Felix Morrow

The First Phase of the Coming
European Revolution

A Criticism of the International Resolution
of the Fifteenth Anniversary Plenum

(December 1943)

Source: Fourth International Vol. 5 No. 12, December 1944, pp. 369–377. [1*]
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford, 2003.
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
Public Domain: Marxists’ Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists’ Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

The document, whose text follows, was rejected by the Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist movement by a vote of 51 to 5. See editorial on the Convention in this issue.Ed.

Comrade E.R. Frank, as reporter on the plenum to the New York membership meeting, stated (comrades inform me) that the plenum arrived at unanimous agreement on the international question. He referred once to the “even heated manner” of the plenum discussion, but left unspecified what the political questions were in dispute, and indicated that whatever differences there had been, they were finally resolved in unanimous agreement.

This was not Morrison’s or my understanding of the plenum decision. It becomes necessary to establish precisely what happened in the plenum.

In the course of the discussion it became clear

  1. that the plenum did not accept the contention of Comrades Warde, Frank and others that the difference between the subcommittee resolution and the Morrow resolution was no less than programmatic;
  2. that some of the points in the Morrow resolution were acceptable to Comrade Cannon;
  3. that other Comrades (Thomas, Russell) wished to see various paragraphs of the Morrow resolution incorporated in the final plenum resolution.

To facilitate this, and to arrive at a maximum possible agreement, I withdrew my resolution, joined with Morrison (who had supported my resolution) in rewriting some of its paragraphs to meet various objections, and my rewritten document was offered as a series of amendments to the resolution.

However, after a protracted discussion, the lack of time and other considerations made it impossible to consider the Morrow-Morrison amendments individually.

In my summation speech, I stated that the essential differences between the Morrow-Morrison amendments and the draft resolution could be summed up in two propositions. If these two propositions were accepted by the resolution subcommittee, there could be substantial agreement between us on the international resolution as finally edited. These two propositions were as follows:

  1. That the draft resolution erred in excluding the possibility of the use of bourgeois-democratic methods by the European bourgeoisie and its American imperialist masters; they would in all probability attempt to stem the European revolution not only by the use of military and fascist dictatorships but also where necessary by the use of bourgeois democracy.
  2. That the draft resolution erred in minimizing the Stalinist danger; we must recognize that the victories of the Red Army have temporarily strengthened the prestige of Stalinism; and we must, therefore, include in the resolution a warning of the very real danger of Stalinism to the European revolution.

Speaking after me in his summary speech, Comrade Cannon indicated that these two propositions would be acceptable to the authors of the draft resolution. This was my impression and that of Morrison and of the other members of the plenum. It is true that Comrade Cannon also added that the amendments which formulated these propositions would be accepted only insofar as they fitted into the framework of the draft resolution. This statement of Comrade Cannon did not, however, appear to modify vitally his statement that the two propositions were acceptable to the authors of the draft resolution.

On the basis of Comrade Cannon’s indication of the extent of our agreement, Comrade Morrison and I accepted the final decision of the plenum as follows: to adopt the subcommittee’s resolution in principle and to submit to the subcommittee the Morrow-Morrison amendments, the subcommittee to incorporate into the resolution those of the amendments which it considered compatible with the resolution, and Morrison and Morrow to be consulted in the writing of the final resolution. If important amendments were not incorporated by the subcommittee, Morrison and I stated, they would be discussed in the party by us in various articles in internal bulletins.

Thus, when the plenum closed, one could not really speak of unanimous or almost unanimous agreement. It was still to be seen which of the Morrow-Morrison amendments would be incorporated by the subcommittee in the final resolution, and which of them would be the subject of an educational discussion.

In preparing the final text of the resolution, the subcommittee was undoubtedly ready to consult me to the fullest extent. Unfortunately, however, I was stricken ill and the final resolution had to be drafted without such consultation. The subcommittee sought my views at the last possible moment before the resolution was sent to press, when I was still in the hospital, but my condition made it impossible for me to read it and offer further suggestions.

Had we been able to collaborate in the final editing, perhaps the area of agreement would be larger than it now is. As I shall indicate below, the subcommittee incorporated into the final resolution several sentences from the Morrow-Morrison amendments while at the same time retaining formulations of the original draft resolution which are in crying contradiction to the incorporated amendments. Perhaps in discussion with the subcommittee I would have been able to demonstrate these contradictions and persuade the subcommittee to remove them.

As the resolution stands, however, were the National Committee given the opportunity to vote on its final text, I would find it impossible to vote for it. Neither of the two propositions which I considered essential to an agreement appear in the final resolution in reasonably satisfactory form, as I shall show in some detail. Though there are no fundamental, programmatic differences, the disputed questions are important and deserve the study of the party as a whole.

After Comrade Frank and others have reported unanimous agreement, it might have come as an unpleasant surprise to the party to learn that differences remain. This could have been in large part avoided if the reporters at the membership meetings had told the membership – which had a right to know – what the plenum discussion consisted of. There was no political or organizational reason why the reporters could not have stated the nature of the political questions which were in dispute, the precise details of the final decision of the plenum, and the stated intention of Morrow and Morrison to discuss in subsequent articles those important amendments not accepted by the resolution subcommittee.

