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Fourth International, January 1946


The Editors

Lenin Lives in the Fourth International


From Fourth International, January 1946, Vol.7 No.1, pp.3-6.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The 22nd anniversary of the death of Lenin is a timely occasion for the revolutionary workers of all countries who cherish his memory to remind themselves once again that Lenin, like Marx, his predecessor and teacher, and like Trotsky, his heir and continuator, was first of all and above all an internationalist; any and every form of national limitedness was completely alien to him. He approached all political questions from the world view and tirelessly explained that the emancipation of the working class, the precondition for the salvation of all humanity from a horrible relapse into barbarism could not be achieved otherwise than by their international organization and the international coordination of their struggle.

More than that, Lenin would not admit that the ties of international organization uniting the revolutionary workers could be suspended for a single day. ‘His first and immediate response to the betrayal of the Social Democracy at the outset of the first World War was to issue the slogan: “The Second International is dead – Long Live the Third International!”’ The Third International, formally constituted in 1919, really began its existence with that slogan of Lenin and the handful of scattered Marxists who rallied to it in the summer of 1914. For an international organization, in the Leninist sense of the word, begins not with the federation of fully formed national organizations but with the proclamation of an international program and the collaborative efforts of its adherents, however few and dispersed they may be, to create national organizations on the basis of the international program.


Expressing that conception three years later – in April 1917 – and two years before the first formal congress of the Communist International, Lenin boldly asserted that “this new International is already established and working.” He said:

It is we who must found, and immediately, without delay, a new, revolutionary, proletarian, International; or rather, we must not fear to acknowledge publicly that this new International is already established and working.

This is the International of those “internationalists in deeds” whom I specifically enumerated above. They and they alone are representatives of the revolutionary internationalist masses, and not corrupters of the masses.

True, there are few Socialists of that type; but let every Russian worker ask himself how many really conscious revolutionaries there were in Russia on the eve of the February-March Revolution of 1917.

The question is not one of numbers, but of giving correct expression to the ideas and policy of the truly revolutionary proletariat. The essential thing is not to “proclaim” internationalism, but to be an internationalist in deeds, even when times are most trying.


The Third (Communist) International, which was born out of the death agony of the Second International in time shared the fate of its predecessor, succumbing to the same fundamental disease: national reformism. The Stalinist theory and practice of “Socialism in One Country” was at bottom only a variation of the Social Democratic policy of “national defense” and had the same fatal results. The Comintern died ingloriously, but its Stalinist betrayers and assassins were no more able to destroy genuine revolutionary internationalism and its concomitant, international organization, than were the Social Democratic betrayers of 1914.

Speaking of the downfall of the Second International, Lenin wrote: “when it is said: The Second International died after suffering shameful bankruptcy – one must be able to understand what this means. It means that opportunism, reformism, petty-bourgeois Socialism became bankrupt and died.”

The same applies fully to the downfall of the Stalinized Comintern. It was not the program of International Communism but its national reformist substitute that died. The doctrines, traditions and methods of Lenin’s Comintern passed over and found expression and organization, without any interruption or lapse of time, in the Fourth International of Trotsky. Lenin and Leninism continued to live in the Fourth International.


The Fourth International, proclaimed by Trotsky immediately after the shameful capitulation of the Comintern to German fascism in 1933, and formally constituted at the World Conference in 1938, claimed the allegiance of all revolutionary Marxists the world over, including ourselves. The Voorhis Act passed by Congress in 1940 compelled the Socialist Workers Party, as is known, to disaffiliate from the Fourth International. It goes without saying, however, that this did not in any way diminish our concern with the fate of the International, nor did it weaken the ideological ties binding us to our co-thinkers the world over. How did these ties of ideological solidarity, which united all Fourth Internationalists throughout the world, survive the catastrophe of the death of Trotsky and the harsh experiences of a five-year World War?

For our part, even in the darkest period of the wartime reaction, when the Nazi terror machine held Europe in its grip and all communication was broken off, we never doubted that the cadres of the Trotskyist parties would survive every test. The facts which are now coming to light, with the partial reestablishment of communications, reveal that this confidence has been far more than vindicated. Ideological firmness and international solidarity, under the harshest circumstances, have been demonstrated in a manner unprecedented in history.

It is now clearly established that neither the ravages of war nor the ruthless suppression suffered by the sections of the Fourth International in all the warring countries succeeded in smashing the Fourth International. The Trotskyist parties arise everywhere stronger in their internationalism than ever. More than that, the Fourth International is today the only workers’ International in existence.


