Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 2/3
The Fourth International
ALTHOUGH THERE have been several attempts at histories of the Fourth International, few of them have concentrated so much upon its ideological development to the exclusion of all other considerations. This book, written by a Professor of Economics and Sociology at the University of Ottawa, who sadly died before it came out, tells us that whereas the Dutch and Italian lefts ‘are reduced today to the level of minuscule sects, which is not the case with the Fourth International’ (p. 49), the latter is ‘stronger than at any time in its history, with the exception of a short period in the mid-1970s’, and is ‘now entering a new period of expansion’ (p. 48). So that whilst informing us that ‘the Fourth International possesses no official history and rejects even the notion of official history’ (p. 54), he solemnly affirms that ‘continuity on the international level has never been broken, even though on several occasions it has depended on a thread’ (p. 50).
The illusion of this ‘thread’ is maintained throughout the book, as the final chapter on sources makes abundantly clear, by the exclusive use of documents that have appeared in public print and the deliberate exclusion of embarrassing internal material, such as the discussion of the Bolivian debâcle of 1952, or the argument as to whether or not Egypt was a workers’ state. So whilst it is a relief to learn that Pierre Frank’s wretched book is not an ‘official history’, it is plain right from the start that this writer’s thread is intended to conduct us through the maze of his organisation’s ideological meanderings in the spirit of Dr Pangloss rather than of Karl Marx.
But even within this framework there are signs that its author has failed to command his material. We are told that the Greek section, which condemned the guerrilla struggle against the German occupation as chauvinist, was ‘very influential in the resistance’ (p. 116), and that in spite of James Klugmann’s activities (see Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no: 3, Summer 1992, pp. 106–10) the victory of Tito in Yugoslavia was ‘no product of Moscow’s policy’, which was to support the royalists (p. 125). The ‘Second World Congress’ of the Fourth International was held, according to this writer, in September 1948 (p. 119). Similarly, during Mao’s seizure of power, Russia, whose troops had armed Mao with the surrendered weapons of the Japanese in Manchuria, had ‘maintained its military aid to Chiang up to the last minute’ (p. 125). The Fourth International, on its part, ‘vigorously condemned’ the repression of the Trotskyists in such countries as Yugoslavia, Vietnam and China in ‘public declarations reproduced in the whole of its press’ (p. 126). (Moreau lets the cat out of the bag here later on page 174, when he excuses Castro’s suppression of the Cuban Trotskyists by his ‘exasperation’ at the ‘irresponsible critiques of Posadism’). Then we are told that in May 1968, ‘as opposed to reformist or Third Worldist currents’, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International had championed the perspective of ‘new revolutionary crises, even in the most advanced capitalist countries’ (p. 198). Its failure to recruit from the disarray of the Italian Communist Party at that time is put down to the small size of its section (The Italian Lesson, pp. 200–2), oblivious of the fact that one of the worst of the Stalinist groupings in this mess, Falc e Martello, owed its origin to the miseducation of the GCR’s own youth group in the principles of Maoism. And when the war over the Falkland Islands is ascribed to ‘the British intervention against Argentina’ (p. 246), we realise that the hold of this writer upon the facts ‘depends on a thread’, as he might put it.
But even though he remains imprisoned within the mythology of his organisation, this does not mean that he is incapable of acute insights of his own. His view of the discussion about the class nature of the postwar ‘glacis’ states (pp. 117–9) comes quite close to those of the British Revolutionary Communist Party and the later Vern-Ryan faction of the US Socialist Workers Party, admitting that ‘the Second World Congress therefore confined itself to an incomplete analysis of Eastern Europe’ (p. 119). This is putting it mildly, to say the least, when we remember that they were of the opinion that capitalist states still existed there. But he points out quite rightly that the view of the ‘Third World Congress’ that in ‘exceptional circumstances’ such as Yugoslavia and China ‘Stalinist Communist parties could “project a revolutionary orientation” under the pressure of the masses’ was how ‘the “orthodox” interpretation of the postwar revolutions left the door wide open for the “revisionist” perspective’ (p. 124).
He is therefore able to demolish the ludicrous claims of the splitters of 1953 to represent anything better, showing how ‘the American SWP in particular was in solidarity with the international leadership in declaring that the documents submitted to the Third World Congress appeared to conform to the Trotskyist programme’ (p. 133), noting that when the motion for the suspension of the leadership of the French section came up on the International Secretariat the voting was Pablo for, Healy for, and the SWP for, with Mandel and Maitan voting against (pp. 137–8). He quite correctly identifies the views of Healy and Cannon in this split as being that whilst it was OK for the International Secretariat to ‘intervene in the affairs of the little groups in Europe with the approval of the SWP’, doing the same for them was ‘right over the top and merited an immediate split’ (p. 142). For if we accept, as they did then (and the author still does), that the organisation to which they all belonged was indeed Trotsky’s Fourth International, his conclusions logically follow: that the famous Open Letter, which adopted the Lambertist critique of the IS hitherto rejected by the SWP, was ‘without doubt one of the most irresponsible documents that have ever been written in the history of the Trotskyist movement’ (p. 140), ‘a veritable attempt at liquidating the International as an organised cadre’ (p. 141), in order to set up an organisation which had ‘no real international structure, and functioned by consultation between the national leaderships of the affiliated sections’ (p. 143). And Moreau has more than an ounce of truth on his side when criticising the ‘permanent catastrophism’ of the International Secretariat during the 1950s by saying that the International Committee was ‘in no way superior’; ‘very much the reverse’, for ‘the Lambertists and the Healyites were marked by a completely delirious catastrophism, combined with an absurd factionalism’ (p. 155). And the failure of the ICFI to make a self-criticism of its support for the MNA in Algeria (pp. 166–7) indeed showed how little it had in common with anything that could be recognised as Bolshevism.
However, such insights as this book contains, and they are by no means limited to what have been selected here, the main actor in the Marxist drama, the working class, is conspicuous by his absence. There is little discussion about what was actually going on inside the workers’ movement, and even less about strategies for intervening there. The Fourth International of the early 1950s is criticised for ‘still seeing the Chinese Communist Party as a purely Stalinist party’, and so ‘failing for a certain time to accept that the Chinese revolution was a proletarian revolution’ (p. 122). The document The Dynamics of World Revolution Today is congratulated for ‘safeguarding itself from an ouvrierist deviation – into which the Trotskyist forces have often fallen – which reduced the working class to the formally waged urban proletariat alone’ (p. 180).
Would that they had. For this is a nice phrase to find on the pen of a Canadian sociology professor, who has managed to convince himself that in the 1960s and 1970s ‘the student youth was the milieu where the new vanguard most forcibly asserted itself’ (p. 200), and that ‘the “leftism” of the new European sections remained on the terrain of Trotskyism and of Leninism’ (p. 202).
This account of the theoretical life of the Fourth International therefore reads very much like Hamlet without the prince. But the actor will yet appear, and he will have the last word.
Updated by ETOL: 29.9.2011