Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

The Fourth International during the Second World War
(part 2)

Part 5: The End of the War in Europe

The Allied landings in Normandy opened the ‘Second Front’ for which the USSR had incessantly called, and once more brought France and Western Europe back onto the battlefield. The war was entering its last phase, that in which the German defeat was assured. The days of the Nazi occupation were numbered, though that did not mean that it became any less murderous. The liberation for which the masses were waiting was certainly not just a return to the discredited regime of the past. The National Council of the Resistance had had to take the profound longing for change into account. However, the imperialist projects of the Allies were of quite a different order, as the Trotskyists emphasised with the modest means at their disposal: “the workers must not supplement the operations of Eisenhower and De Gaulle; they must, on the contrary, utilise the collapse of the Nazi and Vichy apparatuses for their own working class interests”, wrote La Verité. “The emancipation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves.” The slogans were: General Strike, occupation of the factories, liberation of the prisoners, formation of factory and district committees and armed militias of workers. The revolutionary outcome of the war also inspired the appeal in three languages, which the European Executive Committee issued in June 1944, Workers of Europe! German and Allied soldiers! It particularly laid stress on fraternisation of German, British and American soldiers, an activity on which the Trotskyists concentrated more than ever.

The European Secretariat, which always enjoyed the particular support of the French section, was equally concerned to speed up the resumption of the ‘German work’. Arbeiter und Soldat reappeared in May 1944 as the organ of the Internationalist Communist League, the German section of the Fourth International. In fact this sheet was produced by a ‘German Commission’ consisting of exiles who were members of the PCI, and was led by Monat (Widelin). From that time onwards the journal was printed, thanks to the co-operation of the bilingual compositor, Paul Hirzel, a former member of the CCI, and it aimed at a wider readership in the barracks, the clubs and the cinemas reserved for the soldiers of the Wehrmacht. “Who will defeat Hitler? Eisenhower or the German proletariat? The decision is in your hands!”, we read in the issue of June 1944. The last issue appeared at the end of July – unhappily without the help of Monat, who had been arrested. It reported on the failed attempt on Hitler's life on 20 July, that the regime was tottering, and that as a last resort they were trying to replace Hitler with a German Badoglio. The proposals to dismember Germany and to impose a military administration came to Goebbel’s help, because they drove the German soldiers to hold out to the last. Only the German and European revolutions could counteract the aims of international capitalism.

The European Executive Committee had to overcome the handicaps imposed by repression, which affected several of its members during the last weeks of the occupation. Ernest Mandel was arrested in Liège during March, following a distribution of leaflets at the Cockeril factories. Another leader of the Belgian section, Henry Opta, fortunately managed to get away. Abraham Leon-Wajnsztok in turn was apprehended at Charleroi where he had just arrived. Charleroi was the cradle of Trotskyism in Belgium. He had gone there in line with the plan to ‘decentralise’ the leadership, in anticipation of the liberation. A combination of bad luck and a breach of security for which he was not to blame led to his being lost. The Belgian organisation appealed for a leading French comrade to come to help them, but their request could not be met. The Central Committee selected Spoulber for this assignment; he was getting ready to go when he and his companion were arrested in their secret lodging on 13 July. At the same time Martin Monat was taken in one of the premises of the ‘technical service’ of the European Secretariat. They were both tortured in the rue Minceau by the French ‘militia’ who worked for the Gestapo. Spoulber took extreme risks to escape from torture and probable death; he jumped out of a second-floor window in the early hours of the morning of 15 July and made his way, though wounded, to the home nearby of Fred Zeller. The fate of Monat was more tragic. The Gestapo left him for dead with bullet wounds in the Bois de Vincenne. He was rescued and taken to the Rothschild Hospital, where the surgeons saved his life. He got in touch with Trotskyist friends who were preparing to move him out, but the Gestapo got to him first, following a denunciation, when they seized him again and killed him in one of their lairs.


The end of the occupation was an immense relief and opened up a new era. The insurrection in Paris of 17-24 August, which preceded the liberation, was rich in lessons. It revealed that the explosive situation could be taken in hand by the Gaullist institutions without great difficulty, because they had the advantage of the effective support of the bodies which followed the French Communist Party, because sentiments of ‘national unity’ dominated it. The young Trotskyist militants were in the lead of the struggles in the factories round Paris. They usually initiated the factory occupations and the formation of committees before the departures of the Germans. These committees took in hand the management of the factory canteens and organised food supplies by using the firm’s transport. This was a crucial point at a time of great poverty when workers often did not get their wages paid. They set about seeking weapons and formed militias. This is surely the most important intervention which Trotskyists had ever made in the working class movement since the movement came into existence. The inter-factory committees which were formed on the initiative of the PCI members at Boulogne-Billancourt, at Suresnes and especially at Argenteuil-Colombes came together in an inter-factory committee for the whole of the Western suburbs of Paris, These militants rebuilt the trade union structures in parallel with these activities. The Stalinist trade union officials occupied themselves with obstructing this movement and ended by ordering the Western suburbs committee to wind up, on pain of exclusion from the CGT. The evidence suggests that, despite the favourable symptoms which numerous mass initiatives revealed, this was not the irresistible explosion on which they could have counted. A spirit of patriotism was fed by the fact that the war was still going on, and this was accepted as a justification of exceptional controls, obstructing the class struggle. The Trotskyists’ denunciation of the imperialist war placed them against the stream and isolated them in the face of enthusiasm for the war, even though the demands which they advanced held the workers’ attention.

“The revolutionary crisis will reach its full force only when the Nazi regime finally collapses”, was the comment of the PCI leadership in the heat of the moment on 25 August 1944, and with the revolution “which will radically change the whole situation in Europe”. This statement emphasises that the current revolutionary situation “will last for months and perhaps years, a fact which is due particularly to the crushing weight of Stalinism”.

