Ernest Mandel

The Reasons for Founding the Fourth International

X. Without international theory, practice and organisation there will be no building of the World Socialist Federation

The delay shown by the main groups emerging today from the recomposition of the international workers’ movement in taking up a consistent internationalist commitment has a great many causes. Among the subjective causes we can mention in particular the bad experiences of the manipulative bureaucratic-administrative “centres” which go right back to the Zinovievist deformation of the Comintern. [24] The culminating point was reached with the Stalinised Comintern, then there was the Cominform, the attempts by the Kremlin to maintain a control over the “international communist movement,” the Chinese efforts to align Maoist groups on the twists and turns of Chinese diplomacy, etc. Scepticism certainly exists about the possibility of combining international policies valid for all countries with the specificity of the state of the class struggle in each country – a scepticism that has been particularly fostered by the bankruptcy of the Second International in 1914 in failing to hold a common world front against the war, despite all the solemn commitment entered into beforehand. But objective causes, which are at the end of the day more important, must he added to these subjective reasons.

For parties already in power, the unavoidable obligations of diplomatic manoeuvres involve the impossibility of totally taking into account the interests of the world proletariat, since at certain times and for certain countries there is a contradiction between these interests and the immediate consequences of the manoeuvre. This does not imply that revolutionary Marxists have to condemn the necessity of such manoeuvres. It does imply the need for a clear separation between any state policies and the class policy of the world proletariat. It is impossible to achieve this separation if it is not organisationally institutionalised.

Lenin understood this. This was one of the reasons why he pushed for the rapid creation (some said at the time it was premature) of the Communist International, not to give Soviet Russia a supplementary instrument to manipulate, but on the contrary to counterbalance the obligation of Russian communists to manoeuvre as a state on the world political scene.

For Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, and all the Comintern leaders it was quite straightforward that when Soviet Russia concluded the Brest-Litovsk peace accords with Germany and Austro-Hungary, the duty of revolutionary socialists in the three countries and elsewhere was not to defend this treaty but to denounce it as a diktat imposed on Russia by imperialism. When Soviet Russia later concluded an agreement with capitalist Germany at Rapallo, which even included the beginnings of military collaboration, the German communists did not suspend for one day their struggle to overthrow the German government and bourgeoisie.

But if one begins by refusing to distinguish between the state apparatus and the party, if the latter is generally identified with the former, if it follows that the international policy of the state and the party is not quite separated then the objective implications of what the state requires and the objective results of the state manoeuvres become an insurmountable obstacle to the creation of an international revolutionary organisation.

Another objective reality weighs down over parties and currents emerging from the process of recomposition of the workers’ movement (elsewhere than in Cuba and Nicaragua) and this is that the identity of interest between the three sectors of the world revolution, which is an historic reality, is not yet part of the day-to-day experience of significant sectors of the vanguard, not to speak of the broad masses. The desynchronisation and largely autonomous development of mass struggles in these three sectors is an important obstacle.

At a given moment in 1968, it was possible to hope that the “Prague Spring” would have a unifying role, multiplying the combined effects of May ’68 and the Tet offensive in Vietnam. The suppression of the “Prague Spring” is thus the political crime with the most unhealthy long-term effects in the long list of crimes committed by the Soviet bureaucracy since the Second World War.

Since then it is a fact that – just to take a few examples – the experiences of the masses and the revolutionaries in Central America is generally cut off from that of the Polish workers in Solidarnosc and from that of the British miners, the Fiat workers in Italy, the French railworkers or the West German steelworkers. Attempts to build bridges can be made by propaganda and solidarity activities. But that does not really replace a common mass experience or one simultaneously transmitted internationally. The very fragmented and partial character of the mass struggles and of the political progress of the vanguard in a number of countries contributes to the same effect. Finally, as we have already said above, the fact that some of the biggest national working class battalions are still absent from the scene of the battle has a big influence on the credibility of the project of rebuilding a mass revolutionary International.

In these conditions, only the Fourth International and a few small groups of equivalent size to its strongest sections, are fully behind a really universal class solidarity. Only the Fourth International has drawn the corresponding organisational conclusion – to simultaneously build national revolutionary parties and a world revolutionary party. revolutionary party.

These obstacles will only be overcome as a result of new explosive developments of the class struggle in the key countries, of new differentiations inside the developing revolutionary organisations and by new events, splits, regroupments, and unifications affecting the traditional mass organisations.

