Ted Grant

Our Tasks in the Coming Revolution

Speech at the 1943 Conference of the Workers' International League

First published: January 1944
Source: Workers' International News, vol. 5 no. 5 (January 1944)
Transcription: Maarten 2006
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2006

I think that the Conference today is proof of the fact that we have travelled quite a good distance - since our last Conference of 14 months ago. The number of delegates, the fresh forces we have at the present time, the fact that we are meeting when the campaign against Trotskyism on the part of the bourgeoisie seems to be on the order of the day—all this indicates the gravity, and the necessity for ourselves, as the vanguard, if we are to be the vanguard of the working class, to take stock of the period through which we have passed in the last 12 months, and of the days, and years, momentous days and years, which we believe lie ahead of us in the coming period.

This document [source?] sets out to put, as Comrade Trotsky has expressed it, to put in the plainest and most condensed form possible, the basic principles and basic ideas, the underlying conceptions that form our theoretical understanding, and our theoretical attitude towards world events, and towards the tasks of history which are posed in front of the working class, and in front of all toiling humanity at the present time.

The Conferences which we hold are not at all like the Conferences of the I.L.P. and the Stalinist Party, which are held at an exceedingly low level, in which agitational and demagogic speeches are given from the Platform. We have to examine events from a world point of view, to take into account the whole world movement of history itself. We have to examine our conceptions, our programme, our programme in the light of events, and on that basis to restate the fundamental propositions and ideas of Marxism, if, as we believe, they have been proved to be correct in that period.

The first point made in the resolution is the fact that basically the conceptions of Bolshevism and Internationalism, as developed by our movement, have been proved correct through the course of the experience of the last decades, and in particular through the course of the experience of the present world war. In the last world war, Lenin had to reformulate the basic ideas of Marxism, and even harden and sharpen them[,] but in correspondence with the changed relationship of forces.

We know that Marx, in the period of the France-Prussian War had actually supported one group of the bourgeoisie against another group of the bourgeoisie, because of the relatively progressive nature of the tasks of national unification which faced Germany, but that Lenin looked at the first world war as proof of the fact that capitalism was now an outmoded system, that it had ceased to play a progressive role in the development of society, and the development of mankind, and from that analysis Lenin and the Bolsheviks came to the conclusion that it was impossible to support any group of the bourgeoisie.

We see that that conception, which has been developed by Lenin and Trotsky, was proved to be correct in the events which followed during and after the last world war. It came at a time when the proletariat was relatively immature, was not yet in certain senses subjectively prepared for the carrying through of the tasks which society had imposed on its shoulders. As Lenin had foreseen this immaturity was expressed in the fact that even in Czarist Russia, the overwhelming mass of the people supported their own imperialists.

The crime of the last world war exacted its retribution in the revolution of 1917, and the world revolutionary wave which followed in 1917-1921. We know that only the Russian proletariat succeeded in solving the problems with which they were faced, nevertheless the fact that this world revolutionary wave affected the entire mass of the population in almost every part of the globe in itself was proof of the fact that capitalism had become a brake on the development of the productive forces, and that it was now the task of the proletariat to inaugurate a new order of society. The national state was completely outmoded by the development of the forces of production.

We know that the period which followed the last world war, despite the calculations of Lenin and Trotsky, was not followed by a series of successful revolutions, as it should have been, and that the main responsibility for the epoch of reaction, of terrible distress, of terrible failures for the world proletariat, rests on the outmoded leadership of the working class, of the Second International on the one side, and the Third International on the other.

During this period, the armistice period, we had, for international socialism, for those who remained true to the tradition of Marxism and Bolshevism, an exceptionally difficult period, a period when they were swimming against the stream, when there was no possibility to do anything else but to prepare the theoretical basis for the formation and building of the new International. We can say, in a certain sense, that Mankind has had to pay the price of this new terrible slaughter of the peoples, in the last four years, as a means of preparing, no longer the material basis—that has already been prepared in the decades after the last world war, (and a ready world society relatively, if not absolutely, was materially prepared for the socialist revolution)—that the new defeats and new destruction, was necessary, in a certain sense, because of the failure of the old leadership of the working class to train and build up the working class to prepare them to fulfil their historical mission.

