The Changed Relationship of Forces in Europe and the Role of the Fourth International

This document was presented by Ted Grant as a policy document at the March 1945 Central Committee of the RCP, approved in August at the national conference and printed in Workers International News in September. The resolution presents a broad analysis, an estimation of the political situation coming out of the war and a tentative perspective for the future.

In relation to those parts of Europe occupied by the Red Army, the document was conditional because at this stage of developments it was not clear how events would unfold. It points out that the Stalinists had 'retained capitalism', but it also raises the possibility of the Russian bureaucracy becoming an agency of social change, albeit on the basis of a totalitarian state: 'the bureaucracy will be forced, against its own wishes and at the risk of antagonising its present imperialist allies, to nationalise industry in the permanently occupied countries, acting from above and, if possible, without the participation of the masses.' These developments are dealt with more fully in the next chapter on Eastern Europe.

More significantly, the resolution The Changed Relationship of Forces, for the first time acknowledged that there was a relative stabilisation in the political situation in Western Europe. Against the leadership of the IS, who were not prepared to face up to reality, the resolution argued that there had been, thanks to the role of the workers' leaders, a 'counter-revolution in a "democratic" form'. It was a counter-revolution in as much as the capitalist class had been able to ride out the revolutionary moods within the working class – 'given the weakness of the revolutionary vanguard...there is no hopeless position for the bourgeoisie' – but 'democratic' because of the weakness of reaction and the pressure of the mass organisations.

It is important to note that at this point, mid-1945, it was possible to anticipate a relative political stabilisation, although that was not to suggest that it would be permanent: 'It is possible on the basis of the support rendered to world imperialism by Stalinism and classical reformism (and this is one of the objective factors to be reckoned with) that world imperialism can succeed, for a period, in "stabilising" bourgeois-democratic regimes in certain countries.'

But what was not apparent at this stage, and could not be, was the fact that Europe, and the West in general, was on the threshold of an historic economic upswing which was to last 25 years. What the resolution explains, in effect, are the favourable political conditions which predicated the post-war boom.

– From Introduction to Western Europe after the War

The end of the war opens out a new stage of the military, diplomatic, economic and political developments of the world.

The overwhelming economic and military preponderance of the Soviet Union in the East, and of American imperialism with her British satellite in the West, has finally resulted in the reduction of German and Japanese imperialism to dust.

Following in the wake of the victorious 'allied' armies, the 'big three' with their foreign secretaries and advisers meet, discuss, and arrive at secret diplomatic agreements to partition Europe and the world into spheres of influence and zones of exploitation. The satellite states are invited into the councils of the United Nations, but only to create a facade and lend weight to the decisions arrived at by the hard bargaining behind the scenes on the part of the big three.

Overshadowing the military and diplomatic arrangements, however, is the fear of proletarian revolution in Germany and in Europe as a whole; and not only in Europe but in the colonial areas of the East. This cardinal problem, which again and again raises itself for a forceful solution, is rapidly becoming the main preoccupation of the three big powers. Indeed, the cardinal point in the alliance which now cements the 'big three' together, and will do so in the future, is this fear of revolution and the preoccupation with the plans for staving off, or repressing the inevitable revolutionary upheavals in Germany and Europe which will seek to destroy the old capitalist order.

The changed relationship of forces between the world powers since the Treaty of Versailles, hidden in their gradual transformation between the two world wars, is now clearly demonstrated in the military fortunes of the nations.

The destruction of the French army, once the mightiest military force in Europe; the disintegration of the French empire; the miserable role of the ruling class in France during the nazi occupation as Quislings of the conqueror; all these have served to underline the decline of France from the status of a great power to the role of a third rate power in Europe and the world.

The bubble of empire pretensions, widely advertised by the Italian ruling class through their strutting black-shirted legions, has been pricked and shattered. The weak and insufficient economic base, incapable of the slightest strain, cracked at the first test. Italy is reduced to the role of a Balkan country.

Both in the East of Europe and the West, the war has entirely altered the importance of the nations in the new alignment of forces. Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic and Balkan countries, Belgium, Holland, and the Scandinavian lands – all these have a lesser weight and role to play in the 'councils of the nations'.

The collapse of British hegemony of the globe; the inability of Britain to maintain her position on the continent of Europe or to intervene decisively in the military struggles; the subordination of her military leaders on the continent of Europe to those of her Yankee patrons; and her general decline in relation to her Russo-American allies is rapidly placing Britain in her real relationship to the other powers – the 'biggest of the small nations'.

The entry into the world arena of American imperialism with her gigantic economic and military resources, has immediately placed her far in the forefront of the imperialist nations. Both in the East and in the West, the weight of the economic and military forces assures her of a dominant position. The Pacific is fast becoming an 'American lake', while the British dominions gravitate towards the dollar and remain only nominally tied to the motherland.

The Emergence of Russia From The War

But by far the greatest event of world significance is the emergence of Russia, for the first time in history, as the Greatest military power in Europe and Asia. The tremendous victories of the Red Army in Europe have forced the majority of the European bourgeoisie to orientate themselves towards the Kremlin; whilst the pro-Soviet movement on the part of the masses, has created a powerful basis of support.

In Europe today there is no continental power left which can effect a challenge to the Red Army. Nor is it possible to create in a few years a military force capable, materially and morally, of undertaking such a challenge. Only on the basis of a complete defeat for the European working class, the total destruction of its organisations and the introduction of a Yankee black reaction, would it be possible to regroup the forces of European capitalism for an anti-Russian assault.

The weariness of the masses in all countries, especially in Europe, the admiration and support for the Red Army, the sympathy and warm support for the Soviet Union among broad sections of the working class even in the United States – all these factors taken together with the relation of military forces, make it extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible for the Allies to launch an attack on the Soviet Union in the immediate post-war years.

