The Fourth International

The Long March of the Trotskyists

Chapter 9: The 'Long March' of the Trotskyists

Conclusive statements cannot be made about the history of a movement that is engaged in so long a march, begun so long ago a movement which has undergone so many trials and tribulations and which, although a new and much more promising stage lies ahead for it, still has big obstacles to overcome before reaching its goal. Our few closing remarks will, first of all, answer the question raised by those attracted to Trotskyist ideas but surprised by the numerical weakness of the organisation that defends those ideas, a question that every Trotskyist as well has inevitably asked, in their heart of hearts, at certain times: Is there a historical justification for the Fourth International? Was Trotsky right to found the Fourth International and to say that the work he was doing for it was 'the most important' in his life, 'more important than 1917, more important than the period of the civil war', irreplaceable 'in the full sense of the word'? [1] I do not think it necessary to answer those who attack the Fourth International by taking delight in stressing its difficulties; by failing to see its political strength, its vitality; by viewing its problems on a superficial level.

From the standpoint of historical perspective -- the only valid standpoint for a subject like this -- the long history of the Trotskyist movement, of the Fourth International, is in itself an objective verification of its historical justification. What has been the history of the international working class movement in the last fifty years -- a half-century that has seen the beginning of the disintegration of capitalist society and the advent of a socialist world? In every country where the working class movement had a long history, with Marxist traditions, one reality stands out: after several dozen years of wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions, fascism, and Stalinism, in the course of which numerous organisations claiming to be Marxist and claiming to stand for the working class came into existence -- after so many years, the only organisations that despite crises, splits, repression, alternating advances and retreats, have lasted are those connected with the Second International, or what was the Third International, or the Fourth International. A reality like this, which covers dozens of years (and what years!), can be attributed neither to chance nor to any specific militant qualities. All the organisations had dedicated and devoted militants with varied political and organisational talents, Such a phenomenon can only be explained by objective causes, profound historical causes. Here is really a case in which Hegel's thought can be applied correctly: Was ist wirklich ist rationell, was ist rationell ist wirklich (What is real is rational, what is rational is real). The underlying cause of this reality must extend throughout all these years and must have international validity, as we shall see.

At various times in the preceding pages, we have explained the difficulties that faced the Fourth International because of objective conditions. Above all, there was the eminently turbulent character of the world situation, with its sudden turns and its centrifugal forces -- a major difference from the earlier period of rising capitalism in the last third of the Nineteenth Century. The new world situation no longer permitted so gradual a building up of working class forces as had occurred in the earlier period, with the resultant formation of big parties organising the entire working class as well as the vanguard into vast networks. There was also the eruption of Stalinism, which destroyed the Bolshevik Party, pivot of the revolutionary International constructed around the October victory; the political convulsions and the cruelties of the Soviet bureaucracy more than once disoriented significant revolutionary forces and led them into blind alleys. The epoch of the gradual rise of capitalism had engendered the revisionism of Bernstein and the more insidious revisionism of Kautsky. The frightful history of the isolated first workers state engendered numerous 'revisionisms' (state capitalism in the USSR; the bureaucracy a new exploiting class) incapable of acknowledging the revolution disguised in so hideous a mask. Finally, there were the hundreds of millions of human beings in the colonial countries who stopped being pawns of history and tried to bridge the gap of centuries in a few leaps even in a single leap -- so that the revolution they made often assumed some strange aspects.

The arena of the workers movement, despite this situation or, more precisely, because of it, remained cluttered with the old formations -- because the working masses could not fall into disorganisation. There is no such thing in history as something born of nothing; it is only tremendous crises in the old organisations that will give birth to new revolutionary leaderships. If Marxism is history that becomes conscious of itself, under these conditions this consciousness could come about only with great difficulty, could be born only in hard labour.

The organisations that could bridge all these years, all these trials, did it because they were strongly rooted in the deepest reality of the . world of these fifty years.