The first congress of the PCI, held on 1-5 November 1944, came out against “simplified schemas”, which fed the expectation that the masses would rise up everywhere and in the very near future to install Soviet power. It insistently replaced them with the perspective of revolution “through a long process”. This correction relied on a long quotation from Trotsky’s May 1940 Manifesto, which forecast a whole revolutionary period, in which defeats and victories would alternate and a new revolutionary party would have every chance to make its mark. Experience since August and September 1944 had enabled a better estimate to be made of the influence of Stalinism on the development of the revolution. The congress observed that: “Stalinism, far from decomposing under the impact of its internal crisis, is becoming stronger, thanks to the victories of the Red Army and as an expression of the rising combativity of the masses”. The Trotskyists had everything, including physical extermination, to fear from this growth in the influence of Stalinism. The all-powerful French Communist Party had already used its influence to keep the Trotskyists in illegality; it prevailed on the press federation and the government to refuse to authorise the publication of La Verité. In Belgium the direct intervention of the Soviet ambassador led the government to decide to ban La Voie de Lenin in 1945.

The statement about “the ripening of the revolutionary situation in Europe”, which the European Executive Committee adopted at the beginning of January 1945 at its third meeting, saw in the general course of events in different countries a confirmation of the forecasts of the European Conference. The successive upheavals which had followed the Allied landings had created a revolutionary situation in Europe, and the Allied governments, even with the advantage of the complicity of Stalinism, had not been able to master it completely. The defeats of the first waves of the revolution were to be explained by the Allied military occupation and by the continuation of the fighting, which exerted a restraint on the upsurge of the masses, broke up their struggles and took the sharpness out of the class struggle. It would be different when the hour sounded for the defeat of Germany. This would create an unprecedented revolutionary situation throughout Europe. However, in the absence of revolutionary parties, no one could look for a victorious outcome. In order to fill this deficiency, the sections of the Fourth International were called upon to get rid of old habits in order to rise to the level of the needs of the period.

In another connection, the European Executive Committee addressed itself to the opinions which had been expressed in the French section at the time of the German counter-attack in the Belgian Ardennes. It resolved that:

The European Executive Committee regards as incorrect the policy which some leading comrades in the French party have put forward. Impressed by the advance of Rundstedt, they have reached opportunist conclusions about the tactic of revolutionary defeatism (calls for arming the people, the Liège Commune).

The Executive delegated Swann to go to Brussels, where he was to be active for about a year, providing valuable co-operation and finally meeting the request of the Belgian section for help.

From September 1944 onwards the European Executive Committee enjoyed a great deal of help from leading members of the American section who were in the army. This fresh wind from across the ocean, and the restoration of connections with the sections in other continents, and especially with the SWP of the United States, the Trotskyist party that had been like a lighthouse during the war, were timely. Everyone from one side or the other was impatient to collect all possible information and to ascertain each others’ political positions. In a way this was the moment of truth for the Fourth International. Would agreement be stronger than divergences? That depended on the cohesion of the movement, on its capacity to bring its scattered forces together, to rebuild its organisation and to present a recognised authority on the world scale. One can understand the delight with which the members of the European Executive Committee welcomed Sherry Mangan in his war correspondent’s uniform. He had done his utmost to get to Paris as quickly as possible after the liberation. He remembered the state in which he had known the French organisation in 1939-40, and he feared that he would find it decimated by repression. He was greatly surprised to find a unified, rejuvenated, combative party, engaged in a great deal of activity in the factories. The existence of a European Secretariat, elected by a conference of the European sections, added to his enthusiasm, a sentiment which was shared by the eleventh National Convention of the SWP in November 1944.


Mangan did not hide his emotion when he brought the warm greetings of the International Secretariat to that convention. He did his best to satisfy the demands of the delegates by giving an outline of the life of each section of the International, taking pleasure in stating that the trend of the European documents about which he knew seemed to agree on all points and even in matters of detail with the orientations of the SWP. The European Secretariat reproduced the November 1943 resolution of the SWP, with the same observation, that there was a “striking coincidence” with its own general line – a comment with which Morrow found fault. Mangan was co-opted onto the European Secretariat became its treasurer and made an effective contribution which it badly needed.

Material help from the USA relieved the terrible poverty of resources from which the European Secretariat had suffered. International information and the documents of the sections began to flow in and get round the persistent restrictions on communication. The European Secretariat provided information to the militants through an information bulletin for discussion which appeared regularly from November 1944 onwards, as well as by drawing on Quatrième Internationale, which was benefiting from much international support. In this way the comrades learned about the documents and the content of old and new discussions which were going on in the USA about the national question, the problems of the USSR and the European perspectives. All these matters had been powerfully debated in Europe. Mangan had a jeep, and he became very useful also in helping to restore the broken connections with other European countries. One of his missions enabled him to meet again in 1945 the Trotskyists in Vienna who had been cut off from the International since 1938, and had not ceased to carry on the flight in the most difficult conditions. The European Secretariat also had the help of another American comrade stationed in France; this was George Breitman, a member of the National Committee of the SWP and a former chief editor of Militant. He joined the European Secretariat and represented the SWP at the conference of the Paris Region of the PCI in March 1945 and that of the Belgian section in November.

The journal, Quatriènie Internationale, had been refused the right to appear legally and was obliged to continue its clandestine existence. Its appearance was interrupted for a time after Prager was arrested on 15 March 1945. He was in charge of the ‘technical apparatus’ and was carrying manuscripts and proofs when he was interrupted, following a denunciation, while he was printing it. The Communist ministers had demanded in governmental meetings that the Socialist Minister of the Interior undertake to hunt down the Trotskyists. They did everything they could to prevent our sheets from continuing to appear. Prager discovered in the Santé prison Trotskyist worker-militants who had been arrested in the Amiot factory at the instigation of the local trade union leaders, who were members of the French Communist Party. The campaign which the PCI waged in defence of democratic liberties and for its members to be released aroused a certain response. The charges of undermining state security of which they had been accused lacked the slightest foundation; they were released on 15 July, and the affair ended in acquittals.

