The Fourth International and the Soviet Union in 1946

In 1946 the perspectives of the then leadership of the Fourth International were that through “the combined economic, political and diplomatic pressure and the military threats of American and British imperialism” the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union could collapse. The complete opposite was the truth. Ted Grant, together with the leadership of the RCP, attempted to correct this mistaken prognosis. Here we provide the historical 1946 documentation.

We previously published The New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the Fourth International – April 1946. This was the document presented to the 1946 International Pre-conference of the Fourth International. Elsewhere we have dealt with the completely mistaken economic perspectives that this document developed. See Proposed line of amendment to International Conference Resolution. This was the amendment proposed by the leadership of the RCP, British section of the then Fourth International.

However, the document of the leadership of the Fourth International also made some fundamental errors in its perspectives for the Soviet Union. They were predicting that through “the combined economic, political and diplomatic pressure and the military threats of American and British imperialism” the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union could collapse.

This flew in the face of reality. Far from being weakened, the Soviet Union had emerged enormously strengthened from the Second World War. The amendment of the RCP (see below) explains the real situation the Soviet Union was in.

Through its numerous mistakes the leadership of the then Fourth International managed to disorientate many of its members and in actual fact it marked the collapse of the organisation as a viable force.

Ted Grant was the main theoretician of the RCP and was responsible for the far more sober and realistic analysis presented in the amendment. He attempted to correct the mistakes of the Fourth International leadership. But they not only refused to listen, but also manoeuvred to get Ted and his comrades expelled from the organisation. Thus they confirmed that they had degenerated into sectarian politics.

The In Defence of Marxism web site traces its origins back to the leadership of the RCP. Ted Grant still contributes to this day to the development of the ideas expressed on this web site. Ted has often explained that if you do not admit your mistakes, recognise them and correct them, then you are condemned to making even worse mistakes, and eventually you end up as a sect. This is what happened to the old Fourth International.

We are providing this material not just out of historical interest. It should be studied and absorbed by the new generation of revolutionary Marxists around the world. It is full of vital lessons for today. What emerges from it is a correct method. It is not enough to merely repeat in parrot fashion the words of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We must learn the method of the great Marxist teachers. Without this we can be blown hither and thither by the sharp and sudden turn of events as the crisis of world capitalism unfolds.

(Introductory note by Fred Weston, December 2004)


Proposed Amendments to the Foregoing Text

Adopted for Submission to the World Congress by the National Congress of the R.C.P. (British Section of the Fourth International) September 1946.
Proposed line of amendment to the International Pre-Conference resolution “New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the Fourth International on the relative strength of the U.S.S.R.”

FROM the viewpoint of world development, in the absence of victorious proletarian revolution, the most outstanding factor in the resultant of the war is the emergence of the Soviet Union as the greatest military power in Europe and Asia — with the exception of the United States of America — the greatest power in the world. State ownership and planned economy have demonstrated their superiority in peace and in war.

This result has upset all the calculations of world imperialism. Nor was such a result foreseen even by ourselves. The allies made their agreement with the Soviet Union with the confident expectation that she would either be defeated or would emerge from the war so weakened as to be completely dependent, economically and politically, upon Anglo-American imperialism.

But despite the errors and excesses of the Stalinist bureaucracy, despite the total incapacity of the generals and officers who remained after the purge (and who were largely responsible for the defeats in the first stages of the war), the Soviet Union survived the first terrible defeats as no other country could have done. Without the Ukraine and the Donetz Basin in which two thirds of the most important industries — iron, steel, coal, aluminium — had been concentrated, the Soviet Union, virtually unaided, defeated a Germany armed with the resources of all Europe.

This was achieved by the transferring to and the building of new bases of heavy industry in the Urals and Siberia, which, given the high morale of the masses, together with the reorganisation of the army general staff and officer cadre, was sufficient to guarantee military victory over German imperialism. This, despite the reactionary, chauvinist policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy which was aimed at sabotaging and destroying the possibility of world revolution.