On the one hand, the Second International's organisations are linked to the working class in the old European countries by the entire history of the class, when it sought successfully to organise itself on a mass scale to defend its day-to-day interests. On the other hand, these organisations are tied to capitalist society, which perpetuates itself as long as it has the means to accede to the workers' demands for reforms.[2]

The official Communist parties drew their basic strength from the fact that they were created around the October victory and the Soviet Union, and that they appeared to be an extension of these throughout the world. Because it was the first, and for a long time the only, workers state, the Soviet Union had been the pole of attraction for all who were awakening to the necessity of replacing capitalism with a new society. Trotskyists have frequently pointed out that for the broadest masses, particularly in the underdeveloped countries, the economic development of the Soviet Union had an infinitely greater significance than the total suppression of workers democracy under the bureaucratic regime, because these masses had no acquaintance whatsoever with the feeble advantages of bourgeois democracy. For the militants in those countries, the Soviet Union's material aid, no matter how slight, was indispensable and more tangible than the treacherous manoeuvres of Kremlin politics. In the capitalist countries, how many sincerely revolutionary militants remained members of the Communist Party for a long time, even though they had anxieties and fears about its policies, because during the ebb they could see no other organisation to belong to! It took the birth of other workers states and the rise of serious differences among them for layers broader than those of the extremely politicised militants to make a distinction between a workers state and its leadership of the moment, for these broader segments to understand the accommodations to world imperialism the Kremlin was seeking at the expense of the international socialist revolution -- so that, as a result, Moscow would no longer remain the 'guide', the pole of attraction; so that, this time, a mortal crisis would affect the Communist parties. Parties in the leadership of workers states are at the mercy of social crises in their countries. Reformist degeneration in the Communist parties of capitalist countries sooner or later will cause these parties to break up, their members having to choose between openly acknowledged reformism and the politics of rising new revolutionary formations. [3]

Obviously, the Fourth International has had no ties to capitalist society. At the hands of the first workers state, whose existence it never ceased to defend, both on the political plane against the capitalist world and on the theoretical plane against all the revisionist tendencies -- Stalinism being one of the latter [4] -- the Fourth International suffered the most implacable persecution, often more murderous than that imposed by capitalism. The Fourth International has nevertheless been able to live and grow, because throughout all these years it alone represented the fundamental, historical interests of the world proletariat. There is no mysterious, esoteric reason for this. At its foundation, the Fourth International received, through Leon Trotsky and the Soviet Left Opposition, the heritage of direct descent from the Bolshevik Party and the Communist International. The Fourth International is their legitimate heir, taking up and continuing their traditions. The Communist parties that succumbed to Stalinism, and the Communist International itself, which Stalin had to debase and dissolve, are no longer anything but usurpers.

By the very fact of its existence as an International, the Fourth International continued to represent the interests of the proletariat. While not rejecting a single conquest of the proletariat, the Fourth International refused to grant special status to any one of them before the triumph of the revolution on a world scale. Every organisation that claimed to be socialist but had only national objectives, or was not an integral part of an international organisation, has in the course of these years seen itself condemned either to disappear or to stagger and fall under the impact of decisive political problems.

This international plane, on which history has passed its inexorable judgement, should never for a moment be overlooked by those who really want to assure the world victory of socialism; because the world today is incomparably more unified -- and in a more complex fashion -- than ever before. In a preface written for the ninetieth anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, taking up the passage in which Marx wrote, 'United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat', Trotsky added:

'The subsequent development of capitalism has so closely knit all sections of our planet, both "civilised" and "uncivilised", that the problem of the socialist revolution has completely and decisively assumed a world character. The Soviet bureaucracy attempted to liquidate the Manifesto with respect to this fundamental question. The Bonapartist degeneration of the Soviet state is an overwhelming illustration of the falseness of the theory of socialism in one country.'

In the forty years that have passed since these lines were written, contrary to the opinions of supporters of'socialism in one country' and then 'national roads' (which is an adaptation of the first theory, brought to the fore during the period of the isolated state, to conditions in the 'socialist camp'), the international character of the socialist revolution is even more obvious. The war in Vietnam has demonstrated, better than anything else, the necessity for the revolutionary movement to have a global strategy against imperialism. The invasion of Czechoslovakia has demonstrated, again better than anything else, how the term socialism can be besmirched by the nationalist interest of a bureaucracy.

