Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

The Fourth International during the Second World War

The following article first appeared in French in the form of prefaces to the different sections of the second volume of Les congrès de la IVe Internationale entitled L’Internationale dans la guerre 1940-1946 published by Editions La Brêche in 1981. It was translated by John Archer and appears here in English with the author’s permission for diffusion to a wider readership.

Rodolphe Prager was born in 1918, and joined the French Socialist Youth in 1932 and the Gauche Bolshevik-Leniniste (Bolshevik-Leninist Left) in 1935. When the Trotskyist Youth, the Jeunesses socialistes révolutionaires, was set up in 1936 he was a member of its Central Committee. From 1937 he joined the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (International Communist Party) of Pierre Frank and Raymond Molinier, was elected onto its Central Committee, and was a founder and leader of the Jeunesses Communistes Internationalistes. When the Molinier tendency sent its delegation abroad at the outbreak of war, when it was made illegal, Comrade Prager represented the youth on this committee, and along with Georges Vereeken and Molinier and Frank edited its Correspondance lnternationaliste. From December 1939 to May 1940 Comrade Prager was imprisoned but in July 1940 he returned to Paris illegally and helped to reconstruct the Trotskyist organisation that later assumed the name of the Comité Communiste Internationaliste (International Communist Committee). As one of its leaders, he conducted the negotiations that led to the unification of his group with the POI of Marcel Hic and the European Secretariat of Michel Pablo, on which he sat as a representative from September 1943 onwards. On the Political Bureau of the PCI he had special responsibility for its anti-colonial work, and had charge of the same aspect of the work of the International Secretariat from 1946 onwards. During the fifties and sixties he was elected onto the Political Bureau of the PCI and served on the Control Commission of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International from 1964 to 1969. The third and fourth volumes of his documentary survey of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International covering the period up to 1952 are shortly to appear.

Material on the history of the French Trotskyists during the Second World War is sadly lacking in English, a situation that Revolutionary History hopes to help overcome. French readers can consult J. Rousset, Les Enfants du Prophète, Paris 1970, pp.25-33, J.J. Marie, Le Trotskyisme, Paris 1970, pp.73-77, Quelques Enseignements de notre Historie, La Verité, May 1970, and two major studies on which Revolutionary History intends to comment at greater length in its next issue, Y. Craipeau, Contre vents et marées: les révolutionaires pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale 1938-1945, Paris 1977, and J. Pluet-Despatin, Les trotskystes et la guerre: 1940-1944, Paris 1980. In 1945 the French Trotskyists published a pamphlet, La lutte des trotskystes sous la terreur nazie, and another major treatment, J.P. Cassanol, Les trotskyistes en France pendant la Deuxième Guerre mondiale (1939-1944), has also recently appeared, adding to a rich body of literature not even hinted at in English.


Part 1: The International Executive Committee

The new leadership, which was installed in May 1940 by the emergency International Conference of the Fourth International, which met in New York, began its work in very special conditions, as may be imagined. The war made relations between different countries very chancy. But, especially, the movement found itself divided and produced by the profound crisis which in 1939-40 had affected the two most important sections of the International, the French and then the American. The Workers Party of the USA, which arose from the split in April 1940, did its best to extend the separation internationally, and set up for that purpose a ‘Committee for the Fourth International’, which enjoyed the support of four former members of the International Executive Committee, Max Shachtman; Nathan Anton (Gould); Mario Pedrosa (Lebrun), Brazil; and C.L.R. James (J.R. Johnson), Britain. To achieve its aims, this Committee made as many international contacts as it could. The new International Secretariat had little means by which to confront this situation. It was hardly appointed before it was still further weakened by the loss of Leon Trotsky, who was murdered in August. His support was decisive and this revealed more clearly that the IEC was not fully representative. The International Secretariat was aware of this state of things. It could claim support only from the American section, the Socialist Workers Party, and it decided to use its mandate within consciously determined limits. It was sparing of efforts to undertake a role of real leadership, and devoted itself primarily to maintaining or restoring its links with as many countries as possible, to getting information circulated and to publishing only a few texts, in the form of manifestos, which made known the solutions which the Fourth International advanced to the challenges of the great turns in the war.

One of its principal concerns, naturally, was to overcome the divisions in the Trotskyist forces in various countries and to help to unify them. This mission was entrusted in particular to Sherry Mangan in Latin America. His job as a journalist, a correspondent of Time, Life, and Fortune, provided this member of the SWP with the possibility to travel in various Latin American countries and to render valuable services. He arrived in Argentina early in 1941 and worked to bring together more closely some five groups which claimed to be Trotskyist. The divergences which separated these groups did not seem to him to be such as could not be debated inside the same organisation. A unification committee was formed and bore fruit in the founding conference of the Workers Party of the Socialist Revolution, which brought four of these organisations together. Unhappily the new organisation did not hold together for long, perhaps for lack of political preparation of the fusion, because Mangan and the International Secretariat were anxious to act as quickly as possible, in anticipation of coming events. The unity which was achieved in Chile in June 1941 seemed to have a better chance of survival. The Partido Obrero Revolutionario came into existence as one (proportionately) of the larger sections and was well implanted in the working class in mining and transport. In Cuba, the section which received the support of a number of leaders who had emigrated from Europe, such as Louis Rigaudias (Rigal), a pre-war leader in France of the POI, came out of isolation and took part in important strikes, in particular among railwaymen.

In India, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Burma and Ceylon was founded in May 1942. It brought together the original groups in Ceylon, Bengal, the United Provinces and Madras. This implantation owed much to the activity of the Ceylonese Trotskyists of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, who in 1939 had sent militants to India to found groups in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and other cities. Four Ceylonese leaders, Colvin de Silva, D.P.R. Gunawardena, N.M. Perera and E. Samarakkody, who had been jailed in 1940, escaped in April 1942, with the guards among whom they had formed a Trotskyist cell. They took an active part in India in the struggles of the newly-formed party, which suffered severely from repression, with many Trotskyists arrested in Bombay and Madras in July 1943. Perera and Gunawardena were re-captured in Bombay and brought to trial in Kandy on 8 February 1944, when they distinguished themselves by their brilliant revolutionary defence. A second conference of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India was held on 20-25 September 1944, and produced the thesis: The Political Situation in India Today.

The International Executive Committee then again despatched Sherry Mangan to busy himself with correcting the situation in Britain. The activity of the official British section, the Revolutionary Socialist League, was weak and the organisation declined. Mangan had to put fresh life into it, and succeeded in getting a national conference held, to put it back on the rails. The aim in view would be a unification with the Workers’ International League, which had experienced a certain development and improved its implantation in the trade unions. The fusion of the two groups at a congress on 12-13 March 1944, produced the Revolutionary Communist Party, in which the former members of the WIL had a substantial majority.

Some good news reached the USA in 1944: British and American Trotskyists in uniform were able to make contact with a group in Italy formed by Nicola Di Bartolemeo (Fosco). He was an experienced Trotskyist militant, back from deportation to the island of Tremiti. When this group first applied to join the Fourth International, the International Secretariat was slow to reply in the absence of Jean Van Heijenoort. He strongly opposed delay and prevailed upon the IEC to send a positive reply. Fosco was a former member of the PCI (Pierre Frank-Raymond Molinier); during a period in Spain in 1936, he had come into conflict with the representatives of the International Secretariat. Fosco had been completely isolated. He had had no information about the Fourth International, having since 1939 been pushed about between prison, internment and deportation in France and Italy. He voiced doubt about the legitimacy of leading bodies of the International and his positions on the USSR seemed to be suspect; he had, also, been in correspondence with Shachtman. All this explains why the American representative on the IEC, Bert Cochran (E.R. Frank), was reluctant to admit this newly-formed Italian group fully into the International without more complete information and political clarification on the points at issue.

Relations with France had been kept open more or less through Marseilles until the Trotskyist leadership in the South was arrested on 2 June 1942; they were not restored until September 1944. In the early days of the war they had been maintained by Sherry Mangan, who had lived in France since 1938, and who, as a journalist, could carry out very useful tasks when the French organisation had to go underground. His dispatches about the deserted state of Paris, from which he was one of the few who did not run away on the eve of the entry of the German forces, were a great success. He also helped to reconstruct the Trotskyist organisation during the first weeks of the Nazi occupation., until the Nazis expelled him on 17 August 1940. There were some shadows over the political relations between the International Secretariat and the French section, or its various components, as a result of the dissolution of the International Executive Committee in June 1939, which affected it adversely. The regroupment of its forces in July 1940 did not entirely satisfy the International Secretariat, which was disagreeably surprised by the new name which they adopted - Committee for the Fourth International. The report from Marcel Hic and Yvan Craipeau, dated 7 August 1940, which reached New York during October 1940, explained clearly the two orders of consideration on which this decision was based. First, on the observation that “recent events have in fact reduced the organisational and political cohesion of the world party of socialist revolution, the Fourth International”, and secondly, that “the period of the war has been marked by an indubitable organisational retreat”, after the splits which had occurred in the two ‘key’ sections, the French and American. Today it seems doubtful that in these conditions the International Executive Committee could assume the role of a real leadership, when one takes into account that for a long time it had had no documents whatever analysing the situation in Europe, and that it refused to set up a sub-secretariat in Europe. The report also defended the choice of title on a deeper level: “the existence of the principles of the Fourth International is not in itself sufficient to create an International … we cannot really speak about an International, except to the extent that it rests on parties which are well-rooted in the working class”.


