideas of Marxism, in the working class, in our International tendency, and in ourselves.
We have a job to do. Let us get on with it!