The risks of such an operation are far too great in their political implications, not only in Europe or Asia where the masses would support the Soviet Union, but in Britain and America. Ideologically it would not be possible to mobilise the masses for such a war which would tend to expose the whole nature of the previous struggle against the Axis(1). Moreover, such a war would be inevitably protracted because of the military might of the Soviet Union, thus ushering in revolutionary explosions throughout the globe. For the next period, despite the antagonisms, the Allies will be forced to tolerate a deal with the Soviet Union.

The Plans of the Imperialists Went Wrong

German imperialism confidently anticipated the destruction and disintegration of the Soviet state; the Anglo-American imperialists expected and hoped for the downfall of the Soviet Union, but wished to use Russia simultaneously to break the power of German imperialism, leaving them the victors. They expected at least that the Soviet Union would emerge broken and weakened decisively and thus be unable to resist the demands and impositions they planned to impose upon her.

But their calculations went wrong. An outstanding result of the imperialist war is the definitive emergence of the Soviet Union from a backward state, to the greatest military power on the continent of Europe. This has upset all the calculations of the imperialists of both camps. The results have induced a cold sweat in all the chancelleries of the world.

The war in Europe in great part resolved itself into a war between Germany, armed with the resources of the whole of Europe, and the Soviet Union. And from this decisive test Russia has emerged victorious.

The Stalinist bureaucracy has a two-fold purpose in occupying the countries of Eastern Europe: a strategic defence position against its allies; and the domination, plunder and enslavement of the Balkan and Central European peoples in the interests of the bureaucracy itself. However, the entrance of the Red Army into Eastern Europe provoked a movement among wide strata of the oppressed workers and peasants. The Stalinist bureaucracy has utilised this movement in order to place their puppets firmly in control of the governments. Meanwhile, in order to placate his allies, Stalin has retained capitalism in the areas under his control which have not been incorporated into the Soviet Union, while making concessions in land reforms to the peasants.

Another reason for the retention of capitalism in the occupied areas lies in the fear of the bureaucracy of the inevitable repercussions of setting in motion the forces of the proletarian revolution, even in caricature form in the Balkans and throughout the continent of Europe. The highly explosive situation would mean the spreading of the movement beyond the control of the bureaucracy and would threaten to have tremendous repercussions on the Red Army and the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union.

Thus, the occupation of Germany and Eastern Europe serves, for the bureaucracy, a dual purpose. It aims at defending the Soviet Union by methods which serve the reactionary aims and needs of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Such methods have nothing in common with, in fact are the negation of Leninism. In relation to the European revolution the Soviet occupation is intended for the purpose of strangling and destroying the revolution of the proletariat.

With the fall of German imperialism the defence of the Soviet Union, which formerly assumed the first importance in the tasks of the proletariat of the Soviet Union in relation to the war, now gives place to the defence of the European revolution against the Soviet bureaucracy. The Red Army is used as a weapon of counter-revolution in the hands of the Bonapartist bureaucracy. For the European proletariat the counter-revolutionary policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy assumes the form of a mortal danger.

Nevertheless, the situation is fraught with mortal danger to the Stalinist bureaucracy. Inevitably the Red Army workers and peasants will fraternise with the workers and peasants of the conquered countries. The soldiers will see the complete falsity of the propaganda of the bureaucracy as to conditions in other countries compared with those in Russia.

In general it can be said that in the coming period either the retention of capitalism in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe occupied by the USSR will serve as a starting point for the restoration of capitalism within the Soviet Union itself by providing the bureaucracy with the opportunity of acquiring the ownership of the means of production; or the bureaucracy will be forced, against its own wishes and at the risk of antagonising its present imperialist allies, to nationalise industry in the permanently occupied countries, acting from above and, if possible, without the participation of the masses.

The Fourth International, while explaining the nature of the Soviet Union and the necessity of its defence from world imperialism, will expose the counter-revolutionary role of the bureaucracy in relation to the European and world revolution. At the next stage the main task in the defence of the Soviet Union lies in the defence of the European revolution against the conspiracy of the Stalinist bureaucracy with world imperialism. Where the Red Army, which remains under the control of the bureaucracy as an instrument of its policy, is used to crush and destroy the movement of the masses towards revolution, or in the supression of workers' uprisings and insurrections, the Fourth International will call on the workers to oppose the Red Army with all the means in their power, including strikes, armed force, etc, while appealing to the Red Army soldiers to remember the mission of October and come over to the side of the working class. The defence of the Soviet Union can best be served by an extension of October, and the revival of soviet democracy within the Soviet Union.

The Great Russian Stalinist bureaucracy stifles the national aspirations of the national minorities within the Soviet Union. While subordinating the struggle for independence to the defence of the Soviet Union, the Revolutionary Communist Party stands for the right of the Ukrainian, Baltic and other Soviet minorities to secede from the Stalinist Soviet Union and form independent socialist states. But the secession is a reactionary utopia unless it is conceived of as part of a struggle for soviet democracy, the overthrow of Stalinism, and for the unification of the democratised USSR with the United Socialist States of Europe.

During the course of the war the separation of the bureaucratic caste from the masses and its elevation above them, has received tremendous impetus. Nothing remains of the gains of October except the basic conquest: nationalised property. Power has passed from the hands of the civil bureaucracy to the military bureaucracy with the galaxy of marshals at its head. Contradictory processes are taking place in the Soviet Union. On the one hand the course of the war has accelerated the proletarianisation of new strata of the population, of women and even children. Thus, the Soviet proletariat today cannot be far short of the number of proletarians in the United States. On the other hand, the differentiation between the bureaucracy and the masses, assumes more and more a capitalist character. Thus, two opposite tendencies are revealed. The capitalist tendencies look more and more to the capitalist West, the vices of which the Soviet bureaucracy has completely assimilated. The Soviet masses are well aware of the crimes of the bureaucracy, of whom they have an intense hatred. The victorious workers, peasants and soldiers will present their account to the Soviet bureaucracy on the morrow. The victories of the Red Army cannot but have imbued the Soviet masses with a tremendous elan and self-confidence. They will not so easily acccept the impositions and excuses of the bureaucracy once the danger from capitalist intervention has declined. The war and the Herculean struggle have thrust the mass of the population out of their despair and apathy. The war has been the means of revolutionising Soviet society no less than that in capitalist countries.