Hic and Craipeau concluded their letter by pleading with the American Trotskyists to re-unite in the SWP. They called for an early international conference to be held and announced their intention of working on their own initiative to create a European Secretariat. The International Executive Committee replied somewhat sharply to this document in November 1940. Their reply expresses the opinion that this “alarming” document expressed nothing but “capitulation to centrism”. For, was it not repeating the arguments which the German SAP, the Brandlerites and the POUM in Spain had used against the Fourth International? The International Executive Committee rejected the idea that the International had declined; it considered that the victorious resistance to the revisionism of James Burnham and Max Shachtman was, on the contrary, a gain for the movement which was being tested in the fires of war. It expressed concern also about the view of the French organisation on the subject of the USSR (which the Hic-Craipeau document did not mention), because they knew that Craipeau was fundamentally in agreement with the line of Burnham and Shachtman, and had defended them in their controversy with Trotsky. The International Executive Committee declared without hesitation that “a correct approach to the burning tasks of the French section at the present time calls for the organisation to be politically rearmed, and the entire orientation of H (Hic) and C (Craipeau) to be rejected”. The International Executive Committee appealed, in a way, from them to the membership, by laying down that “this must begin by immediate rejection of the suggested capitulation to centrism. We are not an organisation for the Fourth International, but the organisation of the Fourth International”.

News from France continued to be incomplete and to arrive irregularly and be subject to varying periods of delay. They wondered in the USA what would be the future of the French section, which had been destabilised when it broke up in 1939 when it lost its principal ‘historic’ leaders, Pierre Naville, Gerard Rosenthal, Alexis Bardin, Joannès Bardin (Boitel) and finally Jean Rous, on whom Trotsky and the American leaders rested their last hopes. These were the uncertainties which explain why the International Secretariat did not follow up, after September 1939, the proposal to set up a European sub-secretariat. Moreover, they placed no great reliance on Craipeau, who played a central ro1e up to June 1940. The International Conference in May 1940 once more gave evidence of prudence and caution in this connection. It agreed that a European Secretariat might be set up – when the conditions for it arose. The document of the International Executive Committee does not seem to have been known in France. None of the militants who have been questioned remembers it. In any case, there is no sign of any political ‘turn’ resulting possibly from it. For this reason, it happened that the organisation met the wishes of the International Executive Committee, consciously or otherwise, only in April 1942, when it resumed the name, Committee of the Fourth International, before it returned from that to its pre-war title, Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste, at the meeting of its National Council on 26-27 December 1942. These formal changes went in step with changes of perspective and orientation, such as the policy of the ‘Workers’ Front’.

We should note that the Trotskyists in the Southern (unoccupied) zone of France, who enjoyed a certain independence, never did accept the formulation “for the Fourth International”. They opposed the political line of the ‘Parisians’, not without passion, especially on the national question. The International Executive Committee could derive some satisfaction particularly from the Monthly Bulletin of the Fourth International, which was produced in Marseilles, and which developed its own line and did not spare its criticism of the theses of the national leadership. It was their texts especially which were reproduced in the bulletins published in the USA and in particular the resolutions of the second and third regional conferences of June and December 1941. The international leadership took care to observe that these documents agreed with the analyses of the International Executive Committee as far as concerned both the situation in France and the defence of the USSR, a point on which – we must stress – the whole of the French organisation stood firm on the traditional Trotskyist positions.

The International Secretariat published eleven issues of the International Bulletin between 1940 and 1945: three in 1940, four in 1941, two in 1942, but none in 1943 and only one in 1944 and 1945.

Voorhis Act

The composition of the International Secretarial: was subject to many hazards. After Trotsky, another member of the International Executive Committee, Waiter Held, fell victim to Stalin’s killers, when he was trying to reach the USA from Sweden by crossing the USSR. At the beginning, the International Secretariat consisted of Sam Gordon (J.B. Stuart), USA, who acted as its administrative secretary, Van Heijenoort, France; Ludwig-Suhl, Germany and A. Gonzales, USA/Mexico. Sam Gordon departed at the end of 1941 to join the US merchant navy. At first his place was taken by E.R. Frank (Cochran), while Van Heijenoort took over the functions of secretary. As years passed this team was reduced. The delegate of the German section ended up withdrawing from the International Secretariat, as a result of tensions caused by the discussion of the Three Theses, which the SWP vigorously opposed but which had favourable reception from the Workers Party. Towards the end of the war, the International Secretariat was reduced to two members, after Gonzales left the USA. Its situation became all the more delicate in that the SWP itself was deprived of the most eminent members of its leadership, who were in jail throughout 1944 following the verdict of the Minneapolis trial. We should remember also that the American section found itself compelled, under the Voorhis Act, to decide at its special convention on 21 December 1940, to disaffiliate from the Fourth International in order to avoid being forced into illegality. The SWP declared loosely that its convictions remained unchanged and that it remained in complete solidarity with the Fourth International. Its relations and the collaboration of its members with the International at all levels continued in other forms, such as fraternal delegations or the presence of its members as observers.

The presence of Jean Van Heijenoort contributed to ensuring that the International Secretariat had a certain continuity and legitimacy. He was better informed than anyone else about the experience of the international Trotskyist movement and its sections, thanks to his long collaboration with Trotsky, which gave him the benefit of a certain notoriety. His political contributions and studies of the development of the war and of European problems, reproduced in the international Trotskyist press, and even in the underground La Verité in France, indicate his authority and his work during these years. However, what he wrote did not always meet with the agreement of the SWP leaders, especially in 1943-44, on the national question, democratic demands and revolutionary perspectives in Europe. He shared the criticisms of the Albert Goldman-Felix Morrow minority, and opposed the theses of the SWP majority on the ground that they expressed over-simplified opinions, neglected nuances and failed to take into account any alternatives but those of socialist revolution or military dictatorship, to the exclusion of the hypothesis that bourgeois democracy could be restored. We may think that it was these political differences, as they deepened, which explain the absence of any documents from the International Executive Committee in the final, decisive phase of the war, from the fall of Mussolini in 1943 onwards.

The five declarations by the International Executive Committee drew their inspiration from the theoretical legacy of Trotsky and principally from his last programmatic document, Imperialist War and the World Proletarian Revolution. The manifesto, France under Hitler and Petain, is generally based upon that document and extends its analysis. It was written by Jean Van Heijenoort, and brings the situation created by the Nazi occupation together with the experience of class struggle in the 1930s. He made clear how the set-back of the great revolutionary wave of 1936, which was consciously obstructed by the traditional organisations of the workers’ movement, consolidated the power of Hitler, encouraged him to be audacious and thus made the war inevitable. The humiliating military defeat of May and June 1940 expressed the decline of French imperialism, which dated back to before World War One. Its military General Staff was paralysed with fear and hated nothing so much as having to fight battles and deal with the disturbances which could result from them. So they doomed themselves to that period of passive waiting which public opinion had labelled ‘the phoney war’. They decided not to make war – after they had declared it.

The military disaster in the spring and summer of 1940 led to indescribable chaos in France. The government no longer had control of anything whatsoever. The concern of the generals to forestall any uncontrolled intervention by the masses into the conflict inclined them to think immediately about an armistice with Hitler. The more comforting choice of surrendering to Hitler was made – in preference to withdrawing to North Africa and continuing; the war. It was not a long way from patriotism to defeatism for these ‘brass hats’ when their class interests guided them. The Chamber of Deputies, on which the Popular Front governments had been based since 1936, was shorn of its Communist Party members, who were jailed. It voted, without a struggle, for its own dissolution, and handed absolute powers over to Petain. The Bonapartist regime of Petain lacked a mass base and did not have the characteristics of fascism. De Gaulle and his following of ex-colonial governors and slave-owners, could not establish any regime in France different from that of Petain.

Jean Van Heijenoort’s judgement has to be read in the light of the state of affairs towards the end of 1940. It expresses a legitimate suspicion of the design to “restore” the greatness of France “by way of an Allied victory” and resisted Gaullist illusions about a “sacred union”.


