The Fourth International

The Long March of the Trotskyists

Chapter 6: From the Second World Congress to the 1953 Split

At the Second World Congress, held in April-May 1948, several sections, especially in Europe, found themselves replenished and strengthened by new forces acquired in the aftermath of the war. In some cases, these sections began to be a factor in the political life of their countries. Thus, despite the growth of the old parties (especially the Communist parties) during that period, the perspective of a further development of the Fourth International's sections was adopted by the congress, which raised the slogan,'Forward to building mass Trotskyist parties!'

But the situation was in the process of developing in a totally unexpected direction. The few signs pointing to this development were still too weak at the time of the congress to permit a correct evaluation -- too weak even to give us an inkling of where it was going. The post-war revolutionary wave in Western Europe seemed to be momentarily halted, but actually it had begun to subside. The 'cold war' had only just started. The Soviet blockade of West Berlin would start several weeks later. The'Prague coup', i.e., the seizure of power by the Czechoslovak Communist Party, was only a few weeks old. The social changes within the so-called people's democracies were only beginning to take shape. There was no way to foresee the break that was to take place two months later between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

Important events and totally unexpected developments occurred immediately after the Second Congress and for some years thereafter. Their results were unpredictable; the world was assuming a shape that had never been envisaged or even imagined by the most eminent, the most perspicacious, the most farsighted Marxists. These upheavals raised extremely complicated theoretical and political problems. Moreover, we were confronted, not with a single event that could have been judged per se, but with numerous events spread out over several years and not necessarily connected with each other. These events finally, after several years, resulted in a world picture totally different from what had previously been seen, even since the First World War and the October Revolution.

Certain Marxist tenets seemed to be placed in doubt by some aspects of the situation. As a result, a multiplicity of assessments and theories proclaiming the bankruptcy of Marxism appeared. Marxists could not answer these arguments with a pure and simple repetition of basic tenets, treating the latter as eternal truths independent of time and space. Such an approach would not have been worthy of Marxists. The primary task of the Fourth International was to place the basic teachings of revolutionary Marxism in Juxtaposition with the new world picture, to redefine the situation, to re-evaluate perspectives and tasks. Neglecting such a task would have meant leaving the field free both for the apologists of the Communist parties and for the innumerable revisionists on the left and on the right.

For the sake of clarity, this exposition will not treat events in chronological order but will first point out the major changes that took place as a whole -- in order to arrive at the overall picture that emerged at the end of a few years. In this way, theoretical problems that were raised and difficulties that had to be resolved will stand out. The actions of the Fourth International can thus be set forth in context, making it possible to judge them on an objective basis.

Post-war upheavals

Let us first review the main events and the basic changes that occurred from 1947-48 to about 1960.

The'cold war' began in 1947. Soon -- after the breach in the American monopoly on atomic energy in 1949 -- the development of nuclear weapons and the atomic arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union would begin. The problem of world war was thenceforth posed in new terms, not new on a social level, but new because of the availability of vast powers of destruction, so huge that they were in a completely different dimension from so-called conventional weapons.

In 1947 the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) was created. At the same time, the 'cold war' led the Soviet Union (in order to protect its buffer states) to effect a social change -- by military-bureaucratic means -- in the East European countries its armies had entered during the war. Despite a few measures aimed at those members of the propertied classes who had collaborated with the Germans, the army had left the bourgeois social structures of these countries intact. The'cold war' forced the Kremlin to liquidate the bases of capitalism in those countries and to transform them into workers states.

In June of 1948 the first great crisis of Stalinism erupted, in the shape of the Soviet-Yugoslav split. The Yugoslav Communist Party was expelled from the Cominform on charges reminiscent of the pre-war Moscow trials -- the Yugoslavs were fascists, spies, etc. But, for the first time, the Kremlin's hegemony over the workers states and the Communist parties as a whole was challenged by a party that had led the armed struggle during the war and had, against Stalin's advice, pursued that struggle until it had established a workers state. Stalin extended his repression in the East European workers states in order to prevent any spreading of the Yugoslav split. But the Yugoslav affair was his first big setback, at the very moment that the Soviet Union was at the peak of the glory reaped from its resistance during the war and its victory over Hitler's armies.

