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The New International, October 1938


Leon Trotsky

A Great Achievement

(30 August 1938)

From New International, Vol.4 No.10, October 1938, pp.293-294.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


WHEN THESE LINES APPEAR in the press, the Conference of the Fourth International will probably have concluded its labors. The calling of this Conference is a major achievement. The irreconcilable revolutionary tendency, subjected to such persecutions as no other political tendency in world history has in all likelihood suffered, has again given proof of its power. Surmounting all obstacles, it has under the blows of its almighty enemies convened its International Conference. This fact constitutes unimpeachable evidence of the profound viability and unwavering perseverance of the international Bolshevik-Leninists. The very possibility of a successful Conference was first of all assured by the spirit of revolutionary internationalism which imbues all our sections. As a matter of fact, it is necessary to place extremely great value upon the international ties of the proletarian vanguard in order to gather together the international revolutionary staff at the present time when Europe and the entire world live in the expectation of the approaching war. The fumes of national hatreds and racial persecutions compose today the political atmosphere of our planet. Fascism and racism are merely the most extreme expressions of the bacchanalia of chauvinism which seeks to overcome or stifle the intolerable class contradictions. The resurgence of social patriotism in France and other countries, or, rather, its new open and shameless manifestation pertains to the same category as Fascism, but with an adaptation to democratic ideology or its vestiges.

Also pertaining to the same circle of events is the open fostering of nationalism in the USSR: at meetings, in the press, and in the schools. It is not at all a question of the so-called “socialist patriotism”, i.e., defense of the conquests of the October revolution against imperialism. No, it is a question of restoring preeminence to the patriotic traditions of old Russia. And here the task is likewise one of creating supra-social, supra-class values so as thereby more successfully to discipline the toilers and subject them to the greedy bureaucratic vermin. The official ideology of the present Kremlin appeals to the exploits of Prince Alexander Nevsky, to the heroism of the army of Suvorov-Rymniksky or Kutuzov-Smolensky, while it shuts its eyes to the fact that this “heroism” was based on the enslavement and darkness of the popular masses, and that for this very reason the old Russian army was victorious only in struggles against the still more backward Asiatic peoples, or the weak and disintegrating states on the Western border. On the other hand, in conflicts with advanced countries of Europe the valiant Czarist soldiery always proved bankrupt. Obviously, the experience of the last imperialist war has already been buried in the Kremlin, just as it has forgotten the not unimportant fact that the October revolution grew directly from defeatism. What do Thermidorians and Bonapartists care about all this? They require nationalistic fetishes. Alexander Nevsky must come to the aid of Nikolai Yezhov.

The theory of socialism in one country, which liquidated the program of the international revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, could not fail to terminate in a wave of nationalism in the USSR and could not but engender a responsive wave of the same nature in the “communist” parties of other countries. Only two-three years ago it was maintained that the sections of the Comintern were obliged to support their governments only in the so-called “democratic” states that were prepared to support the USSR in the struggle against Fascism. The task of defending the workers’ state was intended to serve as a justification for social patriotism. Today, Browder, who has been no more and no less prostituted than other “leaders” of the Stalin-item, declares before the senatorial investigating committee that

in the event of a war between the US and the USSR, he, Browder, and his party will be on the side of their own democratic fatherland. In all probability this answer was prompted by Stalin. But the case is not altered thereby. Betrayal has a logic of its own. Entering the path of social patriotism, the Third International is now being clearly torn from the hands of the Kremlin clique. “Communists” have become social-imperialists and they differ from their “social democratic” allies and competitors only in this, that their cynicism is greater.

The Great Betrayal

Betrayal has a logic of its own. The Third International following the Second has completely perished as an International. It is no longer capable of displaying any kind of initiative in the sphere of world proletarian politics. It is, of course, no accident that after 15 years of progressive demoralization, the Comintern revealed its complete internal rottenness at the moment of the approaching world war, i.e., precisely at a time when the proletariat is most urgently in need of its international revolutionary unification.

