National Sections of the L5I:

The Fourth International

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When the German bosses brought Hitler to power in order to crush the German Communist and Social Democratic parties and trade unions, not one section of the Communist International questioned the disastrous policy of the Comintern’s leadership. Trotsky and his followers in the International Left Opposition declared the Comintern dead for the purpose for which it had been founded, leading the working class to revolution. Just as Lenin and the Bolsheviks recognised the need to form a new International after the Second broke its fundamental pledge to resist imperialist war, now Trotsky and his small band of supporters saw the need to assemble the forces for a new revolutionary International.

On 3 September 1938, 30 delegates from 11 countries gathered in the home of the veteran revolutionary Alfred Rosmer, outside Paris, to adopt a new international programme and to formally found the Fourth International. It represented a tiny grouping compared to the previous three Internationals at their foundations. Only the US section had a membership in excess of one thousand. A handful of others – France, Belgium, Indochina, Poland, had a few hundreds each. Most of the others counted their membership in dozens. The reason for this was isolation within the workers’ movement. This was due not to a wilful sectarianism but to the huge machinery of slander and brutal repression organised by the Stalinists.

This was true inside the Soviet Union, where the Great Purges of 1936-1938, and then again in 1940-41, wiped out upwards of ten thousand Trotskyists and members of the Left Opposition. This murder machine hunted Trotskyist militants to their deaths in Spain and in western Europe, too. In addition, the threat of fascism, Stalin’s formation of an alliance with the Social Democracy and the “popular front” with “progressive” bourgeois forces contributed to their isolation. Even if many on the left did not believe the Stalinist lies that the Trotskyists were Hitler’s agents, they had no desire to put themselves in the firing line by defending, let alone joining, the Trotskyists.

Alone in the once-mighty Communist movement, the Fourth International stood out against, and exposed, the horrors of Stalinism and the terrible defeats it inflicted on the working class. In doing so it passed on to future generations a priceless political heritage; workers’ democracy, meaning the rule of workers’ councils with freedom in them for competing workers’ parties, not totalitarian dictatorship; democratic planning to achieve complete social equality, not the entrenched privilege of a ruling caste of bureaucrat; internationalism, not national chauvinism; uninterrupted (permanent) revolution, not a governmental bloc with the bourgeois parties to defend “democratic” capitalism (the so-called ‘Popular Front’); a programme that links the daily struggles of the workers to the seizure of working class power, not a catalogue of reforms disconnected from the final goal of revolution.

There is not one of these principles that can be dispensed with today – all are urgently needed if the anti-capitalist and working class movement is to open the road to freedom in the twenty-first century.

Unlike the first three internationals, the fourth never became a mass international. Its strength remained in its programme (the Transitional Programme) and in a tiny but heroic band of cadres who defended it and fought for it in Europe, the Americas and Asia. After the Second World War, however, this small band fell into confusion and disarray. This was in part because their hopes for a crisis and collapse of Stalinism and Social Democracy and the outbreak of a series of post-war revolutions had not materialised.

Russia, as the main military victor over Hitler on the continent of Europe, emerged with greatly enhanced prestige. This directly accrued to the Stalinist parties in Europe and the colonial world. The Cold War, from 1946-7 onwards, made them seem the only alternative to capitalism and the bureaucratic overturns of capitalism by the Soviet armies in Eastern Europe after 1947, together the Chinese bureaucratic revolution of 1949, refurbished Stalinism’s “revolutionary” credentials. At the same time, the survival of the democratic imperialist powers, Britain and France, refurbished Social Democracy. The Fourth International remained, by contrast, a series of isolated propaganda groups.

To add to their adverse objective situation, the Trotskyists failed to assess the new political situation correctly. From 1948 to 1951, under the leadership of Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel and Joseph Hansen, they began to adapt their perspectives, tactics and programme to a more and more positive assessment of Stalinism and Social Democracy.

The former, it seemed, could make revolutions (albeit ones lacking proletarian democracy) while the latter could carry out major structural reforms that would undermine capitalism. Both CPs and Labour parties, the Trotskyists reasoned, were driven to carry out these historically progressive measures by the logic of the historical process. They concluded that if they, the Trotskyists, entered these parties – not as open revolutionaries – but posing as left Social Democrats, Labourites and Stalinists, they would be able to “encourage” the historical process and eventually their time would come.

This was called deep entryism (or entrism sui generis) to distinguish it from the entry of the Trotskyists into the reformist parties in the 1930s as an open revolutionary faction. In fact, it was an unprincipled liquidation of the whole politics of the Fourth International, not simply its organisational structures.

At the Third congress of the Fourth International in 1951, what Pablo called, the “new Trotskyism”, was accepted by all the major sections, with no serious opposition. This represented a collapse into centrism – the abandonment of the Fourth International’s historic task to defeat Stalinism and Social Democracy by fighting for a revolutionary political transformation of the USSR and for a social revolution in all the capitalist states. In 1953, the Fourth International split on the secondary issue of whether entry into Stalinist parties would be imposed on sections in countries where the CPs were small (USA and UK) or so powerful and ultra-Stalinist (France) that entry would be so “deep” that it would be tantamount to liquidation.

From then on, a series of ever more damaging splits and ever more unprincipled re-unifications destroyed any real adherence in practice to the Transitional Programme or international democratic centralist organisation. The International’s fragments abandoned its independent working class programme and instead adapted its policy to left-wing social democrats, petty bourgeois nationalists and Stalinists. The main force of the Fourth International, called the “United Secretariat” from 1963 until its fifteenth congress in 2003, declared that the “epoch of the Russian Revolution” was dead after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. It now seeks a new International only on a reformist programme. Clearly, the Fourth International has long been dead for revolution.

Today, the remnants of the Fourth International have joined the capitalist government of Lula in Brazil, governing with the bourgeoisie against the workers and peasants. In the anti-capitalist movement today, the Fourth International defends the reformist sections of the movement- Attac – against revolutionary criticism.

The main surviving split from the Fourth International – the International Socialist Tendency – also renounced almost every revolutionary principle of the International. Today, it uses radical revolutionary phrases whilst systematically refusing to challenge the reformist trends within the movement. It explicitly states that a precondition of common action is suspension of revolutionary criticism and thus advances a hopelessly inadequate “Anti-capitalist Manifesto” for the movement.

In Britain, it stood in elections on a left-reformist platform (the Socialist Alliance). It blocked the development of people’s assemblies in the mass antiwar movement of 2003.Today, it has created a populist election front, Respect, that has hardly a shred of socialism or class politics in it and cannot defend a woman’s right to abortion because of its block with Muslim forces in this alliance,

These vestiges of the Fourth International follow a policy which, in the history of movement, has been called centrist. These organisations are revolutionary in words but prove unable to chart a consistent revolutionary course, independent of the bureaucratic apparatuses. They advocate and create political organisations that present to the masses only a diplomatic agreement between revolutionary and opportunist trends. This can achieve only one thing: the silencing of the revolutionary message and the shielding of reformists from revolutionary criticism.