A history of the fourth international

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Part II:

How the Fourth International Was Conceived by Jean van Heijenoort

Trotsky's Struggle for the Fourth International by John G. Wright

The Fourth International (A History of Its Ideas and Its Struggles) by Michel Pablo

NOVEMBER, 1973 650


How the Fourth International Was Conceived, by

Jean van Heijenoort 3

Trotsky's Struggle for the Fourth International,

by John Gc Wright 6

The Fourth International (A History of Its Ideas

and Its Struggles), by Michel Pablo 10


The articles in this collection deal with aspects of the his­tory of the Fourth International from its founding to the Second World Congress held in 19480 Jean van Heijenoort's "How the Fourth International Was Conceived" appeared in the August 1944 issue of Fourth International, predecessor to the International Socialist Review. Van Heijenoort left France in 1932 to become Trotsky's secretary in Prinkipo, Turkey. He continued to assist Trotsky in this capacity until shortly before Trotsky's assas­sination. Van Heijenoort withdrew from politics in the 1940s and is now a professor of mathematics and philosophy. His article was written in French and translated for publication ,in Fourth International.

"Trotsky's Struggle for the Fourth International" by John G. Wright first appeared in the August 1946 issue of Fourth Inter­national. John G. Wright was the pen name of Joseph Vanzler (1902-1956) who, for almost a quarter of a century, was one of the leaders of American Trotskyism. He was the translator of many of Trotsky's works, notably The First Five Years of the Communist International, The Stalin School of Falsification, and The Third International After Lenin.

The essays by van Heijenoort and Wright are also available in Leon Trotsky: The Man and His Work (Merit Publishers, 1969, New York — now distributed by Pathfinder Press, New York).

Michel Pablo's "The Fourth International (A History of Its Ideas and Its Struggles)' first appeared in four issues of 4th International (Spring 1958, Summer 1958, Autumn 1958, and Autumn 1959)» the publication of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International, one of the two public factions the Trotskyist movement was divided into at that time. Pablo joined the Greek Trotskyist movement in the late 1920s, Shortly after the second world war, he emerged as the central leader of Euro­pean Trotskyism. He soon began**to develop positions on the question of Stalinism that were sharply at variance with traditional Trotskyist views. His attempts to impose these views, by organi­zational means, on Trotskyist parties led to a de facto split in 1955 that lasted for ten years. Shortly after the reunifica­tion of the Fourth International in 1963, Pablo left to form the Revolutionary Marxist Tendency. This grouping has since given up all pretense of adhering to Trotskyism or attempting to build the Fourth International.

How the Fourth International Was Conceived


Our movement has the right to consider itself the represent­ative and the historical standard-bearer of revolutionary social­ism. It is at the end of a chain whose links were the Communist League of Marx and Engels, the International Workingmen's Association (First International), the Second International, the Bolshevik party of Lenin, and the Communist International. But in order to establish the specific beginnings of our movement it is necessary to begin with the year 1923 in the U.S.S.R.

The Left Opposition

The October Revolution established the first Workers' State, but remained isolated. "Without revolution in Europe," said Lenin repeatedly, "we shall perish." History verified the truth of his words, but in its own manner. Degeneration appeared in the apparatus itself of the new regime—the party that led the revolution to victory.

The resistance to corruption of the party came from Trotsky. The struggle began in the fall of 1923. On October 8th, he sent a letter to the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission denouncing the stifling of the right of criticism on the part of party members. This is the first document of our movement. It can be compared to what had been for Bol­shevism the famous vote on the statutes of the party in 1902.

Beginning with the question of the internal regime of the party, the struggle grew progressively to include all problems of revolutionary tactics and strategy. Outside of the USSR, opposition groups apeared in most of the sections of the Com­munist International. The connections of these groups among themselves, and with the Russian Opposition, remained precarious. Many of the groups arose in opposition to one of the aspects of Stalinist policy. Their political solidarity was far from complete. One group that proved of great importance for the future of our movement, the Left Opposition in the American communist party, appeared belatedly on the scene, in 1928.

The organizational cohesion of the International Left Op­position was not seriously undertaken until the time of Trotsky's expulsion from the USSR and his arrival in Turkey, in February 1929. The first international conference of the Left Opposition took place in Paris in 1930.

The policy of the Opposition in relation to the Communist International, both in its entirety as well as its various sections, had remained the same since 1923. In one word it was—reform. Although expelled by the faction in power, the Trotskyism groups considered themselves part of the International, its left faction, exactly as in each country each group considered itself a faction of the national Communist Party. Their objec­tive was to convince the party membership of the correctness of their views, to win over the majority, and to set the organization on the correct course. Toward the Bolshevik Party in the USSR the policy was essentially the same as toward any other section of the International. The name of the move­ment, Opposition, expressed and symbolized this policy.