The Second International collapsed for the second time at the outbreak of World War II. The Third International, a pliant tool of the Stalinist bureaucracy, was dissolved by a simple ukase from the Kremlin. It was traded by Stalin for American Lend-Lease. The centrist “London Bureau” which at one time appeared as a pretentious challenger of the Fourth International disappeared without a trace.

This does not mean that there will not be attempts made to reconstitute the defunct, outlived Internationals. The report that a recent congress of the Greek Stalinists called for the reconstitution of the Stalintern may be one sign of such an attempt. The emergence of the socialist parties in European countries will most likely lead to attempts to revive the corpse of the Second International as well. The centrist ILP and POUM may, as Comrade Trotsky predicted, make “new attempts to build an international organization on the pattern of the two and a half international, or, this time, a three and a quarter international” But nothing good can come from such attempts. Nothing useful to the emancipation struggle of the workers can be built on a foundation of centrist futility and national reformist treachery.

One fact stands out like a beacon. The Fourth International is the only one that lived at the outbreak of the war; lived during the darkest days of war reaction; and lives today more virile than ever.


Many were the militants on the European continent who died heroes’ deaths in order that the International might live. The group of German soldiers, inspired by the idea of the Fourth International, who together with French Trotskyist, published an illegal paper, Arbeiter und Soldat, and who paid for it with their lives, held aloft the banner of the Fourth International. This demonstration of working class internationalism at a time when the Stalinists and the treacherous Socialists preached national hatred and rabid jingoism will go down into history as the proud heritage of the Fourth International. It was work such as this which impelled an old German Communist, a former leader of the Communist Party of Germany, to write:

Even if we German communists encounter in Germany a certain discouragement on the question of aid from a real International we will not have to hang our heads. On the contrary, we will be able to say: The International lives, in spite of Hitler, the war, imperialism, the degeneration of the party and in spite of Stalin; the International lives and wants to help you, German workers, so that you may at last fight victoriously for your October!

The European comrades of four parties who in the darkest days of Nazi rule held joint conferences and issued an illegal press in defiance of death and concentration camps – they carried on the work of the Fourth International. The Greek Trotskyists, hounded by their own reactionary government, by the Nazis and above all by the Stalinists, and who retained their organization – they carried on the work of the Fourth International.

The persecuted comrades in India, China, Indo-China and the other colonial countries ruled by bestial imperialist masters – they carried on the work of the Fourth International. So also did the Trotskyists in the most powerful and arrogant imperialist America carry on the fight despite persecution and imprisonment. And so also did the British and Latin-Americans and the Australians, the Canadians and South Africans. A new section of the Fourth International came to life in Italy after twenty years of fascism. No information comes to us from the realm dominated by Stalin, but who can doubt that in the Soviet Union, the fountain-head of the Fourth International, some of its cadres have survived the terror and carry on the fight?


Even more remarkable than the unremitting activity which the cadres of the Fourth International carried on under conditions of war and terror is the solidarity of ideas which they maintained in enforced isolation from each other; the common answers they gave to all the fundamental questions. This is now also clearly established. Four European parties meeting in conference early in 1944 under Nazi occupation were able to record agreement on a programmatic resolution. Other parties, operating under more or less legal conditions in Britain, the United States and other countries revealed, in their separately adopted resolutions, a similar identity of views. The sections of the Fourth International, cut off from each other by the war, with communications disrupted, nevertheless saw eye to eye on all the main problems confronting them.

When the European sections of the Fourth International first had an opportunity to read and study the Socialist Workers Party resolution adopted by the Plenum in October 1943, the editors of Quatrième International introduced it as follows:

The members of the European section of the Fourth International will not fail to note the striking coincidence of the general line of the text with that of the resolutions of the European Conference of February 1944.This is a further proof of the solidity of the program of the Fourth International and of the organic ties that unite all the sections in their thought and action.

On the same theme the European Secretariat of the Fourth International wrote on November 24, 1945:

There is one quality of which the Fourth International is outstandingly proud. It is precisely its internationalism. This was demonstrated politically when with the gradual reestablishment of communications as the second imperialist war drew toward a close, it was learned that in country after country, cut off and isolated by the barriers of censorship and occupation, the world Trotskyist had drawn practically identical theoretical and tactical conclusions from the innumerable historical developments occurring during their isolation.

The Fourth International covered itself with glory during the war in its defense of working class internationalism. When the history of the Fourth International during World War II is written, it will be the richest chapter in the entire history of the revolutionary-socialist movement. It will be a history of the endurance, tenacity and principled firmness of small parties faced with insuperable obstacles, hated and persecuted by the government and by the government-agents of the Second and Third Internationals.