October 1949 saw the victory of the Chinese revolution -- that too despite the advice Stalin gave the Chinese Communist Party's leadership, namely, to make a deal with Chiang Kai-shek. The collapsing Kuomintang regime took refuge on the island of Taiwan (Formosa), where it would thenceforth survive only by grace of US military aid. The victory of the Chinese revolution had immense repercussions, which have developed through the years and which we shall summarise as follows:

1. A huge shift in the overall relationship of forces on an international scale, to the advantage of socialism.

2. A tremendous impetus to the colonial revolution, which thenceforth would spread from one colonised continent to another; outbreak of the Korean war in 1950; continuation of the Vietnamese revolution, first against French imperialism, later against American imperialism; extension of the colonial revolution to Latin America and victory of the socialist revolution in Cuba in 1959; extension of the colonial revolution to the Middle East, to North Africa in the 1950s, then to Black Africa from 1960 on.

3. Extension of the crisis of Stalinism.

In the course of the post-war period, enormous upheavals also occurred in the economically developed capitalist countries, in the capitalist countries based on a colonial structure, and in the workers states. Let us review them.

In a great many colonial countries, we witnessed a quasi-withdrawal by the imperialist nations (principally Britain; others, to a lesser extent), in which these colonies acquired formal political independence while at the same time an economic hold on them was maintained. These new -- and indirect -- forms of domination constitute what has been called neo-colonialism. In several cases, American imperialism has supplanted the colonising imperialism in its function of economic hegemony. Indigenous bourgeois leaderships of a special type appeared (Peronism, Nasserism, Sukarnoism, etc.). Sometimes they played along with mass movements -- a dangerous game. In the case of Cuba, the revolution won victory under a leadership which, although it did not originate in the working class movement -- and certainly not in the official Communist movement -- made the revolution a socialist one. Finally, in the colonial movements there are a number of leaderships that either try to seesaw between West and East, or gravitate for a time around the workers states without, however, effecting their countries' social transformation into workers states.

The growth and development of colonial revolutionary movements persisted. But receiving neither sufficient solidarity from the working class in the imperialist centres, nor a correct political line from the workers states, it was difficult for them -- with the exception of Cuba in Latin America -- to find a political orientation that would permit them to resolve, in the least costly way, the problems posed by the economic and social backwardness of their countries.

The Soviet Union's isolation, unbroken since 1917, had come to an end -- in the West (the 'people's democracies' of Eastern Europe) as well as in the East (China and the Democratic Republics of Vietnam and Korea). Then, on the American continent, socialist Cuba was born.

To the Soviet Union were added workers states which, with the exception of Czechoslovakia and East Germany, were less developed economically than the first workers state. Following a rocky period of post-war reconstruction in which Stalinism, faithful to its concept of'socialism in one country', shamelessly pillaged the neighbouring countries, the Soviet Union's progress was so tremendous that it became the world's second greatest economic power. In the new workers states of Eastern Europe, the new forms of property ownership also, generally speaking, brought about great economic progress. This, however, did not serve to improve the living standard of the masses to any considerable extent. In their initial period, these states had the same internal regime that the Soviet Union had experienced under Stalin. But the growth of the new relationships of production did not entail the growth of Stalinism. The Latter proved incompatible with the former. The crisis of Stalinism thus began to become evident under the impact of various factors -- the police state's ever greater brake on the Soviet Union's economic progress; the contradiction between the needs of the other workers states and the Kremlin's policies; the rising revolutionary tide throughout the world. The Communist parties were no longer inevitably and automatically aligning themselves with Moscow. China was to play a very special role in the crisis of Stalinism.

In Western Europe, the Communist parties, which had generally increased in size at the war's end, did not succeed (with exceptions such as France, Italy, etc.) in becoming rooted in the working class. The social-democratic parties remained, or again became, the majority working class parties.

As noted above, the crisis of Stalinism began with the Yugoslav events in 1948. The crisis, for all practical purposes, has never since stopped growing (onset of 'de-Stalinisation' after Stalin's death in 1953; East Berlin events in June 1953; Twentieth Congress [of the CPSU] and events in Poland and Hungary in 1956; Sine-Soviet conflict; Czechoslovak crisis; etc.).

The absence of a revolutionary victory in the economically developed countries was not without influence, for a time, on the 'de-Stalinisation' process. Among other things, it determined the protracted nature of this process and the fact that it was largely kept under control by the Kremlin bureaucracy. For the most part, the 'socialist camp' remained under Moscow's hegemony. China's break with Moscow shook the Kremlin's authority in the Communist world to a tremendous extent, without contributing to any decisive advance for revolutionary Marxism.