At last the war came to an end and Nazism collapsed. But the European Revolution did not take place, and the hopes that the revolutionary pressure would spread were shattered. Experience had disproved their forecasts, and this led to a lot of questioning and started up controversies throughout the Fourth International. The Political Bureau of the PCI recognised at once that they had been mistaken.

Twelve years of Fascism, combined with the policy of the Stalinists, have totally deprived the German proletariat of organisations and perspectives. Now it is demoralised, apathetic and atomised. We have to wait, over a fairly long period, for it to recover awareness of its role.

The analysis which the European Executive Committee made when it met in June 1945 did not exactly repeat these formulations. It laid the principal emphasis on the almost total destruction of the industries of Germany, its cities and its transport system; this had led to the dispersal of its population, which had been reduced to a precarious minimum level of survival. The material and the human prerequisites for the German revolution had been utterly destroyed. To that had to be added the military occupation by the Western imperialists and the Red Army, without the support of which the European bourgeoisie would have had to face the end of the war in very unfavourable conditions. The European Executive Committee spelt out the factors which led to the development of the revolution having been different “from the optimistic forecasts which we made on the eve of and at the beginning of the imperialist carnage”. It did not change its general perspective of an upward revolutionary movement, which was certainly developing slower than had been expected, but which would go on for a long time with rises and falls. It was necessary, in fact, to take into consideration the profound social and economic crisis raging in every part of the world, the fundamental instability of the existing regimes, as well as the sharp international tensions which were revealing themselves at this time and were in the first place bringing American world-leadership into opposition to the Soviet Union and revealing the danger of a third world war, Moreover, the collapse of the colonial empires had given a powerful impetus to the movement for national emancipation and gave glimpses of an extension of the revolution to other continents on the world scale.

Red Army

The evolution of the Soviet regime and the future of the countries of the East under Red Army occupation were the subject of discussions in the European Executive Committee which did not result in full agreement. Amendments which evaluated the role of the Red Army in these countries, obstructing all revolutionary development and aimed at applying the slogan of immediate withdrawal of these forces were not accepted.

The self-criticism which the European Executive Committee undertook seemed, as is well known, to be inadequate, in the eyes of the minority tendencies in France and in the USA.

Morrow criticised the European documents as having fallen into a fundamental error of method, consisting in relying on “objectively revolutionary” conditions and too often ignoring the subjective factor, namely the absence of the revolutionary party, which changes the whole situation. Instead of saying that the only thing missing is the revolutionary party, we ought to say: “The absence of the revolutionary party transforms conditions which would otherwise be revolutionary”. In the same spirit, the ‘right-ist’ minority in France, paraphrasing the Transitional Programme on the subject of Germany, wrote: “Soviets will not cover any country until the Fourth International has become a mass revolutionary International.”

There was nothing academic about the discussion of the dialectic of subjective and objective conditions. It led into a discussion on the character of the period, on the strategy and tactics to be employed and, consequently, on the choice of the slogans to be promulgated. According to the French minority, the situation was characterised “by a degeneration of society which is taking us straight to barbarism … the social bases of the Socialist revolution are being dragged down in the decadence of the capitalist system”. Here we may discern a chance coincidence with the Three Theses of the IKD, with great differences, moreover, existing between these two currents. Morrow himself, who earlier had been a champion of the Three Theses, came near to them again in his drift towards Shachtman. There was nothing mysterious about the fact that his tendency felt closer to the Workers Party than to the SWP, and that it considered changing over to the Workers Party. The campaign which the Morrow tendency waged in favour of unifying the two parties thus acquired a precise meaning which did not help the project to be carried into effect.

Morrow proceeds: the error of the European Secretariat is to clutch desperately onto Trotsky’s forecasts. These have been totally invalidated: for example:

  1. The end of the reign of the Soviet bureaucracy caused by the revolution or by capitalist restoration, which in either case would mean the collapse of Stalinism;
  2. The proletarian revolution on a scale far higher than that of 1917-21, from which mass parties of the Fourth International would emerge.

Trotsky would have made up his mind to revise his analyses without hesitation, but, according to Morrow, the European Secretariat and the SWP refused to free themselves from the schemas of 1940 and to undertake the necessary revisions. Both alike they delayed giving a primary importance to democratic demands, in a situation far less advanced than that of 1917-18. Morrow doubted whether we could proceed directly to the construction of revolutionary parties and suggested that we should enter the Socialist parties first. The European Secretariat did not exclude “total entrism” in special cases – such as that of the British Labour Party – but it thought that this would be “political suicide” elsewhere, where fraction work in Socialist or Stalinist parties should be combined with independent Trotskyist activity to be fully effective. Moreover, the European Secretariat was convinced that circumstances offered the possibility that the organisations of the Fourth International could become an important political force, without expecting them to take the place of the Communist parties. As to the basis of the discussion, the European Secretariat thought that the minority had not been wrong to object to certain excesses of “revolutionary optimism” on the part of the SWP majority, but it must oppose opportunist and defeatist currents which appeared in the International and increased its difficulties. The European Secretariat hoped that this necessary confrontation would be developed in conditions of respect for the norms of democratic expression, and would avoid any gesture or measure which could damage the unity of the organisation: it expressed this sentiment in its letter of 28 December 1945 to the SWP leadership.

