On organisation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Jan 20 09:03:49 MST 2001

>From Bert Cochran's "Our Orientation"

(Published in the May 1954 issue of The Educator, an internal organ of the
Socialist Union of America)

In what sense then can we speak of the future of the Fourth International,
since the resolution declares, "Naturally, the world victory of the
revolution will not be the exclusive work of the present national nuclei of
the Fourth International but of their dose fusion with broader
revolutionary forces. From this fusion there will arise new revolutionary
mass parties of tomorrow, as well as a new form of the world party of the
International." The answer that the resolution supplies to the above
question is as follows: "To the degree that the world revolutionary upsurge
continues to spread and moves toward the world victory of the proletarian
revolution and of Socialism, the program and organization of the
International will be validated. The world victory of the proletarian
revolution and of Socialism cannot be conceived as the arithmetical sum of
partial victories obtained through centrist programs and formations. It
will be the victory of full revolutionary Marxism."

The longer one ponders over the meaning of this quotation, the more
convinced he becomes that this is more irrelevancy than answer, as the
question that needs illumination first of all, and above all, is the next
historic period rather than the period of the world victory of the
revolution and of Socialism. And the discussion has reached the point—and
even more decisive the position of our cadres is at the point—where more
has to be said about the next historic period and our role in it

>From the rise of Hitler to the World War, there did not exist a strong
enough current upon which a new revolutionary formation, competing and
supplanting the old workers organizations, could be based. The Trotskyist
groups found neither the open field that favored the rise of the Second
International nor a development equivalent to the October Revolution which
started the mass trend toward communism. After World War II, contrary to
our prewar prognoses, Stalinism was not eliminated, but rose to new heights
of influence. Because the situation was, and remains, revolutionary in the
world—and because therefore, the workers no longer clung to the old parties
merely for protection against reaction—there has been a clear test of the
ability of Trotskyism to create an independent movement on a program
broadly confirmed by the new revolutionary developments. The fact that no
one can realistically envisage a breakup in the old workers movements prior
to the next revolutionary developments is the clear sign that the old
Trotskyist perspective has become outmoded. As before the war, the vanguard
seeks to realize its revolutionary aspirations within the old parties,
leaving no room for a new revolutionary mass organization. Thus the
Trotskyist movement, despite the brilliance of its leader, the considerable
abilities and energies of its national cadres, and the many experiments
with entries and fusions, was doomed to remain isolated. The test was made
for a whole historic era, both in periods of reaction and revolution, and
is therefore a decisive one.

But while Trotskyism, due to historic circumstances, remained outside the
main currents of the labor movement, it built up in a quarter-century of
its existence a truly formidable literature, doctrine and tradition. This
tradition, we have said, gives Trotskyism the status of Twentieth Century
Marxism. However true this claim maybe from an abstract theoretical point
of view, it has not entered the consciousness of broad masses as did
similar claims made by the Social Democracy prior to World War I, or by
Lenin and the Comintern afterward. The tradition of Stalinism led to the
mass revival of the Communist Party in France after the war, and the
tradition of Social Democracy to its revival in Germany, but the tradition
of Trotskyism could do no more than maintain it as an ideological tendency.

Every important movement has its own specific tradition, and every
important leader places his indelible stamp upon an organization, not only
through the formal resolutions and theses, but by his methods of work, his
approach to big questions, his hundred and one evaluations, and in ways
even more elusive and difficult to describe. Marx projected himself upon
the First International. Lenin put his stamp on Bolshevism. And without any
per adventure of a doubt, Trotsky did the same in fulsome measure in the
case of the Fourth International. Now it is a fact that our whole
tradition—so magnificent in many ways—is of no interest to the existing
labor movements. Because the tradition has been created largely outside of
the labor movements, it is foreign to them. They do not see or believe that
any of it is pertinent to the solution of their problems. We therefore have
to face up to this aspect of the reality just as we did to other parts of
it, and have to draw the necessary lessons.

The very formulations of the International Resolution must lead us to the
conclusion that the revolutionary parties of tomorrow will not be
Trotskyist, in the sense of necessarily accepting the tradition of our
movement, our estimation of Trotsky's place in the revolutionary hierarchy,
or all of Trotsky's specific evaluations and slogans. We in the United
States had precisely this experience where Trotskyists fused with the small
Muste organization to form the Workers Party in 1935. The fusion occurred
only after we had overcome considerable resistance in the Musteite ranks to
accepting the special characteristics of Trotskyism by assuring them that
we had no special sectarian axes to grind. How much more operative will
this be when the left wing develops through its own specific experiences
and the merging of different currents and groups inside the big centrist or
reformist mass movements.

Our analysis and our tactical orientation would remain like a knife without
a blade if we do not follow through with the necessary conclusion. And this
conclusion is that in the present historical conditions, our cadres have to
take the whole body of Marxist theory and struggle, including Trotsky's
contributions to it and translate them into the language of our lifetime,
and into the language of the existing movements of the various countries in
which we are situated.

The worst error is to think this mainly a job of clearer language, or for
our cadres to start masquerading as simple homespun mechanics who have none
too secure a mastery of grammar or syntax. What is involved if we are to
integrate ourselves in the mass movement and to begin functioning
effectively as its Marxist wing, is that we have to rid ourselves of all
faction spirit and too narrow understanding of the Marxist's role in the
centrist and reformist milieus of our time.