The victories of the Soviet Union are a capital for the world revolution, both in the effects on the masses in Europe and the world, as well as in their preservation of nationalised economy. But it is necessary for the working classes to understand the dual, contradictory process.

On the one hand the victories of the Red Army arouse echoes of the October revolution in the European masses; on the other hand the bureaucracy uses the Red Army and its agencies – the Communist Parties – for the purposes of strangling the proletarian revolution.

From a purely economic point of view, even with bureaucratic excesses and the stifling of the initiative of the masses, the Soviet Union will probably be in a position to restore production within a few years, to the level achieved before the war. Further economic successes could he maintained, but that is not to say that the war has not had profound effects upon Soviet economic life, or that post-war economic developments in the Soviet Union will take place smoothly and without crises. During the past four years the whole economy has been adapted to an almost exclusive production of war equipment. The remarkable productive results which have been obtained, have been won only at great cost – the wearing out of machinery, the elimination of consumers' industries, the physical exhaustion of the workers. Consequently in the future, we can expect sharp crises arising out of the disproportions inside the Soviet economy; crises such as occurred in the pre-war years and which no amount of 'planning' by the bureaucracy can overcome, since they are basically due to the fact that the nationalised economy of the Soviet Union is an isolated and not a world economy.

The already existing disproportions between the various branches of Soviet economy, between light and heavy industry, between industry and agriculture, have all been greatly accentuated as a result of the war. In particular the position of agriculture, which had even by 1941 not yet completely recovered from the ravages of the period of forced collectivisation and which has been largely devastated by the present war, will pose problems not capable of final solution within the framework of the isolated economy of the Soviet Union.

But nevertheless, the advantages of the nationalised economy are such, that despite those economic contradictions, and within their framework, great productive achievements are possible upon a scale and at a speed far beyond the powers of even the most advanced capitalist states.

The differentiation within the Soviet Union has reached such proportions that the perspectives resolve themselves into three possibilities:

  1. It is theoretically not excluded that on the basis of an ascending economy, the bureaucracy could maintain itself for a further period of years;
  2. The further degeneration of the Soviet bureaucracy would prepare the way for capitalist restoration;
  3. The proletarian resurgence would result in the overthrow of the bureaucracy and the restoration of Soviet democracy.

The bourgeoisie of the world, and above all Anglo-American imperialism, is staking everything on the internal degeneration taking place within the Soviet Union. Through economic pressure from without and the reaction within, they are hoping to restore capitalism in the USSR. On the basis of the victory of the reaction in Europe and Asia, they hope eventually to restore capitalism, if necessary by military means. Meanwhile, despite sharp clashes, they are compelled to defer the settlement of this account and to utilise the services of the Kremlin to strangle the revolution, which directly and immediately threatens the very existence of capitalism in Europe and Asia. Thus the bourgeoisie utilise the services of the bureaucracy today in the hour of mortal danger of capitalism, in order to strangle the Soviet Union when the crisis has been surmounted.

But despite the proportions to which the bureaucracy has grown, the situation presents favourable factors for the resuscitation of workers' power. The economic conquests are in contradiction with the stranglehold of the bureaucracy, which becomes an increasing burden on the economy of the country. The power of the traditions of October, even overlaid as it is with the bureaucratic filth, has been shown in the war. Coming events will reveal many surprises for the world bourgeoisie as well as for the Stalinist bureaucracy. Collective ownership, which has revealed its superiority in peace as in war, now finds itself in sharper conflict with the bureaucracy. It will be in the political crisis which the aftermath of the war will bring, that the full weakness of the bureaucracy will be shown. Collisions between the workers and peasants, between the soldiers demanding the fruits of victory and the usurpers, are inevitable. It is in these clashes that the mighty Soviet proletariat, and its vanguard the Fourth Internationalists, with its tradition of three revolutions and two victorious wars, will find itself once again.

The National Question in Europe

Despite the ease with which the nazi war machine overran all Europe, but a few years were needed to reveal that the conquest was illusory. The nazis were incapable of holding down the suffering peoples for whom the conquest meant intensified poverty and famine, on top of the insufferable burden of a totalitarian alien yoke. Without a clear class programme as the basis of their struggle, and at the cost of innumerable victims, the masses still succeeded in undermining the nazi domination of Europe.

The ruling class of the conquered countries, willingly or unwillingly, joined hands with the nazi overlords and became managers and junior partners of the conquerors. The champions of 'national dignity' and 'national unity' in the hour of defeat, united with the oppressor against the mass of their own nation. Class interests, like water, find their own level.

If the nazis succeeded with the aid of Quislings, backed by the SS with its torture and terror, in maintaining a precarious hold for a time, this was due to the assistance rendered them by the policies of social democracy and Stalinism. The appeal to national chauvinism could not but aid the German imperialists to draw the German worker and peasant behind them in the 'struggle between the races'; it could not but act as a national cement for the nazi gangsters and the German bourgeoisie. Faced with the choice between national enslavement of others, or themselves becoming nationally enslaved, the German soldiers continued to act as forces of occupation, no doubt with bitterness in their hearts. An internationalist socialist appeal from the mass illegal organisations of the working class, or from the leadership of the Soviet Union, and a systematic campaign of class fraternisation would have echoed, and had results in the far corners of the German Reich and nazi empire. But such an appeal was never made. Systematic class fraternisation and action was never organised.

Our Attitude to the Resistance Movements

Organised resistance to the foreign oppressor was initiated by the Stalinists, social democrats, petty bourgeois parties and sections of the bourgeoisie. Within the heterogeneous groups which formed the resistance, the class contradictions and antagonisms found sharp and organised expression, and in some countries came to the point of civil war.

In Poland, Yugoslavia and in Greece, the sharp division resulted in dual and rival movements of resistance. Zervas(2) and EDES were representative of the old feudal capitalist reaction, who at certain stages even rested upon the nazis as against Tito and Siantos, who in turn represented the plebian masses. To a lesser extent, this same division was to be found in all the occupied countries; as in France, with the Maquis and the FTP.