Doubtless the most ‘radical’ revision was that proposed by Leblanc (David Rousset), who based on the observations which he had been able to make in Germany after coming out of the concentration camp the conclusion that the German proletariat had been dissolved and broken up by Nazism and had lost its class consciousness. He noted, more generally, that the level of revolution in the world had fallen, that the proletariat was organically weak and, in the absence of a Marxist mass organisation, drew the conclusion that “the planned Soviet structure played the role of a platform and an axis of regroupment in the struggle of the world proletariat”. The attitude of the Trotskyists towards the Stalinists must be modified, “because of the new functions [of Stalinism]”. He went on: “We must deliberately and fundamentally remain silent about some of our disagreements with Stalinism”. Unlimited impressionism, so crudely voiced, was certainly one of the characteristics of that writer. But there is no reason to be surprised when great cataclysms impose severe tests on people’s minds and break down people’s convictions. The necessary discussions proceeded through confrontations with various positive and negative kinds of revisionism.

The version that the German proletariat was completely passive and that its class consciousness had decomposed was strongly rebutted by Ernest Germain-Mandel in a retrospective study of The First Phase of the European Revolution. He thought that the large-scale destruction of cities, the dispersion of the population and the mixing up of the labour force in the workplaces were no less determinant factors, without omitting the harmful influences of imperialist and Stalinist propaganda. The absence of revolutionary organisation which could play the role of accelerating the movement in given conditions, was nonetheless not decisive for the uprisings of the masses to break out. It would, however, be decisive for the seizure of power in the following stage.

Mandel examined the parallel with World War I. He showed that in 1918 the proletariat had not experienced definitive defeats and was engaging in all its struggles “with a well-defined Socialist consciousness and a complete lack of revolutionary experience”. In 1940, on the contrary, a long series of crushing defeats hung over the proletariat. The older generation was infected with scepticism. The younger generation had never known a Socialist education. “The masses may well be at a lower level of consciousness than in 1918, but they have a higher level of experience.” Mandel concluded that the first stage ended without the proletariat having experienced a crushing defeat of its revolutionary spirit and combativity. In his opinion, the analogy with 1923 was unsound. The second phase would probably go beyond the first stage in its scope, but it too would again halt in mid-stream given the weakness of the revolutionary parties.

Part 6: The First International Conference after the War

The Conference of April 1946, which was to have been held in Belgium, took place in reality in Paris on 3-5 March. It had the peculiar feature that it was interrupted unexpectedly by some sixty policemen rushing in with guns in their hands, and of being concluded in the police headquarters, the Prefecture. The participants, who numbered between twenty-eight and thirty-two, were taken first to the police station in the 10th arrondissement, which was close by. They were marched along, closely hemmed in by their escorts, with machineguns at the ready, which greatly frightened the passers-by. It appears that the police had been called by the proprietor of the café where the meeting was being held, and that they had very little idea of what to do with the gathering of foreigners whom they had captured. They thought that they had made a good haul, and were disenchanted when they saw the political turn that the affair was taking. In the catch they had Americans, who were very sure of themselves and wanted to alert their embassy. There were English people who protested loudly. The problem was that none of these people could be charged with the slightest infraction of the law. No one could decide in advance what the possible political consequences would be. A privileged fate was reserved for the Americans; they were soon released in order to limit the damage. Remarkably it was the Deuxième Brigade Criminel, the Second Criminal Brigade, hardly accustomed to this kind of clientèle, which had to conduct the interrogations. By a piece of good fortune, the documents of the conference had been concealed by Sherry Mangan, who had the presence of mind to stuff them into his briefcase. As a journalist, he forbade the police to open the briefcase and demanded the presence of a representative of “his” embassy.

During the long hours of waiting, the delegates had the leisure to resume the course of their political discussions, which they closed according to custom by singing the Internationale at the tops of their voices, ringing round the corridors of the Prefecture. Nearly all were freed during the night, with this ‘subtle’ excuse from a policeman: “I do not say that you are free, gentlemen, because you have not been arrested”. Pierre Frank, who had returned to France in mid-February and had been the object of a prosecution in 1939, was held a little longer. Two Spanish and two Vietnamese militants were kept under observation for two days. It appears that the authorities did not want the news of this incident to get out, if we can judge from the reaction of the press, which did not mention it. The only daily newspapers to do so were Franc-Tireur and Combat, which had received the information directly from party members who were furious at the arbitrary action of the police. Franc-Tireur asked itself the question: “So what about freedom of meeting? What about the right of asylum? What about individual liberty? Have we got back to the great days of Vichy? Already?” Combat reported the press conference which Bleibtreu, the General Secretary of the PCI, had called, where he announced that there would be a protest meeting on 12 March.

About a thousand people came to the Salle des Horticulteurs for this meeting, which was addressed by Jock Haston (RCP Britain), Damiens (Spanish section), Le Van (Vietnamese section) and Bleibtreu, Frank and Beaufrère for the PCI It should be mentioned that the publication of La Verité was authorised a few days later after the monstrous delay of a year and a half. This had been one of the themes of the meeting.

The organisation set up a Commission of Inquiry, which ruled out the hypothesis that there had been a planned police intervention following leakages of information. It took the view that the intervention had been accidental. Twice as many people as had been expected had come to the conference and the location had to be changed at the last minute. This particular café hall had been selected in haste. In any case, the new International Secretariat was thinking of locating itself in some other country and introduced stricter security arrangements.

What was the state of the Trotskyist organisations in Europe at the moment when the international conference was called? With what problems was the conference confronted? What, in particular, is the picture of the Trotskyist groups which had lived in isolation, depending only on themselves, throughout those terrible years? They had done better than maintain themselves; they had extended their activity and influence and most of them had renewed themselves. Their firmness and tenacity was a living demonstration of the vitality of the Fourth International.