Our purpose is to bring our ideas into the mass movement, and to gradually
raise the consciousness of the ranks to the historic tasks. But the last
thing in the world we should attempt is to inculcate the ranks with the
necessity of adopting our specific tradition, and impressing upon them the
truth of all the evaluations and proposals broached by Trotsky from 1923
on. The thought that in the coming period of our activity we have to go out
of our way to mention the name and work of Leon Trotsky, and the name and
the existence of the Fourth International, shows how far all of us have
become infused with narrow group thinking, and organizational fetishism,
how far we have traveled from the outlook of Frederick Engels, who warned
the Socialists in America not to publish the Communist Manifesto, as it was
based on old-world experiences, and that the American labor movement,
developing under different conditions, would not understand it, and would
not know what Marx and Engels were talking about. Why isn't it possible for
us to take this simple thought of Engels and apply it to ourselves and our
work? If Engels didn't think this was putting a question mark over his
revolutionary integrity, why should we?

We said before that only by integrating ourselves within the existing
movements could our cadres survive and fulfill their mission. We will now
add to that proposition this corollary: Only by dropping all sectarian
notions of imposing our specific tradition upon the mass movements which
developed in different circumstances and under different influences, can
our approach register successes and guarantee the future of our precious
cadres. What is involved, it is dear, is not any modification of
programmatic essence, but a sharp reversal of organizational concepts and
perspectives on the nature of the development of the mass revolutionary
parties of tomorrow.

There remains to say a word whether this course does not contain dangers
that the cadre will get lost in the mass movement and therefore become
liquidated as a specific revolutionary current Of course, the danger
exists, just as there is danger every time a revolutionist takes a job as
an official in a union, and begins to live in an opportunist environment
Some succumb to material blandishments. But if the cadre is cohesive, and
firm in its revolutionary convictions and aims, the losses are few and the
gains are many. Events will justify the necessity for a Marxist policy and
prove its effectiveness in action. The dangers will be counteracted by the
struggle Itself. We have an additional guarantee, insofar as there are any
guarantees in these things, in the clarity of our views, the devotion of
our ranks who have been tested over a long period of time, in our
ideological solidarity, and In the unifying element of an international
center. If we try to impose additional guarantees by adopting narrow group
viewpoints, and sporting narrow group ideologies in the mass movement, we
will vitiate the whole concept, and defeat our common purposes.

Although in the United States the situation is unique as the working class
is still not organized into its own political party, the orientation here
discussed operates with full force. One has to dwell in the never-never
land of a Cannon to seriously promulgate the theory that the American
working class, which has not yet attained labor party consciousness, will
pass, with the next struggle, to the banner of Cannonite revolutionism, or
what amounts to approximately the same thing, will in rapid-fire fashion,
plunge in and out of a labor party to join up with Cannon and his
lieutenants to storm the barricades. We have correctly stated before that
the American workers will move massively through their organizations, and
not jump over the heads of their organizations. That implies that they will
move in deliberate stages, not when the forward columns are ready, but only
when sizable phalanxes of the class are prepared to move.

Basing ourselves on this analysis, we have oriented towards the organized
labor movement, especially the mass production unions of the CIO, as the
battleground of the big future class developments, and the repository of
the forces that. will advance the working class to Its next political stage
with the formation of a labor party. That does not mean that we are
absolutely certain that a labor party will be formed. What the perspective
does base itself on with certainty is that the inevitable political
regroupment will pass through existing channels of the organized labor
movement and have a political character capable of uniting masses at a
minimum level. The broad character of this movement will provide room for
the various existing political tendencies, Stalinists, Social Democrats,
centrists and Marxists to operate within it That is why, whatever the
vicissitudes of the struggle may bring, whatever forms it may assume,
whatever channels it may take, the strategy of basing ourselves on the
organized labor movement, and particularly its mass production sectors, and
directing our main attention to it, is the correct one and will provide us
with the necessary sustenance to carry on, and in due course, to establish
ourselves in conjunction with allies as the left wing of a growing
political movement.

Of course, as we tried to explain to the SWP, between the present and the
next developments exists a more or less protracted period of time, and a
political tendency cannot deduce its day-to-day tactics solely, directly
and immediately from the grandiose strategy, but must seek out and find
every possibility for advancement of its program and its influence, be It
on the most limited basis, and from sources that by themselves will not
necessarily be the main forces of the big labor advance. That is why in
many localities, where trade union avenues are not open to us for one
reason or another, we must seek out other milieus, whether of the Stalinist
variety, or student circles, or various liberal or minority groups.

We approach all these strata, however, in the spirit of Marx's Communist
Manifesto which proclaimed that the revolutionists had no interests
separate and apart from the working class, that we are not a special sect,
cult, or church, which seeks to draw people out of the broad currents into
its backwater, but rather as American Marxists, we seek to join with others
in advancing the existing struggles to a higher stage and on a broader
front. We are convinced that out of these struggles and experiences, even
before big mass forces take to the field, Left currents will arise with
which we shall be able to cooperate and fuse; that the American Marxist
tendency, as a stronger formation than at present, will thus be able to
discharge its role as a left wing in the big movement—as part and parcel of
the struggle to create the mass revolutionary party in the United States.
That is our perspective.

Full article at: http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/ibt08.htm

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org/

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