In the clashes and armed struggles which took place from time to time, the 'left' wing, or elements of the resistance resting directly on the revolutionary sections of the people, were forced under the pressure of class antagonisms into collisions with the elements representing the bourgeoisie. Despite the 'national', non-class policy of betrayal by the leadership, the movement represented the strivings and pressure of the masses for a class solution, thus, the revolutionary socialists were duty bound to give critical support to the left wing against the right.

But even the left wing of the resistance movement was not based on broad committees, but on an agreement of the parties. As such it was a bloc of parties, and particularly in face of the Quisling role of the bulk of the bourgeoisie, it was a caricature of the popular front. Despite the support of thousands of loyal proletarian fighters, who saw in these left sections of the resistance movement an answer to their class aspirations, the chauvinist petty bourgeois programme, leadership and activity of the resistance bloc, characterised it as a direct agency of imperialism.

In the midst of the imperialist war, all the objective conditions are such that a genuine struggle for national liberation and a break-up of the alliance with imperialism, could only have been undertaken on the basis of a socialist programme, under the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe. Organised struggle on any other basis, on the policy of both wings of the resistance was to aid one bloc of imperialists in the midst of the war.

The Trotskyists, therefore, could not dip their banner by entering into the bloc of parties and support this caricature popular front. Whilst supporting and where possible, giving leadership to every real move of the masses: strikes, demonstrations, and armed clashes, the Trotskyists had the duty to denounce the resistance bloc as such, and its leadership as an arm and agency of Anglo-American imperialism, hostile to the class interests of the working class.

In opposition to the military formations of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois-inspired resistance movement the proletarian party has the duty to counterpose, and wherever possible, to organise independent military formations of the working class as well as its own independent military formations.

Implacable hostility to the 'resistance bloc' is supplemented by flexible tactics in the operation of party policy. The organisations of the resistance were important fields for revolutionary activity. The revolutionary party had the duty to send its cadres into the resistance movements counterposing a proletarian to a bourgeois and petty bourgeois programme, helping to destroy the influence of the bourgeoisie over militant sections of the working class, and organising a conscious proletarian opposition to the policy of chauvinism and the chauvinistic leaders.

The 'liberation' of the continent by Anglo-American imperialism posed the problem of the class struggle in an acute form. With the lifting of the heavy hand of totalitarian suppression by German imperialism, the national question tended to be thrust into the background. Only a prolonged military occupation over a period of years by the forces of Anglo-American imperialism and of the Stalinist bureaucracy, could raise the national question to an important place in the politics of the European continent. The indirect oppression and exploitation by the big three powers, the military intervention on the side of the old ruling class against the proletariat would tend rather to raise the class issues in the consciousness of the European peoples. It is in the case of Germany that the national problem will assume an acute character with the dismemberment and subjugation of Germany by the Allies.

Classic Conditions for the Proletarian Revolution

The majority of the European bourgeoisie, which has already been badly shaken by the great mass movements of a few years preceding the outbreak of the war, proved incapable of leading the nations which they had summoned to the 'defence of the fatherland'. Further demoralised by the military defeat, without perspective, and filled with hatred for their own working class, almost the entire ruling class of the conquered countries fraternised with the enemy and organised the joint exploitation together with the foreign oppressor, of the mass of their own nation. Thus, as Quislings they earned the hatred of the overwhelming mass of the workers and petty bourgeoisie.

The victory of the Allies now finds the bourgeoisie seeking to play the same role for the 'liberators' as they did for the 'conquerors'. Without stable organs of state oppression, panic-stricken in the face of the mounting wrath of the masses, demoralised and without that confidence which is essential to an exploiting ruling class, they are completely dependent on allied bayonets for the continuation of their rule.

At the other pole, the mass of the working class no longer wants the old regime. The experience of a generation of capitalist rule since the last world war, plus a demonstration of the role of their own ruling class under the nazi occupation; unemployment and starvation, fascism and national humiliation; the recognition that whilst the masses carried the struggle against the foreign oppressor, the ruling class collaborated and enriched themselves; and finally, the gigantic victories of the Red Army with all its associations with the October revolution – all these factors have resulted in a transformation of the outlook of the working masses.

The workers of Europe are breaking with bourgeois parliamentary politics and social democratic reformism and are turning to revolutionary politics and communism – unfortunately at this stage to the Stalinist parties, its caricatured and distorted form.

Total war and the defeat accelerated the concentration of capital and the ruination of the middle class especially in the towns. In their hundreds and thousands the petty bourgeoisie has been rudely pushed down into the ranks of the workers. They have been forced into the factories and slave labour camps; they have been proletarianised. On the background of working class radicalisation a corresponding change has taken place within the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie.

As always, the most oppressed strata of the population – the women and the youth – have had to bear the greatest burdens of the war, and here too, particularly among the youth the desire for a radical change and a communist solution of the problems of the day has taken a firm hold.

Thus all the objective conditions for the overthrow of capitalism and the introduction of socialism are clearly in existence. But the subjective factors are not yet established. The mass revolutionary parties of the Fourth International have not yet been created. To transform the small Trotskyist groups and parties into the fighting leadership of the working class is the most important question facing our comrades in Europe. Without mass Trotskyist parties the masses, blindfolded by social democracy and particularly by Stalinism will batter their heads in vain against the ramparts of capitalism.

Only the numerical weakness of the cadres of the Fourth International and the isolation of our comrades, gives the ruling class the possibility of a breathing space. The leadership of the bourgeoisie is aware of its own class needs, despite its demoralisation. They must at all costs crush the working class; but they lack the forces to do so at the moment.

The Experience of Greece

The events in Greece(3) marked the beginning of a new phase of revolution and counter-revolution within Europe. In this tiny country, where the explosive force of centuries of class antagonism has accumulated and which has been in turmoil for three decades, civil war broke out and was followed by a ruthless and brutal war of intervention by the British imperialists.