As soon as it had become possible to cross the frontiers, the Trotskyists in the Netherlands sent Max Perthus, one of the few surviving leaders of the RSAP, to meet the Fourth International in Brussels and in Paris, to report that the Committee of Revolutionary Marxists had been formed and was seeking recognition as a section of the Fourth International. We should recall that the RSAP had moved away from the Fourth International in 1937-38 and that a Bolshevik-Leninist Group came into existence at that time. It produced its own journal, De Enige Weg (The Only Road) from February 1938 to February 1940, but disappeared after its leading comrades including Peters and De Wilde, were arrested. Other militants who were near to the ideas of Trotsky remained in the RSAP, in the hope of being more effective. In the RSAP disagreements deepened with Sneevliet on the Russian question and the defence of the USSR. The RSAP in clandestinity became The Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front and then The Third Front, and the Trotskyists were excluded because they refused to distribute leaflets which equated Stalin with Hitler.

The RSAP was silenced by the arrest and execution of the members of its leadership on 13 April 1942. The Trotskyist wing then formed the CMR, and began, with extremely limited resources, to publish De Rode October at the beginning of June. No.45 appeared on 15 May 1945, at the end of the Occupation. The cadres of this very dynamic group had been trained in the school of the RSAP, but it principally attracted young recruits who had never been in any other organisation. It grew rapidly and became the Revolutionary Communist Party in December 1945, publishing a weekly paper, De Tribune. Its leaders, moreover, were very active in the leading bodies of the Fourth International.


In Denmark the small Trotskyist group had been quickly changed under the influence of George Jungclas, one of the cadres of the German section. He was active in the Resistance, without supporting national unity in the Danish Liberation Council. In co-operation with a group of Socialist youth and the left current in the Socialist students, the organisation published one of the first clandestine journals, Arbeiderpolitik, from November 1940 to June 1941. A specifically Trotskyist sheet, Klassekampf appeared from October 1942 to June 1944. The Resistance took a great step forward and became a mass current when the Nazis in August 1943 seized the main components of the state administration. The Trotskyists widened the field of their activity when they made links with groups for workers’ action and collaborated in their journal, Arbejderopposition. This movement had a wide audience among the workers and its influence was to be decisive in the preparation for the ‘People's Strike’ in June and July 1944.

The Danish Trotskyists also worked with the Resistance in a network which helped Jews, people living illegally and German deserters to escape to Sweden. The Gestapo broke up this network in May 1944 and Jungclas was one of the first to be arrested. He was subjected to long examinations before being taken to Hamburg and to Berlin at the beginning of 1945 to be tried in the High Court. The intensive bombing of Berlin disrupted these plans and he had to be transferred to the prison at Bayreuth. After the ‘liberation’ the Danish Trotskyists again adopted the title Arbejderpolitik for a monthly journal which was not presented as officially Trotskyist, and they continued their activity around the high-circulation periodical Arbejderopposition.


In Norway the Trotskyist group was formed under the influence of another exile from Germany, Waiter Held, in the spring of 1937, around the journal Oktober, ten issues in all of which appeared, the last dated September 1939. The Trotskyist cadre was deprived of the help of Waiter Held, who fled to Sweden in April 1940, but it won much credit for its work in the underground movement. They recruited in the student milieu and led strikes in the University. They also won support in the trade unions, especially in the building industry, in Oslo. At the end of the war, the Trotskyists engaged in fraction work in the Communist Party and in the reformist party. They came out more openly under the cover of a political education association, the Marxist Club, and then published the journal Optakt (Revolt).

In Austria the Trotskyists had been forced into illegality in February 1934, and then had to put up successively with the Austro-Fascism of Schuschnigg, the Nazi annexation in 1938 and the hardships of the war. Their members were especially in danger of death or deportation in the years 1936 to 1938. The trial of the Trotskyists in 1937 caused them anxiety and those in the greatest danger had to go into exile. The Austrian Trotskyists were grouped in several organisations. Two of these had been recognised by the Fourth International, the Bolshevik-Leninists and the Revolutionary Communists. Both groups disappeared during the war. The oldest and most important organisation, The League of Struggle for Working Class Emancipation, led by the veteran Communist Josef Frey, who could not reach agreement with Trotsky in 1930-32, survived but split into several fragments. In 1937-38 Frey had developed a new ‘Tactic of Combined War’, in opposition to revolutionary defeatism, and this led to a state of permanent tension and ultimately to the dispersal of the majority of the members and leading cadres, who ended up in three different groups each with its own press. This process spread still more widely when the authority of the strong, dominating personality of Frey was no longer to be felt, after he went into exile in Switzerland in 1938. The blows of the Gestapo, which struck the Contre le Courant Group in 1943, in the persons of its principal leaders, including Josef Jakobovitz and Franz Kascha, who were were sentenced to death and executed, obliged the other groups to be even more cautious and to suspend their publications.

Discussion about fusion began in 1944 and led to a regroupment in the Karl Liebkneckt Bund (International Communists), which began in 1945 to produce Der Spartakist. The leaders of this group made a point of reviving its activity while the Soviet Army was entering Vienna and the war was still going on. Their Theses of 10 April 1945 located the orientation of the movement in the perspective of a rising revolutionary trend on the European scale and the existence in Austria of very complex relations. Fraction work was to be done in the Communist Party. But the main effort was to be directed to workplaces. The organisation had the advantage of capable cadres, who had been Oppositionists since 1927 and who were very keen to be integrated into the Fourth International. The first contacts were made with the European Secretariat soon after the first conference of the group in October 1945. Soviet occupation naturally imposed the necessity of great caution. The link with the International was to become closer when Sam Gordon went to Vienna in April and again in August 1946. His second visit speeded up the fusion with a small number of the survivors of the former Kampfbund, to the despair of Frey, who was still in Zurich, and who did not forgive his followers for having acted without his knowledge. The unified organisation took the name International Communists of Austria towards the end of 1946 and was recognised as the Austrian section of the Fourth International.