The world bourgeoisie regarded the war with horror and dismay. It was their absolute impasse which forced them on to the road of a new slaughter of the peoples, despite the fact that the leadership of the bourgeoisie recognised clearly the consequences which would flow from the movement in the direction of a new world war.

As a consequence of the terrible shocks which the proletariat has received even with the Italian working class prostrate, the German working class prostrate, the greater part of the world faced with terrible defeats, when this war began we have an entirely different psychological attitude on the part of the masses from that at the outbreak of the last world war. It was greeted with dismay and distress, nowhere in any part of the globe was any great enthusiasm for capitalism manifested, or any support for the ruling class, in Britain, Germany or any other country. The masses of the people had to be dragged to the slaughter, and could only be pushed, precisely because they could see no other course, because for the time being, they saw no other way out than support of their own ruling class.

The terrible period of reaction through which mankind has passed during the last 20 years, perhaps the worst in the history of the working class, all this resulted in the degeneration of those who did not base themselves in full on the strength of the proletariat and its forces, those who looked with irony, with distrust, with scepticism to the proletariat. The Stalinists, the Labour leaders, the Burnhamites, all claimed at one time to stand on the platform of world revolution; all turned and pointed to the apparent apathy and sheepishness of the working class, who in the first, second, third, and apparently fourth years of the war were completely passive.

We know that the Old Man had believed that the second world war would not last so long as the first, because the revolution would come. This was falsified by events, and sceptics have taken this as proof of the incapacity of the working class. The revolutionary Marxists, although our forces were small, although we had been subjected to the terrible pressure of the reaction, in building up our forces—and we can say that this war is a result of the immaturity of the revolutionary forces of the proletariat—nevertheless, we and we alone understand the profound process of change that was taking place within the ranks of the apparently apathetic and cowed working class.

Looking below the surface, we can see that a similar process, except now on a world scale, was taking place as took place in Russia after the defeat of 1905. The revolution was defeated, and for a number of years, reaction raged. The Bolshevik party and all the forces of the working class were shattered. It took a number of years before they could recover, and by 1912-14, they had moved forward once again in the direction of the revolution of October.

So, on a world scale, we can see the same process taking place underneath the whip of reaction. We can see that the mass of the population of the entire globe was pushing forward in the direction of revolution, that the events of the war were preparing the way for a new revolutionary upsurge, a new swing on the part of the proletariat, which would dwarf even the wonderful revolutionary wave of 1917-21.

If we examine the question from the point of view of exactly what forces are at the disposal of the bourgeoisie on a world scale, if we examine the question from the potentialities which the bourgeoisie possess to solve the world crisis, the death agony of capitalism, what do we see? During the course of the war itself, all the forces are being speeded up for a mighty wave of revolt on the part of the masses. War, as well as revolution, has always been the locomotive of history. Despite this, the bourgeoisie on a world scale has been compelled to place the proletariat in a position where they can be revitalised and renewed. Millions of unemployed, demoralised by years of reaction and defeat, have been placed either into the Army or into industry. The proletariat, the living force of the revolution, has been renewed and revitalised in the course of the war.

The middle class, too has been under the impact of war. The concentration of capital into a few giant monopolies, observed by Lenin in the last world war, has reached almost its greatest pitch in this.

It is gathering up speed. The middle class is being ruined, not only in the countries of the west, but even in India. In Germany, under the brutal regime of Hitler, the middle class has been practically wiped out, the very class which provided a basis for Fascism. In Britain, an acceleration in its ruin is now taking place.

The contradictions which compelled the imperialists to go to war, far from finding a solution, are actually aggravated. Britain entered the war to maintain her failing hold on her empire, to retain the markets of the world. The result has been that she has lost everything. That is not only the plight of Britain. The productive forces of America alone have increased at least 30 to 40% during the course of the war. The same applies to other countries. For world imperialism it is impossible to solve the contradiction between the productive forces, and the national state and private ownership of the means of production.