In the conflict between royalists and republicans during the past generation, the bourgeoisie, incapable of taking decisive action against the feudal landlords, were equally incapable of solving the problems of the democratic revolution and invariably paved the way for monarchist reaction. The restoration of King George(4) was followed by the dictatorship of Metaxas in an endeavour to restore 'tranquility' and class 'peace'. This 'experiment' was aimed at atomising the Greek working class and peasant movement which threatened to upset the old regime and move in the direction of socialist revolution – as indicated by the strikes of the workers and revolts of sections of the peasantry. The British imperialists, whose financial and strategic interests forced them to regard Greece as a sub-colony, assisted the Greek ruling class in carrying out this reactionary move.

The viciousness of the Metaxas dictatorship had already undermined the basis of the Greek ruling class and created a popular movement of revolt before the war. But the collaboration of the Greek ruling class with the German conqueror as Quislings crystallised the hostility of the masses and thus generated the explosion once the German troops had been withdrawn.

The attempt to foist the old ruling class and even the monarchy upon the masses was not to be tolerated without a struggle. The masses, who had fought a ruthless and bloody war against the SS had been largely responsible for the liberation of Greece. De facto control was in their hands through the armed organisation, ELAS. Thus, the provocation of the Greek government police in firing on unarmed demonstrators was sufficient to precipitate the armed uprising. Without preparation, organisation, or a clear idea of how to achieve their aims, the valiant Greek proletariat and peasantry went into action. But due to the lack of a revolutionary leadership, the struggle was defeated.

The Stalinist leadership diverted the movement into safe channels on the familiar pattern of the peoples' front, and the movement's social aims were placed in the straight jacket of bourgeois parliamentarism. Thus the ground was laid for defeat and capitulation on the part of the Stalinist leadership.

Once again, the Greek events demonstrated that without a revolutionary party the masses will be led to disaster especially when the class struggle leads to open civil war. Without the party the masses cannot achieve the conquest of power.

However, leaving aside the local peculiarities, Greece represented in itself a model of the problems and lessons for all Europe. Churchill's policy of unrelenting repression was dictated by considerations of imperialist strategy as much as by internal class relationships. With the Stalinist bureaucracy dominant throughout the Balkans by the occupation of the victorious Red Army, it was essential for Britain's imperialist interests in the Mediterranean to have a firm hold over Greece. Even so, in Greece, the imperialists have received an object lesson on the difficulties of an open policy of military repression in Europe. The most sober and realistic section of the ruling class in Britain was opposed throughout to the blundering, adventuristic policy of repression of Churchill. Even in a small country of six million inhabitants, the dangers of such a course of action were revealed by the development of events. British imperialism was compelled to compromise with the petty bourgeois traitors in the leadership of EAM.

The Plastiras(5) government and its successor the Vulgaris government represent an uneasy attempt to restore the equilibrium of bourgeois society in Greece. Elements of Bonapartism and military dictatorship are undoubtedly present in this set-up. Nevertheless, the compromise arrrived at with the capitulation of the Stalinist leadership, in however attenuated a form (due to the struggle of the masses and the uneasiness of the British proletariat), has left the masses with their organisations, though not completely intact, still far from being destroyed.

This uneasy balance of forces cannot last indefinitely. Either the monarchy will be restored which would inevitably lead to a systematic extermination of the organisations of the proletariat, or the reaction might still feel itself too weak and attempt to manoeuvre with a republic. Even with the latter, however, the present regime could not last long. An impulsion from below would inevitably sweep it aside and the bourgeoisie would attempt to manipulate the political scene again through its popular front agencies. However, developments in Greece will depend to a great extent on events in Western Europe, the Balkans and Britain. Only one thing is predetermined: for the next period the regime in Greece will go through one crisis after another.

The Counter-Revolution in a 'Democratic' Form

Greece has revealed the heat lightning of the revolutionary storm gathering in Europe. The bourgeoisie of the entire world has assessed these events in correct perspective. The basis of the old system has broken down throughout the whole of ruined Europe. The disappearance of Hitler and Mussolini means the end of a stable basis for reaction in Europe, at least for the next immediate period.

Under conditions of ferment and radicalisation of the masses, with the rebelliousness of the masses turning directly on the road of insurrection; with the thrice-ruined petty bourgeoisie turning away in hatred and disgust against the combines and monopolies, from the influence of capitalist reaction, the task of Anglo-American imperialism to restore 'order' to Europe, to establish the rule of capital, assumes the shape of complicated and dexterous manoeuvres. To bludgeon the masses will be difficult at this stage and it will be necessary to deceive them with the panaceas of 'progress', 'reforms', 'democracy', as against the horrors of totalitarian rule. In Europe, however, control of the situation has largely slipped out of the hands of the bourgeoisie. It is the mass organisations of the working class which will have the decisive say.

With the fall of Mussolini, the instant appearance of soviet forms of organisation organised by sections of the workers, soldiers and peasants marked the appearance of the proletariat once more on the political arena. Here too, dual power in its elementary stages was immediately apparent. But once again, the main hindrance and drag on the development of the revolution has been the policy of the old workers' parties. The consciousness of the masses is still at an elementary stage; they do not want capitalism and the old regime and have aspirations to follow the example of the Russian workers in the October revolution. But as yet they do not understand the role of the old workers' parties as brakes on the development of the struggle; as yet they do not understand the need for a mass Trotskyist party.

The whole of Western Europe presents a picture of revolutionary crises in their embryonic stages. The lifting of the heavy hand of totalitarian suppression revealed the forces that have been developing beneath the surface. In Belgium, Holland and even Scandinavia the same process of mass resistance to the oppression and the estrangement from the emigre cliques of the old 'governments' is plainly seen.

Eastern Europe presents a similar picture of the development of the molecular process of the revolution. The heroic insurrection of the Warsaw workers(6) at the approach of the Red Army even though distorted and misled by the London Committee, is indicative of the mood of the masses of Poland. The calculated betrayal of Warsaw by the Stalinist bureaucracy underlined the counter-revolutionary role which it played in Europe and the world.