In the highly developed capitalist countries, some very surprising phenomena occurred. There was a general agreement among economists -- both bourgeois economists and those in the labour movement, Marxist or not -- that following a post-war period of reactivation and reconstruction, a serious economic crisis would occur. Marxists, basing themselves more particularly on Lenin's concepts of imperialism, believed that the loss of the colonies would contribute to the disintegration of the imperialist centres. Yet, far from disintegrating, for about fifteen years the capitalist world experienced boom, an unprecedented economic prosperity interrupted not by crises but only by 'recessions' of varying but always limited size and duration. This led to what was called the 'consumer society' or 'neo-capitalism', which on the surface seemed no longer to correspond with the capitalism that Marx had analysed. In this unparalleled prosperity, the European workers movement, the oldest organised movement with the oldest Marxist tradition, experienced stagnation and even a pronounced political decline. The social-democratic parties tended, even formally, to renounce socialism in order to become 'people's parties'; the Communist parties 'social-democratised' themselves; the left social-democratic tendencies dissolved; the revolutionary vanguard steadily dwindled. The socialist movement, born in Europe more than a century ago, raised in the perspective that a socialist revolution in Europe would precede the economic, political, and social development of other areas of the world, no longer corresponded to this image of yesteryear.

In the course of the First World War and in the early years of the October Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky had foreseen the possibility of victorious socialist revolutions in the colonial countries, paralleling those in Europe. But from 1948 onward, revolution was in full swing on capitalism's periphery, while in the imperialist centres the workers movement was, or appeared to be, at a lower ebb than ever before in its entire history. And finally, in the countries where capitalism had been overthrown, the bureaucracy seemed to be entrenched, with the working class passively submitting to its domination.

A capitalism deprived of its colonies yet flourishing more than ever, with a working class shorn of political aspirations and almost exclusively preoccupied with its standard of living; in the workers states an extension of the new relationships of production, with bureaucratic domination maintained and without any workers' mobilisations; in the colonial countries a revolutionary upsurge, based essentially on the peasantry -- all this largely explains the proliferation of theories denying, in one way or another, the historical mission of the proletariat as formulated by Marx, whether in classically capitalist countries, colonial countries, or workers states (the class nature of the last-named also gave rise to a multiplicity of theories). It was not possible to grasp the totality of the process immediately. In the midst of the tremendous pressures brought to bear on the entire world, and inevitably on the Trotskyist movement, delay was unavoidable.

The crises in the Trotskyist movement

It was impossible to deny these contradictory events and to cite, in lieu of explanation, all the great classics of revolutionary Marxism on the revolutionary mission of the proletariat, etc. In order to answer pertinently the profusion of theories successfully and to be able to act, it was necessary to proceed to an examination of the situation with the help of revolutionary Marxism, to seek therein the key that would permit an explanation of this new situation, to see what adjustments, rectifications, and enrichment had to be brought to revolutionary Marxism. This was possible only while participating in the class struggle at the same time, testing the evaluations of the new situation in the fire of battle. And this is what the Fourth International tried to do, in a situation rendered all the more difficult by the fact that it was operating in a political scene such as no revolutionary tendency had ever before encountered. In addition to the enormously complex picture of the world that has been sketched here, the International was faced with the obstacle of two old, organised workers movements, which came to life only when fighting revolutionary currents. The 'workers state' factor, which from 1917 on had given a new dimension to working class politics and which, in the form of Stalinism, had for so many years influenced the working class movement, introduced -- together with the existence of several workers states in the underdeveloped areas of the world -- increasingly complex effects.

In order to understand the problems and tasks with which the Fourth International was faced, in order to understand the positions it took during the years in which these changes occurred, in order to judge its activity as objectively as possible -- it is quite necessary to grasp the size and scope of the changes produced in the aftermath of the Second World War. It is quite necessary to grasp this state of affairs in order to have a Marxist explanation of the internal difficulties the Fourth International experienced, especially its crises and its splits.

A detailed history of the Fourth International will not fail to examine each of the crises and splits, to study their various stages, the primary and secondary positions defended by this or that current or faction, the role of individuals, etc. But such a historical study can have value only if it is written from a Marxist view of the total picture, with a correct appreciation of the general causes at the root of these crises and splits, and of the main orientations which, aside from any specific position, conflicted with each other. It is this philosophy of crises, as it might be termed, that we will indicate here as an indispensable prerequisite. A number of our adversaries, incapable of doing this, find themselves reduced to mumbo-jumbo in describing this period of crises and splits, embellishing their account with more or less inane bits of gossip.