It would aid the education of the party to make a practice of publishing in the internal bulletin the important material rejected or modified by a plenum. The membership would thus be able better to understand how the plenum arrived at its decisions and whether these decisions were the best possible under the circumstances. For this reason alone it was necessary to publish the Morrow-Morrison amendments. It was an error on my part not to have proposed this at the plenum.

In the following pages I have attempted as far as possible, not to repeat the points made in the Morrow-Morrison amendment, or in my plenum speeches. The plenum material is taken for granted, since this is written only for N.C. members, most of whom were present.

The Danger of Ultra-Leftism

The Morrow-Morrison amendments were written from the standpoint that a plenum resolution adopted by us today must primarily occupy itself with the present and immediate future – the first phases of the European revolution. On the other hand the subcommittee resolution obviously proceeded from the point of view that its task was primarily the reiteration of programmatic fundamentals. This difference was especially apparent in the fact that the Morrow-Morrison amendments dealt in some detail with the problem of democratic demands while the subcommittee resolution ignored them entirely in its original draft.

Some of the comrades supporting the subcommittee apparently thought they had a crushing answer to the Morrow-Morrison amendments when they triumphantly quoted from the 1938 Founding Program the idea that democratic slogans are “only incidental and episodic slogans.” And this thought appears in the final resolution, which speaks of “the limitations and subordinate character of democratic slogans as a means of mobilizing the masses for revolutionary action.”

“Episodic,” “incidental,” “subordinate” – with these adjectives Comrades Warde, Frank and Cannon sought to minimise the importance of democratic slogans in the coming revolution.

The absurdity of their position should become clear when we answer the question: what are democratic slogans “incidental” or “subordinate” to? Democratic slogans are subordinate to transitional slogans and to programmatic fundamentals; democratic slogans must be constantly connected, in our agitation, to transitional slogans and programmatic fundamentals. That is all that is meant by “incidental” and “subordinate.” Obviously, then, it follows that at any time this side of the successful revolution democratic slogans still have an important place in our agitation. The fact that tactics (democratic slogans) are subordinated to strategy (dictatorship of the proletariat) does not absolve us from the responsibility of outlining the character of the tactics necessary for the coming period in Europe. The fact that democratic slogans are “incidental” and “episodic” does not do away with the fact that more than one revolutionary party has broken its neck by its failure to understand the crucial role of democratic slogans – that before it could make the revolution it first had to win a majority of the proletariat, and that this majority could be won in part only through a phase, “episodic” but indispensable, of democratic demands. That was the terrible lesson we should have learned for all time from the abortive Spartacist uprising of January 1919.

In a revolutionary situation, a democratic demand may be of enormous importance – the way to win the masses to the revolutionary party. To name but one example – the demand for the immediate convocation of the Constituent Assembly, which played such an enormous role in the Russian Revolution and is certain to play an equally important role in one or more of the European revolutions. Let me remind the Comrades that the Bolshevik withdrawal from and boycott of the Pre-Parliament, which was the curtain-raiser to the insurrection, was carried out under the slogan of immediate convocation of the Constituent Assembly. One has only to cite such a concrete example of a democratic demand to indicate the empty ultra-leftist-radicalism of the resolution’s emphasis on “the limitations and subordinate character of democratic slogans as a means of mobilizing the masses for revolutionary action,”

In the plenum discussion, a number of supporters of the draft resolution justified its passing over the problem, of democratic demands and its preoccupation with reiterating programmatic fundamentals, by referring to the danger within the Fourth International of opportunism and revisionism. The one item of evidence to which these comrades referred was the Three Theses of a small group of European comrades (published in the Dec. 1942 FI).

Comrade Logan answered this argument irrefutably. He agreed, as we all agree, that the Three Theses constitute a revisionist and opportunist tendency. But he insisted that we should make a systematic investigation of and give the correct weight to all the existing tendencies in the international. In actual fact, the authors of the Three Theses represent no one but themselves, are simply an aberration of the emigration. Far more significant than the Three Theses has been the consistently ultra-leftist course of our official British section and its consequent deterioration. And this ultra-left deviation took place in a whole section and one which was operating in its own country under conditions of legality and with many possibilities of a healthy development. Thus the present evidence is that within the International the danger of ultra-leftism is far more likely than the danger of opportunism.

To Logan’s argument one can add the rich lessons of the first years after the last war. The young parties of the Comintern suffered primarily not from opportunism but from ultra-leftism. It was against this tendency that Lenin in 1920 wrote ‘Left Wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder. If, despite the tremendous prestige of the victorious Bolsheviks, the Comintern was so pervaded by ultra-leftist deviations, the same phenomenon is far more likely to confront the Fourth International at the end of this war.

If the leadership of the American party feels it necessary in international resolution today to remind our European comrades that democratic slogans are “incidental” and “subordinated” to the grand strategy (dictatorship of the proletariat) of the revolution, then at the very least we should simultaneously and with equal emphasis warn our European comrades that the best strategic line may lead to ruin if it is not coupled with the timely raising of tactical slogans, i.e. those democratic and transitional demands which are appropriate to the consciousness of the masses at the given moment.

