We Fight for New Bolshevik Revolutions
On 7 November 1917 (25 October according to the old style Julian calendar), the Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky led the Soviets (Councils) of Workers and Soldiers Deputies in the insurrection that took power in the crumbling Russian empire and established the first workers state in history. The October Revolution became a beacon for the struggles of the oppressed the world over. Despite the subsequent degeneration of the Soviet Union under the Stalinist-nationalist bureaucracy and the imperialist-led counterrevolution that finally destroyed the USSR, proletarian revolutionaries still stand on the internationalist program of Krasnya Oktyabr, or Red October. We print below the remarks of Jan Norden on behalf of the League for the Fourth International at a celebration of the centenary of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution held by the Internationalist Group in New York City this past November 5.
We are meeting today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which was the key event of the 20th century that determined the course of world history for the next 75 years and beyond. It is also 25 years since the imperialist-led counterrevolution that overthrew the bureaucratically degenerated Soviet workers state and restored capitalist rule throughout East Europe. That was a world-historic defeat for the proletariat. But as Rosa Luxemburg wrote in January 1919, shortly before she was murdered by the social democrats in power, “revolution is the only form of ‘war’ in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of ‘defeats’.” This is because the working class can only achieve lasting victory on a world scale.
So speaking on behalf of the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, I want to talk about the lessons of that revolution and the counterrevolution, and why the program of the Bolshevik October Revolution retains its full validity today. When Lenin mounted the speakers platform at the Petrograd Soviet on the night of October 25 (or November 7 according to our calendar), he ended with a simple proclamation: “Long live the world socialist revolution!” Not a phony “democratic revolution” of the social democrats or the Stalinist illusion of “socialism in one country,” but to fight for international socialist revolution. That was the program of Lenin and Trotsky, the co-leaders of the 1917 October Revolution, and that sums up our program today.
Certainly a lot of people on the left will be having some kind of celebratory event around this 100th anniversary who have no intention of carrying out that program. There are new-style social democrats of Jacobin, some Stalinist zombies wandering around, and several tendencies which falsely claim the mantle of Trotskyism, all hailing the continued “relevance” of the October Revolution, but with a very different program for today. Even the capitalist ruling class is aware of its relevance. The New York Times has been running a year-long series of articles, each one more counterrevolutionary than the last, praising the tsar, resuscitating the hoary story of Lenin receiving “German gold,” and the like.
In Italy recently, the leading bourgeois newspaper, Corriere della Sera, last June interviewed Marco Ferrando, one of these pseudo-Trotskyist leaders. The interviewer remarked, “The current relevance of the idea of the Revolution and of Marxism is testimony to the crisis of world capitalism.” Interesting that a bourgeois paper would recognize that. To which Ferrando replied, “Even the advance of the social conquests in the West, like the welfare state, was possible … also because of a world balance of forces marked by the heritage of the Russian Revolution.” Well, yes, in a way: the bourgeoisie granted those social programs in part out of fear of red revolution. Yet after the Soviet Union fell in 1991-92, they began ripping up those programs.
A lot of reformist leftists want to go back to the “welfare state” capitalism of yesteryear, but the fact is that this is no longer possible because of the advanced state of decay of capitalism. The relevance today of Red October is the fight in the here and now for socialist revolution. And that means a study of the betrayal of the program of Lenin and Trotsky by the usurper Stalin and his bureaucratic heirs who prepared the way for the imperialist-led counterrevolution of 1989 to 1992. We have written a great deal on that, and there are some bulletins here with our Trotskyist analysis of this process, so I won’t go into that in detail today. I will just say that almost every single pseudo-Trotskyist tendency ended up on the counterrevolutionary barricades with Boris Yeltsin, either figuratively or literally. In contrast, the genuine Trotskyists fought tooth and nail against the counterrevolution and for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucrats who had prepared the way for it. And we are justly proud of the fight we waged.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, a period of bourgeois triumphalism set in. The watchword was the so-called “death of communism.” The capitalist ideologues declared that Bolshevism had been buried, some even proclaimed the “end of history” with the triumph of liberal democracy. What actually happened is very different. The restoration of capitalism led to endless imperialist and nationalist wars and mounting economic crisis. When we wrote on the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution 10 years ago, we stressed that “barely a decade and a half later, U.S. imperialism is sinking in the quicksands of the Near East while its economy is in crisis, teetering on the edge of a severe recession or new depression.” That was in 2007, and by the next year a financial crisis on Wall Street set off a world capitalist depression.