Let us start with a point that is not without significance. A big to-do has been made, and is still being made, about the crises the Trotskyist movement has gone through. 'What, another crisis! Another split!', invariably exclaimed those who were often more content to fight the Fourth International on that basis than to discuss its ideas. We have no need to deny the oft-times painful nature of the crises in our movement. Nevertheless, this characteristic, which for a long time seemed peculiar to the Trotskyist movement and which could be looked down on with cynical amusement from the lofty seats of the big organisations, is today prevalent in all kinds of movement organisations, big and small. Actually, what was really abnormal in the working class movement was monolithism -- that 'unity' achieved by smothering all independent political thought within organisations laying claim to Marxism, the most critical school of thought in the world. The history of the working class movement proves that, more often than not, it has been racked by struggles between divergent theoretical and political tendencies and currents. This was normal, because without continually testing theories, positions, and orientations, by measuring them against reality, no progress in revolutionary thought and action can be envisaged. There was all the more reason for the movement to undergo such struggles, faced as it was with a world in constant upheaval, in which 'something new' appeared, as it still does, each day. Although differences are a perfectly normal phenomenon, it does not follow that discussing them must necessarily and frequently end in splitting the movement. It is therefore necessary to look into the objective or subjective reasons that contributed to this state of affairs. In the history of the Trotskyist movement, both objective and subjective factors played their role.

Objectively, the splits were caused in large measure by the fact that differences on analyses or on the orientations to follow in order to build the revolutionary party were rendered all the more acute because the organisation was numerically weak, with very weak roots in the masses. Most often the differences boiled down to opposition on the tactics to adopt to overcome that precise situation. The entire world is more than ever subject to the pressure of colossal forces that tear up not only tiny vanguards, but bourgeois and petty-bourgeois groups, workers' mass organisations, etc., as well (it would be easy to draw up an impressive list). The international Trotskyist movement's theoretical base is an invaluable instrument for resisting the divisions that antagonistic forces tend to produce. But a theoretical base, no matter how powerful, is not without limits, especially in face of material forces that can at certain times assume considerable size in a few countries or groups of countries. As we shall see, in every crisis and split it is easy enough to uncover which factor (in the given circumstances) assumed undue proportions for a group of members -- to the point where they left the International.

Subjectively, the situation was aggravated in numerous cases by the fact that since the organisation was tiny, it was viewed by some as a secondary factor, to which too much importance should not be attached. Cutting it in half did not seem to matter much, numerically speaking, especially for those who believed that they had found the orientation which would lead to rapid growth. These feelings were rendered all the stronger in view of the disproportion between the objectively revolutionary character of the situation the important tasks this set -- and the clearly inadequate forces and means at our disposal, a disproportion that continually weighed (and still does) on our movement. Such feelings are the exact opposite of those that prevail in mass organisations, where the members, responsible to large masses and aware of the role of the organisation per se, are loath to initiate splits -- even when serious differences arise within these organisations.

We are not saying that crises and splits can be explained solely by the above-mentioned factors. Factors of a personal nature, for example, also played a role. But in order to have a clear understanding of history, the most general elements have to be placed in the forefront; without them the actions of other factors could not acquire significant weight. Within a period of about fifteen years, the most important changes in history took place; changes embodying the transition from capitalism to socialism while the major revolutionary forces were still under reformist or Stalinist leadership; changes, moreover, affecting essentially the most backward, not the most economically advanced, countries in the world. This situation favoured the rise of multitudinous theories denying the validity of Marxism. It also gave rise to tendencies and currents in the Trotskyist movement that to a certain degree held a distorted view of the situation; believed they could bank essentially on one or another aspect of the situation; and did not believe they had to consider the Fourth International, as constituted, a political force. As is always the case, those who broke away were not aware of the process they were part of -- nor where it would lead them.

It is also worth noting that, with rare exceptions, those who broke with the Fourth International and did not take part in the 1963 reunification soon found themselves -- if not politically nonexistent -- with reduced forces, despite any expectations they might have had or the forces at their disposal when they left. Nor should we view this as an accidental result. Rather must we examine the causes of this phenomenon -- not causes of a personal nature, because there was no lack of determination or capability on the part of the individuals involved. This situation must be attributed to:

1. The fact that they embarked on a politically incorrect course.

2. Their separation from the international movement, which, by its very international nature, was best able to resist the colossal forces at work in the world and to correct its own errors when they occurred.

The International is not a fetish; it does not generate miracles. But, despite its numerical weakness, the very nature of the organisation, centralised and democratic at the same time, makes it a force that can best prevent any national distortion and resist the pressures exerted throughout the world by all kinds of forces (state powers, mass movements with all kinds of leaderships, etc.).