The economic system of the Soviet Union stood the test, despite all the disadvantages and the incubus of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Russia has emerged from the war strengthened and not weakened. Far from the calculations of the imperialists being realised — that Germany and Russia would knock each other out — Germany has collapsed, Russia has emerged victorious and now dominates half Europe and a great part of Asia. The Stalinist bureaucracy has achieved a position of domination in the Balkans and in Asia far surpassing the dreams of the Czars. They have secured points of vantage for a tremendous spurt forward.

Churchill’s phrase, “the Iron Curtain” from Trieste to Stettin is a picturesque description of the domination of this region by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Britain has lost the balance of power which she maintained in Europe for 300 years. It is Russia that bestrides the Continent, and looms ahead as a serious threat to British imperialism in the Mediterranean, in the Middle East, in the Far East and in Europe. Only the giant strength of American imperialism stands as a challenge to the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Both Britain and Japan have become bases for American imperialism for a future struggle to the death with Russia which looms ahead if capitalism survives the next epoch.

The changed relationship of forces arises out of the changed economic relationships. While European capitalism has been slowly decaying, an unprecedented development of the forces of production and the productivity of labour has taken place in the Soviet Union. Nearly two decades of Five Year Plans and planning has resulted in the creation of hundreds of thousands of technicians and specialists, and tens of millions of skilled workers. It is on this solid base that the economic development of the Soviet Union has taken place, and will proceed in the coming period.

Far from being economically dependent upon Britain and America, Russia is in a position of bargaining with Anglo-American imperialism on equal terms. It is not accidental that Stalin has not only refused loans from America on the basis of economic concessions in Russia itself, but has even refused to accept loans which would weaken Russia’s economic domination of Eastern Europe. Loans which Russia was prepared to accept from Britain even in the period prior to the war, she is not willing to accept today except on the bureaucracy’s own terms. Russia was compelled at one of her weakest stages, in 1929-32 to give 9 per cent interest — even at the height of the world’s slump; in 1935 she gave 5.5 per cent for £10,000,000 five years’ credit; yet today Russia has refused a loan of £30,000,000 for 5 years at 2.5 per cent. The bureaucracy has demanded £1000,000,000 at 2.5 per dent for 15 years! The terms are not to her liking.

It is a fatal error to confuse the objective economic position of the Soviet Union with the counter-revolutionary policy of Stalinism. From the viewpoint of world socialism, the Stalinist bureaucracy now plays completely a counter-revolutionary role. Had it not been for their policy, the working class would have achieved a Socialist United States of Europe and in Asia, and the whole world situation would have been transformed. Nevertheless, despite the policy of Stalinism, the objective situation of the Soviet Union varies from time to time in accordance with the world historical factors, both economic and political. It does not follow that because of the counter-revolutionary policy of Stalinism, the Soviet Union is automatically weakened in its economic and political relation to the capitalist states at every stage of its development. The economic strengthening of the Soviet Union is a plus for the revolution on a world scale and for the regeneration of the USSR.

The objective revolutionary situation which has resulted from the war strengthens further the position of the Soviet Union. Far from world imperialism concerning itself with the liquidation of the Soviet State, its main preoccupation consists in attempting to stabilise the position of the shattered fabric of capitalism in Europe, Asia, and even the Americas. It is this which gives the aggressive character to Stalinist diplomacy and diplomatic pressure to extend the sphere of influence of the bureaucracy (Persia). Taking the revolutionary perspective into account, it is not possible for American imperialism immediately to launch a war against the Soviet Union. The American strike wave, the insistent demands of the troops to go home, the impossibility of the Labour Government relying on the British workers and soldiers in a large scale war on Russia, the famine, war weariness of the masses of the world, the strength of Stalinism in Europe and Asia, and the sympathy of the masses for the Soviet Union — all these preclude any possibility of immediate, or “next stage” military intervention against Russia.

Hysterical propaganda about immediate war on the Soviet Union ignores and is in conflict with, the revolutionary perspective of our epoch and the objective development of events. If capitalism-imperialism maintains itself with the aid of the reformists and Stalinists because of the weakness of the Fourth International, then savage reaction will inevitably succeed in taking control in Europe, Britain and America, the Labour movement would be destroyed by reaction and the way would be clear for the inevitable onslaught on the Soviet Union which could prepare the destruction not only of Russia, but of world civilisation. From the viewpoint of world revolution — the extension of October, the present strengthening of the Soviet Union will solve nothing. Only the victory of the workers in the main capitalist nations can solve the problems of the Soviet Union and ensure that nationalised property will be preserved, and on the basis of the overthrow of the bureaucracy and the reintroduction of workers’ democracy, lead to world socialism.