Isolation, such as the Fourth International parties have always had to endure, can be weathered only by the utmost programmatic intransigence. But to live in isolation with one’s programmatic banner nailed to the mast tends to breed an inflexibility unfavorable to an intelligent understanding of the use of democratic and transitional demands when the opportunity arises to launch them in a revolutionary situation. Certainly this has been the experience of our European sections. I have already referred to the British experience; the same is true of our Spanish comrades during the revolutionary period of the civil war.

I repeat: the main danger within the Fourth International appears to me to lie in the direction of ultra-leftism. It is necessary, as we approach the first period of the European revolution, to emphasize and underline the role of democratic demands.

Finally, it must be noted that even if Comrade Cannon were correct in assuming that the main danger within the International was in the direction of opportunism, the subcommittee resolution was scarcely the way to combat that danger. The European comrades might well retort to the resolutions:

“Thank you, comrades, for repeating the programmatic fundamentals, but we also have a copy of the 1938 Founding Program and we have copies of our other programmatic documents. And we study the program as well as you do. What we want to know from you is what you think we should do in the next immediate period, what are the first problems we face, what obstacles we must overcome.”

The answer to opportunist tactics is correct tactics, not merely reiterations of the elementary principles of Marxism.

The Tempo of the Coming Revolution

It was perhaps inevitable that, in our attempt to keep the hope of revolution alive during the years of isolation since September 1939, we oversimplified the picture of what is coming. I know that more than one inexperienced comrade drew from our press a picture of the war coming toward its close, the masses rising in all countries of Europe, success crowning their efforts, meaning by success the irrevocable establishment of the Soviet power, and’ that all this would; take place within two or three years after the closing period of the war.

Not that our most authoritative documents were based on such a conception. To mention only one, let us turn to the Manifesto of the Fourth International on The Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution. In rejecting a pessimistic outlook for the future, it equally rejected a Pollyanna optimism. It posed the correct outlook in the following manner:

Will not the revolution be betrayed this time too, inasmuch as there are two Internationals in the service of imperialism while the genuine revolutionary elements constitute a tiny minority? In other words: shall we succeed in preparing in time a party capable of leading the proletarian revolution? In order to answer this question correctly it is necessary to pose it correctly. Naturally, this or that uprising may end and surely will end in defeat owing to the immaturity of the revolutionary leadership. But it is not a question of a single uprising. It is a question of an entire revolutionary epoch.

The capitalist world has no way out, unless a prolonged death agony is so considered. It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades of war, uprisings, brief interludes of truce, new wars and new uprisings.

A young revolutionary party must base itself on this perspective. History will provide it with enough opportunities and possibilities to test itself, to accumulate experience and to mature. The swifter the ranks of the vanguard are fused the more the epoch of bloody convulsions will be shortened, the less destruction will our planet suffer. But the great historical problem will not be solved in any case until a revolutionary party stands at the head of the proletariat. (Pages 40–41, my italics.)

Let us underline the words: “It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades ...” Trotsky in these words sought to prepare us for the probability that the achievement of the Socialist United States of Europe would take decades rather than the few years immediately following the closing period of the war.

Trotsky was certain, and so are we, that successful Socialist revolutions would issue out of the war. That is to say, that in one European state or another the workers would, after the maturing of their revolutionary party, successfully overthrow capitalism and establish the Soviet power. But Trotsky also wrote scores, and perhaps hundreds, of articles explaining the crucial importance of democratic demands in a revolutionary situation, i.e., he expected that after the revolutions began in Europe there would be a more or less protracted period in which the masses would follow the reformist parties.

Having at last won the masses, the revolutionary party would lead them to the establishment of the Soviet power. But the young workers’ state – or two or even more – would face world capitalist intervention. Foreign capitalist intervention, in turn, would lead internally in the proletarian states to a revival of civil war, much as it happened in the young Soviet Russian Republic.

As this conflict deepens, we are confident the proletarian power will extend to other European states, and lead in the end to the Socialist United States of Europe. But the whole process will in all likelihood not be telescoped into a few supreme, intense and swift efforts of the European proletariat. No, more likely is a perspective of decades of struggle.

This, then, is the conception of the coming revolution which should now be explained to our party. In essence, of course, this conception of the coming revolution is in no way less optimistic than the oversimplified picture which many of them undoubtedly have in their minds. In any event, it has the decisive merit of being the true picture. Moreover, those who firmly grasp it will not have their hopes dashed to the ground in the coming years. They will remain firm revolutionists no matter what obstacles arise in our path.

Let us not only praise Trotsky, but let us also, try to learn from him how to deal with political problems. One could cite dozens of examples from his writings of how, on the eve of great events or in their first days, Trotsky considered it politically necessary to estimate the probable tempo of what was to come. Almost at random, I cite a typical example – how Trotsky wrote, on May 28, 1931, under the heading The Problems of the Tempos of the Spanish Revolution:

A correct determination of the tempo of development of the revolution is of tremendous significance – if not for the determination of the basic strategic line then for the determination of the tactics. And without correct tactics, the best strategic line may lead to ruin. It is understood that to guess the tempos in advance for a prolonged period is impossible. The tempo has to be examined in the course of the struggle, making use of the most varied indicators. Moreover, in the course of events the tempo may change very abruptly. But we must nevertheless keep before our eyes a definite perspective in order to introduce the necessary connectives into it in the process of experience. (The Spanish Revolution in Danger, page 30, my italics)

Having thus enunciated why it was politically necessary to attempt to estimate the tempo of the development of the revolution, Trotsky then went on to indicate the concrete factors which led him to expect a slow development of the revolution in Spain. Such was the method which Trotsky taught us. One seeks in vain for this method in the plenum resolution.

