The Fourth International

The Long March of the Trotskyists

Chapter 5: From the Founding of the Fourth International to the Second World Congress (1938-48)

Munich 1938 was only a short prelude to a new world war. For six years millions of men were mobilised, shoved into regiments, armed, shipped from continent to continent, and hurled against one another in murderous combat. The contradictions among the capitalist powers prevailed over the contradictions between capitalism as a whole and the Soviet Union, so that at the beginning of the war the Kremlin was allied with Nazi Germany in a pact that would give way, in two years' time, to agreements with the imperialist democracies. This collaboration would contribute to giving the Resistance an ambiguous class character. In the course of the war, mass movements began to get beyond the control of the major powers. Taking advantage of defeats suffered by the metropolitan countries, colonies began to revolt. Towards the end of the war, the Soviet Union had a sphere of influence in East Europe, the social character of which would only be definitively determined in the following period. The Socialist International succeeded in committing suicide at the beginning of the war; the Communist International was dissolved by Stalin in 1943. The old working class parties, Socialist and Communist, tightly regimented during the war, emerged from the conflict with an increasingly right-wing political line.

Founding of the Fourth International (the Transitional Programme)

In 1938, with the world darkened by the monstrous shadow of war and fascism, the International Conference met again. The meeting took place at the same time that the temporary capitalist compromise was signed in Munich. Again Trotsky raised the question of founding the Fourth International. It was to this conference that Trotsky submitted the Transitional Programme -- which was to serve, for an entire historical period, as the basis for the Fourth International's activities. The conference also adopted a resolution, 'Class Struggle and the War in the Far East', characterising China's struggleagainst Japan as a war of national liberation and supporting China in its struggle.

At this conference the objection could ·gain be heard that it was too early to announce the formation of the Fourth International, that such a decision would not be understood by the masses, etc. in short, all the arguments that had led to the unfavourable decision in 1936 were still being used on this occasion.

These objections were similar to those expressed at other moments when decisive steps had to be made by the working class movement. At the time of the break with the Second International and the founding of the Third International, for instance, the objection was raised that there was no mass Communist Party other than the Bolshevik Party which was in government. Against the founding of the Fourth International, the considerable ebb of the working class movement and the absence of Trotskyist organisations with a mass base were invoked as reasons. But what is to be done to transform circumstances in order that they should become favourable and create organisations with a mass base? It is impossible to renounce the programme and the organisation until the objective conditions are transformed in a favourable way. Indeed, these objections only serve to conceal an opposition to the programme and a refusal to fight for it in extremely difficult conditions.

That is why Trotsky was so very insistent on this question. That is why he pushed it right to the point of including an undisguised polemic against those who were opposed to announcing the establishment of the Fourth International in the final chapter of his Transitional Programme. [1] He did so because, for him, the most important consideration was not the numerical size of our forces, nor the readiness of a more or less large sector of the workers to understand our decision; but above and beyond all, it was a question of political perspective and political continuity. Trotsky was acutely aware that the workers movement in general, and our movement in particular, was about to enter an extremely difficult Period -- the imperialist war -- in the course of which we would be subjected to extraordinary pressures by the class enemy and by powerful centrifugal forces. These pressures could well disintegrate and destroy an organisation as weak in numbers as our own. Looking back, in examining what happened in our movement during the war, it can be seen that entering the war period without having proclaimed the founding of the Fourth International would have allowed all the outside pressures and all the centrifugal forces which appeared during that time to operate a thousand times more intensively.

In face of the difficulties stemming from national isolation and clandestinity, how many members, subject to all kinds of pressures, might have failed to use as the point of departure in making political analyses the necessity of defending and maintaining the organisation and the programme it outlined before the war? How many would have had a tendency to work up a new programme, to wonder what might be the new ideas they should adopt! At the beginning of this work, we mentioned the importance of historical continuity in the revolutionary movement. In announcing the founding of the Fourth International, Trotsky was essentially aiming at assuring this continuity during a perilous period. It was not at all 'too soon', but rather in the nick of time, that the Fourth International was founded, at the 1938 conference. The decision to create The World Party of Socialist Revolution -- the name the Fourth International adopted -- rendered an inestimable service to the working class movement.

The importance of the Transitional Programme has often been stressed. It answers these crucial questions: How can humanity be extricated from this nightmare of crises, of world wars, of continuous chaos in which it has been floundering for some forty years? How can the transition to socialism be assured?