It would be true to say that faced with mass revolutionary parties of the working class in Europe, the position of the bourgeoisie would be hopeless. But given the weakness of the revolutionary vanguard, as Lenin explained, there is no hopeless position for the bourgeoisie. Social democracy saved capitalism after the last war. Today there are two traitor 'internationals' at the service of capital – Stalinism and social democracy. They, together with the leadership of the trade union organisations which sprung up once again immediately the pressure of the nazis was lifted, offer themselves as hirelings of capital.

The SS found it an impossible task to control Europe. After their experience, the bourgeoisie realises the impossibility of controlling the masses by similar means at this stage of reawakening. They find a ready and willing tool in the shape of the social democratic and Stalinist organisations to dam the revolutionary upsurge of the masses into safe and harmless channels of class collaboration through an even more degenerate form of popular frontism than existed in the past. Thus, they will combine repressions with illusory reforms. Smashing the embryo organs of workers' rule and disarming the masses, while simultaneously proclaiming their desire for 'representative' government and 'democratic' liberties. There is no other way whereby they can curb the upsurge of the masses towards the overthrow of the capitalist system. True, the counter-revolution of capital in its early stages, will, within a short period of time following the establishment of military government, assume a 'democratic' form. The bourgeoisie will combine the granting of illusory concessions with reprisals and repressions against the revolutionary forces.

The approaching revolution in Europe can be no other than the proletarian revolution. However, in its early stages it is inevitable that the old organisations of the proletariat should succeed in placing themselves at the head of the masses. The masses will learn only through a new experience, however brief, that these organisations represent the interests of the class enemy. And while absolutely clear on what they do not want, the masses are not clear about the means by which to achieve their ends. Thus, all the factors make for a period of Kerenskyism(7) in the first stages of the revolution in Europe.

Anglo-American imperialism perceives the inevitability of the fall of Franco and with it revolutionary disturbances throughout the Iberian Peninsula once Hitler has disappeared from the scene. With the discontent of the masses increasing, Anglo-American imperialism is already negotiating and manoeuvring with sections of the Spanish bourgeoisie, with Franco and with emigre politicians for the purpose of heading off the revolutionary insurrection of the masses. An insurrection in Spain threatens to have too serious effects in the rest of Europe. Hence their search for a Spanish Badoglio(8) to ensure a 'safe' and 'peaceful' transition from the doomed Franco regime. Whether their efforts are successful or not, the movement of the masses can only be temporarily delayed thereby. However, the serious representatives of finance-capital have learned far more from the experiences of the past decades than the perfidious 'leaders' of the working class. To them the problem of transition from one regime to another is determined by how best the interests of the ruling class can be served and safeguarded.

It is clearly impossible for the bourgeoisie of Britain and America to impose an alien totalitarian yoke on the peoples of Europe for any length of time. Especially important in this connection is the role of the Kremlin. While deadly afraid of the victory of the proletarian revolution, the Kremlin is interested in preserving, wherever possible, the maximum freedom of movement for their agencies, the local Communist Parties. The victory of reaction throughout Europe spells a new and greater danger of imperialist intervention against the Soviet Union on a continental scale. Thus, the policy of the Soviet bureaucracy is that of ensuring the rule of capital, but with the existence of the workers' movement as a safeguard against the bourgeoisie. The broad mass of the peoples of Europe look towards the Soviet Union as the banner-bearer of socialism. The capitalist democracies for the present, are compelled to reconcile themselves to this factor, and on the basis of the preservation of capitalism in Europe, are willing – and indeed have no other choice – than to compromise with the Soviet bureaucracy.

The experience of the Russian revolution, of the German Revolution of 1918, of the Spanish revolution of 1931, all reinforce these conclusions. The upsurge of the masses led to the fall of the monarchy in Spain and the proclamation of the Republic by the bourgeoisie. A coalition government of bourgeois republicans and socialists proclaimed radical programmes on paper, while conducting repressions against workers and peasants. Such a government could not be long lasting. The regime of the Spanish republic was a regime of crises. A period of ebbs and flows, of reaction and radicalisation, culminating finally in half a decade in the bourgeoisie and proletariat attempting to find a solution in sanguinary and desperate civil war.

The Spanish pattern of events will be manifested on an all European scale in the coming period. Backward as well as advanced countries are faced, in some degree or other, with the same crisis. From the Volga to the North Sea, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, nearly all Europe has been reduced to ruins and chaos. A stable basis for bourgeois democracy is thus excluded. Even the relative 'stability' of the Spanish republic will not be achieved. The most revolutionary period in European history is heralded by the events in Italy and Greece.

The Allied Programme for Europe

The Allied programme for Europe, because of the deeper crisis of capitalism, is far more terrible in its provisions than even the Versailles Treaty. Instead of the forcible unity of one gigantic concentration camp which was the aim of the nazis, the Allies wish to atomise and split up Europe on the lines which so signally led to catastrophe after the last war. Europe is to become the prey of British and American imperialism, with sections of Europe as satellites of and within the sphere of the Soviet bureaucracy.

Even under capitalist auspices, a united Europe would loom as too formidable a rival and threat for British and American imperialism. The Soviet bureacracy is unalterably opposed to the prospect of the unification of even part of the continent in capitalist federations, because it would inevitably become the basis for a new war against the Soviet Union in the future. Hence Stalin, together with Truman(9) and Churchill, is committed to the Balkanisation of Europe and the dismemberment of Germany as the only possible formidable foe in a future war on the continent of Europe.

American imperialism with its huge resources and productive capacity, is driven to attempt the 'organisation' of the entire world in an endeavour to escape the consequences of the insoluble contradictions between the capacities and limitations of even the great American market. America seeks to usurp the age-old dominance of Europe – above all of decaying and enfeebled British imperialism – and to grab the markets of the entire world. Not satisfied with the markets of the colonial countries, America wishes to establish a stranglehold on the markets and industries of Europe as well. She wants the dollar to reign over the currencies and economy of Europe. Taking advantage of the chaos and disorganisation of Europe caused by the war, American finance capital hopes to put Europe on rations by means of loans and the weapon of food, supplies and equipment, while simultaneously at moments of stress and turmoil, blackmailing and buying off the revolutions by the same means.