Of course, the bourgeois lie of the “death of communism” was bought by much of the left. In Italy, the Communist Party, the PCI, once the largest Stalinist party in the West with millions of members, ceased to exist and its remnants are today in the Democratic Party along with the former Christian Democrats. Various supposedly Trotskyist groups argued that it was necessary to abandon any vestiges of Leninism and Trotskyism. Almost all of them had long ago abandoned the Trotskyist defense of the deformed workers states against counterrevolution. But now the followers of the late Ernest Mandel declared that one had to ditch the dictatorship of the proletariat, and also revolutionary proletarian vanguard parties, as Lenin had outlined in What Is To Be Done? Instead, the Mandelites called to build parties of the “broad vanguard,” like the New Anticapitalist Party in France.
The followers of the late Pierre Lambert declared that it was necessary to go back to the First International, which even included some bourgeois populists. And the Lambertists then proceeded to call for a Sixth (bourgeois) Republic in France, a “Working People’s Party” (rather than a workers party) and to build an International Liaison Committee for a Workers International rather than a Trotskyist Fourth International. And while we Trotskyists fight for new October Revolutions on a proletarian socialist program, the late Nahuel Moreno, who died just before the counterrevolutionary wave crested, called to fight for new February Revolutions on a bourgeois-democratic program. Moreno criticized Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution, both because it didn’t call for such bourgeois-democratic revolutions and because Trotsky insisted on proletarian leadership. Moreno also “updated” Trotsky’s Transitional Program to turn it into its opposite, a call for various capitalist reforms.
Those were the reformists. And then you have some centrists, who sometimes adopt a revolutionary posture but in practice act as reformists. There is the Fracción Trotskista, led by the Argentine PTS, which claims to have broken with Morenoism because it doesn’t call for a “democratic revolution.” But they keep the essentials, fighting everywhere on a democratic rather than socialist revolutionary program. They systematically gut all the Leninist and Trotskyist policies of their working-class content, for example describing the Paris Commune as “grassroots democracy” rather than as the first workers government in history, and calling soviets the democratic organs of “the masses” rather than the basis of proletarian rule. They call for “free and sovereign” – i.e., bourgeois – constituent assemblies everywhere. And they run in Argentine elections as a coalition called the FIT, the Left and Workers Front, on a typical reformist program.
Then there is the case of the International Communist League and its U.S. leading section, the Spartacist League, from which the founders of the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International came. After we were bureaucratically expelled, which was the only way they could get rid of us, the SL and ICL started systematically revising the Trotskyist program. They declared that the workers’ consciousness had suffered a qualitative reversal, and that workers’ struggles no longer had anything to do with the final goal, socialism. This was then used as a justification for abstention from the class struggle, and even desertion in the middle of sharp battles as they did in abandoning our comrades in Brazil in the midst of their sharp fight to oust the police from a municipal workers union.
The ICL then went on to drop the calls to defeat one’s own imperialism in imperialist wars, they abandoned the call for independence for the colonies, which was a condition for membership in the Communist Third International. In particular, they refused to take a clear stand for independence for Puerto Rico, the largest remaining colony in the world, recently saying that statehood would be an expression of self-determination, whereas it would threaten the very existence of the Puerto Rican nation. At the same time the ICL has embraced bourgeois nation-building nationalism, from Quebec to Catalonia. And with their defense of national borders they have refused to call for asylum for refugees. As in the campaign over Brexit, or British exit from the European Union, this has brought them into close proximity with rightist forces.