The Third World Congress (1951)

As already mentioned, the break between the Kremlin and the Yugoslav leadership occurred right after our Second World Congress. In vain were Moscow's efforts to isolate the Yugoslav leadership, to find a substantial opposition to Tito, even to attempt a coup against that leadership. In his famous report to the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in 1956, Khrushchev described Stalin's state of mind when he decided publicly to announce Tito's excommunication. Said Khrushchev:'I remember when the conflict between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia first began to be artificially blown up. One day, upon arriving in Moscow from Kiev, I was invited to see Stalin. Showing me a copy of a letter recently sent to Tito, Stalin asked: "Have you read this?" Without waiting for a reply, he added: "All I have to do is lift one little finger and there'll be no more Tito. He will go down." ' But this was the first time since he had got rid of all the political currents within the Communist parties that Stalin, now at the very height of his authority, underwent defeat and witnessed a Communist Party and a workers state rising against him.

As soon as this split became public knowledge, the leadership of the Fourth International understood that the international crisis of Stalinism would for the most part thenceforth be out in the open; that the Kremlin's incompatibility with a living revolution was clearly evident; that it was necessary to help the Yugoslavs resist the Stalinist attacks; and that the Yugoslav conflict would sooner or later have big repercussions -- which should be utilised to build new revolutionary leaderships -- inside the Communist parties and the workers states.

The Trotskyist organisations very quickly mobilised to help the Yugoslav revolution answer the torrent of slander emanating from Moscow and the Communist parties. Campaigns were launched in numerous countries. Leaflets, pamphlets, meetings were used in the fight against Stalinism. In several countries it was the Fourth International's organisations that initiated the youth brigades that went to Yugoslavia -- brigades of inquiry, support and work in the service of the Yugoslav revolution. These brigades were relatively successful, with an enrollment of several thousand young people. For Stalinism, the Yugoslav affair was a wound that never healed.

For a short period, the sections of the Fourth International, profiting from the Yugoslav crisis, became stronger. But this process was interrupted during 1950 when, at the beginning of the Korean war, the Yugoslav leadership -- which until then had made progress in many areas of domestic policy (self-management, etc.) and in its criticism of part of the Stalinist past -- took a disgraceful position on the international scene. In the United Nations General Assembly, Yugoslavia voted for UN military intervention against North Korea. This position succeeded in alienating many of Yugoslavia's defenders. The hopes of recruiting a larger revolutionary vanguard because of the Soviet-Yugoslav dispute were thus destroyed, until such time as the crisis of Stalinism would erupt elsewhere.

While the crisis between Yugoslavia and the Kremlin was taking this turn, the victory of the Chinese revolution was becoming an international factor requiring a reassessment of the situation. It could be stated, and correctly so, that this victory would inevitably entail a much bigger crisis of Stalinism than did the Yugoslav affair, for somewhat similar reasons. But there was no reason to believe that the crisis would erupt in the immediate future.

China had just got rid of the Chiang Kai-shek government on the mainland; it found itself threatened on its Korean frontier, while American imperialism was turning Taiwan into a fortress against the new republic. The new Chinese government could not get along without Soviet aid, for a time at least. The 'cold war', the Korean war, Yugoslavia's international policy, the Sine-Soviet cooperation -- all showed that the perspectives of the Second World Congress were no longer satisfactory. A re-evaluation of the situation was called for. Moreover, the sections, no longer making the progress they had made during the post-war period, were meeting with mounting difficulties. This also necessitated a re-examination of the orientation of our activity.

A plenum of the International Executive Committee held in November 1950 decided to convoke the Third World Congress. This plenum adopted theses on the international perspectives of the Fourth International to be submitted for discussion prior to the Congress, which was held in August 1951. These theses were adopted without any serious opposition, except for that of the majority of the French section.

Seventy-four delegates from twenty-five different countries attended the Third Congress. The main document the congress adopted, by a vote of 39 to 3 with one abstention, consisted of 'Theses on the International Perspectives and the Orientation of the Fourth International'. These theses were devoted to an examination of the international situation where, with the victory of the Chinese revolution, the global relationship of forces had developed to the disadvantage of world capitalism and in favour of the socialist cause. They began by stressing the increasing preparations of various kinds being made at that time for a new world war: the creation and delineation of alliances, the 'cold war', the armaments race, etc. The theses did not dismiss the possibility of temporary compromises between the United States and the Soviet Union, above all because of the Kremlin's conservative policy, but they projected such a new world war in the relatively near future. They added that, by its nature, this war would be a 'war-revolution', in which an imperialist victory would be problematical. Linked to this perspective on the war was the point of view that the arms race economy would have catastrophic consequences on the economic situation: inflation, lowering of the workers' standard of living, etc.