From the Marxist norm, the development of the Soviet Union has a dual character. The differentiation between the proletariat and the bureaucracy, speeded up by the war, has prepared an absolute chasm between these two strata. But simultaneously with the, development of the economy, the proletariat is strengthened in numbers and social weight in the country, and thus the hour is preparing when the proletariat will settle accounts with the bureaucracy.

Russia is in an immensely stronger position than she was after World War I. In “Revolution Betrayed” Trotsky wrote:

“... Industrial production in 1921, immediately after the end of the civil war, amounted at most to one fifth of the pre-war level. The production of steel fell from 4.2 million tons to 183 thousand tons — that is to 1/23rd of what it had been. The total harvest of grain decreased from 801 million hundred-weights to 503 million in 1923. That was a year of terrible hunger. Foreign trade at the same time plunged from 2.9 billion rubles to 30 million. The collapse of the productive forces surpassed anything of the kind that history had ever seen. The country, and the Government with it, were at the very edge of the abyss.”

Yet from this low technical level, with no plan, with strong capitalist sectors in the economy; with few industrial technicians — many of whom sabotaged the economy — with an inheritance of a low level of productivity; with agriculture on the same primitive level as under Czarism, within five years Russian production had been restored to pre-war levels: that is, had grown more than five times its size in 1921. Even after the restoration of [the] economy, by 1926 the total proletariat numbered less than 2,000,000.

Today the situation is transformed. The proletariat now numbers 20 to 25 millions. Hundreds of thousands of new technicians and specialists have been trained. Freed from the hampering restrictions and fetters of private ownership, the amazing results shown in the war, will undoubtedly be far exceeded in the future.

The argument of the international resolution on the Soviet Union is of a one-sided character, and thus gives a false picture. The conclusions are based upon figures given by the IS taken from 1941, though the document was written in 1945. These statistics, at the time when the Nazis were at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow, ignore the all-important changes in the intervening period. The figures of 17 million dead and 3 million disabled, or one sixth of the active population, are given without relation to the fact that in the territories added to the Soviet Union live 24 million people. Similarly with the industrial figures.

It should not be forgotten that owing to the tremendous resources of state ownership and planned production, the Soviet Union recovered after the terrible famine of 1932, in which millions died. The havoc wrought by Stalin’s economic policy at home at that time was equal to a war. Yet the economy of the Soviet Union made enormous advances in spite of this.

On the basis of state ownership and the economic advances already made, the pace of reconstruction and development will be even faster. The new Five Year Plan sets itself moderate and attainable perspectives. By the end of 1947, it is calculated that pre-war production will be reached. By 1950, the aim of the Five Year Plan is 50 per cent overall increase over pre-war production.

The perspective of the Pre-Conference document in relation to the recovery and development of the Soviet Union is entirely false and pessimistic in asserting:

“In its defence against both the external pressure of imperialism and of the internal reactionary elements, and in its efforts to rapidly revive the Soviet economy, the bureaucracy’s best chances of success lie in the economic contribution of the countries now under Soviet control.” (Our emphasis)

This fails to take into account the actual technique which still remains in the possibilities latent in Russian economy, even without outside aid. The economy of the occupied countries will undoubtedly assist the Stalinist bureaucracy, which thus extends its sphere of domination over half Europe and Asia, but these conquests remain auxiliary to the economic exploitation of the resources of the Soviet Union itself.

The argument that the contradictions of world imperialism upon which Russia was able to manoeuvre in the past, have now been eliminated, and that the USA has encircled and united the capitalist world against the USSR has thus rendered the Soviet Union far weaker than before the war, is at variance with reality. It is true that America has enormously increased its preponderating economic lead on a world scale, and that Britain is now economically and politically a satellite of the USA. But the contradictions between the imperialists are by no means eliminated. Russia still has a field for manoeuvre, even if somewhat restricted. Meanwhile Germany, which was the only country economically, militarily, politically and geographically, in a favourable position to launch a war against the USSR has been virtually destroyed for a generation, and within that period cannot be rebuilt for a new war against the USSR. Japan, the only country in the East capable of undertaking a large scale military struggle against the USSR has also been destroyed. Even with the assistance of American imperialism, Japan will not be capable of waging a war against Russia for many years.

