Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


This third issue of our magazine is loosely organised around the fortunes of the Trotskyists during the crisis years of the thirties and the Second World War. Since we hope to carry more material about the War in future issues, readers should not regard this first instalment as closed and self-contained in the same way as our previous number, wholly devoted as it was to the Spanish Civil War.

Since the Second World War followed years of defeat and demoralisation for the working class, the forces at the disposal of the revolutionaries were far smaller than they might have been in relation to the bureaucratic apparatuses of the labour movement – whether Stalinist or Social-Democratic. War tests any political current and the Fourth International was the only one, however unsuccessful, to enter the Second World War with a clear commitment both to fight against capitalist militarism, social chauvinism and pacificism and to struggle for the seizure of power by the proletariat. The tension that arose between the depth of the crisis and the scale of the tasks that it posed for Marxists, and the size of the human and material resources for resolving it, was so great that the Trotskyist movement has largely been consigned to limbo ever since.

The classical Marxists of the Second International believed that the crisis of capitalism would result in the automatic acceptance of the ideas of Marxism among wide layers of the working class. It was mechanistically assumed that the crisis itself would convince sufficient of the working class of the correctness of Marxist ideas to allow an immediate resolution of the problem. After a promising start in its first four Congresses, the Third International tried to side-step the problem in putsches, intrigue and lying propaganda.

The relationship between material reality and the world of ideas is not so simply dealt with. The enormous disparity between the extent of the world crisis of 1943-45 and the size of the conscious factor – the revolutionaries – has created an imbalance between theory and practice that continues to dog the revolutionary movement to this day.

We hope that some of the information set out here, episodic and uneven as it is, will help set the discussion of the whole question on a higher level than it is at present, since the problem remains with us.

Revolutionary History

Updated by ETOL: 2.7.2003