The Transitional Programme is, at one and the same time, a programme for organising the workers in the struggle to win power and a programme to be put into operation immediately after the workers take power.9 At the end of the Nineteenth and the beginning of the Twentieth Century, when capitalism was in its ascendancy, the socialist parties had a two-part programme: the maximum programme, which expressed the demand for a socialist society in some vague future period; and the minimum programme of immediate demands, a programme of reforms that did not pose the question of the conquest of power. As early as its Third Congress, the Communist International had put forward the idea of a transitional programme: 'Instead of the minimum programme of the reformists and centrists, the Communist International struggles for the concrete needs of the proletariat, for a set of demands which, in their entirety, organise the proletariat and constitute the stages of the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat; each of these demands expresses an urgent need of the broad masses, even if these masses do not as yet consciously stand for the dictatorship of the proletariat' (Theses on Tactics).

The Transitional Programme is not what can be called the fundamental programme of the Fourth International. The latter comprises the sum total of the teachings of the struggle for socialism, from the very beginning of the working class movement. This programme does not appear in any single printed document, but is found in several basic texts (the Marxist classics, the first four Congresses of the Communist International, basic documents of the Left Opposition and of the Fourth International, etc.). In this historical context, the Transitional Programme is its most important political part, the part which, proceeding from the basic teachings, formulates a programme for mobilising the masses in actions appropriate to their level of class consciousness, in order to lead them, through the education they receive by means of these actions, to the highest level -- the conquest of power. This programme comprises a series of immediate, democratic and transitional demands corresponding to the needs of the broadest sectors of the toiling masses, and to the logic of the development of the class struggle. Its key item is the slogan of workers government. As was the case at the Third and Fourth Congresses of the Communist International, this slogan is used in the Transitional Programme not as a synonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat, but as a transitional government formulation, which has to be adapted to the masses' organisational situation and degree of class consciousness at a given moment. A programme lacking any perspective for a government of the toiling masses taking anti-capitalist measures is not a transitional programme.

In the years since the Transitional Programme was written, its validity was particularly demonstrated in the immediate post-war period, when circumstances obliged the traditional organisations to advance certain of its slogans, although they were careful to avoid moving on to anti-capitalist slogans and to calling for a workers government. For some years now, its validity has also been evidenced in the fact that the idea has been picked up by reformists and centrists, but with the purpose of emasculating it. They use it to offer the masses a so-called new road -- basically reformist -- by which society can be moved from capitalism to socialism without revolutionary upheavals.

Given its nature, the Transitional Programme cannot and should not be considered holy writ. The foundation on which it stands, however -- the principle of a mobilisation of the masses towards the conquest of power, on a programme of combined demands remains unalterable. But the demands and the way they follow on from each other must in each instance be adapted to the particular conditions of time and place.

As early as 1938, the Transitional Programme illustrated the characteristics of the three areas in which the socialist revolution would be continued after the war: the advanced capitalist states, the colonial and semi-colonial countries, and the workers states (at that time there was but one, the Soviet Union).

The ordeal of the world war

Shortly before the war, the International Secretariat was transferred to America. The war brought considerable losses to our movement -- first and foremost, the assassination of Trotsky several weeks after he had written the Manifesto of the Emergency Conference (May 1940). There was also a wholesale slaughter of our comrades in the European countries: in France, Marcel Hic and Pierre Tresso (Blasco), former member of the Political Bureau of the Italian CP; in Belgium, Leon Lesoil and A. Leon.; in Greece, Pouliopoulos; the German comrade Widelin -- to ate only the names of a few leading comrades. But our dead in the Second World War can be counted by the hundreds. Our European sections, for the most part, were changed from top to bottom, and their leaderships almost wholly replenished by youthful elements. To this must be added the organisational break-up resulting from measures taken by the bourgeois states (censorship, travel restrictions, etc.) which confined most of our sections to a narrow national life in an atmosphere of enormous, reactionary political pressure, of biased news accounts, without an international centre capable of functioning normally -- even to the slightest extent.