It seems that the heaviest losses had to be borne by the Greek Trotskyists. Their first victims fell during the Metaxas dictatorship which took power on 4 August 1936. The militants who were imprisoned and deported during this regime spent long periods in prison which sometimes ended with their being executed, as happened to Pouliopoulos, Xylopolitos, Yannakis and Makris, who were shot on 6 June 1943. The terror became more intense during the war, but it must not be forgotten that the greatest number of Trotskyists were assassinated after the ‘liberation’ by the Stalinist killers of the OPLA (the so-called People’s Political Security Organisation). This body worked directly under the political bureau of the Greek Communist Party and after the summer of 1944, its purpose was to carry out special ‘purges’. It desperately hunted down any and every opponent of the party line, not sparing cadres of the Communist Party however small their criticisms. They tortured their victims dreadfully and then killed them. Their victims are numbered in hundreds. Barziotis, a member of the political bureau of the Greek Communist Party, gave the number as 600.

The hostility between the Stalinists and the oppositionists, in particular the Trotskyists, who since 1927 had had substantial forces and were well implanted in the mass movement in Greece, had become a permanent feature, and more than once had degenerated into violent incidents. But this massacre went beyond all previous limits. The energetic response of the Greek Trotskyists can be imagined. They wrote that the hatred of the Stalinist leaders for revolutionary workers and for any critical spirit could he matched only by the inquisitors of the Middle Ages. “From the viewpoint of the methods which it uses in the workers' movement, Stalinism is far closer to the Fascist groups and to the Kit Klux Klan.” Attention therefore had to be paid to forming “self-defence groups against Stalinist gangsters”. The policy of class collaboration of the Greek Communist Party made it “formally and effectively a party of the Greek bourgeoisie”. The Trotskyists carried on wide agitations, led strikes and took part in raids to procure arms, which were distributed to workers and peasants. However, the European Secretariat was concerned about their generally dismissive attitude to the national movement, about their distancing themselves from it and neutrality, “independent and hostile equally to the two factions in struggle”, at the time of the civil war in December 1944. It noted the profound difference between the policy which the European Conference had laid down and that operated by the Greek Trotskyists. It expressed the opinion that “the greatest danger threatening our movement is that of sectarianism”. The principal mistake was an inability to discern the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist character which was powerfully germinating in this mass movement and its revolutionary dynamic, beyond the bourgeois and Stalinist leaderships. Ignorance of this reality prevented the Trotskyists from understanding that in December 1944 the conflict could not be reduced to a confrontation between British imperialism on one side and the Soviet bureaucracy and its supporters on the other. It was bringing the masses in revolt much more deeply into opposition to the bourgeoisie and to the foreign army which supported it. The theoretical root of this sectarianism lay in the existing confusion about the USSR and Stalinism, according to the European Secretariat.

The European Secretariat welcomed, on the other hand, the decision of the four Trotskyist groups in September 1945 to open a preparatory discussion with a view to fusing into one party. The unification conference was held in the mountains in July 1946, in the presence of Raptis, who travelled with Mangan under an assumed name and was passed off as his secretary.

In Italy, at the end of twenty years of Fascism, the Trotskyist movement had to be rebuilt from the ground up. This task was taken in hand in the Naples region in September 1943 by the group of Trotskyist deportees which Fosco-Di Bartolomeo had formed on the island of Tremiti. This group published a first manifesto dated 15 December 1943 entitled To the Workers of the World. This called for unity under the banner of the class struggle. It was signed Ronaldo, the pseudonym of Di Bartolomeo, the secretary of the Provisional Committee for the construction of the Internationalist Communist Party (Fourth International). They totally lacked resources, and in Naples they worked with the young Socialists, who were critical of the party and, with the Socialist Party. Above all they won members of the Communist Party who were conducting their opposition within the party with some success. Di Bartolomeo was a metal worker and a trade union militant of much experience – in the CGTU in France – and he became one of the pioneers in the reconstruction of the trade unions and a leading figure in the Trade Union Centre in Naples. Their long isolation ended when they met an American sailor who was sympathetic to the Workers Party. Probably we need seek no further than this for the reasons why Fosco corresponded with Shachtman, which so annoyed the International Secretariat. Moreover contacts were soon made with other Trotskyists from the USA, such as Charles Curtis, a leading member of the SWP, and Charles Van Gelderen from Britain. The latter worked assiduously with Di Bartolomeo and obtained information and documents for him from the SWP and from the British RCP. The sale of British and American cigarettes furnished the first source of help to the Italian comrades. Then the international documents and the money from the Workers Party and the SWP arrived. Van Gelderen heard that a manifesto calling for the Fourth International had been posted up in Foggia. He got a false pass to enter the American zone and went to Foggia with Di Bartolomeo. There they met Romeo Mangano, who had continued to accept the positions of Bordiga and whose organisation had survived Fascism. In July 1944 agreement was quickly reached without a deep discussion and apparently without very precise political agreement. This led to the formation of the Communist Workers Party. The Trotskyists were feeling strengthened by the international support, and they thought, given their weak forces, that they could break through if they had an independent party rather than integrating themselves in the existing mass organisations. The adhesion of the Foggia group which they hoped to bring over to their conceptions was to give the new party a certain modest basis.