The supremacy of the Nazis was not to last long. The test of strength on the world scale had only just begun. The document of the International Executive Committee came down against impressionistic or even fatalistic tendencies to regard Nazi rule as likely to endure. It placed the ‘blitzkrieg’ and Hitler’s overwhelming supremacy in their world setting. The spiral of war was to extend from continent to continent. Hitler had for the moment reduced Europe to one vast concentration camp, but national oppression was to bring a powerful national movement against this oppression into existence. The epoch of bourgeois democracy in decadence, which had led to this incredible collapse, seemed to have passed away for ever, in the light of the colossal revolutionary crises to come. Both the reformists who had basely gone on their knees to Petain, and the Stalinists, the former apostles of ‘anti-fascism’, who were now negotiating with the Nazi occupiers to be made legal, had disqualified themselves. The influence of Stalinism remained the principal threat to the workers' movement: “One of the essential tasks of the French comrades is to turn towards the Communist workers”. The key to the future situation was the construction of the revolutionary party. The new epoch was that of the Fourth International. Trotsky’s prognostication was to be repeated constantly in documents published on both sides of the Atlantic, taking its place in the perspective of the revolutionary crisis embracing every continent and reaching unprecedented dimensions.

The resolution on US intervention in China, the authors of which had the benefit of the co-operation of Harold Isaacs, who initiated the original proposal, as well, probably, as that of Frank Glass, bears witness to the exceptional complexity of the problems which arose during World War Two. China, stated the resolution, was waging a war for national liberation against Japanese imperialism. It should, of course, accept material aid from USA, without, at the same time, agreeing in return to economic, military or political concessions, which would open up a new imperialist penetration. They had, therefore, to be careful not to idealise US aid by concealing the real motives for which it was provided. The resolution, however, opposed those who, like Shachtman and certain Chinese Trotskyists, held the opinion that the struggle of China against Japan was ceasing to be progressive because it was becoming entirely subordinated to the inter-imperialist war; despite the reactionary policy of Chiang Kai-shek, the resolution continued, as in the past, to support the cause of China. It advocated a revolutionary war to coincide with the emancipation of the peasant masses, which alone could mobilise the population, could break up the Japanese army and lead to a real liberation of China by driving out Chiang Kai-shek. It declared its solidarity with the peasant armies which the Chinese Communist Party led, which under attack from the reactionary government and had to fight both Japan and Chiang Kai-shek at once. Nonetheless, they subjected the Stalinist policy of class collaboration to severe criticism.

One of the turning-points in the world conflict was the war which Hitler unleashed against the Soviet Union in June 1941. The manifesto, For the Defence of the USSR, was drafted by Van Heijenoort; it emphasised that the mortal danger which threatened the Soviet Union was due to the policies of Stalin. Those policies had made Hitler’s access to power easier. They had strengthened his position by their sabotage of the revolutionary movements in France and Spain. It had speeded up the approaching outbreak of war by concluding the pact with Germany and had supported Hitler’s conquests. The task of rooting out Stalinism fell to the working class; the overthrow of Stalin could not be left to Hitler. The manifesto called on the Trotskyists to be the best soldiers in the USSR. It repeated the forecast that the bureaucracy would not survive the war, whether the USSR emerged victorious or defeated. In Germany and in the occupied countries, the defence of the USSR implied sabotage of the Nazi war machine. The unconditional defence of the USSR did not, in any case, involve any concession or relaxation on the part of the Trotskyists of their struggle against the ruling bureaucracy. The task of organising the Soviet section of the Fourth International had become more urgent than ever. We still can find the phrase: “The imperialist allies of the Kremlin are not our allies”. Our revolutionary struggle in the ‘democratic’ countries continued and should be intensified. The war was spreading and becoming still more serious on the world scene with the upheavals which followed in its train.

In India the national movement had experienced a fresh revival when the war began. The nationalist leaders demanded the independence of their country in exchange for their participation in the war on the side of the ‘democracies’. British colonialism was not disposed to make concessions; it decided to use the strong hand. There were widespread arrests; demonstrations were violently broken up. In response, a vast strike movement spread in 1942 from city to city; these were strikes of workers, students and traders, usually without any real leadership. The ‘democratic’ aeroplanes of Britain machine gunned and then bombed the crowds. The Indian Communist Party placed itself squarely across the nationalist movement of the great masses and condemned the strikes in token loyalty to the Anglo-American allies. The manifesto, To the Workers and Peasants of India, probably written largely by Felix Morrow, appeared in response to these events. The strategic position of India in the process of dislocation of the great colonial empires was only too evident. The manifesto saw India as the weakest link in the imperialist chain, as Tsarist Russia had been in 1914. It saw in the uprisings of 1942 the sign that the coming revolutionary wave would be on quite a different scale from that of World War One.

The dissolution of the Communist International in May 1943 caused a considerable sensation. Many people questioned its purpose and there were Communist militants who criticised it. Nazi propaganda claimed that it was no more than a manoeuvre of camouflage, and linked to this claim the fact that a number of the Communist parties wanted to play down the importance of the event. The explanations at the level of principle which Moscow provided, and which the top leaders of the Comintern endorsed, were so mutually inconsistent that they could not be taken seriously. In fact Stalin had taken a step which cost him hardly anything. He had decided to liquidate the apparatus which had become an embarrassment to him and which he despised. He chose a suitable moment to give a guarantee to the Allies and raise his credit in the eyes of Roosevelt and Churchill. He went further than they asked, because they in no way imposed the decision on him. We have to note that, in its time the dissolution did cause a certain amount of feeling in the ranks of the Communist parties. But today there appears to be no one who regrets the disappearance of the Comintern, in these circles, where they now tend to blame the Comintern for many of their sins and to hold it responsible for all the false steps of the 1930s. That avoids the need to call themselves directly into question, and makes Stalinism “an external factor”.


Part 2: The French and German Sections at the beginning of the war

The overwhelming victory of Hitler’s armies and their disconcerting effectiveness, together with their occupation of France and a large part of Europe, created a new situation in the summer of 1940, one which overturned everyone’s preconceived ideas. The collapse of the economic and administrative apparatus in France produced a certain vacuum. The working class was engulfed in the storm and, at the time, was almost driven from the scene of society. It was deeply disoriented and dispersed; only a quarter of the workers were engaged in production. They asked themselves what could have caused the disaster, and felt extremely suspicious of all political formations. The reformist CGT took out of its constitution every reference to the class struggle and put in a prohibition of strikes. The movement of retreat went to the very bottom of the wave. It is true that the clandestine Communist Party still existed, reduced to a few thousand scattered militants, shaken by its successive ‘turns’ which ended with the German-Soviet Pact, but its audience among the workers was noticeably thinner. The military supremacy of Germany was such that no one questioned the future of the Nazi reign in Europe. There were many uncertainties in the future, which depended on the fortunes of war on the world scale. The immediate question was that of the outcome of the Battle of Britain, which would have great weight in the development of the balance of forces.

As, for the revolutionaries, they had important problems to rethink and political and tactical readjustments to make. Everything had to be re-considered in clandestine organisational forms in order to evade the much-feared Gestapo. The Trotskyists were no better prepared than other currents for such events. They had to. rebuild the organisation and to undertake its political rearmament on delicate and unexpected questions. Their members were reduced by the defection of their former leader’s and founders of the movement, as well as by a split, which had lasted for a year and a half. A great majority of the young and very young militants who had been recently recruited were to form the organisation which brought together again the former ‘entrists’ and ‘non-entrists’ of Pivert’s PSOP, These young people displayed strong tendencies to activism in the Youth Hostels movement, the CLAJ, which Trotskyists led in the early months of the occupation. One would witness surprising scenes in the hostels, with political discussions going on openly, punctuated by revolutionary songs and by the emotional singing of the International when Trotsky’s murder was announced – in Paris with the Wehrmacht patrolling everywhere! Preoccupation with agitation and immediate mass intervention led to the Report on the National Question, drafted by Marcel Hic in very special circumstances. This bears the mark of June 1940 more than any other written document. Its very emotional character does not represent the policies which were being followed during this whole period. Its influence was to be reflected in the early issues of La Verité, but one does not find anywhere else in the texts to which we can refer the over-hasty, summary judgements, nor in particular, the idea of a convergence with the bourgeoisie “which wishes to be French” and the slogan of committees of national vigilance. The more subtle analyses which are contained in the theses of the Conference of August 1941, which saw “something fundamentally healthy” in the support of the masses for De Gaulle, and which declared that Trotskyists were “ready to fight shoulder to shoulder with this current”, were nonetheless appreciably more moderate. If we wish to judge better the thinking of Marcel Hic on the national question, we may go to the theses of the European Secretariat in July 1942, and leave aside the report of 1940. His evolution took him a long way from his original positions. It can be seen clearly in the documents and the manifesto which emerged from the Congress of the POI in June 1943. Hic I emphasised in an appreciation which he wrote of the work of that Congress:

The Congress marked a certain strengthening of the political line of the organisation. A more thorough assessment has been made of the party's policy over the last three years. The Central Committee has recognised clearly and without equivocation that it has too often expressed our programme in an incorrect or equivocal theoretical form, in its desire to make itself the echo of the current concerns of the masses and to link itself to their immediate struggles. It has recognised the correctness of a certain number of the criticisms formulated by the minority.