The International Secretariat in America could keep in contact with only a few countries in the 'Allied' camp (and even that with great difficulty). Several years were to pass before a European Secretariat could be established among sections in countries occupied by Germany. Despite these extraordinarily great difficulties, we were able to ascertain, when international connections were re-established in 1946, that most of the sections, beyond frontiers and fronts, had followed a common general line on essential questions. This, of course, did not happen without a certain number of internal struggles and crises in several Trotskyist organisations, principal among which were the following:

1. In the United States. At the beginning of the war, Shachtman and Burnham, under the pressure of a petty bourgeoisie indignant over the Nazi-Soviet Pact, questioned our position on the USSR. Discussion on the point was begun and lasted seven months, covering all the fundamental questions, from problems of Marxist philosophy to problems of building a proletarian party. A petty bourgeois tendency grouped around Shachtman broke with the Socialist Workers Party [2] to form an organisation that continued to move farther and farther from our programme before disappearing completely. Following this split, a special international conference was held in America in May 1940, which condemned the political line and activity of the splitters and adopted a manifesto drawn up by Trotsky -- The Proletarian Revolution and the Second Imperialist War. This manifesto was written at the time when Hitler's offensive was driving into Holland, Belgium, and France. Stalin was then in a de facto alliance with Hitler. It was also at that time that the first attempt was made by Stalin's agents to assassinate Trotsky.

This document recalls the immediate causes of the war. It denounces the positions defended by the big powers, and the lies of 'fatherland' and'democracy' being used to fool the masses. It also unmasks the 'peace offensive' being conducted by Hitler and, whilst exposing the fatal policy and role of Stalin, it calls for the defence of the Soviet Union. Many chapters are devoted to the problems of the colonial countries (China, India, Latin America). The role of the social-democratic, Stalinist and centrist leaderships of every ilk are unveiled at length. Finally the manifesto concludes with an appeal for the Fourth International, for a struggle in which two alternatives are at stake: socialism or slavery.

About a month later, on 30 June, Trotsky wrote an article about the fact that the German troops occupied the whole European continent up to the Atlantic. This article,'We Do Not Change Our Course'", contained in particular the following lines:

'In the wake of a number of other and smaller European states, France is being transformed into an oppressed nation...(Imperialist democracy) cannot be "saved" from fascism. It can only be replaced by proletarian democracy. Should the working class tie up its fate in the present war with the fate of imperialist democracy, it would only assure itself a new series of defeats... True enough, Hitler boastfully promises to establish the domination of the German people at the expense of all Europe and even of the whole world "for one thousand years". But in all likelihood this splendour will not endure even for ten years... Consequently the task of the revolutionary proletariat does not consist of helping the imperialist armies to create a "revolutionary situation" but of preparing, fusing and tempering its international ranks for revolutionary situations of which there will be no lack. The new war map of Europe does not invalidate the principle of revolutionary class struggle. The Fourth International does not change its course.

2. In the case of the German section (more exactly, the emigre committee leading that section), we witnessed a truly tragic degeneration of a group demoralised by years of exile. The first document to reveal this degeneration was called the 'Three Theses' (1941). The basic concept embodied in this document is that fascism constitutes a new historical period succeeding imperialism, one in which humanity is dragged so far backwards that, instead of remaining in the era of world wars and proletarian revolution, it finds itself thrown back into the era of wars for national liberation and of democratic revolutions of the 1848 type!

3. In France we saw the two Trotskyist groups, the POI (Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste -- Internationalist Workers Party) and the CCI (Comite Communiste Internationaliste -- Internationalist Communist Committee), both start off by going off the track -- in opposite directions -- under pressure from the class enemy. After a political struggle in both groups had enabled them to overcome their respective deviations, unification could take place through the founding, early in 1944, of the PCI (Parti Communiste Internationaliste -- Internationalist Communist Party), the French section of the Fourth International.

In a pamphlet entitled 'Problems of the World Party of Revolution and Reconstruction of the Fourth International', dated 28 February 1966, the group 'Voix Ouvriere' (Workers Voice) whose views are now defended by the 'Lutte Ouvriere' (Workers Struggle) group -- categorically condemned the Fourth International for the patriotic attitude adopted by one of the Trotskyist groups during the war, and for the fact that the Fourth International supposedly did not move to criticise this policy when the reunification of the French movement and the founding of the PCI took place in 1944. Here is what this pamphlet says: 'The unification of the different Trotskyist groups (POI, CCI, October Group) took place in the beginning of 1944. The chauvinist policy of 1940 was blithely passed over, everything was forgiven and forgotten, and, better yet, they had always been right'(p.8). It adds:'...And when after the war the Fourth International ratified the policy of the French section, it became clear that it, too, was opportunistic' (P· 10).

Unfortunately for these comrades, their statements are not correct. In February 1944, under the German occupation, a European conference of the Fourth International was held. One of the items on its agenda was the French reunification and the formation of the PCI. This conference did not 'blithely pass over' but proceeded seriously to criticise the positions previously taken. The positions adopted at this European conference served as the basis for reunification in France. The documents of the European conference were published in a clandestine issue of Quatrième Internationale (Fourth International). We cite below Point XXIX of 'Theses on the Condition of the Working Class Movement and Perspectives for the Development of the Fourth International', which deals with this question and which explains as completely as anyone could desire what happened at that time. We are very sorry that these comrades did not verify their statements before making them.