A political document of a programmatic character, entitled The International Left OppositionIts Tasks and Methods, was written by Trotsky in December 1932, immediately after his return to Prinkipo from Copenhagen, where he had had the opportunity of meeting about thirty of the most important leaders of the International Opposition. One chapter of this document was entitled "Faction—Not a Party." The perspective outlined there was the same as in the preceding years, namely, the reform of the Communist International and of each of its sections. Nevertheless, a warning was sounded:

"Such an historical catastrophe as the {all of the Soviet State would surely drag along the Third International. Similar­ly, a victory of fascism in Germany and the crushing of the German proletariat would hardly allow the Comintern to survive the consequences of its ruinous policy." One of these two warnings was soon to become a terrible reality. On January 30, 1933, Hindenburg, the constitutional head of the Weimar Republic, elected with the votes of the Social Democracy, called on Hitler to form a new cabinet.

For three years the Left Opposition had sounded the alarm at the rise of German fascism. In a series of articles and pamphlets, which in their clarity and revolutionary passion rank among the best products of his pen, Trotsky revealed the nature of fascism and showed the consequences of a fascist victory to the German workers, to the international labor movement, to the USSR, to Europe, and to the whole world. He also pointed to the means of combating this danger: the united front of the workers' parties, Communist and Social Democratic, for the active defense of workers' organizations against the Nazi vermin, a defensive struggle which, when successful, would become an offensive.

The Collapse of the German Communist Party

The leaders of the two official workers' parties vied with each other in their impotence in the face of the fascist menace. The Social Democratic leadership desperately grasped at a democracy which, in the midst of economic chaos and the sharpened social and political conflicts, was disowning itself. The Stalinists acted in line with the "genial" theory of their leader, that it was first necessary to crush the Social Democrats before fighting fascism. They had made common cause with the Nazis in the famous plebiscite in Prussia in August 1931. When the fascist menace became imminent, they clamored with braggadocio "After them will be our turn!"

When Hitler formed his government on January 30, 1933, not all was lost. The workers' organizations were still intact. In the following weeks the Nazis acted very cautiously. In February, Trotsky stated in a conversation: "The situation in Germany is similar to that of a man at the bottom of an abyss facing a stone wall. To get out it is necessary to clutch at the rocks with bare and bloody hands. It is necessary to have courage and will, but it is possible. Not all is lost."

The official leadership of the workers' parties allowed the last chance to slip by. In the face of their passivity, Hitler

became more brazen. He had never hoped to win such an easy victory. At the beginning of March, the crude provocation of the Reichstag fire allowed him to definitely entrench his regime. The "Workers' organizations were swept away.

Trotsky's reaction was not long in coming. He wrote an article entitled The Tragedy of the German Proletariat. It was dated March 14, 1933 and had as a sub-title, "The German Workers Will Rise, Stalinism—Never!" The gist of the article was that, in Germany, the Communist Party failed in its historic mission, that it was doomed as a revolutionary organization. Thus, there was no choice but to give up the policy of its reform and to proceed to build a new German Communist Party. When Trotsky wrote that Stalinism would not rise again, he meant Stalinism in Germany. As to the Communist parties in other lands, especially the Russian Bolshevik Party, and the Communist International viewed in its entirety, the line remained as before, that of reform.

In the weeks that followed other articles elaborated this position and answered the objections raised against it. In the ranks of the Left Opposition, these objections were minimal. They came mostly from certain comrades in the German section, the one most directly concerned. These objections remained secondary or sentimental in character: maybe it would be better to wait before speaking about a new party while the official one is under the blows of bloody repressions, etc. But the lesson of the events was so clear that the need of a change in the old policy was not questioned seriously.

Yet when one's memory turns to that month of March 1933, it cannot be denied that the new policy was a surprise to the members of the Left Opposition. The daily activity of each of the sections was centered exclusively around the Communist Party; and to develop a new line, even if it were for only one of our sections, was to break with a tradition of ten years standing. The great authority of Trotsky made it possible to bring about the change in line rapidly and wrgi cohesion. Without him, the lessons of the events in Germany would have surely been learned in our ranks, but after how many months of discussion?

The problem of the Third International in its totality could not fail to be posed. After the collapse of the German Com­munist Party, the executive committee of the International passed in April a resolution which declared that the policy followed by the German Communist Party "up to and at the time of Hitler's coup d'etat was fully correct."

