The Fourth International

The Long March of the Trotskyists


Up to the present, no study has been written on the history of the Trotskyist movement. Some work is presently being done in the universities, but it bears only on certain periods or on very limited aspects of the movement. The principal aim of this book is therefore to give today's young militants some knowledge of the past of the Trotskyist movement. The first part of this work served as material for a course at a school conducted by the French section of the Fourth International in 1948, and was published at that time. It appears here without any appreciable changes, with additional material to cover the ensuing period.

Within the limits of a work of this size, we wanted to give what seemed to us the most essential aspects of the history of the Fourth International. Until now the Trotskyist movement, for reasons connected with the size of its forces, has exercised its influence on the class struggle principally in the domain of ideas, by its analyses and its elaborations of perspectives and programmes. Generally speaking, it has not been able to lead mass mobilisations and mass actions based on its programme and its slogans; the objective reasons for this are given in this book. Thus a history of the Fourth International has to describe above all the positions taken by the organisation in the gigantic social struggles that have characterised the world in the course of the half century of the Trotskyist movement's existence. In addition, such a history has to show how the Trotskyist movement, in the course of these struggles, defended and enriched the formulations of revolutionary Marxism, as developed from the time of Marx down to the early congresses of the Communist International. We have done our utmost to illuminate the most important stages in the life of the Fourth International, the problems it had to resolve, the debates that took place, and the positions that were reached.

We have limited this book to the history of the international movement and have not treated the history of its sections, except where a particular section at a particular time played an especially significant role in the history of the International.

The history of the Trotskyist movement scarcely poses any problem in connection with what historians call 'periodisation'. The transition from capitalism to the world-wide victory of socialism, inaugurated by the October Revolution, is turning out to be much longer and more complex than anyone had imagined in 1917; no other political movement has followed this transitional period as closely as has the Trotskyist movement, whose successive stages coincide with the very stages of that history itself since 1923.

The Trotskyist movement was born in the USSR at the close of the revolutionary wave that followed the First World War, when a period of relative stabilisation of capitalism began. It expanded internationally during the great economic crisis that began in 1929. It moved towards the construction of a new revolutionary International after the debacle of the German working class movement in 1933, and founded the Fourth International on the eve of the Second World War. It reoriented itself in accordance with the tremendous upheavals of the post-war period. And today the Trotskyist movement has entered a new phase in line with the turn inaugurated on a world scale in 1968.

In this book we have done no more than mention the mountains of slander heaped on Trotsky and the Trotskyist movement. We have never yet dealt with this question in depth. Because of the vast proportions the calumny assumed, and the after-effects that still remain, this question will no doubt constitute an important subject for future historians. A century ago Karl Vogt and others furiously slandered Marx and his supporters, calling them the Schwefelbande (devil's gang) within the movements for emancipation. How tiny and pale were those vilifications compared to those underwritten by powerful states, heaped high in an effort to make the Fourth International appear the Schwefelbande of the Twentieth Century.

This work leaves aside a good number of questions. Given the aim and the size we had set for this book, we could not go into numerous details. There was no possibility of using extensive quotations without requiring three to four times the number of pages. We had to stick to essentials. We hope that we have succeeded in correctly setting forth how the Trotskyists advanced internationally in the domain of theory and practice, in the defence of positions previously taken, and in the elaboration -- difficult in every epoch, and rendered still more arduous by the conditions under which the movement has fought -- of new positions in the face of new problems posed by the changes taking place all over the world.

The author of this book has participated in this 'long march' of the Trotskyists for more than forty years, first becoming part of the international leadership of the Trotskyist movement in 1931. Although this work very largely expresses the views of numerous leading members of the International, it cannot be considered an 'official' history of the Fourth International. We do not think that for Marxists there can be an 'official' history, even of their own organisation. The organisation is an instrument of political combat, which inevitably necessitates a line of action determined according to the rules of democratic centralism. History, to a great extent, serves to determine politics; its determination cannot be placed at the service of politics. For having abandoned Marxism on this question, as on others, Stalinism has obliged the historians under its thumb to write 'official' histories, forcing them in fact periodically to rewrite history as a function of the line of the moment. They have succeeded only in accumulating historical falsifications as well as in proving their growing incapacity to draw objective lessons from history.

Last updated on: 13.2.2005