The new bases acquired by American imperialism, even with modern methods of warfare, cannot compensate for the loss of Germany and Japan. Before the imperialists will be in a position to launch a new war against the Soviet Union, the economic crises of capitalism will destroy whole sectors of the economy, while the economy of the USSR will advance.

The perspective in the original Conference document is already being refuted by events. The document stated:

“Failing a mass movement capable of coming actively to its support, the USSR incurs the risk of being destroyed in the near future even without direct military intervention but simply through the combined economic, political and diplomatic pressure and the military threats of American and British imperialism.” (Our emphasis)

Though the passage has been deleted, because it cannot be maintained in the face of events, the basic conception which this passage expressed is retained in the document. For example:

“In the test of strength which characterises the present relations between imperialism and the USSR, only the intervention of the proletarian revolution can save the Soviet Union from an early and fatal end.” (our emphasis)

The false evaluation of the perspective of economic weakening, of imminent collapse, of diplomatic and economic pressure of the imperialists leading to early collapse, of the danger of immediate war against the Soviet Union, is serving to disorient the cadres of the Fourth International and to discredit the International in the eyes of the world working class. Alarming symptoms of this have been:

(1) The assertion of the American SWP that the war is still on.

(2) The ambiguous position in the finally adopted International document on the question of the occupied territories and the refusal to accept the amendment of the British Party to demand the withdrawal of the Red Army as well as the imperialist armies from these territories. In the revised document the only reference to this question being:

“The Fourth International proclaims the right of self-determination for every people, fights for this right, and puts forward in every occupied country the slogan: “ For the Immediate Departure of the Occupation Troops! ” In the oppressor countries (USA, Great Britain, France, insofar as Germany is concerned) the Fourth International actively defends the right of the occupied nations to independence and demands the recall of the occupied troops.”

(3) The failure to take a clear position, and the ACTUAL OPPOSITION on the part of the Minority of the British Party to the inclusion in the International resolution the demand for the withdrawal of the Red Army from Germany and other occupied territories.

(4) The assertion of the French Party that “Never in the darkest hours of the war was the USSR so seriously menaced” which led them to the opportunist and capitulationary proposal of a united propaganda front with the Stalinists.

(5) The absurd answer in NEUER SPARTAKUS to the question “Why does Stalin rob? Because he lost the war.'’ (Emphasis in original.)

All this proceeds from a totally false evaluation of the development of the Soviet Union. The paralysis of the world revolution through its agencies, the Stalinist Parties, leads to a temporary strengthening of the position of the Stalinist bureaucracy. It remains, as yet, not an absolute fetter, but a relative fetter upon the development of the productive forces. Only on a world scale is the absolutely reactionary character of the bureaucracy revealed. In the absence of a revolutionary party with roots and connections among the advanced workers capable of mobilising the masses, without a revolution in Europe and Asia, the bureaucracy will most likely maintain its position in the Soviet Union, and even further entrench it in the next immediate period ahead. On the scales of history and the development of regimes, a few years is nothing. Only from a large-scale historical point of view can it be understood that the bureaucracy at a certain stage, will come into ABSOLUTE contradiction with the needs of economy and culture within the Soviet Union.

That is why it is more than ever important in fighting for the regeneration of the USSR, and in defence of the Soviet Union, to wage an implacable struggle against the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism in the occupied territories and in Europe and Asia. The victory of the proletariat in any major country in Europe would sound the knell of doom for the bureaucracy because it would result in a new relationship between the bureaucracy and the Russian proletariat. The most important task of the European masses consists in the defence of the European revolution against Stalinism as well as imperialism. The struggle for a Socialist Europe and Asia against imperialism and its Social Democratic and Stalinist henchmen, becomes the most important means of establishing the power of the world working class, and thereby defending the Soviet Union.

(September 1946)