The POC published Il Militante clandestinely in 1944 and after laborious efforts they got their new organ, Fourth International, made legal. There were also branches in Rome, Venice and Cosenza, but it laboured under the handicap of having to start in the ‘liberated’ South, and did not get a branch in Milan until 1946. The marriage of Trotskyism with Bordigism was a daring gamble; it expressed itself in a permanent crisis and in the existence of two organisations in one. Mangano had the larger numbers and the Trotskyists were markedly weakened by the sudden death of Di Bartolomeo in January 1946. The situation continued to deteriorate despite the help which the International and its various connections were lavishing. The POC under Mangano’s leadership ceased to be recognised as a section of the Fourth International at the Second World Congress in 1948. Everything had to be begun again and a new organisation built.


When the news of the German defeat at Stalingrad was announced, the Trotskyist group in Berlin, led by Oskar Hippe, distributed a leaflet and wrote on the quayside of the Landwehrkanal: “Fascism has met its first defeat! Stop the War!” They distributed a final leaflet on the eve of the attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944. The other local groups of the IKD had been destroyed by the Nazi terror. The reconstruction of the German section was a priority for the International at the end of the war, but it was a laborious task. Simultaneously the Swiss, British and Netherlands sections all put ‘German work’ in hand – without complete co-ordination, in addition to the efforts which the European Secretariat and then the International Secretariat were constantly making.

The German group which was admitted to a scat on the International Executive Committee in October 1945 consisted of only a few people. It included a former Communist Party deputy in the Reichstag and Peter Maslowski and Otto Hoft, who had been connected with Münzenburg. This group issued a ‘broadly-based’ bulletin in August and October 1945; this was called Diskussions-Tribüne. From March 1946 they produced a printed journal New Spartakus, which was then to be produced by the Swiss section in collaboration with Frey. This experience did not last long and the nucleus soon disappeared. At the same time, in London, a group of emigrés published Solidarität which likewise was to be directed into Germany and was distributed also to German prisoners of war in France. Finally, Die Internationale was to appear in 1948 in Amsterdam, still in order to surmount the difficulties of producing a journal in Germany itself.

The reconstruction of the German section did not really begin until Sam Gordon rediscovered George Jungclas at Bayreuth in July 1946. The International Secretariat entrusted to the latter the responsibility for regrouping the Trotskyist forces. The first, still modest, national conference of the new organisation, which resumed the name IKD, was held on 1-2 July 1947; its organ was Unser Weg.

There had also been a delegate from the Bolshevik-Leninist Group of Vietnam on the European Executive Committee since June 1945. This new group consisted of intellectuals and of workers from the camps where the Indo-Chinese labourers who had been brought to France to work in the arms industry had been kept. The group was formed in 1943 on the initiative of Raoul, a militant of the CCI. The activity of the group had a decisive influence on the organisation of the Vietnamese colony in the early days of the ‘liberation’, but above all it had a solid influence in the camps, where fifteen thousand workers got rid of the colonialist administrators and installed their own authority. The Trotskyists conducted courses of Marxist lectures and political education; they won the best cadres and their ideas had a wide audience. This activity was crowned by the founding conference of the Internationalist Communist Group of Vietnam, which met on 28-30 June 1947 in Paris and opened up a considerable period of growth, which was to reach 500 members.

The Swiss section of the Fourth International, the Marxistische Aktion der Schweiz (MAS), formed its link with the European Secretariat in the summer of 1945 and took its place in the European Executive Committee in October the same year. The court cases which were aimed at it in 1940 had interrupted its activity, which it resumed only in 1943, when it remained semi-clandestine. Fraction work was done in the Socialist Party, the Socialist youth and the Communist Party. The close collaboration of the MAS with Frey influenced the political development of the Swiss section. Frey imposed his Austrian rules about illegality and very intensive education. His sectarianism and scholasticism were contagious, and the MAS needed a long time to free itself from them. Its relations with the International Secretariat suffered severely. Fora certain time it entertained the ambition of creating a left wing in the International, in alliance with the Austrian section.

Lastly we must mention the Trotskyists in Czechoslovakia and in Bulgaria who had survived the massacres and the concentration camps and could renew their contacts with the International. Obviously they had to take great precautions, but these did not save them from Stalinist tyranny. In 1946 the news came that the Trotskyists in Bulgaria were on trial. Those Czechoslovak Trotskyists who did not, like Wolf Salus, go into exile after the coup of February 1948, were crushed like Zavis Kalandra, who was sentenced to death and hanged in 1950.

World Congress

Now let us return to the International Conference which was to enable the transition to a real World Congress to be made. The conference was necessary, in the first place, because a new international leadership, located in Europe, had to be elected. This had to be done on the basis of a document which studied the post-war situation and laid down a line of political activity. In the course of 1945 the European Secretariat had already proposed that a World Congress be held and that the transfer of the International Secretariat to Europe be projected. The Congress of the French PCI expressed the same wish. Moreover, the European Executive Committee decided in June 1945 to hold a European Conference; this was projected for the month of December. In the end it became clear that this meeting would not be very different from an international conference, in the conditions of the time, as the SWP pointed out in its Proposals for the Functioning o the Fourth International. This shared the viewpoint of the European Secretariat and gave the European Executive Committee the task of what was named a ‘pre-conference’. The only change which the European Executive Committee introduced into these proposals was to add to the agenda the adoption of a document on orientation, as the simple choice of a manifesto seemed to it to be inadequate. The International Secretariat agreed to this procedure; in fact it no longer had more than a format existence. The European Secretariat took on to a certain extent the functions of the International Secretariat, and the SWP formally delegated Sam Gordon to it at the end of 1945.