History has piled up monstrous obstacles before the Fourth International. Moribund tradition is being aimed against the living revolution. For a century and a half, the radiations of the Great French Revolutions have served and are still serving in the hands of the bourgeoisie and its petty bourgeois agency – the Second International – as a means of shattering and paralyzing the revolutionary will of the proletariat. The Third International is now exploiting to the same end the incomparably more fresh and more powerful traditions of the October revolution. The memory of the first victorious uprising of the proletariat against bourgeois democracy serves in the hands of the usurpers to save bourgeois democracy from the proletarian uprising. Confronted with the approach of the new imperialist war, the social patriotic organizations have joined forces with the left wing of the bourgeoisie under the label of the People’s Front which represents nothing else but an attempt on the part of the bourgeoisie, in its death agony, once again to subject the proletariat to its rule just as the revolutionary bourgeoisie had subjected it at the dawn of capitalism. What was once a progressive historical manifestation now appears before us as a revolting reactionary farce. But while the “People’s Fronts” are impotent to cure a capitalism that is rotten to the core, while they are incapable of even checking the military aggression of Fascism – the example of Spain is full of symbolic meaning! – they nevertheless prove still sufficiently powerful to sow illusions among the ranks of the toilers, to paralyze and shatter their will to fight, and thereby create the greatest difficulties in the path of the Fourth International.

The working class, especially in Europe, is still in retreat, or at best, in a state of expectancy. Defeats are still too fresh, and their number far from exhausted. They have assumed their sharpest form in Spain. Such are conditions in which the Fourth International is developing. Is it any wonder that its growth proceeds more slowly than we should like? Dilettantes, charlatans, or blockheads incapable of probing into the dialectic of historic ebbs and flows have more than once brought in their verdict: “The ideas of the Bolshevik-Leninists may perhaps be correct but they are incapable of building a mass organization.” As if a mass organization can be built under any and all conditions! As if a revolutionary program does not render it obligatory for us to remain in the minority and swim against the stream in an epoch of reaction! That revolutionist is worthless who uses his own impatience as a measuring rod for the tempo of an epoch. Never before has the path of the world revolutionary movement been blocked with such monstrous obstacles as it is today on the eve of a new epoch of greatest revolutionary convulsions. A correct Marxist appraisal of the situation prompts the conclusion that we have achieved inestimable successes in recent years, despite everything.

The Russian “Left Opposition” originated 15 years ago. Correct work on the international arena does not add up as yet even to a complete decade. The pre-history of the Fourth International properly falls into three stages. In the course of the first period, the “Left Opposition” still placed hopes on the possibility of regenerating the Comintern, and viewed itself as its Marxist faction. The revolting capitulation of the Comintern in Germany tacitly accepted by all its sections posed openly the question of the necessity of building the Fourth International. However, our small organizations which grew through individual selection in the process of theoretical criticism practically outside of the labor movement itself proved as yet unprepared for independent activity. The second period is characterized by the efforts to find a real political milieu for these isolated propagandist groups, even if at the price of a temporary renunciation of formal independence. Entry into the socialist parties immediately increased our ranks, although in respect to quantity, the gains were not as great as they could have been. But this entry signified an extremely important stage in the political education of our sections which tested themselves and their ideas for the first time face to face with the realities of the political struggle and its living requirements. As a result of the acquired experience our cadres grew a head taller. A not unimportant conquest was also the fact that we parted company with incorrigible sectarians, muddlers and tricksters who are wont to join every new movement in the beginning only to do all in their power to compromise and paralyse it.

The stages of development of our sections in various countries cannot of course coincide chronologically. Nevertheless, the creation of the American Socialist Workers Party can be recognized as the termination of the second period. Henceforth the Fourth International stands face to face with the tasks of the mass movement. The program of the transitional period is a reflection of this important turn. Its significance lies in this, that instead of providing an a priori theoretical plan, it draws the balance of the already accumulated experience of our national sections and on the basis of this experience opens up broader international perspectives.

The acceptance of this program, prepared for and assured by a lengthy previous discussion, or, rather, a whole series of discussions, represents our most capital conquest. The Fourth International is now the only international organization which not only takes clearly into account the driving forces of the imperialist epoch but is armed with a system of transitional demands which are capable of uniting the masses for a revolutionary struggle for power. We do not need any self-deceptions. The discrepancy between our forces today and the tasks on the morrow is much more clearly perceived by us than by our critics. But the harsh and tragic dialectic of our epoch is working in our favor. Brought to the extreme pitch of exasperation and indignation the masses will find no other leadership than that offered them by the Fourth International.


August 30,1938

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