So in their different ways, all these once ostensibly Trotskyist tendencies have ostentatiously abandoned Trotskyism. Almost without exception, as we have pointed out, they reject the key thesis of Trotsky’s Transitional Program, that “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.” The ICL says that that “predates” the present “deep regression of proletarian consciousness” – in other words, that it’s outdated – but just about everyone says the same thing one way or another. Namely that the problem today is not concentrated on the issue of leadership but on the backwardness of the working class.
Now, this may seem like a lot of hairsplitting or abstract theorizing, but it has very real consequences. The fact is that revolutionary crises have broken out repeatedly in recent years, and it is precisely the absence of a recognized revolutionary, proletarian vanguard that has spelled defeat. Look at the record: Oaxaca in 2006, where the organs of bourgeois state power were thrown out of the state capital for five months – police, army, governor, courts, legislature, government bureaucracy. But while various fake leftists went on about a “Oaxaca Commune,” there was no serious attempt to enlist the powerful Mexican working class, without which an uprising in a rural province was doomed to failure.
Then we had the Arab Spring in early 2011, at the same time as labor in Wisconsin was on the verge of a general strike; the Indignados, or Outraged movement in Portugal, Spain and Greece a couple of months later; and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States in the fall. Several years later, in 2014, there were the explosive protests involving tens of thousands of young people taking the streets in what became known as the Black Lives Matter movement, shutting down tunnels and highways and city centers. In 2015, the leftist populist SYRIZA coalition was elected in Greece in a battle against austerity that had already seen 30 general strikes, or what goes for a general strike these days.
And they all end in failure. Why? Because there was no recognized proletarian revolutionary leadership, and the various radical and not-so-radical left tendencies didn’t present one. In the Near East and North Africa, all the left joined the bourgeoisie in praising a “revolution” when it hadn’t yet happened. The point was to bring to bear the power of the working class to make a real, social and socialist revolution. In southern Europe, the left capitulated to the petty-bourgeois Indignados leadership which banned red flags and party symbols, and is now continued in the bourgeois populist Podemos party in Spain. In Greece almost the entire left (including the ICL) fell for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ referendum swindle in July 2015 when he called on the masses to vote against the Eurobankers’ austerity, and then when they did he turned around and implemented it himself.
Lately we have had more bourgeois populists, like Bernie Sanders who postured as a “democratic socialist” while running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. In Britain you had the reformist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and in the U.S. there has been the dramatic growth of the Democratic Socialists of America, the DSA, which still to this day acts as a pressure group in and on the Democratic Party.
Now all of these movements have awakened a great deal of support, including and in particular from young people. But none of them have put forward a program for revolution, and certainly not workers revolution. On the Williamsburg Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn in New York there is a stenciled slogan, two of them actually, dating from the Occupy Movement, a little worn by now. One says “Join the evolution” (with an image of Evo Morales, the Andean capitalism leader of Bolivia). In others words, not revolution. And the second says “We will be ephemeral,” that is that they would disappear quickly, which was sort of a play on the Occupy slogan, “We are invincible, another world is possible.” And, of course, they were indeed ephemeral.
Yet while they were ephemeral, these movements keep coming up because American capitalism keeps throwing them up, because it is rooted in racist oppression. Over 1,100 people are killed every year by the police in the United States, over a third of them African Americans. This is part of the continuing heritage of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, even though they have been formally abolished. As the founder of American Trotskyism emphasized in a pamphlet we have here, it was the Russian Revolution that taught communists in the U.S. about the black question, because the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed peoples of the tsarist empire was key to making the October Revolution.
Today youth are no longer mesmerized by the “death of communism” illusion or the claim that there will be a new era of prosperity and democracy. They don’t believe it because it isn’t true, and their own experience tells them that. For anyone in this country 26 years old or younger, which just happens to be the age after which they lose their parents’ medical insurance under Obamacare, they have not had one year of their life in which the U.S. has not been at war. You may recall that when the U.S. launched its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in October 2001, Dick Cheney, the vice president, declared that the war “may never end, at least in our lifetime.” He got that right. The U.S. is still occupying Afghanistan, and we are still calling to drive them out, to defeat the imperialist occupiers.