'XXIX. Above all else the present war has subjected the Fourth International movement to the most difficult and decisive ordeals. On the one hand, we had to defend ourselves, on the basis of internationalist principles, against the danger of catching the nationalistic and patriotic fever that, at the beginning, was epidemic among the masses; on the other hand, we had to defend ourselves against the terrorism of the bourgeoisie. Under pressure of the conditions created in France and elsewhere after the defeat of French imperialism, a certain weakening in the internationalist behaviour of some sections became apparent. The French section primarily -- in its day-to-day policies often expressed the nationalistic influence of the petty-bourgeois masses who were exasperated by the defeat of their imperialist masters.

'The position taken by the French section on the national question, the theses issued in the name of the European Secretariat of the Fourth International, at that time exclusively controlled by the French comrades, represent a social-patriotic deviation that must once and for all be openly condemned and rejected as incompatible with the programme and general ideology of the Fourth International.

'Instead of making a distinction between the nationalism of the defeated bourgeoisie (which is an expression of its imperialist interests) and the "nationalism" of the masses (which is only an expression of their reaction to, and resistance against, exploitation by the imperialist occupiers), the POI leadership deemed progressive the struggle of its own bourgeoisie; did not, right from the start, separate itself from Gaullism; and was satisfied to clothe the latter in more "revolutionary" terminology. By placing the French bourgeoisie -- a defeated imperialist power -- on the same plane as the bourgeoisie of colonial countries, the POI leadership acquired a completely false concept of the national question. It spread dangerous illusions about the character of nationalist organisations, which, far from being able to serve as hypothetical "allies" for the revolutionary proletariat, will prove to be the counter-revolutionary vanguard of imperialism.

'In the same way, starting out with the entirely correct premise that it was necessary to take part in the mass struggle and to win large layers of the working class away from the baneful influence of nationalism, the POI leadership permitted itself to be drawn into making dangerous ideological and tactical concessions. It did not understand that the most important consideration in winning the masses lay in the crystal-clear and revolutionary language of the international class struggle, as opposed to the confused and treacherous language of social patriotism.

'It should be added, however, that just as this condemnation of a right-centrist deviation is called for, so also must the Fourth International vehemently condemn the sectarian "left" deviation as evidenced, for example, in the policies of the French CCI on the national question. Under guise of safeguarding the heritage of Marxism-Leninism, the CCI obstinately refused to make any distinction between the nationalism of the bourgeoisie and the mass resistance movement.

'In dismissing as "reactionary and nationalist" the struggle for their everyday interests waged by the proletariat and petty-bourgeois masses when this struggle is directed against the imperialist occupiers and uses petty-bourgeois slogans, sectarianism paralyses the precise revolutionary efforts needed to combat nationalist ideology, and automatically isolates itself from real mass struggles.

'The social-patriotic deviation was, nevertheless, energetically opposed from the beginning by the healthy resistance of the revolutionary rank-and-file of the French section, as well as by the rest of the international organisation.' (Quatrième Internationale, No. 6-7, April-May 1944, pp. 8-9)

The errors made at this time are explained by the huge pressures of a totally different order to those of peace time -- which were weighing upon militants who carried on the struggle, a struggle which was far from being simply a verbal one with the possibility of only extremely limited errors. Serious as these errors may have been, however, they remained at the level of errors and never became betrayals. They were corrected by the movement itself, which -- one should never forget -- defended the banner of the Fourth International at the cost of immense sacrifices.

The Second World Congress

As soon as international relationships had been re-established, the International Secretariat in America and the European Secretariat jointly organised an International Conference. Held in the spring of 1946 with a dozen sections participating, this conference assumed the powers of a congress, electing a new International Executive Committee and a new International Secretariat. It set a political orientation and assigned the new leadership bodies the task of preparing a world congress. These decisions were ratified by the sections that had not been able to attend the conference. The new orientation, resulting from the new world situation, consisted in the task of changing our sections, which until then had been propaganda groups, into parties linked to mass struggles -- and aiming to lead these struggles.