The growing disagreements in the SWP had their effect on the functioning of the International Secretariat, which had been reduced to two members, Van Heijenoort and Cochran (SWP), who were both deeply involved in the two opposing tendencies. The International Secretariat had produced no political documents since 1943 and there was rising friction even in transacting day-to-day business. Van Heijenoort concluded that he could no longer discharge his responsibilities as Secretary of the Fourth International. He wrote confidentially to the International Executive Committee and to the European Executive Committee demanding that the latter take upon itself immediately the function of a world centre, since it was “certainly the most representative organism by far of the Fourth International today”. The European Secretariat however declined this solution and urged Van Heijenoort to carry on. The judgement which Van Heijenoort makes on the record of the International Secretariat is unsparing. “The political sterility of the International Secretariat is an established fact. I reserve for another time this business and the responsibility which the SWP has for it, but the fact itself is clear enough.” More precisely, he blames the SWP for not having permitted “a political content to be given to the work of the International Secretariat”, thanks to its attitude of waiting to see what would happen, which was most often justified by the argument that it was too far away and too inadequately informed to take a position on a certain number of international problems. The bitter words of Van Heijenoort reflected, to be sure, the climate of exacerbated factional struggle, but we can deduce from them the difficulty which there was in submitting a report on activity to the pre-conference, which considered only the report of the European Secretariat.

The burning question at the heart of the discussion in the SWP at the time was the proposal to unite with the Workers Party led by Shachtman. This question had an international resonance which justified its inclusion in the agenda of the pre-conference, but events prevented it from being discussed. It was therefore deferred to a meeting of the new International Executive Committee in June. To begin with, the idea of uniting the SWP and the WP was one of the planks in the platform of the Morrow-Goldman minority. The WP took it up and suddenly changed its view of the matter in the summer of 1945. This change of course had no basis in a reconciliation on the disputed questions, and gave the impression of a fractional manoeuvre. The relations which developed between the SWP minority and Shachtman, who encouraged a split, confirmed these fears. Following the special plenum of the SWP in October 1945, Morrow and Goldman announced that they intended to join the WP if the discussions between the parties ended unfavourably. By the time that the International Executive Committee was to debate this question, Goldman had already just joined the WP with a few followers. The fate of Morrow was to be settled by the Twelfth Congress of the SWP in November 1946, which was to exclude him for repeated breaches of party discipline.


Cannon’s conception of organisation and his ‘methods’ of leadership were further attacked by his opponents, as had happened in other disputes before and at the outbreak of the war. The European Secretariat followed the example of Trotsky; it would have wished to play a moderating role on this level. It received favourably the corrections which the minority contributed to the theses of the SWP in 1943. But the convergence of the minority with the viewpoints of Shachtman and their complicity left no doubt as to the nature of this opposition. One central preoccupation of the International Executive Committee was to overcome the fragmentation of the Trotskyist forces in all countries and to promote unity. That this is what it wanted also in the USA, goes without saying. But at the same time everyone recognised that beneath the question of unification there were certain political designs, which would deeply change the orientation of the International. Raptis pointed this out to Natalia Trotsky. The meaning of the interventions of the International Executive Committee and of the new International Secretariat were to press the SWP to overcome its reluctance and engage in a real discussion with the Workers Party, in an attempt to make its members develop in a positive direction and test the possibilities of unity. There could be no question of encouraging efforts which offered few guarantees of success and which would doom the American party to endless internal struggles which would leave it weaker at the end. The European Secretariat was in no way above the battle. It had evident political grounds for being in solidarity with the SWP.

The labours of the pre-conference laid down a well-defined political line, marked off, as the European Secretariat wished, from “opportunism and sectarianism”. The self-criticism of former orientations was confined within the rhythms of the rising revolutionary wave. It did not call into question the nature of the period following the imperialist war. It laid down that revolutionary situations appeared independently of the existence of a revolutionary party. However, the absence of a revolutionary party leads to the retreat, defeat and demoralisation of the masses. The conference emphasised that the new conditions were offering opportunities which had not been present earlier to construct the parties of the Fourth International … provided that these opportunities were taken by enthusiastically developing mass work and by laying claim to the role of an alternative leadership. We would wait in vain for the masses to discover our existence and our programme by themselves.

The document of the conference mentioned somewhat succinctly the problems posed by the evolution of the USSR and by the nature of the states in the Soviet grip, which was to figure so largely in the debates in the International. We note that the slogan of the withdrawal of the Red Army from the occupied territories, mentioned in the amendments from the RCP (Britain), was not considered by the conference. The slogan appears for the first time in the resolution, On the Occupied Territories which the newly-elected International Executive Committee adopted in June 1946.

The modest aims which the conference set itself do not diminish its importance. Whatever were its limitations, it represents a stage in re-establishing and relaunching the International. It was no small achievement to overcome the effects of dispersal and to restore the cohesion of the movement through the great discussion which had to be organised with the World Congress in view. The new international leadership introduced a permanent collective cadre, a working team, which previously had been lacking. The constant presence at the International Secretariat of delegates sent there by the principal sections and by the SWP conferred more authority and more talent upon it. More regular journeys and meetings enabled the problems and the needs of the sections to be better understood and effective support to be given to them. The International Executive fulfilled its function as a political leadership through five sessions, each of which usually lasted a week, held over two years.

At that time Europe was in ruins and was the prey of profound contradictions. It necessarily looked quite different from what we see today looking back over a distance. It would be in vain to remake the world by tracing an ideal political line after the event. But that is by no means an invitation to refrain from a critical reading which can shed light on the present. The International intended to bank on the revolutionary potentialities and to exploit them to the full. It was not disposed to accept that defeat and retreat are inevitable. The currents which it resisted, those which claimed that we were already at the end of a revolutionary flood-tide, as in 1923, and some of whom said that we were going down into an era of decadence, revealed a more or less developed tendency to adulterate the Trotskyist programme and take the bite out of it in the hope of better adjusting to circumstances. In a world in total upheaval, in which they were concerned to deepen Marxist thought, the confrontation naturally covered a great range and was not without a certain sharpness.

Rodolphe Prager

Updated by ETOL: 4.7.2003