The economic crisis that broke out in 2007-2008 led unemployment in the U.S. to spike to 23 million jobless … and to stay there. It hasn’t fallen a bit. In Europe youth unemployment is astronomical – almost 50% of young people in Greece are jobless, more than 25% in Spain. In this country, the government just disappears the long-term unemployed from the statistics by not counting anyone who hasn’t had a job in two years as part of the workforce. But those people still exist, many of them vote, and quite a few voted for Donald Trump because they saw the Democrats’ economic policies spelled their own ruin. That is also the origin of the opioid crisis, of the dramatic fall in life expectancy in areas of high unemployment like West Virginia, and the appearance of actual organized fascists in the U.S. over the last year under the protective umbrella of the Trump regime.
It should be recalled as well that following the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union – which all those pseudo-Trotskyists hailed – the unemployed male workers in Russia began dying in increasing numbers, many due to alcoholism. And in Greece there has been the sharp increase in suicides. All these signs of social pathology are consequences of the decaying capitalism and the economic depression which the bourgeoisie continues to deny but which working people experience personally. And yet there has been no sharp increase in radical class struggle pointing to possible revolution. Why not? Because the opportunist left has tailed after the various popular revolts and populist movements, or wallowed in self-satisfied abstentionism. But they have not fought inside the workers movement to build a leadership that can lead the class struggle to victory.
This underlines the sharp difference between the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International from virtually the entire left which claims to be Leninist and Trotskyist. Our motto, in the words of the Brazilian comrades, is that there should be a coherence between words and deeds. If we call for something, we try to carry it out. We called to extend the struggle in Oaxaca to the millions-strong Mexican industrial working class, and we pushed our small forces to the limit participating in the radical teachers mobilizations in 2006, 2013 and 2016. We called in Brazil to strike for freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and in 1999 teachers in the state of Rio de Janeiro did just that – the first time ever that unionists did so. And the next day, in coordination, the dock workers of the ILWU shut down every port on the U.S. West Coast for the same demand.
We called for workers strikes against the war, beginning even before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, and after several years of pushing for that, on May Day 2008 the ILWU longshore workers again shut down all West Coast ports against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and for immigrants’ rights, a historic action, in which the IG played an active role. Recently we have called for workers mobilizations against the fascists and racists, and our comrades in Portland have taken the lead in organizing just that, in the Portland Labor Against the Fascists mobilization that brought out some 300 unionists and supporters on June 4. We also publicized the action of the ILWU which called to shut down the ports and to march to shut down a fascist provocation in San Francisco this last August 26, a call which was directly and explicitly inspired by the action of the Portland workers and which electrified the local left. As a result, the fascists cancelled, which was an important victory, in which we were heavily involved, even though we don’t have a local in the Bay Area.
One reflection of that commitment to carrying the revolutionary program into the class struggle is what we call the “transitional organizations” fraternally allied with the Internationalist Group. Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas, or Class-Struggle International Workers, helped prepare this event, as you have seen. The TIC is a small beginning, but the bravery of immigrant workers without the papers demanded by U.S. capitalist rulers, Republican and Democrat alike, has led to important struggles, including at the Hot and Crusty Bakery in Manhattan, and the B&H Photo store and warehouses where they achieved unionization. Some of the workers and activists who have played a key in those struggles are here today. But, as always under capitalism, this was only a temporary victory by the workers who can only win definitively through revolution. As we emphasize in calling for full citizenships for all immigrants, this demand has only been won in the French Revolution of 1789-99, in the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917.
There are also a number of members of Class Struggle Education Workers here tonight who have taken the lead in organizing immigrants defense committees in the schools and hospitals in New York. On the West Coast, members of Class Struggle Workers – Portland are watching and participating in this by videoconferencing. These are small organizations, including both supporters of the IG and also class-conscious workers and teachers. And this last August, the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth was founded as the youth section of the IG, and many of them are here tonight as well.
