This new issue of Spartacist comes out at a time of turmoil and instability in the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the utter bankruptcy of the capitalist system and its incapacity—even in the most advanced countries—to fulfill the most basic health and social needs of working people. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which was provoked by the NATO imperialists’ encirclement of capitalist Russia, shows the urgency of overthrowing the world imperialists as the only way to obtain lasting peace. These have been the two key events of the last two years, which in turn have caused a rise of inflation unseen since the late 1970s and contributed to the breakdown of global supply chains. For billions of people, the threats of economic crisis, famine and war loom ever larger.

What we have witnessed since 2020 is a shift in the historical period, posing new problems for revolutionaries that must be answered in a truly orthodox Marxist fashion. The task of revolutionaries is to develop the Marxist doctrine and program through its own extension, in complete and irreconcilable opposition to reformists and pacifists who turn Marxism into pure bourgeois liberalism or who are simply cheerleaders for non-revolutionary forces.

The task we have set ourselves in the dawn of this new period is to cohere the forces of authentic Marxism around a clear program answering in a revolutionary fashion the burning problems facing the international proletariat. This issue of Spartacist is a contribution toward this task. We reject the concept of a “family of the left,” whereby all who claim to be in favor of socialism share a common goal. Building a new revolutionary international—that is, reforging the Fourth International destroyed by revisionism many decades ago—requires a clear communist program, which can be elaborated only through a relentless struggle against those who claim to stand for revolution but are in fact promoting reformist deceptions.

It would be absurd for us, the International Communist League, to claim to be the Fourth International. Our numerical forces are much too weak. But we firmly believe that the elements of program contained in this issue of Spartacist are essential to reforging the Fourth International—world party of socialist revolution—in our time.

2020 opened with the Covid-19 pandemic, a social and economic catastrophe for working people across the globe. The bourgeoisie responded to the virus by locking up the population in their homes for months on end, increasing all aspects of capitalist oppression, with the working class internationally suffering huge pay cuts, speedup, mass layoffs, etc. Faced with the bourgeoisies’ offensive against workers’ living standards, the leadership of the working class in all countries completely betrayed the proletariat, fully joining the orgy of national unity. While the working class desperately needed to wage defensive struggles to protect its health and safety against the virus, address the social roots of the crisis and resist the bosses’ offensive, the leaders of the trade unions and workers parties pledged themselves to helping the capitalist rulers enforce their devastating measures, disarming the proletariat.

Internationally, all the liberals dressed up as “socialists” spent the years 2020 to 2022 advocating (on Zoom meetings) longer and harsher lockdowns, demanding that the capitalist states control and suppress the movement and activities of the proletariat even more in the name of “saving lives.” Our own organization succumbed to these pressures for the first year of the pandemic. Only in April 2021, after fierce internal struggle, were we able to correct our course and publish our international statement, “Down With the Lockdowns!”. This remains the only Marxist position worldwide opposing the lockdowns on the basis of a revolutionary class-struggle program.

Throughout the last two years, in many countries demonstrations against lockdown measures and threats of mass layoffs in the name of mandatory vaccination were opposed and spit on by the liberal-reformist misleaders of the proletariat and the “socialist” left, who often called for them to be crushed by the state. One of the most polarizing was the truckers movement in Canada, which was condemned by the bourgeois press internationally and by many “socialist” groups as fascist and reactionary simply for opposing the government and mass layoffs. In contrast, our article titled “Labour Must Defend the Truckers!” took a stand in defense of the demonstrations while counterposing the need for a communist opposition to the capitalist government.

China is center stage in world events, as the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic and the main target of U.S. imperialism, which is determined to maintain hegemony over the Pacific region with the help of Japanese imperialism and its other allies. The last two years have been marked by a dramatic escalation of the U.S.-led war drive against the People’s Republic of China. The imperialists’ final goal is the overthrow of the gains of the 1949 Revolution, just as they accomplished 30 years ago in the USSR. In China itself, the ruling Communist Party (CCP) bureaucracy has responded to the Covid-19 crisis by imposing the most drastic and brutal lockdowns on earth, which are a disaster for workers and peasants and a threat to the very survival of the People’s Republic.

Internationally, two false programs regarding China dominate the left. On the one hand, particularly in the Western world, the majority of fake-socialist groups consider China to be capitalist and even imperialist, a counterrevolutionary position that negates the need to defend the gains of the 1949 Revolution and capitulates to the imperialist great powers. On the other hand, many so-called communists (and even “Trotskyists”) hail the Stalinist bureaucracy and promote the false idea that opposing the CCP amounts to opposing China. With the outbreak of Covid, these two opposite wings met in common agreement by hailing the CCP’s brutal lockdowns as a “model” for the world. Our organization jumped on this opportunist bandwagon.