The savagery of Anglo-American imperialism in relation to Germany is dictated not only by the programme of subjugation and exploitation, but by fear of the proletarian revolution in Germany. The German people have had the experience of all the regimes of bourgeois rule within a few decades. The proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie will inevitably turn in the direction of the socialist revolution.

It is in Germany that the bourgeoisie will discover the utopian character of their schemes to retain the old system. All attempts to punish fraternisation will collapse with the occupation of Germany for any length of time. The Tommies(10) and the Doughboys will consider their mission in Europe completed. They will demand demobilisation and a return home to the better world promised them by the bourgeoisie. The struggle of the German proletariat against the occupation forces, against the national humiliation and dismemberment of Germany, the struggle for national and social freedom, will prepare the way, under the very heel of the occupying forces, for a tremendous resistance on the part of the masses.

With their reactionary programme of national enslavement, the Stalinists can hope to bamboozle the German masses for only the briefest of periods. The way is being prepared for a rapid regroupment of forces of the German proletariat in a revolutionary direction. The experience of Italy is an object lesson on how quickly the masses can recover from the effects of terrible defeats under the impact of historic events. The resources and capacity for struggle of the proletariat seem virtually inexhaustible.

The Balkanisation of Germany and Europe, the Anglo-American domination of Western Europe, the claims of France, the domination of Eastern Europe by the Kremlin through bourgeois puppets, will have even more frightful consequences than the 'peace' of Versailles on the tortured continent. In the epoch of aeroplanes and panzer divisions, the absurdity of national frontiers, customs barriers and armies, of small and large states in Europe, assumes a particularly baleful character for the slow and painful strangulation of the productive forces and the decline of European culture. Particularly as the great powers – included among which are none of the European powers, for the first time – will bleed all Europe for their own ends. The next stage will become the classic period of the epoch of wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions, deepened and intensified by the history of the past decades.

It is possible, on the basis of the support rendered to world imperialism by Stalinism and classical reformism (and this is one of the objective factors to be reckoned with) that world imperialism can succeed, for a period, in 'stabilising' bourgeois democratic regimes in certain countries. Stalinism must offer the masses some gains in the shape of restoration of the trade unions, free (relatively, as in Spain in 1931) press, speech, voting, etc, in however attenuated a form. The imperialists need a 'democratic' interlude before taking the road of reaction. Moreover, they have no other choice. The shocks of the war and the debacle of fascism leave no mass basis for reaction in the immediate period ahead. The attempt to set up military dictatorships without social support would be very difficult. Moreover, such regimes could not survive for very long once the British and American troops were compelled to withdraw. The stormy impulsion of the masses compels them to bring forward their reserve weapon in the shape of the labour organisations.

It is possible, on the other hand, that in isolated instances the Anglo-American imperialists and the national bourgeoisie will succeed in immediately introducing military dictatorships. But without a social basis among the masses, these could not be long enduring. On the background of European and world social unrest and clashes such regimes would be faced with crises and convulsions.

Our estimate of the development of events does not mean that we draw pessimistic conclusions. Rather the contrary. But it does demand that the Fourth International utilise the situation in order to prepare for the shocks that await the imperialists. Ours is an epoch of sharp turns. The changes in the situation in Spain following the revolution of 1931(11) developed with tremendous rapidity: upsurge of the masses, sell-out of the reformists, incapacity of the anarcho-syndicalists and Stalinists to give a revolutionary lead (particularly on the democratic and transitional demands). The short period of lull in which reaction prepared its forces to settle with the masses on the basis of disillusionment and despair engendered by their leadership; the masses respond to the whip of the counter-revolution by general strike and insurrection in Asturias and Catalonia; the reaction is unable to consolidate itself; the masses revive, the formation of the People's Front as a bridle for the masses; the February elections; stormy movements of the workers and peasants which the Stalinists and reformists are unable to control; a movement in the direction of the socialist revolution; the July coup of Franco and the answering insurrection of the masses.

Here we have a glimpse of the next period in Europe. The cadres of the Fourth International must study with great care the lessons of these events. To each stage correspond different slogans and tactics, different methods of agitation and propaganda, different actions on the part of the masses.

On this background of crises which extends more or less over the entire continent, spreading across the archaic national boundaries, the objective conditions are created for the establishment of a Socialist United States of Europe as the only solution to the problems which rack every country.

The implications of the war, the struggle of the peoples against Nazi domination, the example of the federation of the USSR, the coming reaction against the Allied domination, the inevitable reaction against nationalist intoxication and chauvinism, the radicalisation of the European masses – all these factors supply also the subjective basis for propaganda for the Socialist United States of Europe to which the masses will respond. As the cord which binds the programme of the Fourth International together, the main strategic slogan will be the United Socialist States of Europe as the only alternative to national decay and disintegration, decline of culture and civilisation in all the countries of Europe.

Our Tasks in Europe

The Fourth International will penetrate the broad masses and build the party of socialist revolution only with a correct tactical approach to the changing situations and moods.

It would require a whole series of terrible defeats before the bourgeoisie could establish an open dictatorial rule on the lines of the fascist regimes of Hitler and Mussolini. The cycle begins all over again, but on a new basis. The decay of the capitalist system weakens the bourgeoisie and renders it less capable of firmly riveting its rule on the masses. It is 1917-21 with which the world is faced – but on a higher level. The degeneracy of the rotted workers' organisations gives capitalism a breathing space. Only if the series of revolutions fails can the bourgeoisie hope to save its system once again by resorting to a neo-fascism of monstrous reaction and repression. Before then the masses will have been put to the test. The proletariat will discard its old organisations if the Fourth international in its strategy and tactics is capable of integrating itself with the mass movement of the workers.