This minority, called the Internationalist Opposition, was led by Gibelin and Salle. It existed from 1940 onwards and reappeared in February 1943 with the publication of an extremely critical document, Return to Lenin! The Belgian section thought this useful enough to reproduce it in its own internal bulletin.

But now let us turn to the Resolution on the Moral Report of the 1943 Congress, which devoted itself to the self-critical assessment. In that way we can grasp its meaning:

The organisation found itself fully engaged in battle in July 1940, with its doctrine still imprecise, its organisation very loose, its leadership lacking cohesion and its cadres inexperienced and lacking political education. Consequently in the first period its politics were often incoherent, opportunistic and confused. Its press appeared practically outside the control of the party. Even the Bulletin of the Fourth International expressed no more than the opinions of its chief editor, including the Letter to an English Worker, which evoked sharp protests because, starting from current concerns, it ran the risk of concealing from the comrades, behind tactical formulations, the defeatist content of our policy. As for La Verité, its editors revealed the most regrettable opportunist and nationalist illusions … These deviations expressed themselves in a generally opportunist policy. The opportunism found a place for itself within a perfectly praiseworthy concern (which is to be found particularly in the Transitional Programme) for leading the patriotism of the masses, which expresses healthy aspirations, into opposition to the nationalism of the bourgeoisie … But the leadership, in applying this policy at the time, committed grave mistakes, and today it will in no way intend to hide these mistakes; we want to pin-point them, so that we can draw out the lessons of experience.

But the document which was to carry the deeper self-criticism, which the Central Committee was instructed to prepare, does not seem to have appeared – perhaps because Marcel Hic and the principal members of the leadership were arrested at the beginning of October 1943. However, a new political readjustment, including a more radical, condemnation of the course taken in 1940-1942, came out of the preparatory discussion for the European Conference of February 1944. The discussion on the national question, which had been going on in nearly every country, reappeared slightly at the end of the war, but never was really carried through to the end.

As for the Three Theses of the emigré German comrades of the IKD, we are not dealing here with a sudden transitory act, but with the completion of something which had been developing for several years. The supreme importance which the Committee in Exile (AK) of the IKD attached in 1935 to the resistance of the churches to being integrated into the Nazi system, to the point that the IKD gave ‘unconditional support’ to the church in its operations in workplaces, had already been an alarming sign, as Felix Morrow points out. The IKD came into conflict on this question with Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow, who collaborated in the International Secretariat without belonging to the German section; Trotsky finally came down on the side of the IKD, with circumspection, against the sectarian position of the former leaders of the German Communist Party. But he made no concessions, and emphasised the priority of work in the factories, observing that “we have already had too much debate on this question”.

The prospect that society was developing backwards under the effects of Fascism, and of having to pass through the phase of a popular democratic movement, was gaining support during the years preceding the war. The theses of Walter Held on the construction of the Fourth International, which the Conference of the, IKD adopted in August 1937, and which, it was hoped, would be considered by the Founding Conference of the Fourth International in September 1938, included certain ambiguities. A more systematic development of this variation was to be advanced by Johre, the principal theoretician of the group, in Unser Wort for October 1938. It drew the conclusion that a historically retrogressive evolution of humanity, which culminated in the victory of Nazism, placed at the head of the agenda the need to reconquer the philosophical gains of the 19th century.

The victories of Hitler in the early part of the war could not fail to encourage such tendencies further. Walter Held had clearly in his mind that “Europe will be subjected to Fascism for the coming period of history”. The epoch of national uprisings and wars of national liberation of past centuries had returned to the order of the day, he continued in his article, one of his last, which was sent from Stockholm, where he had taken refuge from the Nazi invasion of Norway. In his opinion, the Fourth International should adapt itself to these tasks, and should free itself from the narrow framework of workers’ demands about pay and conditions, directing its activities towards the needs of the liberation movement which embraces every layer of the people.

Johre then took a decisive step after he arrived in New York in the autumn of 1943. He had personally experienced the horrors of the ‘Fall of France’ and the agony of the destitute German exiles, whom the French Government interned in the sinister camps in the South-West, and who were in danger of falling into the clutches of the Gestapo.

Johre had made up his mind that the activity of the Fourth International was thoroughly outdated, and that nothing but a radical reconversion could save it from total bankruptcy. This transformation should take the form in particular of an entirely new press and new publications, adapted to the milieux of the radical-democratic petty bourgeoisie. He was already forming this opinion in 1938, but was unable to carry it into practical effect until June 1947, with the appearance in the USA of Dinge der Zeit (Contemporary Things)

The Three Theses were strongly ‘catastrophist’, and drew a sombre picture, but they did not develop a real political analysis, and this deficiency supports Morrow’s statement that they are vague and confused. They start from the perspective of a long war, the outcome of which cannot be foreseen, which would destroy civilisation from top to bottom, in the absence of a revolt of the masses. They distinguished no way forward specifically identified with the movement of the working class until after the national-democratic revolution had been accomplished. This vision was developed in other documents, such as Socialism and Barbarism, which Johre wrote in a literary-philosophical style peculiar to him, which had already been met in Unser Wort. The events at the end of the war did not change the views of the few dozen German exiles in the USA and Britain, most of whom had anyway no intention of going back to Germany. He forecast that the most developed nations, former colonial powers, would be subjected to national oppression, which would reduce them “to a level below that of India”. Pessimism raised to the level of theory is a bad counsellor. Historic retrogression and the threat of barbarism are realities, to be sure, and they are not to be underestimated. The Fourth International never ceased to present the dilemma of socialism or barbarism. But the one-sided, mechanical picture of an imminent return to the Middle Ages was a mere caricature of an historical perspective, which failed to take revolutionary possibilities into account. Raised like a scarecrow, it served to disguise an abandonment of the Trotskyist programme of world revolution and a return to a policy of ‘stages’, which is essentially a social-democratic one and is based on illusions about regenerating bourgeois democracy. The symptoms of barbarism are by no means confined to Fascist regimes alone, which are only one of its manifestations. They are essential features of the survival of capitalism, and make the direct struggle for socialism more immediately relevant and more urgent.


Part 3: The European Secretariat (1942-43) and the Provisional European Secretariat (1943)

The ‘underground’ Trotskyist groups, in their isolation and inspired as they were with internationalist convictions, felt the need to group together within a European framework when the links with the USA were broken. Communications between France and Belgium were possible if secondary roads were used, especially between Tourcoing in France and Mouscron in Belgium, where there was a Trotskyist group sympathetic to Vereeken. The Belgian section had lost a good part of its former cadres, and was reconstructed at the beginning of the occupation around young militants such as Henry Opta, Abraham Leon (Wajnsztok), Camille Loos and Ernest Mandel. There were exchanges between France and Belgium, and in January 1942 a French delegation, which included Marcel Hic, Craipeau and Swarm went to Brussels, The meeting to form the new European Secretariat finally took place in the Belgian Ardennes, at St Hubert, in the family property of Henry Opta, who represented the Belgian section with Leon-Wajnsztok and possibly Widelin-Monat. We know little about this meeting. What Craipeau says about it has unfortunately to be taken with caution. We may guess that the debate on the political situation dealt partly with the national question, and that this could have led Hic to write his theses on that question. An important contribution by Leon, on 7 February 1942, was The Tasks of the Fourth International in Europe, which presents a very complete platform, and enables an idea of the positions of the Belgian section to be obtained.

The tasks of the European Secretariat were defined as follows:

  1. To reorganise a German section as quickly as possible;
  2. To get in touch with the sections in Switzerland, Holland, Poland and Greece;
  3. To renew publication of the journal, Quatrième Internationale;
  4. To renew regular contact with the International Secretariat.

These proposals are evidence of ambitious projects when their forces and their resources were so few. Moreover, the document revealed that the profound changes in the situation as well as the new tasks should offer a favourable setting for approaches to various currents which claimed to he attached in principle to the Fourth International. Hence the proposal to hold an enlarged conference “of official sections of the Fourth International with dissident groups”, such as the PCI of France (Frank-Molinier), Henk Sneevliet’s RSAP in the Netherlands, Contre le Courant (Vereeken) in Belgium and the Spanish POUM, to explore the possibility of a closer relationship and of studying the tasks and tactics of the vanguard in the existing situation. We do not know whether this scheme received the assent of the French section, because it seems to have made no moves in that direction. Leon’s work remained at the level of a plan, for reasons which we do not know.