The Morrow-Morrison amendments do attempt to estimate the tempo of the coming revolution. The amendments do not exclude the possibility of the transfer of power to the workers immediately following the fall of Nazism. And from this possibility the amendments draw the conclusion that it is necessary, as soon as the masses begin to move against the Nazi regime, or any regime which may follow as a result of a coup d’état such as occurred in Italy, to put forward the slogans of creation of workers’ councils and All Power to the Workers’ Councils.

But, the amendments then go on to state, “we must also recognize the probability that the bourgeoisie will make a serious attempt to save its rule by means of bourgeois democracy and the temporary success of such an attempt ...” Why must we recognize the probability of such a temporary success? Because of a number of crucial factors, which are then outlined in the amendments.

Among these factors which will slow the tempo of the European revolution are the revival of democratic illusions among considerable sections of the masses as a result of the fact that in Germany, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc., new generations have grown up without any experience of bourgeois democracy and without active participation in political life. After the collapse of fascism, these masses may well have to go through a certain body of experiences before they will understand that their needs cannot be satisfied within the framework of the democratic republic. Another factor making for revival of democratic illusions is the intensification of national feeling in Europe as a result of Nazi occupation; the masses in the “liberated” countries may well feel for a time that such government’s as that of de Gaulle are “our own.”

Central to a proper estimate of the tempo of the revolution is a clear understanding of the fact that the principal parties which emerged in Italy after the fall of Mussolini, were the Communist, Socialist and Action (liberal) parties. This fact shows that the traditional workers’ parties and the party of the petty-bourgeoisie were not held responsible by the masse for the decades of fascist rule. Nor could the masses test the programs of these parties under the conditions of totalitarian oppression, for programs can be tested only in the course of mass activity. We must conclude from the Italian experience that the traditional workers’ parties, as well as centrist and liberal-democratic parties, will emerge throughout Europe as the principal parties of the first period after collapse of the Nazis and their collaborators.

These factors slowing the tempo of the coming revolution can only be overcome by the growth of revolutionary Marxist parties; and such parties do not yet exist in Europe. That is why we must emphasize to our European comrades that the problem of building the party is still before them as their main task.

Amid the gigantic convulsions which will follow the collapse of fascism, we are confident that our European comrades can and may accomplish that main task in a short period. Nevertheless, it is clear that this period will be one of a series of phases of the European revolution in which the bourgeoisie will have a temporary success in saving its rule by resorting by resorting to bourgeois democracy, that is, manipulating the democratic illusions of the masses.

Thus the Morrow-Morrison amendments attempt to estimate the tempo of the revolution. One can disagree with the estimate, but at least the amendments constitute an attempt at such a politically necessary estimate.

One cannot say as much for the plenum resolution. It accepts some of the Morrow-Morrison amendments in truncated form, but evades the problem of tempo posed by the amendments as a whole.

Will the European bourgeoisie and its Anglo-American imperialist masters resort to bourgeois democracy as a means to stem the revolution? A clear answer to this question is basic to an estimate of the tempo of the revolution. For it is obvious that, if the bourgeoisie would not resort to democracy, then the democratic illusions of the masses could be dispelled by the Fourth International far more quickly. It would be relatively easy to mobilize the masses against capitalism if the capitalist class as a whole openly and unyieldingly supported dictatorship, and opposed democracy. Hence, the importance of an unambiguous answer to this question. The Morrow-Morrison amendments give such an unambiguous answer, stating that: “The bourgeoisie is prepared to evolve in the direction of a bourgeois democratic government in order to prevent the socialist revolution.”

On the other hand the plenum resolution evades, the question of the attitude of the bourgeoisie as a class toward bourgeois democracy. Note, for example, the following sentence in the plenum resolution which at first glance appears to have been taken bodily from the Morrow-Morrison amendments: “The fact that the economic preconditions for an extended period of bourgeois democracy in Europe have disappeared does not, however, put an end to the role that bourgeois and petty bourgeois democrats can play to stem the advance of proletarian revolution.” This sentence provides us with nothing more significant than the obvious fact that bourgeois democrats like Sforza and petty-bourgeois democrats like the Socialists will play a role against the proletarian revolution. It evades taking a position on the proposition of the Morrow-Morrison amendments that the bourgeoisie, i.e. not only the Sforzas but also European capitalism as a class, is prepared to evolve in the direction of a democratic government in order to stem the European revolution.

Two or three sentences further on in the plenum resolution, the same crucial question is again evaded by a similar process of incorporating a sentence from the amendments but changing it so that it loses its precise meaning. The amendments state: “When no other shield can protect them, the forces of capitalism may seek to retreat behind the protection of the democratic republic.” In the plenum resolution this is changed to: “When all other defenses crumble, the forces of capitalism will strive to preserve their dictatorship behind the facade of democratic forms, even to the extent of a democratic republic.” What does it mean to say that the bourgeoisie will “preserve their dictatorship behind the facade of democratic forms?” If all that is meant by this is the Marxist theory of the state that a democratic republic is also, in the last analysis a form of the rule (i.e. dictatorship) of the bourgeoisie, then that should be stated and no room left for ambiguity as to what is meant by dictatorship. But as the sentence stands, it implies something more; it implies that the bourgeoisie will strive to preserve not only their class rule, but also to preserve their class rule in the form of a dictatorship, dictatorship meaning what it popularly means, namely not a democratic government in the ordinary sense of the term.