Above all, we have emphasized the need to build a party of professional proletarian revolutionaries, as Lenin argued for and the Russian Bolsheviks achieved. We seek to bring the working class to the fore on the revolutionary program, both through study in our weekly study groups, one in English and the other in Spanish, and through participation in action. We uphold Trotsky’s Transitional Program as a program to mobilize the working class to overthrow capitalism, rather than distorting it into a mishmash of reform demands on the capitalist state. We have called from the beginning to reforge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution through splits and fusions. As an expression of that, over the past two years we had a fusion with the wonderfully named “Better-Late-Than-Never Faction” peremptorily expelled by the Spartacist League the day after they handed in their declaration; and we have won new sections of the LFI in Italy and Germany, opening the door to systematic work in Europe.
Leon Trotsky, founder and first commander of the Soviet Red Army, with soldiers during the Civil War.
We are sure that young people will find their way to authentic Trotskyism, because they will need to in order to fight for revolution. The Trotskyist movement has been decimated over and over. First due to fascist genocide and Stalinist repression in the 1940s, then as a result of a deep-going revisionist split in the 1950s known as Pabloism, which denied the need for an independent revolutionary vanguard. By the 1960s, the numbers of Trotskyists had dwindled, but then a new generation came into the struggle, and we rediscovered the genuine Marxism of Trotsky because we had to – we needed that revolutionary orientation in order to fight against the imperialist war in Vietnam, to guide our work as we went into the industrial working class. In the United States, many of us had been prejudiced against Trotskyism because of the reformist policies of many who claimed to represent it. In particular, the Socialist Workers Party ran much of the antiwar movement. We rightly despised them because they tried to exclude any radicals, especially anyone with a National Liberation Front flag. But the demands of the class struggle forced us to reexamine everything.
In fighting against the war in Vietnam we faced an antiwar movement allied with bourgeois politicians in a “popular front.” Here in New York, for example, there was a huge antiwar march that featured the Republican mayor John Lindsay, the same mayor who tried to bust the transit workers union, the teachers union and the sanitation workers union. We knew that such a movement couldn’t stop an imperialist war, so we went to the library to read Lenin. So we read where he wrote that you had to fight to defeat your own imperialism, not just for peace or a different foreign policy, and that you had to fight imperialist war with civil war, that is, class war. So we decided that was right, and went out to implement it. In Boston we went to the Lynn General Electric factory where they built the jet engines for the warplanes that were bombing Vietnam. A strike had broken out, and so we offered our support. When we arrived, a bunch of leftist antiwar students from SDS, there was a little tense hesitation for about 15 seconds, and then they said “come on in.” We were chanting on the picket line, “Warmaker, strikebreaker, Smash GE.” And within a couple of weeks the head of GE was denouncing “Viet Cong [Vietnamese Communist] strikers.” The point is that we were forced by the logic of the class struggle to come to terms with Trotskyism, in order to fight the popular frontists.
Today the once-Trotskyist ICL declares that we have been thrown back to before 1914. Others say similar things, all of which reflect a loss of confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat, the hallmark of anti-Marxist revisionism. We say the opposite: just as the Bolsheviks built their party on analyzing the actions and the defeat of the Paris Commune of 1871, we will prepare the Red Octobers of the future on the basis of the lessons we have learned from the revolution whose centenary we celebrate today, and of the counterrevolution that took place a quarter century ago that we fought against then, and which we continue to oppose as we call to defend the remaining deformed workers states including North Korea, China, Cuba and Vietnam against counterrevolution from within and without.
In uniquely upholding the programmatic continuity of Lenin and Trotsky, we in the League for the Fourth International reaffirm our commitment to be the party of the Bolshevik Revolution. Long live the Bolshevik Revolution of Lenin and Trotsky! ■
Some photos from the exhibit prepared by members of the TIC, which was featured at November 5 celebration of Bolshevik Revolution centenary.