Against all these political dead ends and correcting our previous erroneous course, our article “Pandemic in China: Trotskyism vs. Stalinism” reaffirms the only program that can clear the way for international socialism—Trotskyism. The article opposes the CCP’s disastrous “zero-Covid” policy, combining the unconditional military defense of China with the struggle to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy through a political revolution in order to replace its rule with an internationalist, truly revolutionary leadership.

As the pandemic seemed to be slowing in early 2022, Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border in an all-out invasion. The outbreak of war in Europe has brought to the fore the threat of a global confrontation between the imperialist powers and Russia. Years of NATO provocations, including the 2014 U.S.-orchestrated regime change in Kiev, provoked this war, which constitutes the first significant pushback against the U.S.-dominated world order since the fall of the USSR.

The imperialist bourgeoisies, outraged at this challenge to their exclusive right to pillage Ukraine, made yet another attempt at pushing national unity to rally their populations behind NATO and behind Ukraine. In lockstep, the leaders of trade unions and workers parties, along with most pseudo-Marxists, came to the defense of Ukraine against “Putin’s war,” demanding the defeat and withdrawal of the Russian army. This is a call for the victory of Zelensky’s government and open support to the imperialists’ aims in the region. Others on the left, particularly in countries under the imperialist yoke, have come out in support of Russia under the false claim that it is waging a legitimate war of defense against the imperialists.

Our statement on the war in Ukraine, “Ukrainian, Russian Workers: Turn the Guns Against Your Rulers!”, is a direct application of V.I. Lenin’s program during World War I. Despite the help Ukraine is receiving from the imperialists, this is a war between two non-imperialist countries. Ukraine is not fighting a just struggle of national liberation but is instead fighting to enslave the country to the U.S./EU/NATO imperialists. Russia is not fighting a legitimate war of national defense against imperialism but is fighting to bring Ukraine back into its sphere of influence. In the struggle over which gang of thugs will lord it over Ukraine, Marxists must fight for revolutionary defeatism, i.e., to transform this reactionary war between nations into a revolutionary civil war against the Ukrainian and Russian capitalists.

As Lenin showed over a century ago, this means, particularly in the imperialist countries, waging the most resolute struggle against the leadership of the workers movement, which subordinates the working class to the aims and interests of its exploiters. In Germany, where the polarization in the left over the war has been particularly acute, our comrades have been at the forefront of the struggle against social-chauvinist and pacifist deceivers among the left. Their article, “Throw the EU/NATO Supporters Out of the Left!”, along with their proposal for a motion at the Die Linke party congress, is a concrete and living application of Lenin’s struggle to split the workers movement between authentic revolutionaries on one side and reformists, social-chauvinists and pacifists on the other.

Lenin’s struggle during WWI was crucially directed against the centrists—that is, those who are revolutionary in words but social-chauvinist in deeds. In this spirit, this issue includes a substantial polemic against the Internationalist Group (IG), “Centrism and the War in Ukraine”. While the IG is numerically insignificant, its program and actions, which have the appearance of orthodox Marxism, in fact capitulate to and cover for social-chauvinism. Just like Karl Kautsky during WWI, such centrism is the biggest obstacle to cohering an authentically revolutionary nucleus.

It is no secret for anyone following our organization that we have been conducting intense internal discussions and qualitative political realignments over the last few years. (This is reflected in the changed composition of the Spartacist Editorial Board.) One of the most politically substantial pieces in this issue of Spartacist is the document adopted at the December 2021 National Conference of the Spartacist League/Britain. “In Defence of the Revolutionary Programme (II)” is a powerful reaffirmation of revolutionary Marxism against the course followed by our British section during the years when Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party.

The document contains indispensable elements of Leninism for anyone seeking to be a revolutionary in Britain, or anywhere else for that matter. In the context of the growing popularity of trade unionism in the U.S., Britain and elsewhere, it is worth highlighting the document’s insistence on the need for revolutionary leadership in the unions as opposed to the reformist program of simply pressuring unions to be more militant (see the section “A Very British Reformism”). Against the reformism of the British Labour Party and the “socialist” left that revolves around it, “In Defence of the Revolutionary Programme (II)” applies to today’s reality key lessons of Bolshevism, the early Comintern and Trotskyism on the questions of the state, imperialism and the revolutionary party.

Whether it is the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ukraine war, inflation, China or any other burning issue facing the proletariat today, there is one unavoidable question connecting them all: the question of revolutionary leadership. There is a profound contradiction between the urgent needs of the working class internationally and the state of its leadership. Having faced attacks on their living standards for decades, workers everywhere now face massive inflation, the threat of war and economic crisis. But the leadership of the class in all countries is made up of the worst sort of treacherous, anti-revolutionary scoundrels. And the ultimate aim of the fake socialists is to advise and pressure the existing leadership of the working class, or to simply dress up in new clothes the same dead ends of the past.

We, the ICL, are dedicated to resolving this contradiction through a resolute struggle for leadership of the international proletariat, based on a clear program for the establishment of the world socialist order. We hope this issue of Spartacist can further the necessary political clarity to advance in this direction.