Books of the Month

Working-class party needs an international program

September 23, 2019
Workers fit cars at Packard plant in Detroit in 1920s. Trotsky says the expansion of U.S. imperialism transformed it “into the basic counterrevolutionary force of the modern epoch,” and “prepares the ground for a gigantic revolutionary explosion in this already dominant” power.
Detroit Public Library/Associated PressWorkers fit cars at Packard plant in Detroit in 1920s. Trotsky says the expansion of U.S. imperialism transformed it “into the basic counterrevolutionary force of the modern epoch,” and “prepares the ground for a gigantic revolutionary explosion in this already dominant” power.

The Third International After Lenin by Leon Trotsky is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for September. It contains the Russian revolutionary leader’s defense of the proletarian internationalist course of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led by V.I. Lenin and of the Communist International in its early years. It was written as a criticism of the 1928 draft program of the Communist International, which was then controlled by Joseph Stalin at the head of a rising privileged bureaucracy in the Soviet state apparatus and Communist Party. Copyright © 1996 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. 


In our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, i.e., of world economy and world politics under the hegemony of finance capital, not a single communist party can establish its program by proceeding solely or mainly from conditions and tendencies of developments in its own country. This also holds entirely for the party that wields the state power within the boundaries of the USSR. On August 4, 1914, the death knell sounded for national programs for all time. The revolutionary party of the proletariat can base itself only upon an international program corresponding to the character of the present epoch, the epoch of the highest development and collapse of capitalism. An international communist program is in no case the sum total of national programs or an amalgam of their common features. The international program must proceed directly from an analysis of the conditions and tendencies of world economy and of the world political system taken as a whole in all its connections and contradictions, that is, with the mutually antagonistic interdependence of its separate parts. In the present epoch, to a much larger extent than in the past, the national orientation of the proletariat must and can flow only from a world orientation and not vice versa. Herein lies the basic and primary difference between communist internationalism and all varieties of national socialism. …

Linking up countries and continents that stand on different levels of development into a system of mutual dependence and antagonism, leveling out the various stages of their development and at the same time immediately enhancing the differences between them, and ruthlessly counterposing one country to another, world economy has become a mighty reality which holds sway over the economic life of individual countries and continents. This basic fact alone invests the idea of a world communist party with a supreme reality. Bringing world economy as a whole to the highest phase of development generally attainable on the basis of private property, imperialism, as the draft states quite correctly in its introduction, “aggravates to an extreme tension the contradiction between the growth of the productive forces of world economy and the national state barriers.”

Without grasping the meaning of this proposition, which was vividly revealed to mankind for the first time during the last imperialist war, we cannot take a single step towards the solution of the major problems of world politics and revolutionary struggle. …

[T]he new draft — and this, of course, is a serious step forward — now speaks of  the shift of the economic center of the world to the United States of America; and of  the transformation of the ‘Dollar Republic’ into a world exploiter; and finally, that the rivalry (the draft loosely says “conflict”) between North American and European capitalism, primarily British capitalism, “is becoming the axis of the world conflicts.”  It is already quite obvious today that a program which did not contain a clear and precise definition of these basic facts and factors of the world situation would have nothing in common with the program of the international revolutionary party. …

[I]t is precisely the international strength of the United States and her irresistible expansion arising from it, that compels her to include the powder magazines of the whole world into the foundations of her structure, i.e., all the antagonisms between the East and the West, the class struggle in Old Europe, the uprisings of the colonial masses, and all wars and revolutions. On the one hand, this transforms North American capitalism into the basic counterrevolutionary force of the modern epoch, constantly more interested in the maintenance of “order” in every corner of the terrestrial globe; and on the other hand, this prepares the ground for a gigantic revolutionary explosion in this already dominant and still expanding world imperialist power. The logic of world relations indicates that the time of this explosion cannot lag very far behind that of the proletarian revolution in Europe. …

The United States will seek to overcome and extricate herself from her difficulties and maladies primarily at the expense of Europe, regardless of whether this occurs in Asia, Canada, South America, Australia, or Europe itself, or whether this takes place peacefully or through war.

We must clearly understand that if the first period of American intervention had the effect of stabilization and pacification on Europe, which to a considerable extent still remains in force today, and may even recur episodically and become stronger (particularly in the event of new defeats of the proletariat), the general line of American policy, particularly in time of its own economic difficulties and crisis, will engender the deepest convulsions in Europe as well as over the entire world.

From this we draw the not unimportant conclusion that there will be no more lack of revolutionary situations in the next decade than in the past decade. That is why it is of utmost importance to understand correctly the mainsprings of development so that we may not be caught unawares by their action. If in the past decade the main source of revolutionary situations lay in the direct consequences of the imperialist war, in the second postwar decade the most important source of revolutionary upheavals will be the interrelations of Europe and America. A major crisis in the United States will strike the tocsin for new wars and revolutions. We repeat: there will be no lack of revolutionary situations. The entire question hinges upon the international party of the proletariat, the maturity and fighting ability of the Comintern, and the correctness of its strategical position and tactical methods.