The European Secretariat which resulted from this meeting was centred in Paris, but in the absence of collective work the entire responsibility was carried by Marcel Hic, who wrote and acted in its name. Criticisms were levelled at the “ultra-bureaucratic methods” of the European Secretariat by the minority of the POI. The European theses of 1944 allude to the European Secretariat as being “controlled at this period exclusively by the French comrades”. We can see here nothing more than Hic’s concern to build and at all costs to give life to the movement in very adverse conditions. In order to emerge from this state of isolation and to seek a broader basis, he urged Daniel Guerin and Paul Thalmann to collaborate more closely with the European Secretariat by submitting to them the draft theses on the national question.

Both of them refused his invitation. Guerin was former leader of the Pivertist Left who had moved nearer to the Trotskyists during the war and co-operated with the organisation without joining it. The cooperation of Paul Thalmann, a German-speaking political militant, was of obvious interest. He was a former leader of the Swiss Communist Party and an early Oppositionist, but he had moved away from Trotskyism particularly on the Russian question. Hic addressed himself to Thalmann knowing this full well, in the hope that he would nonetheless contribute to rebuilding the German section. Proposals for collaboration the Belgian section in July 1942, and were ratified by the national council of the POI at the end of December by nine votes to one. They are the most developed study of the problem to be produced in occupied Europe, and deserve to receive attention, whatever criticisms may be made of them. The importance which they gave to the national movement and to its ‘progressive character’, as the road along which proletarian struggles would go as they developed, still strongly recalls the period. In the following year this emphasis decreased, giving way to the new, upward movement of the working class which revealed that the revolution was approaching. In 1943 the POI leaders were to admit that the theses “included certain equivocal formulations”, before the Paris Regional Congress of the POI in 1944 once more confirmed its abandonment of the nationalist deviations, the text-book of which was the theses on the national question of 1941. The European Conference was to go so far as to condemn the theses as “a social-patriotic deviation … incompatible with the programme of the Fourth International”. These criticisms of the theses may seem severe, but in reality they included in the same condemnation the more serious errors of 1940, and sought to break completely from a certain past.

Proposals for collaboration from the CCI, on the other hand, received a negative reply. The group was invited simply to join the official section and to fight for its position within it. Relations between the two organisations were to take a different turn in 1943.

Marcel Hic’s theses on the national question received the support of the Belgian section in July 1942, and were ratified by the national council of the POI at the end of December by nine votes to one.

The Manifesto on the Dissolution of the Comintern is a vigorous and clearly written pamphlet which no doubt appeared on Hic’s sole responsibility. Naturally its main purpose was to encourage a dialogue with Communist militants, shaken by this unexpected decision and its great symbolic value. The cover of the mimeographed brochure reads: “Long Live the Fourth International”.

The re-formation of the international organisation really began only with the establishment of the Provisional European Secretariat in the summer of 1943. The resolution, The Reconstruction and Reinforcement of the Fourth International of July 1943 in a way marks its birth. Its new name implies that it was distancing itself from what had been done before, that it desired renewal and deeper political analysis, accompanied by firmer and more collective methods of work. There was also a concern to avoid imposing a self-appointed organism. The first aim of the Provisional European Secretariat was to prepare, over a period of a few months, an extended European Conference, not reserved exclusively for groups affiliated to the International, but open to all the organisations which favoured its essential principles and the Transitional Programme. The Conference would decide on a common policy and common lines of activity. It also would select democratically the leading bodies. The will to grow and to leave outdated feuds and divisions behind emerges clearly from this new course. It included a re-examination, in which none of the political questions posed by current events “would be regarded as finally settled in advance, and not subject to criticism or revision”. The spirit of self-criticism is underlined also – with resort to a quotation from Rosa Luxemburg – in the introduction to the first issue of the journal, Quatrième Internationale in August 1943, which was to appear regularly thereafter.


The orientation and activity of the Provisional European Secretariat, which existed in its own right, owes an enormous amount to the contribution of Michel Raptis, who beyond doubt was the author of the resolution and of the Introduction in Quatrième Internationale, which perfectly express his thinking. Raptis had been cut off from activity by his stay in a sanatorium at St Hilaire du Touvet (Isère) in 1940-42, during which he remained in contact with the movement. He believed that there had to be an improvement at the political level as well as at that of clandestine organisation, which left much to be desired. He had been living in France since 1938 and had been disagreeably impressed by the very slack organisation of the POI, and then by its crisis and collapse in 1939. Nor did the policy which it had followed since 1940 satisfy him. He laid great importance on reunifying the Trotskyist forces, which the coming revolutionary events were making a matter of great urgency, and he combined this with his plan to centralise the movement politically and to organise its underground work more tightly. His concern with unification was all the dearer to him, because he had belonged himself to the ‘unofficial’ Greek organisation of Pouliopoulos. The members of the Provisional European Secretariat were Hic (whose place was taken when he was arrested by Craipeau) and Marcoux-Spoulber for the POI, Leon (Wajnsztok) for the Belgian section and Monat-Widelin for the ‘German work’. The Secretariat was then enlarged, at Font-Farran, to take in the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninist Group (in which the CCI had a majority), and Prager, a delegate of the CCI, in September 1943.

Attempts were made to get the Belgian group, Contre le Courant, led by Vereeken, to participate in the Conference. However, they failed in the face of the refusal of the latter. He continued to believe that the foundation of the Fourth International had been a mistake and that the organisations which claimed to stand for it were failures. He attacked the CCI for joining in the Provisional European Secretariat instead of working with his group for a new, authentically revolutionary, international grouping. Long discussions between Prager and Vereeken at Mouscon, at which Marguerite Bonnet also was present, did not succeed in smoothing out the differences, which were not exclusively about unification within the Fourth International. The CCI defended the view that it was important to struggle against deviations and to undertake an improvement in the movement. But serious divergences revealed themselves between Vereeken and the CCI on nearly every subject which they discussed – the Italian Revolution, the USSR and political perspectives. Nonetheless contact was kept up with his group. The efforts of the Provisional European Secretariat to repair its links with Trotskyists in the Netherlands were unsuccessful.

The manifesto; To the Italian Workers and Peasants, the first appeal of this kind by the Provisional European Secretariat, was to appear amid a certain confusion. Marcel Hic had taken upon himself to reply immediately to the sensational fall of Mussolini by publishing, on 30 July 1943, in a special issue of La Verité, a manifesto bearing the signature of the European Secretariat. The Provisional European Secretariat could not permit itself to be confronted by an accomplished fact and did not want a precedent to be created. Without hesitation it published a resolution dated 8 August, stating that a manifesto had been issued in its name “following an irregular procedure”. While it agreed with the political basis of the manifesto, “the Provisional European Secretariat takes the view that it is incomplete and the its presentation of the slogan of a Constituent Assembly is inopportune.” Consequently, it decided to “halt the distribution of the manifesto” and to publish a new text (which is the one reproduced by Prager). This incident is significant in that it emphasises that the Provisional European Secretariat intended to assert the fact of its existence and to make collective work the rule. We do not detect any very remarkable differences between the two versions of the manifesto when we read them today, apart from the disappearance of the slogan of the National Convention, but democratic demands were not neglected in the document for all that.

The reconstruction of the German [section] and the work directed towards the soldiers the Wehrmacht, which was at the centre of concerns of the Provisional European Secretariat, was to receive new force when Widelin-Monat, a German exile and a member of the leadership of the Belgian section, came to France. He collaborated with Paul Thalmann and his group – at the price of mutual concessions on the question of the USSR and of the Fourth International – to produce Arbeiter und Soldat in July 1943. This ten-page bulletin discussed the problems of the time in simple language, but it was notot exactly an agitational sheet. More concise leaflets appeared at the same time for wider distribution and two other issues of Arbeiter und Soldat were to be written in a lighter style. The approach to the German soldiers was best carried out by the young militants of the POI at Brest, where the military concentration m as particularly heavy. On the initiative of the postal worker, Robert Cruau, and of Georges Berthome who had recently come to Brest, some fifteen soldiers who opposed Hitlerism and were weary of the war were brought together and met in a discussion group. They provided travel documents and prepared to supply arms. Monat followed this activity. One of the soldiers, who came from Hamburg, was sent to Paris to meet the leaders of the POI. It was he who betrayed his own comrades and the POI militants to the Gestapo. The arrests began simultaneously in Brest and Paris on 6 October 1943. The organisation was hard hit and came near to experiencing an even worse catastrophe. Many militants barely escaped arrest and each was instructed to find a hiding-place. In Brittany more than twenty members and sympathisers were arrested and eleven of them were deported. We have not been able to confirm the statement that the soldiers were shot. The principal leaders, Hic, Rousset, Filâltre, Fournie and Beaufrère were arrested, tortured by the Gestapo and deported to Buchenwald.