But the idea all these processes can lead spontaneously and automatically to the re-emergence of a real universal internationalism of the sort seen in the first years of the Comintern (less the hyper-centralisation and the tactical errors) has to be rejected as woolly-minded and spontaneist. There will be no new mass revolutionary international without a tireless battle for the building of an International here and now. There will be no new mass revolutionary International without the continued building of the Fourth International, even if the former will not be a simple growth out of the latter but will come out of wide-ranging regroupments.

We can extend the argument even further: there will be no World Socialist Federation in the foreseeable future – and therefore no salvation for humanity – without the prior experience of important sectors of the working masses with a mass revolutionary International functioning as such, that is as a real world organisation, bound by statutes (rules of functioning) freely accepted by all and involving at least partial limiting of sovereignty by its member parties (sections).

But you would have to believe in Father Christmas to think that after thousands of years of exploitation, oppression and violence by the strongest states against other ethnic groups, peoples, states, or weaker classes; after a century of imperialist super-exploitation and oppression against colonial and semi-colonial peoples; after centuries of racial discrimination, violence and even extermination; after a half-century of oppression and discrimination by the Soviet bureaucracy against various foreign nations and nationalities inside the USSR ... that all peoples, oppressed minority groups, working classes and revolutionary parties will automatically and freely accept without any afterthoughts such a limitation of sovereignty as something quite logical.

It seems indispensable that they first have to go through an experience teaching them that world-wide collaboration is possible on a strict basis of equality, where the “small” forces will not have less rights and powers than the “big” ones, where limits on sovereignty are applied first of all on the “powerful” before being placed on the “weaker,” where all discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, nationality, ethnic group is strictly forbidden.

Everything points to participation inside a mass revolutionary International as a place where this experience could be first acquired. The functioning of such an International – as is already the case with the Fourth International today – must be founded on a twofold principle: total autonomy for national parties in the selection of their leaderships and national tactics but international discipline based on the principle of majority rule (democratic centralism in the original Leninist sense of the term and not its Stalinist perversion into bureaucratic centralism) when it comes to international political policies.

If the first principle is abandoned it leads to Zinovievist manipulation or indeed blatantly Stalinist-bureaucratic methods stifling internal democracy and to a completely wrong process of selecting national leaderships whereby only the most servile followers of the “international centre” survive. But if the second principle is rejected, there is a risk of ending up with the terrible result admirably defined by Rosa Luxemburg: “Workers of the world unite in times of peace but cut yourselves to pieces in times of war!”

So the reasons behind the foundation of the Fourth International in 1938 all remain valid today. Let us summarise the results of our analysis. The survival of capitalism implies more than ever the risk of a succession of catastrophes threatening to destroy not just civilisation but the physical existence of the human race. Salvation can only come from the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist regime – its gradual disappearance by reforms is an inconsistent utopia – and its replacement by the reign of freely associated producers, federated on a world scale. Only the international working class is able to overthrow capitalism. But to do this it needs an adequate level of class consciousness and revolutionary leadership.

The working class’s periodic upsurges into direct action create at the same time the conditions for resolving the crisis of the subjective factor, on condition that revolutionaries have been active in the movement for long enough, effectively enough and on a sufficiently wide enough scale. They must simultaneously aim to build new national revolutionary parties and a new International.

On a historic scale the dilemma is therefore identical to what it was in 1938. Either the international proletariat remains generally fragmented into national sectors, fighting separate battles and essentially limited, defensive ones, not breaking except in a few countries the framework of the bourgeois state and bourgeois society.

In this case building a mass revolutionary International will fail but building new mass national revolutionary parties will also necessarily fail. In this eventuality humanity will be condemned.

Or the proletariat of the main countries will act as the French and Italian workers did in 1968-9, the Portuguese workers in 1973-4, the Czech and Polish workers in 1968 and 1980-1 and the Brazilian and Black African proletariat has done in the last few years. On condition that a sufficient number of cadres, solidly rooted in the working class, equipped with a correct programme and strategic vision, able to take appropriate political actions and initiatives, are grouped together in those situations, then the political, organisational, and geographical limits of the ongoing process of recomposition of the workers’ movement will be progressively overcome. The building of new national revolutionary leaderships and a new mass revolutionary International will become possible.

Since we do not doubt for one second that the second eventuality will become reality, we do not doubt for an instant the future of humanity, the development of a mass revolutionary International and the victory of the Fourth International.



24. The Zinovievist regime which flourished in the Comintern after 1923, in particular involved changing national leaderships by brutal interventions (sometimes purely administratively) of the international leadership inside the Comintern sections.


Last updated on 16.8.2004