These now well established facts, briefly recited here without the slightest embellishment, are sufficient to explain why all the various Trotskyist parties, reassured by this remarkable demonstration of programmatic solidarity and courageous struggle in times of storm and stress, are now moving forward at a faster pace, expanding their activities on national grounds, and taking steps to coordinate their work internationally. The Fourth International has emerged from the five-year wartime test as a self-confident movement, imbued with a fighting optimism.


As against this, the real situation in the ranks of the international workers’ vanguard, we hear, like a voice from another world, the lamentations of those who, at the outbreak of the war, broke away from the Fourth International and have seen no good in it since. They sought to deal a “catastrophic” blow to the Fourth International and do not yet realize that it is they, not the Fourth International, who suffered the catastrophe. In the face of all the facts which demonstrate the indestructible vitality of the Fourth International, Shachtman, writing in the September 1945 number of The New International, lugubriously announces: “During the war the Fourth International simply ceased to exist as any kind of real movement.” Then, to make sure nobody misunderstood this preposterous statement, he adds a funereal question: “Why did the International die during the war and who and what are responsible for this tragedy?”

Fourth International

Ordinarily, such ostensibly solicitous wailing about the “death” of the organized movement of international Leninism, which contains a strong undertone of malicious slander, could quite easily pass unnoticed by the militants of the Fourth International. We have heard it many times before from people who, putting self-justification ahead of objective truth, consciously or unconsciously substituted the wish for the thought; and it never prevented the Fourth International from continuing to live and to grow. This time, however, the unauthorized obituary has the stamp of an impudent provocation, since it follows closely behind a proposal of the Shachtmanite Workers Party to unite with the Socialist Workers Party and is intended, it is to be presumed, as a contribution to the discussion preparatory to such a unification. For that reason we shall discuss it briefly, but only for the purpose of exposing its discredited antecedents, and of demonstrating its worthlessness and the necessity of rejecting it in toto as a prerequisite to any serious talk of finding a common language with the Socialist Workers Party.


Shachtman’s theory about the death of the Fourth International, like many of his other theories, sprouted from a seed planted by Burnham. The successive stages of its evolution from seed to flower can be traced roughly as follows:

  1. In his notorious document, Science and Style, written in February 1940, Burnham said: “Comrade Trotsky, in the course of your intervention in the present dispute, you have struck such heavy blows against the Fourth International that, for my own part, I am not convinced that the International will be able to survive them. I say advisedly that your blows have been directed ‘against the Fourth International’.”
  2. A few months later Shachtman in company with Burnham led a split from the Fourth International.
  3. Shortly afterward they set up a “Committee for the Fourth International” in opposition to the elected Executive Committee of the Fourth International. Under that banner they tried to organize a rival international organization.
  4. In a circular letter to Workers Party branches, reporting the decisions of the December 1944 meeting of the National Committee, Shachtman explained their opinion of the Fourth International as follows:

The Committee had a discussion, finally, on the question of the Fourth International. It was the common view that the International, as any kind of organised body worthy of recognition by us or by any serious revolutionist, no longer exists.

And what is to be done?

Of the steps to be taken, the most important and immediate is the Formation of a bloc with the International Communists of Germany (IKD) with whom we have developed increasingly fraternal political and organizational relations ... With this bloc, we shall endeavor to group the other groups which generally belong to the Trotskyist movement.

Here we see the “organic” development of a position over period of nearly six years, from the malicious suggestion planted by Burnham early in 1940 to the final announcement of 1945. The record shows – for the benefit of those who did not know it before – that the Fourth International all this time has been deprived of the participation and help of Shachtman, but it does not show that the International ceased to exist because of that. Quite the contrary. In the light of the facts previously cited it is clear that the report about the “death of the Fourth International” is, as Mark Twain would say, “greatly exaggerated.”

The truth is that Shachtman & Co. tried to kill the Fourth International, but they did not succeed. They tried to replace it by another International organization, but they did not succeed in that either. All they got was a “bloc” with the revisionist authors of the Three Theses, the so-called IKD. That is not much. In fact, Shachtman’s “bloc” with the new revisionists, like his ill-fated “bloc” with the revisionist Burnham, is a terrible liability, compromising both parties to the “bloc.” It brings them both into sharper, more irreconcilable conflict with us and with all the main cadres of the Fourth International who survived and grew stronger precisely because they held firmly to their orthodox positions and rejected all revisionism.


The Fourth International has every right to call itself the International of Lenin and to claim his memorial day as their own; no other party, group or tendency in the whole world has any right to it. The program of the Fourth International is built squarely on the principles laid down by the first four congresses of the Leninist Comintern. The Marxism of the Fourth International is the rigid orthodox Marxism of Lenin, scornfully rejecting any and all attempts to smuggle in revisionist contraband. The “organization methods” of the Fourth International – more correctly, its methods of building the proletarian combat party – are the methods expounded by Lenin, not in resolutions only but in life, in his life-long struggle to build the Bolshevik party of Russia.