The activity of the Provisional European Secretariat suffered from this disaster and slowed down for a short time. Monat likewise was targetted and hunted, and he took refuge in Belgium. The preparation of the European Conference, the documents for which were in the process of being drafted with the co-operation of Hic, as well as the appearance of Quatrième Internationale, were delayed.

In November and December 1943 the Provisional European Secretariat made special efforts to carry out its plans. Monat came back to Paris, accompanied by Ernest Mandel, who appeared in, the Provisional European Secretariat for the first time. In December the first version of the thesis, Report on the International Situation and the Tasks of the Fourth International, appeared for discussion in the sections. The joint commission of the POI-CCI-PES, which had the task of organising the unification of the French organisations, made its own contribution to overcoming the various obstacles. The chances of success seemed to improve when the discussion was raised to the international level, all the more so because when the CCI joined the Provisional European Secretariat it agreed to respect international discipline. The weakening of the POI made the task of recovering strength through unity all the more urgent. The influence of Raptis, the most highly qualified political leader, became more noticeable. The unity of the two organisations seemed to him to be important in view of the new perspectives which it opened up and he worked actively to overcome prejudices and resistances of every kind and contributed greatly to the successful outcome of the negotiations.

The joint commission was widened in December by the adherence of the October Group, which had been formed at the beginning of 1943. Most of its members came from the ‘bondancist’ movement, led

by Jacques Dubois and the Jeunes. What they wrote was near to some of the themes of the CCI, which is not surprising, since essentially they were written by Henri Molinier, who was a member both of the October Group and of the CCI, and whose political education enabled him to exert a preponderant influence in the former. The invitation to join the work of the joint commission which was addressed to the small Lutte des Classes group, led by Barta-Korner (which had only five members) received a negative response.

The resolution on the partisan movement was a great effort to make up for the delay in studying the development of the maquis, which took on the character of a mass movement when young people joined it in order to evade being drafted for compulsory labour service in Germany. To tell the truth, no important turn in this direction was ever made. The problem was complicated by the fact that one had to take care to avoid being identified as a political militant in order to participate in the armed groups at all. The life of anyone discovered to be a Trotskyist would have been in danger.


Part 4: The Underground European Conference of the Fourth International

The world-wide conflict was reaching its final stage. The inevitable transformation of imperialist war into civil war was ceasing to be a general perspective and was becoming an imminent reality. This dominated the labours of the underground European Conference, which met in February 1944 at St Germain-la-Poterie, a few kilometres from Beauvais, in the Department of the Oise.

In Northern Italy, “the dress rehearsal of the coming European Revolution” was already on the scene. Mussolini and the Fascist regime were swept away without a blow being struck. The military-monarchist palace revolution, which preceded the abandonment of the camp of Hitler to its fate and a move into that of the Allies, aroused a genuine revolutionary movement. Every Fascist institution was taken by storm and the avenging people hunted down its controlling barons. The ‘internal commissions’, embryo Soviets, came into existence spontaneously in the factories in Milan and Turin, a process consistent with the forecasts in the Transitional Programme. The new government of Marshal Badoglio did not intend to let such a development have its head. Machine-guns were set up in the Fiat plant. Allied bombers judged the time suitable to make heavy attacks on the workers' quarters in the great Italian cities, anticipating the arrival of the Wehrmacht to re-establish order and a reign of terror. After landing in Calabria, the Allied armies took their time to advance from South to North with calculated slowness.

Military strategy was more than ever subject to the class-aims of capital, to ensure that capital remained inviolate. International reactionary forces worked together to prevent at any price the defeat of Germany from leading to a breakdown of bourgeois rule and the collapse of the state apparatus. Every breach through which the revolutionary movement might surge forward had to be closed. Civil war was not only a ‘Trotskyist vision’ but a spectre which haunted Roosevelt, Churchill, De Gaulle and their military chiefs – but Stalin no less. Their common preoccupation with the revolution was to be the cement of their agreements at Teheran and at Yalta and of the counter-revolutionary Holy Alliance, based on the dismemberment of Germany and its division into zones of influence.

The Theses on the Liquidation of World War II and the Rise of the Revolution deepened the analysis of the new conditions to which the heavy defeats of the Germans on the Eastern fronts and the upheavals in Italy had led. From then on, every continent was to be affected by social upheavals, which ensured that the character of the approaching revolution would be world-wide. Things would not be the same as they had been in World War 1. Trotsky’s forecasts in the Manifesto of May 1940 were being confirmed by the most recent developments: “Infinitely more than any other crisis in the past, the present experience of the Second Imperialist War opens the period of a social crisis that will be gigantic in its dimensions and its consequences.”

It was quite natural that all the documents should deal with problems of the European Revolution, the principal centre of the revolution. Within this perspective a decisive ro1e was allotted to the German, proletariat and the German Revolution, the “spinal column” and the “necessary base” for the European Revolution. This conviction was to inspire the campaigns of the Trotskyist movement in its persistent efforts to achieve fraternisation with the German workers in uniform.

No one had any illusions about the counter-revolutionary role of the Soviet bureaucracy. “Against imperialism it could resort only to the methods of imperialism itself: it must ensure strategic frontiers and create spheres of influence for itself.” The hypothesis that the bureaucracy would perish, under the blows of imperialism or those of the world revolution, which Trotsky developed in The Revolution Betrayed, still appeared to be fully relevant.

The territorial expansion of the USSR and the creation of satellite states – which had already happened in 1939-40, with the agreement of Hitler, in Poland, Rumania and the Baltic states – did not seem likely to be extended on a vast scale. The risk of revolutionary contamination made “the large-scale employment of the Red Army as a counter-revolutionary force impossible”. The revolutionary flood would “begin by placing the Stalinist parties at the head of the masses”. Nonetheless, the role of super-Noskes which they would be called upon to assume would finally determine their ruin.

The conference accepted more refined opinions in opposition to the argument of the CCI, to the effect that the revolutionary period would take the form of one vast immediate confrontation, as soon as Nazism collapsed, and that this would decide the fate of humanity; Socialism or a relapse into barbarism under the form of American rule. However, the conference envisaged entering “an entire revolutionary epoch”, which would include situations that would be different in different countries and continents, with different specific levels of consciousness and problems. Far from developing in straight lines, they would see alternations of advance and retreat according to circumstances, momentary defeats followed by victories. The prevailing optimism went along with an enquiry as to the capacity of the proletariat to organise strongly to realise its own aims and the possibilities of forming a revolutionary party.

This question particularly held the attention of the conference, as is clear from the Theses on the Situation in the Workers’ Movement and the Perspectives of the Development of the Fourth International. The draft submitted by the Belgian delegation spoke of an international crisis in the workers’ movement, characterised by the opportunism of the traditional leaderships of the Second and Third Internationals, an opportunism to be explained by the weakness of consciousness of the workers themselves and by their reformism. The POI delegates said that these statements were “un-Marxist”, and the statements were turned down. The CCI sharply condemned them, in the opinion that they tended to make the working class responsible for the mistakes and betrayals of the reformist and Stalinist leaderships. In a formulation close to that in the Transitional Programme, the Conference declared that only the lack of maturity of a revolutionary leadership in countries other than Russia was the cause of the great defeats which had followed World War I.

Another area of discussion was to make a critical appraisal of the Fourth International, and this was treated at length in the theses. In this connection, the CCI tried to provide an historical foundation for the prolonged split in France, which had lasted for eight years. It seized on the intervention by Trotsky in the discussion in the Socialist Workers Party with Shachtman to support its argument that the POI presented the characteristic features of a petty bourgeois current. The conference went beyond episodic conflicts and personal quarrels, and analysed the social roots of the crisis of the Bolshevik-Leninists, who had been condemned to prolonged isolation and subjected to heavy imperialist pressure. It rejected such a standpoint as that of the CCI, but it considered the shortcomings of the organisations of the Fourth International with commendable frankness, deploring their dilettantism, their verbosity, their intellectualism, their weak implantation in the working class and their opportunistic and sectarian deviations. It severely condemned the serious deviations which had happened during the War, accusing the French section by name of having succumbed to social-patriotism, while, with a just balance, it also rejected the sectarianism of the CCI.