From a psychological point of view, during the course of the fourth year, a turning point has been reached in the war, in the revolution in Europe, and we might add, in the revolution in Britain. We get the situation where, after 20 years of Fascism, and the rule of monopoly capitalism in Italy, in 48 hours the Italian proletariat has shown its strength, the Italian proletariat has shown its potentialities. Overnight, Soviets have appeared in Italy, a workers' militia has appeared, the masses have moved instinctively in the channels of revolution. It is merely the first break in the chain of world capitalism. It is just the beginning.

Hitler can see the foreshadowing of his own fate in the fate of Mussolini. We can see that the factors making for the world revolution for the success of the proletariat, has reached a new stage of development, far more mature and developed than 25 years ago. With the coming fall of Hitler, the revolution in Germany, what possible basis will the bourgeoisie have in Europe? In all Europe today there is not one single army, including the British, which can be relied upon for the purpose of counter-revolution. In the world there is only one that can be relied on, and that probably only for a short time, and that is the army of American imperialism. Every country, every single nation in Europe will be defeated. We get the whole character of the epoch, of the change in the social relationship, revealed in the fact that mighty imperialist states change sides with no more ceremony than a Balkan principality would have done in the last world war. France and Italy have changed sides. Every country will be defeated.

Even if we assume that the Allies succeed with the aid of the Stalinist counter-revolutionaries, in imposing their will on Europe, what will be the outcome? The American and British soldiers will be fired by the European revolution. Even today, with all the forces of repression at his disposal, Hitler cannot prevent 100 illegal newspapers in the small countries of Europe. How can the bourgeoisie hold down Europe?

And that is not all their problem. They still have Asia to deal with. There is a psychological preparation for revolution on the part of the proletariat in Asia. Once the revolution begins, it will spread from one country to another, from one continent to another. There is no possibility whatever for the stabilisation of capitalism, on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.

One of the main factors in the revolutionisation of Europe and the world is the wonderful resistance and victories of the Red Army, victories for the ideas of the October Revolution, testimony of the strength of October which still remains in Soviet Russia today. These victories, which world imperialism did not count on, pave the way for tremendous revolutions in Europe, and the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy as well. The revolution will inevitably sweep over the frontiers into the Soviet Union, and the masses there will soon deal with the corrupt bureaucracy which has now gone over to the position of pure Bonapartism, where they lean on the military club ("Marshal" Stalin) and the spiritual club (the restoration of the Church), based on the backward masses of the peasantry, to hold the working class in check.

Revolution for Asia is inevitable. In the first stages, in Europe, the gangsters of Stalinism and Social Democracy, who paved the way for reaction, will inevitably find themselves at the head of the masses. That is according to the laws of history.

Events repeat themselves, in that sense we will have a repetition of events after the last world war, but now on an entirely different basis. It is sure that it will not be long-lasting. The Social Democrats split, and prepared the way for the regeneration of the vanguard in the Communist International. The Communist International will be raised to the crest of the wave in Europe—that is the most likely development—but the misunderstanding of the masses that these people represent Communism will soon be dissipated, and the C.P. will split into pieces, paving the way for the Fourth International, paving the way for the conquest of power by the workers of the world.

When we turn to the situation in Britain we see that the British working class, and we, as its vanguard, have been exceedingly lucky in the favourable development of events. We can say without a shadow of doubt that in Britain today there is the most favourable outlook for revolution in any country in Europe, or the world. In Britain today, all the objective conditions for the possibility of the conquest of power by the proletariat are actually in existence at the present time. While we are meeting, we see a strike wave up and down the country, and if we are to understand the significance of the strike wave; if we are to understand the significance of the development of events here, we have to turn our attention to the developments that were taking place before the war.