In addition, these theses underlined the economic progress beginning to be made in the Soviet Union and in the so-called people's democracies once post-war reconstruction had been achieved. The theses did not foresee any expansion of Stalinism, despite the economic progress, and ruled out any historical future for Stalinism, i.e. the Soviet bureaucracy. From what had happened in Yugoslavia and China, these theses concluded that the Communist parties, even when they had a reformist policy, were not exactly classical reformist parties; that they were not as yet mere instruments of the Kremlin under any and all circumstances; that, under certain conditions of exceptional mass movement, they could even be drawn into going beyond orientations corresponding to the policies of the Kremlin and beyond their strictly reformist objectives. These theses insistently stressed the concrete, contradictory relationships in operation between the masses, the Communist parties, and the Soviet bureaucracy; and they stated that the Trotskyists had to take advantage of these contradictions, and, in order to do so, had to become part of the real mass movement, especially where Communist parties were mass organisations.

In addition to these theses and to a political resolution applying them to the immediate situation, the Third Congress adopted three other important resolutions. The first dealt with the 'people's democracies'. Restating a document adopted by a session of the International Executive Committee held in April 1949, the resolution characterised the East European states as 'bureaucratically deformed workers states'. Unlike the Soviet Union, a workers state born of a proletarian revolution but which had bureaucratically degenerated, these states were essentially a result of the Kremlin's military-bureaucratic intervention, supported at best by a limited and bureaucratic mobilisation of the masses. These 'people's democracies' had never experienced a true revolution and were born with bureaucratic deformations.

For the particular case of Yugoslavia, which had gone through a genuine revolution, a special resolution was adopted that traced the various phases of the revolution from the time of the partisan struggle. This resolution noted the contradiction between Yugoslavia's progressive development in numerous respects and its rightist international policy. It exposed the dangers this policy might hold for the country domestically, including the opportunities it afforded the forces of capitalist restoration. But the resolution went on to indicate that the restoration of capitalism could never be accomplished in a 'cold' way. This 1951 resolution shows that the Fourth international's response to Chinese and Cuban charges that capitalism has been 'restored' in Yugoslavia, in Czechoslovakia, etc., was not improvised for the occasion.

The last resolution, on Latin America, had as its main feature the first Marxist explanation of the nature of Peronist-type governments. Thanks to the Second World War, these governments of the 'nationalist bourgeoisie' had developed -- at the particular expense of foreign imperialism and the oligarchy (landholders and comprador bourgeoisie)-- by involving large sectors of the working class (to different degrees in different countries, and in exchange for minimal concessions) in the anti-imperialist struggle under the leadership of this nationalist bourgeoisie.

A tactical turn in building revolutionary parties

Complementing the analysis and the perspectives projected by the Third World Congress, at a subsequent plenum (February 1952) the International Executive Committee adopted a resolution on tactics for building Marxist revolutionary parties, for the first time generalising and enlarging on the concept of 'entryism' in a certain number of mass Communist or Socialist parties. This new entryist tactic took its inspiration from examples or tactics previously advocated by Lenin and Trotsky, as well as from the line followed by Marx in 1848 in the German revolution and later during the formation of the First International.

In Left- Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, Lenin expressed no definite opinion because he lacked sufficient data, but he warned against a single answer to the question, 'Should we join the Labour Party?' -- an answer that would follow from principles such as,'The Communist Party must keep its doctrine pure and its independence of reformism inviolate'. He indicated that in this area it was necessary to 'know, study, seek, discover' each country's peculiarities in order to apply the general and fundamental principles of communism in each case.

As explained in an earlier chapter, in 1934 Trotsky had made clear that for an organisation whose limited numbers made it essentially a propaganda group, constructing a revolutionary party capable of independent action and capable of mobilising the working class in action could necessitate temporarily entering a reformist or centrist group -- in order to win, through adequate work, forces among the currents moving to the left by helping them in their political experiences. The entryism of the pre-war period resembled a raid in the Socialist parties.

After the war, the International had come out in favour of the British Trotskyists entering the Labour Party. This was not the same kind of'entryism' that was practised before the war in the SFIO, or the Belgian Workers Party (Parti Ouvrier Belge), or the Socialist Party in the United States. The tactic for Great Britain rested on the structure of the labour movement of the country, above all on the close link between the political party and the trade unions, which means that, for the British workers, the Labour Party is their party and the Conservative Party is their bosses' party. The workers are faithful to their party even when they do not agree with its leaders or the policies of its leaders.

The new entryist tactic rested both on long-term and conjunctural perspectives.