Thus the ambiguities and evasions of the plenum resolution straddle between (1) maintaining the false conception of the original draft resolution of the subcommittee which explicitly denied the possibility that the bourgeoisie would resort to democratic governments and (2) making verbal but not real concessions to the Morrow-Morrison amendments which insist that the bourgeoisie will probably resort to democratic governments.

One final example of how the plenum resolution “accepts” one of the Morrow-Morrison amendments. The following paragraph was not in the original draft resolution but was “accepted” from the amendments:

The revolutionary wave may be so overwhelming as to enable the workers to take power immediately following the collapse of the fascist dictatorship. Hence it is necessary to put forward the slogans of Workers Councils (Soviets) and All Power to the Workers Councils, as soon as the masses begin to move against the fascist regime or any makeshift substitute.

Contrast this with the paragraph in the amendments from which it was “accepted”:

We do not exclude the possibility of the transfer of power to the workers immediately following the fall of fascist dictatorships. It is necessary for our comrades to take this possibility into consideration at all times and hence to put forward the slogans of creation of Workers Councils and All Power to these Councils as soon as the masses begin to move against the fascist regime or any regime which may follow as a result of a coup d’état such as occurred in Italy. But we must also recognize the probability that the bourgeoisie will make a serious attempt to save its rule by means of bourgeois democracy and the temporary success of such an attempt because of the treachery of the social reformists and Stalinists, the lack of a revolutionary party, and the insufficient political development of the working class.

To summarize on the question of the tempo of the coming European revolution. The Morrow-Morrison amendments estimate the tempo as we have outlined above. The plenum resolution, on the other hand, evades taking a position on the question and simultaneously attempts to convey the impression of a speedy success for the Socialist United States of Europe.

One’s estimate of the tempo of development of the revolution, Trotsky pointed out, “is of tremendous significance for the determination of tactics.” Determined to convey the impression of a speedy success for the Socialist United States of Europe, the authors of the draft resolution quite logically minimize the role of democratic demands. But if one recognizes the probability of a slower tempo for the development of the European revolution, and in it a period of bourgeois-democratic regimes – unstable, short-lived, but existing nevertheless for a period – then the importance of the role of democratic and transitional demands becomes obvious. For the revolutionary answer to bourgeois democracy in the first instance is more democracy – the demand for real democracy as against the pseudo-democracy of the bourgeoisie. For bourgeois-democracy can exist only thanks to the democratic illusions of the masses; and those can be dispelled first of all only by mobilizing the masses for the democracy they want and need. In this connection it would be worthwhile for all N.C. members to read again the Program of Action of the Communist League of France (1934), largely written by Trotsky, which we correctly recommended as “the model of its type for young parties approaching a pre-revolutionary situation.” (Fourth International, October 1942)

Some comrades, reading my criticisms of the resolution’s formulations on the role of bourgeois democracy, may consider that I am refusing to give the resolution the benefit of the doubt: if one only would read the formulations of the resolution with a little sympathetic understanding, one could really find agreement with them. After all, the subsection of the resolution entitled “Bourgeois Democracy” does provide a certain amount of common ground between us on the question of the role of bourgeois democracy in Europe.

Such a criticism of my approach to the resolution would be justified, if the subsection on Bourgeois Democracy, in large part consisting of modified sentences from the Morrow-Morrison amendments, were the only section in the resolution where the question of bourgeois democracy is involved.

The Methods of American Imperialism in Europe

However, if one interprets this first section of the resolution as meaning the same thing as the Morrow-Morrison amendments, then there is a flagrant contradiction between that first section and the second section of the resolution, The Counter-Revolutionary Role of American Capitalism. For then the one predicts that the European bourgeoisie and its American imperialist masters will use bourgeois democracy while the second rules out the use of bourgeois-democracy in Europe by US imperialism.

Perhaps no question is more important today for the European revolution than an analysis of the methods which American imperialism is employing and will employ for its attempted subjugation of Europe. For it is already clear that the European bourgeoisie cannot even hope to survive the coming revolutionary wave without the most direct backing from American imperialism. Already in Italy one can see that the Italian bourgeoisie can rule only as junior partners of American imperialism.

But the Italian experience has also taught us that the US imperialist support of the Italian bourgeoisie is not merely a matter of supporting Italian capitalism on American bayonets. The bayonets are there, of course, but at least equally important are American food and the illusion that the United States will solve Italy’s economic problems. We must give due weight to the undeniable fact that considerable sections of the Italian masses enthusiastically welcomed the American troops. The illusions of the masses will, of course, collide with reality more and more in the coming period, but we must recognize that for a time the covert blackmail of food and the promises of American economic aid will play a major role in shaping the Italian events. And this process will be repeated elsewhere in Europe.

In the long run, of course, US imperialism can solve none of Europe’s economic problems and will inevitably reveal itself as the ruthless exploiter which prevents European recovery. It is not enough, however, to state this long-term perspective. We must also estimate accurately the short-term perspective.