To act truly as an internationalist, it is not enough to follow world politics in the press. An international political line has to be elaborated, and this can only be done by being organically connected with forces in struggle throughout the entire world. What has given the Fourth International incomparable political strength, despite its numerical weakness; what has made it feared by the leaders of powers like the Soviet Union and China, who have a very clear understanding of their bureaucratic interests and who certainly do not engage in tilting at windmills -- is that the Fourth International is a unity that, by the actions of its members, forges connecting links among the guerrilla fighters and the rebelling peasants of Latin America, the blacks of the United States, the fighters of South Africa, the peoples of Black Africa and North Africa, the revolutionary militants of the Middle East, the militants in many Asian countries, the vanguards in the workers states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the workers and the vanguard youth of Western Europe, etc. In both bourgeois and Stalinist counter-revolutionary campaigns against the Fourth International, a role is often attributed to it that it does not have, or a degree of influence is attributed to it that it does not possess. Nevertheless, no big struggle has taken place -- nor is taking place -- in which the militants of the Fourth International have not participated. The lessons drawn from these struggles by its militants become part of the political and theoretical analyses of the international movement. Since there can be no really valid knowledge unconnected with action, the Fourth International is today the only revolutionary organisation that integrates and unifies the lessons of the class struggle on all continents. That is why its analyses, the positions it takes on an international scale -- without any pretensions to infallibility -- have most often been superior to the analyses of individuals or groups, no matter how intelligent and sympathetic to the revolution and to socialism the latter may be.

On this subject, the Cuban leadership affords a striking example of what international limitations can do. The Cuban leadership distinguished itself from that of all the other workers states by proving itself truly internationalist when it tried to help organise the struggle for socialism throughout Latin America -- on a continental scale. Nevertheless, in 1968, it very much disappointed a number of its friends and supporters because of its silence on the French May and its position on the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Where do its political defaults come from, considering its good understanding of the problems of the colonial revolution? Its political deficiencies stem from the fact that its horizon has remained limited to Latin America and to the colonial countries. The problems of the European workers movements and the problems of the East European workers states and the Soviet Union escape it, because it is not connected internationally with formations that might enlarge its horizon and give it a profound, global grasp of these problems.

An argument that has been repeated many times since 1933 in connection with establishing the Fourth International maintains that we should start by building mass revolutionary parties on a national scale, that the founding of the International can only come about as a culmination of such a process. In other words, this question is posed as if we were building a house: first the walls (the national parties) must be raised before we can put the roof (the International) in place. This kind of thinking manifests a total misconception of the relationships between the International and its national sections in the Twentieth Century world. Let us recall that up to this day no specifically national organisation has acquired a programme that, in a truly complete fashion, answers the revolutionary needs of our epoch, including on a national scale. How, in an epoch characterised by constant wars, revolutions, and counter-revolutions, where everything which happens in the 'most remote' corners of the world has repercussions in the metropolitan countries, is it possible to envisage building a revolutionary party within national boundaries? Instead of allowing the revolutionary forces to prepare for the future, such a conception would return them to past periods whose possibilities have long been exhausted.

Because there is no such thing as 'socialism in one country', no such thing as 'national roads', the instrument of world revolution can only be a world party. It cannot be constructed evenly in all countries because of the uneven development of the revolution throughout the world. Creating a mass revolutionary International and creating revolutionary parties in each country do not constitute two tasks separate in time. It is a single process that takes place by constant interaction between the International and its national organisations. Finally, to understand the importance of this question, it is not without value to see to what point the bourgeoisie, throughout its history, has especially feared the existence of an International.

The question of the International was eclipsed during the years in which the world revolution resumed its momentum almost exclusively through the colonial revolution, while in Western and Eastern Europe the era was marked principally by reformism. It will not be long before the big turning point of 1968 makes the necessity of international coordination, on the level of a vanguard Marxist revolutionary organisation, the first item on the agenda. The idea of an International was born in Europe over a century ago. And it was in Europe that the idea became a reality several different times. A few decades of Stalinism have not destroyed this tradition. Moreover, Europe is the area of the world with the strongest concentration of productive forces. In Europe more than anywhere else these forces are coming into collision with the barriers of national states. The contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the superannuated national states in Europe was at the bottom of the two world wars. In the absence of victories for the socialist revolution, which would have created a socialist federation of European nations, for more than twenty years we have been witnessing the spectacle of a Europe cut in two, socially and geographically, by the division of Germany, accompanied by the establishing of two caricatures of 'unification' -- the European Economic Community on the one hand, and Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Aid) on the other. The resumption of the revolutionary rise in Europe will not fail to place the socialist reunification of Europe on the agenda; as a consequence, the revolutionary International of the proletariat will also be placed on the order of the day.

Will the international revolutionary organisation of the future be simply an enlargement of the cadre organisation that constitutes the present Fourth International, or will it be achieved by other means? To pose the question in this fashion, like it or not, is to duck the problem as it exists today. No one can maintain that mass revolutionary Marxist organisations are going to spring up all of a sudden, like Athena from the head of Zeus, and miraculously create a mass revolutionary International. The organisations are what they are today, and to be able to change the situation, our struggle must use existing conditions as its point of departure.