The basic task in this period is the building of the mass revolutionary parties of the Fourth International. While striving for and advocating the setting up of ad hoc organisations of struggle wherever the opportunity arises, while struggling for and advocating the dictatorship of the proletariat as the only solution, our European comrades cannot hope to achieve this in the first stages of the struggle. True, the masses are seeking the socialist solution; but they will have to go through the experience in action of the policy of betrayal of Stalinism and social democracy in order to learn that even the old standards of life can be obtained only by the rule of the working class.

The struggle for democratic, economic and transitional demands, far from being superceded or obsolete during the course of the revolutionary epoch ahead, assumes tremendous importance for the building of the framework of our movement. Thus, side by side with the propaganda for soviets and workers' government, at this stage there must be waged an agitation for the old organisations of the workers which still maintain the confidence and support of the masses, to break their alliance with the decadent bourgeoisie and Allied imperialism, and for the leaders to match their words with deeds. Our comrades will demand that the mass organisations which claim to represent the workers, wage a struggle to take power into their own hands. 'A Government of Socialists and Communists!' This will be the rallying cry which will be utilised by the Fourth International to mobilise the social democratic and communist workers to wage a struggle against the capitalist class.

Together, and side by side with this, must go the demand for general elections on the basis of universal suffrage from the age of eighteen years. The bourgeoisie and the reformist organisations are prattling about democratic rights, but they have allowed power to remain in the hands of bourgeois cliques, for the most part under the protection of Allied bayonets, without consulting the masses or receiving a mandate from them. Thus, the demand for a general election and the convening of a constituent assembly must play a great role in the agitation of our comrades in the first stages of the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses. Together with these will be linked the transitional slogans in various industries at varying stages of the struggle: Nationalise the banks without compensation! Take over the mines, railways and big combines and industry, and operate them under workers' control! Expropriate the trusts which yesterday collaborated with Hitler and today collaborate with the Allied imperialists! A plan of public works! A sliding scale of hours and wages! The arming of the workers and the organising of workers' militias! There is no need to detail all the demands which will be put forward, according to the development of the situation as laid down in the policy of the Fourth International in its Transitional Programme. These demands are not in contradiction with the programme of soviets, of workers' committees in the factories and streets. But without them there is a danger that the groups of the Fourth International would degenerate into sectarian sterility and isolation. They represent a bridge to the broad masses and without them the problem of organising the vanguard is rendered doubly difficult.

It is in periods such as this that the party of the Fourth International will build itself. The Stalinist and social democratic parties will not attain the stability they achieved in the pre-war era. They will be faced with a constant series of crises and splits. Given correct tactics the parties of the Fourth International will grow at their expense. However, ephemeral, centrist currents and groupings are bound to make their appearance in many countries owing to the weakness of the organisations of the Fourth International and their lack of authoritative spokesmen, such as Leon Trotsky. Authority will be built up on the basis of the ability of the young cadres of the International to learn for themselves in the course of the struggles, and on the basis of the masses' experience of the application of the programme of the Fourth International.

Go back to The Unbroken Thread contents page or go on to next section Democracy or Bonapartism in Europe – A Reply to Pierre Frank


(1) The coalition of Germany, Italy and Japan which originated in 1936.

(2) Napoleon Zervas was the head of EDES (Greek Democratic National League) which while participating in resistance against the nazis, became a tool of British imperialism and Greek monarchists in the civil war of 1944-49. George Siantos was head of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) 1942-5. Tito (Josip Broz) led the partisan resistance to the occupation of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav CP broke with Moscow in 1948 (see Reply to David James). The Maquis were the resistance fighters in the provincial areas of occupied France, while the FTP were the CP-led underground operating mainly in urban areas.

(3) The German occupation of Greece collapsed in early October 1944, in the face of a full scale war of liberation waged by the Greek workers and peasants organised in ELAS (Greek National Liberation Army), the military wing of the CP-led EAM (National Liberation Front). British troops were only landed after the German forces had evacuated Athens, with the aim of reestablishing the Greek monarchy and preventing power remaining in the hands of the armed masses. Civil war broke out in December 1944 when the British forces began to disarm ELAS. An armistice was signed in February 1945, but the civil war reerupted from 1946 until 1949, leaving 158,000 dead.

(4) King George II was king of Greece 1913-24. Restored to the throne in 1935, he made Ioannis Metaxas premier. Metaxas assumed dictatorial powers from 1936-41.

(5) General Nicholas Plastiras of the National Progressive Union became the Prime Minister of the puppet pro-British regime in December 1944. Admiral Vulgaris, Commander of the Greek Fleet, was responsible for crushing an anti-fascist mutiny on ships in Alexandria harbour, April 1944. He took over from Plastiras in April 1945.

(6) In August 1944, the Warsaw workers rose up against the occupying German army. Within two days they controlled the city. However, the Russian army which was within 15 miles of Warsaw, having been checked by the German army, made no attempt to advance for several weeks, leaving the workers to fight alone. Stalin described the rising as a 'reckless adventure', and a 'mindless brawl led by adventurers'. After 63 days of heroic resistance, which left 93 per cent of the city destroyed and 240,000 Poles dead, the nazis regained control. The London Committee was the Polish government in exile from 1940.

(7) From the government of Alexander Kerensky which was in power in Russia from July to October 1917, containing various combinations of reformist and capitalist parties.

(8) Pietro Badoglio, Italian general, became prime minister after Mussolini's fall in 1943. He negotiated an armistice with Allies in Southern Italy, while disarming the workers in the north who had occupied the factories in opposition to the German occupation.

(9) Harry Truman, Democrat president of USA 1945-53. He developed the Truman Doctrine which gave economic and military 'aid' to countries threatened with 'interference'. He introduced the Marshall Plan of economic aid to prevent revolution in Europe in 1948.

(10) Slang term for British and American soldiers.

(11) The events following begin with municipal elections in April 1931, where a clear victory for the republican parties led to the abdication of King Alfonso. This was followed by a massive strike wave. The insurrection in Asturias took place in October 1934. The Popular Front was elected in February 1936, Franco's uprising took place in July 1936.