At last year's conference we pointed out how already before the war had begun, the British proletariat was moving in the direction of the social revolution, was moving towards civil war, and towards the conquest of power, and we based this on certain small strikes taking place at that period. In every single case, the T.U. bureaucracy, who had become integrated into the capitalist machine[,] lost complete control of the development of events, lost control of the working class. In every case, the working class instinctively took the correct steps.

The sober bourgeois press at that time, with ourselves, were the only ones who understood the significance of these events. Immediately they issued a warning to the Union bureaucracy that unless they restored control, unless they could keep their men in check, then they would have to resort to other methods. The war itself apparently interrupted this development of events. In this war, up to the present year, we have had less strikes, less industrial disputes on the part of the working class than took place in the last imperialist war. There was a complete lull in the class struggle—or that seemed to be the position on the surface, but the very calm, the very fact that the masses were not moving in the direction of struggle was far from indicating the strength of British Imperialism, that we were in for a period of stable conservative development, but that the period we were entering was entirely opposite.

If we examine the reason underlying, why the mighty working class was so quiescent, one of the reasons is that the conditions of the working class as compared with the last world war are probably much better. At the other side was the fact that the mass of the workers, with their hatred of Fascism, could not see any other alternative, that the treachery of the Labour bureaucrats in going over to the side of the capitalists, and later the treachery of the Stalinists, imposed exceptional difficulties in the way of the movement of the working class.

But already with the victories and the improved position of Britain, we get the situation that the mass of the working class have taken the victories of the Red Army and even the British victories, as their victories, in the sense that it frees their hands for the struggle against the enemy at home. It is an interesting fact that as Britain has gained victories, at a time when in the last war it would have been a period of chauvinist intoxication, the masses have moved against the ruling class.

Today we have a series of strikes; the biggest since the general strike of 1926. The working class is girding itself for the struggle against the bosses. The strikes in Barrow and the Clyde, all this indicates the profound process of change, the fundamental change in the psychology of the masses. There is not one single industry in which the working class is not seething with industrial unrest. Not only that, the material basis of British Imperialism is shattered beyond hope of repair; they are the satellite of American imperialism. As the workers begin to sense that the war is approaching its close, they are not particularly concerned about the struggle against Japan, the masses are preparing for the mighty industrial sweep which will push completely into the background the struggles of 1926.

On the other side, the middle class is completely ruined, and is even looking towards the left, looking towards the social revolution. Common Wealth is an indication of the complete failure of the working class leaders to give a lead to the middle class, in their tremendous push towards the left. That process is taking place in front of our eyes today. The ruling class has less basis in the mass of the population than at any other time in history; even during the General Strike, they could still rely on a large section of the middle class.

The middle class is moving to wards the revolution. The whole character of social relations is completely changed. For 100 years, the mighty Tory Party has stood like a rock, a rock of reaction, remaining while the Liberals were shattered. In Britain today, the basis for conservatism is finished. It rested on Britain's privileged position among the nations. Britain is now a second-rate satellite of American imperialism, and with this we see a complete change in the psychology of the masses. The Tories are losing support in by-elections, not only in industrial areas, but also in the rural constituencies. It is possible that in the post-war General Election, Churchill might succeed in getting a snap victory, and gain a majority for a National Government or the Conservative Party. That is not excluded, but even if that should take place, it will not alter the course of events. All that it will mean is that the struggle will immediately assume an extra-parliamentary form. Such a Government would not last one or at the most a couple of years.

Even to talk about Fascism in the coining period would be ridiculous. The ruling class has no basis for setting.up reaction. That is if the leadership came forward with a fighting policy. The Gallup Poll reveals that there is a Labour majority, in spite of the reactionary policy of its leadership. Inevitably the Labour leaders will be taken by the scruff of the neck, and thrust into power by the masses.

But the position is even better than that, because this movement is only taking place because the mass of the working class do not see, and do not have any real alternative. We get the amazing development of events that there is more hatred for the Union bureaucrats and the labour leaders, among the ranks of the advanced workers today than at any period in history. The moment the Labour Party comes to power will be already its period of decline, of splitting and breaking up. There is more socialist consciousness, a more radical attitude on the part of the masses, than at any other period in history. The armed forces are more revolutionary, look more to the working class and socialism than even the ranks of the working class themselves. That class-consciousness is expressed in the fact that, in relation to the Negro and Indian questions we see solidarity between the Army and the working class.