Preparation for the Second World Congress took almost two years. It entailed a lively struggle to maintain fundamental positions, especially against tendencies that wanted to revise our position on the question of the USSR. Twenty-two organisations from nineteen different countries were represented at the Second World Congress. It showed that, generally speaking, our movement had emerged from the war with increased strength although as yet unable to make a breakthrough in any particular place. It also showed that our movement had especially broad possibilities in those countries with relatively young working class movements in the Far East and in Latin America, for example. New statutes presented by Sherry Mangan were adopted.

Three main political points, in addition to an evaluation of the organisation's progress since its founding congress, were on the agenda of the Second World Congress. The first point was the international situation in the three years following the end of the Second World War, for which the report was presented by Michel Pablo. The congress noted the preponderant strength of the United States compared with the rest of the world; the difficult problems of reconstruction, both in Europe and in the Soviet Union; and the onset of the 'cold war'. It assessed the situation of the working class movement, the sharpening of the class struggle, and assigned the sections of the Fourth International the task of strengthening themselves in order to form mass parties.

A document on 'The Struggle of the Colonial Peoples and the World Revolution', presented by Pierre Frank, stressed the point that because of the new relationship of forces among capitalist states, we were witnessing a new division of the colonial world, with the United States taking over from the former imperialist countries, now weakened and unable to maintain their former domination. But the document also noted the policy of strategic retreat adopted by the imperialists in a large number of colonial countries, whereby they moved from the old forms of direct rule to new forms of indirect domination, with the help of layers of the indigenous bourgeoisie. Thus the congress clearly saw from the very beginning the new orientation that imperialism would follow, in the direction of what was later called neo-colonialism, while at the same time conducting colonial wars wherever it deemed it had absolutely vital strategic interests to defend.

The congress devoted a very large part of its work -- in fact, the major part -- to the discussion of a document entitled 'The USSR and Stalinism', presented by Ernest Mandel. The Soviet Union's expansion on the heels of its victory over German fascism, the occupation by Soviet troops of several East European countries, the enormous abuses and crimes committed in the course of this occupation, without the bourgeois social structure of these countries having been changed -- all this had caused innumerable debates everywhere on the class nature of the Soviet Union. The document approved by the delegates at the congress reaffirmed Trotsky's definition of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state, but it showed the stage which that degeneration had reached. It pointed out that the contradictions within the Soviet Union were sharper than ever; it dissected the Stalinist political line, indicating that the bureaucracy was more and more acting as an absolute brake on economic progress; and it concluded that the task before us, now that the war was over, was to overthrow the bureaucratic regime. A good part of the document was devoted to a study of the 'Soviet buffer states', i.e., those East European countries occupied by Soviet troops, and it concluded that these countries had retained the structure and function of a bourgeois state. Several pages of the document dealt with the Communist parties, stressing the slide towards reformism they had taken -- a very steep slide compared to the pre-war period. In conclusion, this document examined the significance of the world discussion on the question of the Soviet Union, and replied to the 'state capitalist' or 'bureaucratic collectivist' theories.

The question of the class nature of the Soviet Union and the question of the defence of the Soviet Union had been continuously raised inside the Trotskyist movement and had provoked many splits. The Second World Congress marked the end of the great debates on these questions inside the Fourth International. Afterwards, on the basis of the definition of the Soviet Union as a 'degenerated workers state', the debates took place on the transformations which took place there, their significance, and their consequences in relation to political tasks. In all the debates on the class nature of the Soviet Union, deep divergences of methodology were in the background concerning the way to analyse states, movements, and political formations. Out of these developed no less deep divergences on the political level. Thus most of those who fought the Trotskyist positions on these questions found themselves more or less frankly in the camp of imperialism against the Soviet Union during the 'cold war', in the name of the struggle of 'democracy' against 'totalitarianism'. The most monstrous example in this field was, 1 think, Shachtman himself, who eventually joined the American Socialist Party and defended US imperialism in the Vietnam War.

In retrospect, it can be seen that the main function of the Second Congress had been to reaffirm the fundamental principles of Trotskyism as opposed to the various centrifugal tendencies that had appeared during the war and immediately thereafter. It was an absolutely indispensable task, but that was as far as the congress could go. Coming events would confront the International with problems and tasks not touched on there.


[1] But the sceptics don't keep quiet: "Has the time to announce its birth arrived as yet?" "The Fourth International", will be our reply, "doesn't need to be 'announced'. It is alive and in battle. " '

[2] At that time the Socialist Workers Party was the American section of the Fourth International. Passage of the Voorhis Act in 1940, forbidding labour organisations to belong to an International, resulted in the formal disaffiliation of the SWP. but it has never ceased to remain rigorously faithful to the Trotskyist programme.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005