The revisionists, the “innovators,” in the Soviet Union, in matters of theory and organization, were not the oppositionists headed by Trotsky but the bureaucrats headed by Stalin. The slogan of the Left Opposition – and our slogan today – was “Back to Lenin!” It was not for nothing that the Russian founders of the world-wide movement of the Fourth International called themselves “Bolshevik-Leninists.” In the language of the Fourth International “Trotskyism” and “Leninism” mean the same thing.

The Fourth International wrote no new programs during the long period of the war, and had no need of any. Its sections throughout the world, living for the most part in isolation from each other, lived through the harsh experiences of the war, found the right answers to the main questions, and kept unbroken their ideological solidarity with each other, precisely because they remained faithful to the old program.

As long as that basic standpoint is maintained – and we have no doubt it will be – the errors which have been made, and which will be made in the future, insofar as they relate to secondary questions of tactics, of estimation of the situation at a given moment, etc., can and should be corrected by free democratic discussion without interrupting the practical work of the parties or menacing their unity. It is only when assaults on the basic program are attempted, and when undisciplined petty-bourgeois elements try to put themselves above the party, refusing to submit to the will of the majority – these two manifestations usually go together – it is only then that the unity of a revolutionary workers’ organization is endangered. Lenin taught us, by precept and example, how to deal with either or both of these dangers.


The program is decisive, but the organization is important too; without organization the program remains on paper. So taught Lenin, and after him, his great collaborator and disciple, Trotsky. The ruthless intransigence of our great teachers in matters of principle – of program – is well known and has been assimilated into the flesh and blood of the main cadres of the Fourth International. Their teachings on organization, however, are unfortunately not so well known; or, at any rate, not so well understood, especially by those comrades whose experience has been limited, more or less, to propaganda circles. This, in our opinion, is a great weakness which can endanger the future work of the parties of the Fourth International.

Organized, systematic work; strict accountability; responsibility, dependability and firm discipline, especially on the part of the leaders; attentive hearkening to the voice of the workers in the ranks – these features, absolutely necessary in a real workers’ organization, play a minor role in propaganda circles and discussion clubs, especially those which have very few worker members. But it should be borne in mind that the task of the propaganda circle, as Lenin and Trotsky understood it, is not to stew in its own juice, but to find a way to the workers with its ideas and create a broad workers organization. That means, to dissolve itself within the broader organization and shake off the old habits of its former existence.

Trotsky was so preoccupied, in the last period of his life, with the consuming struggle over great principles, especially against the theoretical revisionism of the Stalinists which turned into outright betrayal in the class struggle, that his expositions of the “organization question” had to be subordinated. His task, in the first place, was to clarify principles and build new cadres, and he performed it magnificently. He conceived the cadres, however, not as ends in themselves, but as the initiating nuclei of genuine workers’ organizations, and he spoke about it more than once. Indeed, since 1934 he waged an unremitting struggle for this transformation. In this connection one should study his great polemics against the Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party in 1939-40 (In Defense of Marxism). Our task now is to transform the cadres created by the monumental work of Trotsky into broad workers parties. We cannot do that if we remain indifferent to the problems of party organization.


What kind of parties do we need to build? There can hardly be two opinions on that subject among those who really wish to be disciples of Lenin, for both his teachings and his practice were so clear as to leave no room for misunderstanding. His writings on the subject are voluminous, and besides that there is his work – the building of the Bolshevik party. Lenin believed in discipline, that is well, known, but he demanded discipline first of all and above all for the leaders. Advising the delegates at the Second Congress of the Comintern, who were debating the problem of party control of parliamentary representatives, he said:

Unless you prepare the workers for the creation of a really disciplined party which will compel all its members to submit to its discipline, you will never prepare for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

His great co-worker and continuator, Trotsky, gave the same advice to the new generation of militants whom he was rallying around the banner of the Fourth International:

It is indispensable to have an organization of the proletarian vanguard welded together by iron discipline, a genuine selection of tempered revolutionaries ready for self-sacrifice and inspired by an unconquerable will to victory.

The observance of the 22nd anniversary of the death of our Lenin would be, in our opinion, a proper occasion for all the cadre-parties of the Fourth International, who have learned and assimilated the political principles of Lenin so well, to pause and think about the type of party which Lenin deemed necessary to realize the victory of these principles.

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Last updated on 8.2.2009