At the time the Third World Congress was being held, Bevan's left opposition had appeared in the Labour Party, after Labour had been in office a few years. The international and national situation was then favourable to the formation and development in Britain of a mass centrist tendency moving towards the left. Considerations of a conjunctural type flowed from the general theses of the Third World Congress. The prospect of a new world war and the growing economic difficulties in store for capitalism would, we thought, favour the growth of Bevanist-type tendencies within the social-democratic parties on an international scale -- and also give rise to mass left-wing tendencies within the Communist parties. Thus we had to help such tendencies in an experience that would lead them, through phases unforeseeable at that time, to the formation of revolutionary Marxist parties.

The long-range considerations were based on a premise relating to the European workers movement, namely the persistence of the old, reformist workers parties and the lack of growth of the Communist parties after the First World War -- with some exceptions. It could be deduced from this premise that the bond between the working class and these parties was not due primarily to their programme or policy, but to the length of time these parties had been embedded among the workers, to the fact that they constituted for the workers a more or less valuable instrument but at least an instrument available to them on a day-to-day basis in capitalist society; that the workers were not inclined to leave these parties for new formations untested in action.

This organisational inertia on the part of the working class in the European countries would also be evident, to a lesser degree, during revolutionary periods -- the political development of the class proceeding at a faster pace than its development on the organisational plane. No major social crisis in a European country could fail to involve a major crisis for the mass workers parties in that country, especially the dominant workers party. Sustained activity in the mass parties, more especially in the main mass party in each country, was thus placed on the order of the day. [1]

The Leninist theory of the revolutionary party defines the essential features that such a party must have. But it cannot define the precise methods of building the party, because these will depend on general historical conditions and the specific circumstances in each country. The revolutionary party can develop itself only on the basis of class struggles in which there emerges a political vanguard capable of leading the working class in overthrowing the capitalist regime.

In the case of small groups created on a programmatic basis (as has generally been the case for the sections of the Trotskyist movement), it is not conceivable that they can transform themselves into vanguard parties really linked to the masses solely through individual recruitment. No party has ever been built in this way. All parties have been formed not merely through individual recruitment but also by a process involving fusions, the evolution of mass currents, splits, etc., which took place in response to important political events. Thus most of the Communist parties were created as a result of developments inside the old Socialist parties in response to the policies they followed during the First World War and to the victory of the October Revolution.

The Fourth International has never envisaged that it will become a mass International through a gradual, linear development of its sections. Thus in recent years these sections have adopted tactics corresponding to the particular conditions created by the very uneven political maturation inside the youth and the bulk of the working class in many countries of Europe.

The 'entryist' tactic was elaborated precisely because of a combination of circumstances never experienced by revolutionary Marxists in the past: they existed in extremely small numbers, had very limited means of propaganda, and faced parties which encompassed the overwhelming majority of the class, depriving them almost of the right to exist. Where could potential currents arise in a new situation? Our intention was to reject any ultra-left idea that the unorganised workers were in their mass more politically advanced than the organised ones. We concluded that, without renouncing one iota of our programme, we must at all costs participate in the mass organisations. The 'entryist' tactic as it was tried was undoubtedly risky, but revolutionary Marxist politics is not like a recipe book in which all dangers have been eliminated. All those who accused us at that time of capitulation have been shown to be wrong; indeed, with the changes in the political situation, many of them have in fact ended up in the political camp of these old parties, unlike the sections of the Fourth International. In its entryist tactic, the International made a distinction, then, between the Socialist parties, where at that time relative internal democracy allowed for the organisation of tendencies, and the Communist parties, which did not tolerate the least manifestation of divergent points of view. In the former, entryism was envisaged as being total; while in the latter, where it was necessary to use 'trickery and lies' (as Lenin had advised in connection with remaining in the reactionary and reformist mass trade union organisations), the tactic provided for maintaining an independent sector that would publicly explain the positions of the Fourth International in full.

Critique of the Third World Congress

The theses and resolutions of the Third World Congress represented an initial attempt to answer questions raised by the post-war upheavals mentioned earlier -- upheavals that continued to occur. It would thus be useful to see what aspects of the theses were subsequently confirmed and what invalidated. For the verdict to be relevant, we should not overlook the fact that any analysis inevitably includes gaps and errors, life itself bringing into being trends that were only embryonic at the time the analysis was being made or that emerged from the struggle of social forces. The important thing to see is whether the line of action stemming from the analysis was, on the whole, valid for the situation at a given moment; whether it enabled the organisation to react correctly to events while keeping up with each change in the situation in order to take into account the emergence of new factors and new trends -- not to mention correcting any errors in the analysis. Because of the limited scope of this work, only the major political lines will be examined.