We have a victorious Army in North Africa, and Italy, and I say, yes, Long live the Eighth Army, because that is our army. One of our comrades has spoken to a number of people who have had letters from the Eighth Army soldiers, showing their complete dissatisfaction. We know of incidents in the Army, Navy and other forces that have never been reported, and that it is impossible for us to report. It is OUR Eighth Army that is being hammered and tested and being organised for the purpose of changing the face of the world. This applies equally to all the Forces.

But we have been given an even greater gift than our comrades on the Continent. We are far more fortunate in the sense that long in advance, before the revolution has begun, Stalinism has revealed itself as a dread disease, the syphilis of the working class. To tens of thousands of workers, whom we have not been in connection with and are not in connection with at the moment, its counter-revolutionary role has been revealed by its strike-breaking attitude. The militants have been inoculated against this disease. This gives us an opportunity to train and prepare. The Stalinists will still gain, but the votes they have are not votes for Stalinism, but for communism, for the revolution. In the more backward strata they will play a tremendous role in the period opening up. The I.L.P. is gaining tremendous support, as a reflection of the radicalisation of the workers.

The I.L.P. will reveal its centrist nature, show that it is incapable of facing up to events, as they have already shown in regard to the Italian Revolution. From their ranks we will gain tremendous forces.

Industry is the key to the situation. Bevin and the Trade Union bureaucracy have already given testimony to the correctness of our point of view, in the fact that already in the initial stages of the Militant Workers Committee, they are threatening action against it, and against us. They remember the experience of the last world war. Perhaps even more than their masters, they have recognised the danger of such a movement for them. Bevin thinks he will destroy the movement by arresting and battering down the strikers; we know that it will have the opposite effect. It is certain that we will gain our best supporters among the industrial militants. That will be the recruiting ground.

The most encouraging and important point of all—when the war began we were an entirely insignificant sect. No-one noticed or bothered about us. We were still in the stage of complete isolation from the masses. That has completely altered. Today we are a tendency, a significant tendency in the life of the working class. The attacks of the Stalinists, the Labour leaders and the bourgeoisie reflect the fact that our small forces have succeeded, to a certain extent, in orienting themselves correctly and integrating themselves into the movement of the working class. Whether repression will be imposed upon us, or we can succeed in maintaining our organisation as a legal organisation, and our leadership without arrest—in the long run this will not make the slightest difference.

Wonderful days. Wonderful possibilities open up in front of us. You can feel revolution in the air. That attitude must permeate our Conference. The correctness of our viewpoint should give us confidence in preparing ourselves for our role in the coming revolution. Whatever its fate may be, it is certain that we can, we must, we will play our part, and stamp our tendency as an influence, as a serious factor in the situation, as an organisation that will play its part in the revolution. When, twelve months ago, we called our thesis "Preparing for Power";[source] this was not a mad gesture. That is the serious problem with which we are faced. The objective situation poses for the British working class the imperative task of taking control. We know that this will transform the situation.

The British working class has the finest fighting forces at the present time. Given a fighting lead, they could push the bourgeoisie aside without resistance. We know that the revolution will not be so easy because of the treachery of the leadership. But we have the possibility of transforming ourselves into the mass party of the Socialist Revolution into THE organisation of the British working class.

We know the alternative. The fate of France will be the fate of Britain. The very life of the proletariat is at stake. Britain will be destroyed if the revolution does not succeed. A great part of the population will be surplus.

Our Conference, which is far more representative than that of last year, has to go back with the enthusiasm which understanding gives, to prepare to push forward on the basis of our document, and prepare to integrate ourselves with the masses of the workers, as the only guarantee against repression, and to prepare the working class for its historic role in the coming British revolution.