The short-term perspective is that American imperialism will provide food and economic aid to Europe and will thus for a time appear before the European masses in a very different guise than German imperialism. This difference between the two great imperialisms aspiring to subjugate Europe is based on the difference in the economic resources of the two. The Nazis had nothing to offer to Europe; they had to subjugate Europe purely by means of military force, and after conquering each country, they had to plunder it of its food and other materials. The United States, on the other hand, will in the first instance enter the occupied countries of Europe ostensibly not as their conqueror but in the course of driving out the Nazis. Unlike Nazi occupation, American occupation will be followed by improvement in food supplies and in the economic situation generally. Where the Nazis removed factory machinery and transportation equipment, the Americans will bring them in. These economic contrasts, which of course flow entirely from the contrast between the limited resources of German capitalism and the far more ample resources still possessed by American capitalism, cannot fail for a time to have political consequences.

Hence, it is quite false when the plenum resolution, without distinguishing between the long-term and short-term perspectives, says (December 1943 FI, p. 331): “Europe, today enslaved by the Nazis, will tomorrow be overrun by equally predatory Anglo-American imperialism.” Equally imperialist, yes, but not “equally predatory.” One could perhaps, permit oneself such language loosely in an agitational speech; but it has no place in a plenum resolution, which should provide a coldly precise estimate of the different methods which are being employed by different imperialisms.

Nazi imperialism could give its domination of the occupied countries only the facade of native rule. That is why the term Quislings became so appropriate. American imperialism too has sought to operate through Quislings; Darlan was little more than that; Badoglio similarly. But it should already be clear that US imperialist penetration of the occupied countries is not going to be limited to the use of Quisling regimes, i.e. regimes which rule entirely by means of force and terror and which have no support in the masses. It is true, of course, that a bourgeois-democratic regime in Italy, for example, would also be a Quisling regime in the sense that it would be dominated by American imperialism. But it may very well differ from the Nazi-dominated Quisling regimes in the sense that, through the medium of the Stalinist, Social-Democratic and bourgeois democratic parties, it could muster a majority in an election. As free as Italian elections prior to 1921.

The plenum resolution appears to agree with this conception of the variant methods available to American capitalism when it says, in its subsection on “Bourgeois Democracy” that “when this device (of military force) proves powerless to control the insurgent masses, the native capitalists, allied with they invading imperialists, will push forward their treacherous democratic social reformist and Stalinist agents in an effort to strangle the revolution in a ‘democratic’ noose.” However, the thought of this sentence, incorporated in the resolution from the Morrow-Morrison amendments, appears nowhere in the section of the resolution on the Counter-Revolutionary Role of American Capitalism. On the contrary, in that section, the authors of the resolution visualize only one method to be employed by American imperialism: “military monarchist-clerical dictatorships under the tutelage and hegemony of Anglo-American big business.” And again: “The choice, from the Roosevelt-Churchill point of view, is a Franco-type government or the specter of the Socialist revolution.” The resolution thus rules out, the third “choice,” the use of bourgeois-democratic regimes.

Incidentally, the article on The World Role of US Capitalism, by Comrade William Simmons, published in the same issue of the FI as the plenum resolution, takes the position of the Morrow-Morrison amendments and not that of the plenum resolution. Comrade Simmons writes:

Is a restoration of bourgeois democracy on the European continent – a democratic regime – possible? For a limited time, yes – as an interim regime, because of the absence of an experienced, decisive, proletarian, revolutionary leadership – as an attempt to dam up the floodgates of revolution. Such a restoration may be imposed and supported from abroad; but it can never be invested with any degree of stability. (December 1943 FI, p. 336)

I agree completely with Comrade Simmons concerning the instability of bourgeois democracy, and made this clear with wearisome repetition at the plenum. But this was not the question at issue: the issue was whether or not American imperialism might back bourgeois-democratic regimes in Europe as a way to stem the revolution. Both Comrade Simmons and I answer this question in the affirmative, the resolution answers if, falsely in the negative.

The Function of the Slogan of the Socialist United States Europe

In clarifying our conception of the coming European revolution, it is necessary now to define more precisely the place of the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe. During the plenum discussion Comrades Warde and Frank stated that there was quite a difference between them and me on this question; they said, indeed, that the difference was no less than programmatic. The final resolution has few references to the slogan, which are mutually satisfactory, but which nevertheless leave unsettled the differences which were adumbrated in the plenum. Perhaps some of the statements of Comrades Warde and Frank in the discussion may reflect merely misunderstandings on this question which deserve clarification.

To such misunderstanding I must admit that I myself have contributed. In a discussion article [1], I criticized those who define the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe “as a propaganda slogan, i.e. not at present suitable for immediate agitation.” The essential criticism I sought to make I still think correct: it was aimed against those who do not accept the slogan of a Socialist United States of Europe as the central slogan of the European movement. However, I did not serve to clarify the question when I indicated that the only correct estimate is that it is an agitation slogan and not a propaganda slogan. In making this distinction, I was defining a propaganda slogan as one which has a purely educational role for the present period and that when it becomes actual it will then cease to be a propaganda slogan and become an agitation slogan. I was thinking of the way in which Plekhanov defined propaganda as the dissemination of many ideas to a small group, and agitation as the dissemination of one main idea to great masses.