This is not astonishing: the executive committee under the orders of Stalin merely covered Stalin, who imposed his fatal political line on the German Communist Party. But the decisive fact was that all the sections of the International accepted the Moscow resolution and thus became equally responsible for the historical catastrophe in Germany. The members who denounced the line that had been followed, or merely questioned it, were expelled. The policy of reform was losing all reality.

On July 15,1933, Trotsky, under the pen-name of G. Gurov, addressed to the sections of the Opposition an article entitled, It is necessary to build anew Communist parties and an Interna­tional. Here die perspective of reform was definitely abandoned. After the lessons of the events, the turn was decisive: "Talk of 'reform' and the demand of readmission of the oppositionists into the official parties must be definitely given up, as Utopian and reactionary," he wrote. And he took this opportunity to give general and valuable advice: "The most dangerous thing in politics is to become a prisoner of your own formula, which was appropriate yesterday, but is deprived of any content today."

On July 20th a second article entitled, "It is no longer possible to stay in the same 'InternationaF with Stalin, Manuilsky, Lozovsky and Co.", answered possible arguments against the new position.

The change in policy coincided with the change in Trotsky's residence. On July 17th, he left Istanbul, and on the 24th he landed in Marseilles. Next day he settled himself near Saint-Palais, on the Atlantic seaboard. It was a big change in his personal life. While on the island of Prinkipo, the arrival of a visitor was a little event every four or six months; in France Trotsky was able in the following few weeks tc meet wi'h practically all leading members of tht. European opposition groups, and with quite a few from overseas.

When Trotsky landed in Marseilles, the translation of his first article on the need of a new International had hardly reached the leadership of the various sections. The leading Trotskyists of France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, etc., soon took the road to Saint-Palais, and there in Trotsky's study, or under the trees of the garden, participated in lengthy discussions. Opposition to the new orientation was practically non-existent The turn to a new party in Germany three months before, had broken with a long tradition and opened new perspectives. The discussions did not deal so much with the need of a new Inter­national, but rather with the ways and means of bringing it about: how to build it, how to build new parties?

The New International

A few voices raised the question: haven't we waited too long? Shouldn't we have recognized the need of a new Interna­tional much sooner? To this Trotsky answered: "This is a question we may well leave to the historians." He was undoubt­edly profoundly convinced that the change in the policy would have been incorrect several years sooner, but he refused to discuss this question because it was no longer of practical and immediate interest.

One question that took up a large share of the discussion was that of the USSR. It is worth while examining how it was posed then. The document of December 1932 that we have already mentioned, and which still followed the line of reform, had stated:

"Sharper and brighter is this question [of reform] In the USSR. The policy of the second party there would imply the policy of armed Insurrection and a new revolution. The policy of the faction Implies the line at inner reform of the party and the workers' state."

In the article of April 1933 which pointed out the need of

a new party in Germany, but at the same time retained the

policy of reform of the Communist International, Trotsky wrote:

"If the Stalinist bureaucracy wi'l bring the USSR to collapse,

then it win be necessary to build a Fourth International."

The problem was: how to discard the policy of reform of the Bolshevik Party and at the same time retain the perspective of reforming the workers' state? How to proclaim the Fourth International before the Stalinist bureaucracy has led the USSR to its collapse?

The problem of the USSR was the greatest obstacle in Trotsky's mind before reaching the conclusion that there remained no other alternative than to form a Fourth Interna­tional. Shortly before his article of July 15, he said in a conversation at Prinkipo: "Since April, we have been for reform in all countries except Germany, where we are for a new party. Now we can take a symmetrical position, i.e., in favor of a new party in every country except the USSR, where we will be for reform of the Bolshevik: Party." (This position, as far as I know,

was never put into writing.) But it was clear to his listeners that his ideas on this matter were only in the process of form­ation and that they had not yet reached their conclusion.

The solution of this problem is, as is well known now, the distinction between a social revolution and a political revolu­tion. This solution was already outlined in the first documents, in July, which speak about the need of a new International.

On the other hand, in the summer of 1933, the discussions around the nature of the USSR were numerous: not only was Stalinism bankrupt in Germany, but the first economic expe­riences of Hitler, Roosevelt, as well as the Italian corporate state, gave rise on all sides to theories of "State capitalism."

Trotsky then clarified his position toward the USSR in a long article entitled, The Class Nature of the Soviet State, dated October 1, 1933. This article definitely eliminates the perspec­tive of a peaceful removal of the bureaucracy, and clarifies the formulas used in the July documents on the new International. In the main this is the position we have maintained to the present. (On the question of an historical analogy with Ther-midor, a correction was made in February 1935.)

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