We are the very first to regret the Fourth International's incapacity for so many years to mobilise and lead mass movements. Without denying the errors that have been committed, we think that these did not bear on the essential problems, so that even if these errors had been avoided, changes of a qualitative nature in the relationships between the Fourth International and the mass workers movement would not have resulted. It is difficult to imagine that during fifty years, had there been objective possibilities for so doing, a team capable of solving the problem of a mass revolutionary Marxist leadership could not have been found what with all the numerous attempts that were made. None of the Fourth International's manifold critics have demonstrated how to do better -- and none have done better. On the contrary, when the socialist revolution made a new advance in the European countries, it was the Fourth International that was to be found in the forefront of the battle, and it was the members of the Fourth International who began to activate the mass movements in many of these countries.

The Fourth International is not one of a number of sects. Its history is that of the international revolutionary Marxist party in the most tumultuous epoch of the socialist revolution. The expansion of the working class movement over and beyond organisations struggling in the framework of capitalist society -- as a result of the creation of states rejecting the capitalist system -- has given rise to an extraordinary phenomenon of combined development. Actually this expansion of the working class movement has for years been combined with a considerable setback on the organisational level for the revolutionary Marxist vanguard. We have had to lose ground as far as political action is concerned. But not for one moment has the Fourth International yielded an inch as far as theory is concerned. In addition, it has made available to new generations a rich theoretical and political contribution on numerous questions: bureaucracies in working class organisations and bureaucracies in workers states; Stalinism; political revolution; permanent development in the colonial revolution; theories relating to fascism and the Bonapartist strong state, etc. Those who have participated in the Fourth International have a legitimate right to be proud of its history. The theoretical and political conquests of the Fourth International as an organisation of vanguard cadres will enable it to go beyond the stage it has had to traverse for so long.

Joining the Fourth International today means becoming part of the battle being fought in many countries, on every continent; it means developing a global strategy against capitalism, along with the other militants of the Fourth International, and applying that strategy wherever possible; it means, across the years, raising aloft the banner of October, of Bolshevism, of the Communist International, and bearing it to victory in the battle of today.


[1] From Diary in Exile. The third volume of Isaac Deutscher's remarkable biography of Trotsky, The Prophet Outcast (1929-40) (Oxford University Press, London), while factually correct, does not give an effective account of Trotsky's work and activity in this period, more especially for the last six years devoted principally to organising the International. Deutscher, who agreed in substance with Trotsky's ideas, felt that Trotsky should have devoted most of his time to writing works such as the History of the Russian Revolution rather than participating in the life, difficulties, and crises of the Trotskyist movement, which, for Deutscher, was really a waste of time. But like Marx, who for several years abandoned his theoretical work on economics in order to devote his time to the First International and its internal difficulties (often reminiscent of the Fourth International), Trotsky was first and foremost a revolutionary fighter. And above all, he had given profound thought to the error he had committed before 1917, in comparison with Lenin, on the question of the party. To struggle for the Fourth International was, for Trotsky, to continue Lenin's struggle for a Leninist party on a world scale.

[2] The question can be raised: If the existence of social-democracy is linked to the existence of capitalism, isn't its disappearance in the workers states to be explained independently of the Stalinist terror? Couldn't the 'single party' theory be justified in that way? This question would call for a thorough going, in-depth study, which is hardly within the scope of this book. Let it suffice here to say: (a) the revolutionary upsurge and victory of the revolution historically imply a considerable weakening, though not necessarily the disappearance, of the proletariat's reformist and centrist formations; (b) in the society in transition between capitalism and socialism, the working class will still remain differentiated for an entire period, to the extent that various layers retain differing views on the relationship between their everyday needs and their long-range interests. There will thus be room for different parties -- some more reformist, some more revolutionary -- in the transitional society. For a full discussion of this problem see Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, theses adopted in 1977 by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (Vanguard Publications, Toronto).

[3] In the early days of Stalinism, Trotsky had pointed out that if it were not rejected, it would drag the Communist parties onto a path halfway between communism and reformism, and that such a position could not be held for any length of time. It has been held much longer than Trotsky foresaw, but he had discerned the basic tendency with a great deal of acuity.

[4] Numerous works have been written, vainly attempting to prove that Stalinism was the legitimate offspring of Bolshevism. It is easy to show the theoretical affinities between Stalinism's political concepts and those of various left currents in Social Democracy immediately after the First World War: Menshevism, Austro-Marxism, Italian Maximalism, the Bracke-Zyromsky tendency in the SFIO, etc.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005