However, this otherwise useful distinction between propaganda and agitation does not serve to clarify the role of the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe. This will readily become apparent from the following considerations. We all agree, and correctly, that the Socialist United States of Europe is the central slogan for Europe. What, however, do we mean precisely by a central slogan? Some comrades appear to think it means that it is the slogan by which we shall rally the great masses for the overthrow of European capitalism. That is, that the slogan will play the same role in the coming revolution that the slogan All Power to the Soviets played in the October revolution.

But the central slogan of an epoch is not at all the same thing as the slogan or slogans under which the party leads the masses to make the revolution. The classical example of a central slogan – the slogan which determines the whole course of the revolutionary party in a period – is the slogan raised by Lenin, “Turn the Imperialist War Into Civil War.” This was the central slogan without, however, being a slogan for the masses. This central slogan was a party, a cadre slogan. That is, it served to educate the party but did not show how to win the masses to the proletarian revolution. Trotsky once characterized “Turn the Imperialist War Into Civil War” as an algebraic formula whose concrete content was yet to be found, as it was found, in “All Power to the Soviets” and other slogans. That did not mean that the Bolsheviks did not publicize “Turn the Imperialist War Into Civil War” in their literature. But the place where it is found most often is in the Bolshevik literature written in isolation and directed to party members and small circles of sympathizing workers. Once the Russian Revolution broke out, the slogan receded into the background and seldom appears in the Bolshevik press and speeches of February to October. Thus it was not one of the principal slogans around which the Bolsheviks rallied the masses. Yet anyone who has the slightest understanding of the Bolshevik strategy knows that it remained the central slogan in the sense that it was the basic motivation of Bolshevik agitation and action.

In his last unfinished article, Trotsky refers to the limited role of the central slogan, “Turn the Imperialist War Into Civil War” as follows:

The attention of the revolutionary wing was centered on the question of the defense of the capitalist fatherland. The revolutionists naturally replied to this question in the negative. This was entirely correct. But this purely negative answer served as the basis for propaganda and for training the cadres, but it could not win the masses who did not want a foreign conqueror ... True enough, the Bolsheviks in the space of eight months conquered the overwhelming majority of the workers. But the decisive role in this conquest was played not by the refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland but by the slogan: ‘All Power to they Soviets!’ And only by this revolutionary slogan! The criticism of imperialism, its militarism, the renunciation of the defense of bourgeois democracy and so on could have never conquered the overwhelming majority of the people to the side of the Bolsheviks.

There has been much misunderstanding of this distinction between the central slogan which served to train the cadres and the slogan under which the Bolsheviks overthrew capitalism. One could document this with numerous references to the literature produced by the infant communist parties after 1919, in which they used the slogan “Turn the Imperialist War Into Civil War” as if it were a magic key which would bring the masses to them. Nor did this ultra-leftist nonsense cease with the early years of the communist movement. As late as 1935 the ultra-leftists in our party, the Oehlerites, accused us of reducing Lenin’s central slogan of the last war to “merely a party slogan.”

It is my contention that the Socialist United States of Europe is the central slogan of our epoch for Europe but that it is unlikely to be the slogan under which the masses will be rallied for the direct struggle for power. This does not mean that the place of the slogan Socialist United States of Europe is precisely the same as that of “Turn the Imperialist War Into Civil War.” Obviously, the Socialist United States of Europe is capable of moving larger masses than Lenin’s central slogan. Equally obviously, however, the Socialist United States of Europe is not a mass slogan in the sense of the slogan All Power to the Soviets; it is an algebraic formula whose concrete contents will be found by us in appropriate mass slogans during the revolution similar to those the Bolsheviks employed between February-October 1917.

The best and most thoughtful of the European workers – and this means not merely cadres but hundreds of thousands and even millions – will understand that the Socialist unification of Europe is the only way out. But the best and most thoughtful workers will not be enough to make the revolution by themselves. They will succeed only by rallying behind them not merely millions but tens and hundreds of millions. And those will not be rallied by the relatively abstract conception of the Socialist United States of Europe.

The direct struggle for power will in all probability arise out of the question of which institutions shall have the authority to rule the country or the army at a given moment – bourgeois institutions like a provisional government and perhaps a revived parliament, or the representative bodies thrown up by the workers, peasants and soldiers, which will be essentially Soviets, whatever their actual name: city, regional, district or factory committees directly elected by the workers, peasants and soldiers.

These alternatives will be stark enough to compel the masses to choose one or the other. That does not mean, however, that the masses will be choosing consciously between the continuation of capitalism and the Socialist United States of Europe. It will not even mean that in Germany, for example, the masses will be choosing between Socialism or capitalism for that country. Both capitalism and Socialism are abstractions to the great masses even when they are making the proletarian revolution. The masses will be giving their mandate to the revolutionary institutions which are expressing their concrete life-needs – for bread, land and freedom – and the determination to achieve them. But it will not be a conscious mandate for Socialism or the Socialist United States of Europe.