Deep change

The approach of the revolutionary situation raised the hope that the Fourth International would be transformed into a mass organisation. But this transformation was not to come of its own accord. The movement had to carry through “a real internal revolution” in the short time before the storm would break. A deep change had to affect the thinking of the comrades. They had to adjust their political tasks in mass work and improved party organisation. The emphasis laid upon this indispensable change gave its whole meaning, that of a new start, to the conference. An important element in the new course was the call for the rules of underground work to be more strictly followed, which was in the same way the spirit of the “additions to the constitution”, and these formed an important element in the new course. It was hoped that the contribution of the CCI to this improvement would be a positive one. But for all that the requirements of security must not interfere with the principles of healthy democracy. For that reason the functions of leadership must not remain in the hands of irremovable individuals. The educational level of all the cadres had to he raised, so that leading positions could be “rotated” constantly. The sacrifice of militants must be reduced; the existence of the organisations must be defended by reinforcing the illegal work and its first rule, division into cells. The POI had paid for its weaknesses at the cost of numerous imprisonments and deportations, but it had not been alone in failing to take precautions. Craipeau had voiced serious criticisms of the Belgian section after having attended its conference in July-August 1943, which had been held in very indifferent conditions of security

As if to reinforce these concerns, a new wave of arrests, the range of which was due to negligence, struck the POI at the very moment when the fusion was due to be completed at the base.

This affair was serious enough to hold up the fusion proceedings. It led the newly elected European Secretariat to substitute itself in mid-March 1944 for the leading bodies of the new party, the PCI. It was then decided to carry out a preliminary check of the memberships of the three organisations which were in the process of fusing. This extreme measure was needed because it appeared that in the POI full members were not always registered separately from candidate members and sympathisers. Contrary to certain interpretations which could be placed on this practice, the POI had no factional purpose. The first Congress of the PCI in November 1944 recognised by a large majority that this operation was necessary – with the exception of the rightist minority which opposed the fusion. The European Secretariat stressed that this intervention was very exceptional and justified only by the extreme gravity of the situation, as well as the federative, provisional character of the Central Committee. It should by no means be taken as “an example of the way in which the International should normally intervene in the life of the national sections”.

The European Conference had to spend much time and attention on the problem of how the French organisations were to be fused. The CCI wanted to surround itself with every possible guarantee; it skilfully raised its demands very high, while resolving to unite in the end. Mistrust due to years of confrontation was not easily disposed of. Certain earlier experiences counselled prudence. Doubts about the sincerity of the short-lived fusion of 1936, as well as the collusion of the POI with the Pivertists to keep Frank and Molinier out of the PSOP, were searing memories. The CCI had accepted unity as a minority, without a political agreement embodied in a common document, and consequently was all the more demanding in matters of organisation. It agreed to submit to the line of the European documents which did not wholly satisfy it but which provided for a clear political rapprochement and included a specific repudiation of the former course of the POI. But the CCI also wanted to ensure that it had the means to carry on a political battle inside the unified party against the “petty-bourgeois current” in the hope of winning a majority. The matters at issue were particularly those of parity in the leadership; three POI, three CCI and one October; the right to form a faction and the right to produce The Only Road as a factional organ. Another of their conditions was that the exclusion of Molinier who, like Frank, was out of the country should be lifted; this had been a sore point for a long time. Raptis used his influence to overcome the principal obstacles. Trotsky’s last declarations about the ‘Molinier case’ had been more moderate and conciliatory, and served conveniently to win the decision for the CCI. The POI wanted a Central Committee which more accurately expressed the relation of forces between the groups, which would consist of four POI, two CCI and one October. A compromise was reached; 3-2-1 was accepted, plus one delegate from the European Secretariat, who was to have a casting vote if two sides were equally divided. Factional rights, but not the right to publish a factional journal, were recognised up to the first Congress of the party. In fact, four more issues of The Only Road were still to appear. The name of the new organisation was to be the PCI, and that of its journal, La Verité.


There can be no doubt that the results of the unification were ‘absolutely positive’ from every point of view, as the first congress emphasised, and went far beyond the inevitable tumults and periods of tension. The ability of the party to intervene was greatly strengthened and the divergences were progressively cleared away until the party reached the point when they had been left behind; this process was encouraged by the renewal of the generations and the arrival of new national and international upheavals.

But the essential documents were still opposed by the CCI, with the support of the Spanish delegates, and the October Group chose to abstain.

The former members of the CCI undertook a self-criticism at the beginning of 1945 and themselves characterised their document as “schematic and non-Marxist”, particularly on the following points:

  1. The conception that the imperialist war would be transformed into a civil war from the moment of the first serious defeat of German imperialism.
  2. The conception that the fundamental historic tendencies would be immediately and totally realised, in the form of a return to barbarism taking the form of absolute American domination of Europe and its semi-colonialisation if the revolution was defeated.
  3. The conception that the degenerated USSR would inevitably suffer military defeat.
  4. The conception that the counter-revolutionary struggle of the USA dominated its entire policy and strategy and was expressed above all in making the destruction of the USSR its first priority.

These mistakes cannot be evaluated if we leave out of consideration the extreme youth of the organisation, which was completely reconstructed in the absence of its former leading cadres. The CCI had the merit of having corrected some of the false steps of the old PCI, relating to the character of the USSR and its defence andto applying the necessary illegal methods of work. The activity which the CCI developed in the factories was far from negligible, as its numerous factory leaflets show. This was not the only time that a young leadership, in its enthusiasm to prove that it wanted to succeed, succumbed to ‘infantile sickness’.

Circumstances prevented the European Conference from representing everyone who stood for its aims, but nonetheless it was of great political importance, and counts as one of the most remarkable performances of the Trotskyists during the war. It must be recorded that the theses of the Provisional European Secretariat were submitted for approval to national conferences of the participating organisations held in January 1944. Raptis and Leon Wajnmok, the leader of the Belgian section, went to defend the theses at the congress of the CCI, but did not succeed in convincing the delegates, who rejected them. Craipeau then went there to take part in the debate on “the crisis of the Bolshevik-Leninists”, with no greater success. At the conference of the Spanish group, some members of which belonged at the same time to the CCI, a majority came out in support of the document of that organisation. The general meeting of the October Group leaned rather towards the draft of the Provisional European Secretariat, but wanted to elevate itself a little above the struggle because it felt itself still to be a novice in Trotskyist milieux. The orientation of the Provisional European Secretariat was to receive wide approval, on the other hand, at the national council of the POI, in which Leon and Raptis also took part. The principal spokesman in that meeting for the new course was Spoulber, who had actually collaborated in drafting the theses and found his ideas in agreement with those of Raptis. He strongly emphasised that the policy of the POI on the national question had to be condemned. On this point there was resistance. Some delegates, such as Schmitt and Laval supported Swarm, who did not agree that the policy of the POI, which he believed to have been correct, must be characterised as infected with social-patriotism. A special meeting of the Central Committee of the Belgian section (RCP) had already ratified the general line of the theses. This concern for democracy and this effort, under the Occupation, needs to be highlighted.

The conference lasted for six days, or, more correctly, for six days and six nights, as its work was interrupted only by the short periods of sleep which the participants took lying on the ground. The fifteen delegates separated only after the proceedings ended, as was usual and as circumstances required. They arrived at Beauvais by train and were quickly hidden in a small covered truck, which took them in small groups to an isolated farm building belonging to Daniel Nat and Louis Dalmas, in the village of St Germain-la-Poterie. The fire in the large chimney-piece warmed only half of the large room and the delegates took it in turns to occupy the chairs near the hearth. Young members of the POI armed with revolvers had the task of ensuring that the place was guarded. The very difficult task of getting food and preparing meals fell to Nat and Dalmas and their companions, while the secretariat was in the hands of Simone M of the CCI and Jacqueline G of the POI. It goes without saying that the participants came out of this experience exhausted but greatly heartened by what they had accomplished. The enthusiastic comment could be heard that “this was one of the best international meetings of our movement since it began”.

It was remarkable also in being the first international conference to be held without the help of Leon Trotsky, which had been stamped on all earlier gatherings. It elected a European Executive Committee and a European Secretariat, which worked for the reconstruction of the Fourth International.



1. Trans: see P Brouè, Notes on the History of the Oppositions and the Trotskyist Movement in India in the first half of the Twentieth Century, Cahiers Leon Trotsky No.21, March 1985.

2. A French-language text of The Political Situation in India Today can be found in Quatrième Internationale, Nos.20-21, July-August 1945.

3. Trans: Fosco’s own account of the events in which he was involved in Spain in 1936 has been reproduced from an internal bulletin of the PCI in 1938 and published in La Revolution Espagnole, by Leon Trotsky, which consists of articles by Trotsky about Spain in the years 1930-1940, collected and edited with comments by Pierre Broué, published by Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1975, See p.624.