The Third World Congress had correctly evaluated the shift in the global relationship of forces at the expense of world capitalism. The congress had even accurately demonstrated that this did not prevent capitalism from maintaining its superiority at that time on the economic plane per se (a superiority it still possesses) and on the military level. Strictly speaking, capitalism's military superiority probably no longer exists on an overall world scale (which obviously does not mean that there is parity in each particular area: army, navy, air force, conventional weapons, nuclear weapons, etc.).

Our understanding of the regroupment around the Soviet Union on the one hand and around the United States on the other was proved correct. The situation began to change in this respect only about fifteen years later, when centrifugal forces assumed increasing weight in each alliance. Nevertheless, even taking into consideration the new factors, we cannot say that new alliances, new constellations are henceforth foreseeable or delimitable and that the former division may not reappear in the event of a considerable deterioration in international relations.

What the theses stated about the dual role of the Soviet bureaucracy, about the Communist parties, and about the contradictory relationships between the masses, the Communist parties and the Kremlin, was essentially right. Without these considerations, it would have been impossible for us, amid the welter of post-war events, to find an orientation. The explanation of what had occurred in Yugoslavia and China was absolutely valid; moreover, it had been indicated as a possible eventuality by Trotsky in The Transitional Programme, in the following terms:

'Of all parties and organisations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name, we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers' and farmers' government. On this road we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should, in our opinion, form the programme of the "workers' and farmers' government".

'Is the creation of such a government by the traditional workers organisations possible? Past experience shows, as has already been stated, that this is, to say the least, highly improbable. However, one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.), the petty-bourgeois parties, including the Stalinists, may go further than they themselves wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie. In any case, one thing is not to be doubted: even if this highly improbable variant somewhere at some time becomes a reality and a "workers' and farmers' government" in the above-mentioned sense is established in fact, it would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.

In these lines, Trotsky shows that while fighting as hard as possible to build revolutionary Marxist parties defending the Fourth International, he did not exclude the possibility of exceptional cases in which, because of extraordinary objective conditions, the revolution could win even under a leadership that might not be revolutionary Marxist.

The post-war period has produced a few cases of this type which Trotsky estimated as scarcely probable but not impossible. They cannot be denied except at the risk of complete disorientation on the world arena. But we must also uncover the conditions surrounding these cases, in order to demonstrate their exceptional nature. In that way it will be clearly seen that these are not examples from which we can generalise nor from which we can deduce that the construction of revolutionary parties is not necessary.

Among the sectarian tendencies that appeared in the Trotskyist movement after the war have been groups that have denied the existence of workers states created by exceptional circumstances, under the leadership of a mass movement that was not revolutionary Marxist. Underlying this has been a fear of having to conclude -- by using very formal logic -- that the task of building revolutionary parties was superfluous. But denying facts can only lead to incorrect positions.

On the other hand, the theses of the Third Congress were in error on the prospects for war and on the economic situation. The prospect of a new world war was then brought to the fore by the series of nuclear explosions carried out by the United States and the Soviet Union in order to perfect more and more destructive weapons. All the states, all the political formations in the world, based themselves on such a perspective. The American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, even boasted about carrying out a foreign policy 'on the brink of the abyss'.

Nobody at the time imagined that we were about to enter a period of economic prosperity in the capitalist world, the like of which had never before been seen in scope or in duration, a prosperity interrupted only by short, mild recessions. We know of no writer who had even entertained such a notion. The main results of this unforeseen reversal in the economic conjuncture were that the perspectives on the crisis of capitalism and the world war became much more remote than anticipated by the congress's theses, for capitalism is not driven to war as long as the economy is not in dire straits.[2]

On the contrary, the perspectives of the document on the crisis of Stalinism, which the theses postulated as coming to a head not before but during a world war, proved to be wrong because this crisis was much closer than anticipated. As for the opponents of the Third Congress's theses, they generally had no real perspective whatsoever on the crisis of Stalinism, even for the long run. In other words, the main error of the theses lay in the relative tempo of the crises of capitalism and Stalinism, the congress having seen the crisis of capitalism as preceding that of Stalinism, while the opposite was to happen.


[1] In the discussion on entering the Labour Party, the emphasis was on the structural aspects of the workers movement. In the Third Congress discussion, the emphasis was placed on conjunctural aspects; structural conditions were taken up again only towards 1954-55.

[2] The discussion for the Third Congress barely dealt with the proximity of the war. but with the idea of the 'war-revolution'.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005