The Stalinist Danger to the European Revolution

Comrade Wright has written more than once in recent months in our press that the Red Army and Soviet industry have revealed fighting power beyond anything we had dreamed they were capable of. That is correct; and of course we all agree that this power expresses the prodigious vitality of the October Revolution despite Stalin’s strangulation of the revolution. But, from a short-term perspective, we must also realize that this Soviet industry and this Red Army are, and are quite likely to remain for a time, in the hand of Stalin. That means that he will throw this power – which is greater that we had dreamed of – on the side of the European counter-revolution.

The Morrow-Morrison amendments attempted to indicate this Stalinist danger but they received short shrift in the final resolution. As in the draft resolution, the section entitled, Significance of the Soviet Victories consists merely of reiteration of programmatic fundamentals and of one reassuring repetition after another that Stalinism will not succeed in its counter-revolutionary plans. Even the absurd sentence in the draft resolution “explaining” the failure of the Spanish revolution was stubbornly retained: “A prewar revolution in the corner of Europe could be isolated, strangled and sold out as part of the Kremlin’s diplomatic maneuvers.” I shall not repeat here the analysis I made in my plenum speech of this sentence and the paragraph it appears in, except to recall again that, far from being isolated in a “corner of Europe,” the Spanish revolution was simultaneous with the revolutionary situation in France which Trotsky had correctly hailed with an article entitled: The French Revolution Has Begun.

At one point or another the Fourth International will be compelled to say frankly to the workers what I said in my plenum report, that the Soviet victories are not a onesided matter of progressive consequences, even though we give the main weight to the progressive consequences.

The Two-Sided Character of the Soviet Victories

The Morrow-Morrison amendments put the second side of the Soviet victories as follows:

At present because of the victories of the Red Army the prestige of the Soviet Union has grown tremendously but unfortunately it has been misappropriated by the parasitic bureaucracy: The power and ideological influence of Stalinism has been strengthened temporarily. As a result, we must recognize a serious danger to the coming European revolution. The Stalinist bureaucracy will either help the capitalist democracies in the attempt to crush the revolution, by force or, if the revolution assumes too great a sweep to be crushed, it will attempt to gain control of it in order to save its own rule. What Stalin has done in Spain he will try to repeat in other countries of Europe. The continental European revolution will surely offer stronger resistance than the Spanish proletariat, but the danger to the revolution from the, Stalinist bureaucracy is very great and we must constantly warn the masses to struggle against this danger.

This amendment was rejected by the resolution subcommittee. In its place the subcommittee only added to the draft resolution the sentence that: “Stalin, exploiting the enhanced prestige of the Soviet Union as a result of the Red Army victories, seeks to gain control of the popular movements in Europe ...” And this sentence is larded in between many paragraphs of reassurances that Stalinism will fail, so that the whole effect is precisely the opposite of that sought by the Morrow-Morrison amendments: we wanted to warn and arouse against the danger from Stalinism, and the plenum resolution provides merely reassuring anodynes. By all means let us voice our confidence in the revolutionary future. But that does not suffice. We must also say what is.

I said at the plenum that the prestige of the Soviet victories has resulted in the fact that Stalinism is the principal organized force in the European working class today and that this situation will not disappear before the first stages of the European revolution. The resolution subcommittee agreed with me to the extent that it included, in its subsection on bourgeois democracy, the idea from the Morrow-Morrison amendments that: “It is possible and even probable that the treacherous parties of social reformism and Stalinism can play the leading role in the first stages of the revolution.” Similarly in its section on the “End of the Comintern”, the subcommittee, included from the Morrow-Morrison amendments the idea that “the Italian events have shown the capacity of the Stalinists for perverting the struggle of the workers.” But these two sentences, in the contexts in which they appear, are merely, passing observations and do not convey the conception of the great danger to the revolution from Stalinism. The, place where Stalinism is treated systematically in the resolution Is in the section entitled, “Significance of the Soviet Victories” and there the danger from Stalinism is in effect denied.

The refusal to distinguish between short-term perspective and long-term perspective, which we have noted in other parts of the resolution, is perhaps even more evident in the sections on Stalinism. They “ignore” the short-term perspective; that is, they fail to describe the real situation of the present and the immediate future. As a result they can have but a purely ritualistic character, convincing only those already convinced. (Let us hope that no one will repeat the slander voiced at the plenum, that I called the program of the Fourth International ritualistic; what I said and repeat is that the resolution subcommittee employed the program in a ritualistic manner.)

A large amount of the time of the plenum was taken up with charges hurled at me that I was a pessimist. Had I desired to reply in kind, there was a suitable handle available. During the first weeks after the fall of Mussolini, the comrades who wrote the draft resolution were undoubtedly much more “optimistic” than I concerning the Italian revolution; but in their draft resolution, lo and behold, they were already speaking of the “temporarily defeated Italian revolution”. I, on the other hand, saw no defeated revolution precisely because I had not seen a revolution, but only a revolutionary situation. Who, then, are the optimists: those who say the Italian revolution was defeated or those who do not? This incident alone should indicate that charges of pessimism and boasts of optimism have no place in discussions in our leadership.

December 1943

1. Our Differences with the Three Theses, by Felix Morrow, Fourth International, December 1942.


Note by MIA

1*. Morrow later complained about the juxtaposition of this article, which was a year old at the time of publication and did not take into account more recent developments, with later documents of the SWP Majority, cf. The Political Position of the Minority in the SWP, Fourth International, May 1945.


Last updated on: 21 August 2015