4. International Bulletin, February 1940.

5. International Bulletin, No.3, December 1940.

6. International Information Bulletin, issues of August and December 1941, and Fourth International, March 1942.

7. Fourth International, May 1941.

8. La Verité No.3, September 1941, (American).

9. Fourth International, October 1942

10. Fourth International, July 1943. Trans: in this connection it is worth looking at the official history of the Communist Party of Great Britain. “At last, in 1943, the Communist Party of Great Britain was no longer to function as a section of a world party. International solidarity would, of course, remain one of its fundamental aims. But it was finally to emerge as an independent political party, responsible to itself alone for its policies, its strategy and tactics in the battles that lay ahead.” (N. Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, London 1985, p.336)

11. La Verité No.47, 5 July 1943, and Internal Bulletin of the POI, No.19, June 1943.

12. L. Trotsky, Letter to the German Commission, and Letter to the Emigré Committee of the IKD, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-1936), >New York 1977, pp.79-83, pp.112-4.

13. Unser Wort, January 1938. Thesis of Wolfgang Alles, On the Politics and History of the German Trotskyists (Zur Politik und Geschichie der deutschen Troiskisten), University of Marinheim, 1978, p225.

14. Unser Wort, April 1941, New York ed. Alles, op. cit., p.269.

15. Alles, op. cit., p.269.

16. Problèmes de la Revolution Europeen, in Quatrième Internationale, No.25-26, December 1945-January 1946.

17. See Yvan Craipeau, in his Contre Vents et Marées, Paris 1977, p.142. In fact only five or six people took part; there could not have been fifteen. Raptis was still receiving medical treatment in the Isère and evidently could not have been present. Craipeau confuses the aim of this meeting with the decisions which were reached nearly a year and a half later, when it was decided to form the Provisional European Secretariat and when the ‘German work’ was undertaken in France with the help of Widelin-Monat.

18. Clara and Paul Thalmann, Revolution für die Freiheit, Hamburg 1977, p.305.

19. La Seule Voie, Nos. 1 and 7, March 1942 and March 1943.

20. The first two issues, in August and in December 1943, were mimeographed. The journal thereafter was to appear in print from January 1944, from a printshop which was fitted out for the use of the International. Five issues in all were published in 1944.

21. R. Prager, Les Congrès de la Quatrième Internationale, Vol.1, p295.

22. This is reproduced in the Facsimiles of La Verité 1940-1944, p.119.

23. Quatrième Internationale, No.1, August 1944.

24. This is not exactly the formulation which was used in the document itself, but that of the National Convention.

25. C. and P. Thalmann, op. cit., p.316.

26. In Facsimiles of La Verité, p.183-210.

27. Robert Cruau was a postal worker at Nantes. He led the POI group there at the beginning of the war, ensuring that contact was maintained between Brest and Paris. In March 1943 he succeeded in organising cells of German Trotskyists at Brest. He was denounced in October 1943 and made a fake escape attempt in order to get himself killed.

Georges Berthome (1924-1945) was federal secretary of the Socialist Youth in the department of Loire-Inferieur. He joined the POI in 1942 and helped Robert Cruau with the ‘German work’. He was deported to Buchenwald, where he died in May 1945, just before the camp was liberated.

28. Michel Raptis (also known as Pablo, Gabriel and Jerome) was born in 1911. He joined the Greek Archaeo-Marxist organisation as a revolutionary militant in 1928. He left it and, in 1934, formed a Trotskyist organisation, with Pouliopoulos. He was imprisoned in 1936-7 and emigrated from Greece on his release. He took part in the founding conference of the Fourth International in 1938 and, after spending from 1940-42 in a sanatorium, he collaborated with the European Secretariat. After the war he took part in the European Pre-Conference of the Fourth International in Paris in spring 1946 and became the leading figure in the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International.

29. Jeunes Equipes unies pour une nouvelle economic sociale: Young Teams United for a New Social Economy.

30. The organisation Lutte Ouvrière regards itself today as the historical successor to this group. However, Korner disputed this claim in his lifetime.

31. All the documents of the European Conference were published in the clandestine journal, Quatrième Internationale, Nos.4-5 and 6-7, for February-March and April-May 1944.

32. In English: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p.311.

33. Theses on the Situation in the Workers’ Movement and the Perspectives of the Development of the Fourth International.

34. This chapter of the theses deals with a draft contributed by the Belgian section.

35. ER (E. Mandel), The World Crisis of the Workers’ Movement and the Role of the Fourth International, Quatrième Internationale, No.3, January 1944.

36. AJ (Prager-Bonnet), The Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership – the Single Cause of the Defeats of the World Revolution, Quatrième Internationale, Nos.6-7, 8-10, April-May and June-August 1944.

37. L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, London 1975, p.12811 [?].

38. Internal Bulletin of the PCI, No.9, November 1944.

39. Declarations by the European Secretariat dated 17 March and 10 April 1944, Internal Bulletin of the PCI, No.1.

40. L. Trotsky, Avuncular Advice, Writings of Leon Trotsky: 1939-40, New York 1969, p.300.

41. Internal Bulletin of the PCI, No.14, March 1945.

42. The delegates present were: Abraham Leon (Wajnsztok) and E. Mandel (RCP, Belgium); Yvan Craipeau, Nicolas Spoulber, Marcel Gibelin, Alain Le Dem (POI, France); Jacques Grimblat, Rodolphe Prager (CCI, France); Henri Claude-Pouge (October Group, France); Martin Monat (German Group), Michel Raptis, Georges Vitsoris (Greek section); Ernesto Morris, Rafael Font-Farran (Spanish Group).

43. Facsimile of La Verité, 1940-1944, Paris 1978.

44. ibid.

45. Fred Zeller, Trois Points, c’est tout, p.222.

46. Internal Bulletin of the PCI, No.8, November 1944.

47. Internal Bulletin of the PCI, No.13, February 1945.

48. Bulletin of the European Secretariat, No.1, November 1944.

49. Quatrième Internationale, Nos.11- 13, September-November 1944.

50. Internal Bulletin of the PCI, No.16, May 1945.

51. Bulletin of the European Secretariat, No.8, October 1945.

52. Ibid., No.9, January 1946: letter from Morrow to the European Executive Committee of 10 July 1945; reply of the European Executive to Cde Morrow, January 1946; letter from Morrow to all sections of the Fourth International, November 1945.

53. Draft political resolution for the Second Congress of the PCI, 8 December 1945.

54. Ibid.

55. Bulletin of the European Secretariat, No.9, January 1946.

56. Leblanc, Proposals for a New Appreciation of the International Situation, October 1945; reply by Gabriel-Raptis, Against the Liquidators and the Centrist Capitulators, December 1940. The second congress of the PCI rejected the Leblanc thesis in February 1946.

57. Quatrième Internationate, issues of June, July and August-September 1946.

58. La Verité, Nos.113 and 114, 9 and 16 March 1946.

59. The commission consisted of Haston, Bleibtreu and Heinrich Buchbinder.

60. The Congresses of the Fourth International, Vol.1, pp.123 and 203.

61. Georges Jungclas 1902-1975, Hamburg, 1980, pp.118-125.

62. ‘Kampfbund zur Befreiung der Arbeiterklasse.’

63. F. Keller, Trotskyism in Austria 1934-45, Cahiers Leon Trotsky, No.5, January-March 1980.

64. R. Dazy, Fusiliez ces chiens enragés: le genocide des trotskyistes (Shoot the Mad Dogs), Paris 1981, pp266-74.

65. Internal Bulletin of the International Secretariat, N.o8, October 1946.

66. Internal Bulletin, No.11, resolution of the European Secretariat, 20 January 1946; reply to the Greek Trotskyists.

67. These were the EDKE (Internationalist Workers Party of Greece), the DEKE (Internationalist Revolutionary Party of Greece), the independent Regional organisation of Macedonia as well as a group which emerged from the ELD-SK (Union of the Popular Democracy-Socialist Party).

68. Bulletin of the European Secretariat, No.l, November 1944 and Workers’ International News, No.7, October 1944.

69. Statement by Charles Van Gelderen on 18 June 1980.

70. Evidence of Sam Gordon on 16 June 1980.

71. Internal Bulletin of the International Secretariat, No.5, August 1946, and Quatrième Internationale, August-September 1946.

72. This decision was “a tactical error” in the opinion of the International Secretariat, which disapproved of it and wanted a search for political solutions instead of disciplinary measures.

73. Internal Bulletin of the International Secretariat, No.1, May 1946. Letter from Natalia Trotsky to the European Secretariat of 18 March 1946, and the reply of the IS, signed Pilar (Raptis) 9 April 1946.

74. Internal Bulletin of the International Secretariat, No.5, August 1946, and Quatrième Internationale, August-September 1946.


Notes continued from page 7.



Due to a technical problem, an omission was made in column three on page 24. 7he text should read.

Proposals for collaboration from the CCI, on the other hand, received a negative reply. The group was invited simply to join the official section and to fight for its position within it. Relations between the two organisations were to take a different turn in 1943.

Marcel Hic’s theses on the national question received the support of the Belgian section in July 1942, and were ratified by the national council of the POI at the end of December by nine votes to one.

Updated by ETOL: 5.7.2003