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- For the left communist Fourth International, see Communist Workers International .
The Fourth International was an international organisation of Trotskyist communists. It was founded in 1938 in Paris, with the backing of Leon Trotsky, to serve as an alternative to the Stalinist Comintern (the Third International).
When founded in 1938 the Fourth International adopted the Transitional Programme for Socialist Revolution as its central programmatic statement summarising its strategic and tactical conceptions for the revolutionary period that they saw opening up as a result of the war which Trotsky had been predicting for some years. The Transitional Programme is not however the programme of the Fourth International as is often suggested but instead contains a summation of the conjunctural understanding of the movement at that date and a series of transitional policies designed to develop the struggle for workers power. In this it builds on the positions and methods of the ealier Communist International and, as argued by Trotsky, the Transitional Programme is best seen as supplemnting the traditional programmatic understanding of the movement.
Despite its early promise, the International stuggled to maintain contact during World War II and was also disorientated by the absence of workers' uprisings at the end of the conflict and by the apparent Stalinist and social democratic successes of the period. It suffered major splits as early as 1940 and most significantly in 1953, and while it has no single date of final demise—more than one group still claims to be the Fourth International—by 1963, no organisation resembled the early International.
The Trotskyists regarded themselves as working in opposition to both capitalism and to Stalin's concept of a socialist state. Trotsky advocated proletarian revolution as set out in his theory of "permanent revolution", and believed that a workers' state would not be able to hold out against the pressures of a hostile capitalist world unless socialist revolutions quickly took hold in other countries as well. This theory was advanced in opposition to the position held by the Stalinist faction within the Bolshevik Party that "socialism in one country" could be built in the Soviet Union. Facing what he perceived as increasing degeneration in the Soviet Union, Trotsky developed the theory that it had become a degenerated workers' state.
The decision to form the International
Trotsky's supporters had been organised since 1930 as the International Left Opposition, which became the International Communist League in 1933. Their insistence on internationalism and policy of democratic centralism placed the international organisation at the heart of the movement. By declaring themselves the Fourth International, a "World Party of Socialist Revolution", the Trotskyists were publically asserting their continuity not only with the Comintern but also with the earlier Socialist International and the International Workingmens Association, the first International, which had been led by Karl Marx. Their recognition of the importance of these earlier Internationals was coupled with a belief that they eventually degenerated.
Although the Socialist International and Comintern were still in existence, the Trotskyists did not believe they were capable of supporting revolutionary internationalism. Like the Comintern, they held that the Socialist International's "stagism ", the view that only limited reforms should be called for in the present, with no plan to link them to a future revolution, was a major cause in the degeneration they perceived. However, the Fourth International's affiliated groups were encouraged to adopt tactical entrist approaches to both Cominten and Socialist International Groups. The thread back to the Workingmen's International remained an inspiration for the organisation, as for the Socialist International and Comintern.
The foundation of the International was therefore spurred in part by a desire to form a stronger political current, rather than just being seen as the communist opposition to the Comintern and the Soviet Union. Trotsky believed that its formation was all the more urgent for the role he saw it playing in the impending World War.
The Founding Conference and WWII
The International's rationale was to construct new mass revolutionary parties able to lead successful workers' revolutions. It saw these arising from a revolutionary wave which would develop alongside and as a result of the coming World War. The founding conference, in Paris, adopted the Transitional Programme as the International's political platform. An International Secretariat was established, with many of the day's leading Trotskyists and most countries in which Trotskyists were active represented.
At the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, the International Secretariat was moved to New York, where it came under the influence of the Socialist Workers Party. In practice it was little more than a post box during the war years, after which it was returned to Europe and lodged in Paris.
In 1940, the SWP split with Max Shachtman's group forming the Workers Party, almost the same size as the remaining SWP. The split was centered around the Shachtmanites' disagreements with the SWP's internal regime, but in the background was their rejection of Trotsky's degenerated workers' state analysis of the Soviet Union. Secretariat members who supported Shachtman were expelled, with the support of Trotsky himself.
Now situated in New York, the International Secretariat functioned as little more than a symbol, with its new secretary, Jean Van Heijenoort (a.k.a. Gerland), able to do nothing more than publish articles in the SWP's theoretical journal Fourth International. In Europe and elsewhere the national sections of the Fourth International were thrown on their own paltry resources. Despite this dislocation the various groups sought to mantain links and some connections were kept up thoughout the early part of the war by sailors belonging to the US marine who had cause to visit Marseilles. Contact was also steady, if irregular, between the SWP and the British Trotskyists with the result that the Americans exerted what influence they had to bring the unoffical Workers' International League into the official movement through a fusion with the Revolutionary Socialist League.
Gerland, Albert Goldman and Felix Morrow foresaw the revival of Stalinism and social democracy after the war, and argued for transitional politics in response. The SWP under James P. Cannon adhered rigidly to their interpretation of Trotsky's works, refusing to acknowledge new perspectives. They held that capitalism would suffer a major crisis after the war, resulting in a revolutionary situation. The British Revolutionary Communist Party disagreed and held that capitalism was not about to plunge into massive crisis but rather that an upturn in the economy was already underway. The leadership of the French Parti Communiste Internationaliste argued a similar position until they broke away in 1947.
The SWP viewed the above as incorrect and countered by rebuilding the International Secretariat of the Fourth International with Michel Raptis (generally known as Pablo), a Greek resident in France, and Ernest Mandel (sometimes called Germain), a Belgian. They were chosen because they were not prominent in large parties, but were thought to be loyal to the SWP. Pablo became the new secretary of the International, while Mandel became its chief theoretician.
Pablo and Mandel aimed to counter the perceived deviations of the RCP and PCI, initially by replacing their leaderships. They encouraged Gerry Healy's opposition in the RCP, and in France supported elements, including Pierre Frank, Bleibtreu and Favre, opposed to the new leadership of the PCI for different reasons.
The Stalinist occupation of Eastern Europe was the issue requiring the most immediate theoretical investigation. At first, the International held that, while the USSR was a degenerated workers' state, the post-WW2 East European states were still bourgeois entities, because revolution from above was not possible. This position was revised later as the economies of the East European states and their political regimes came to resemble that of the USSR more and more. These states were described as deformed workers states in an analogy with the degenerated workers state in Russia. The term deformed was used rather than degenerated, because no workers' revolution had led to the foundation of these states.
Another issue that needed to be dealt with was the possibility that the economy would revive. This was denied by Mandel, later to become a Professor of Economics, who claimed that such a revival of the economy was impossible. The leadership of the RCP (Britain) opposed this idea in a polemical article written for them by Tony Cliff, entitled All That Glitters Is Not Gold. In that article he pointed out that an economic revival was already underway and that the economic perspectives of Mandel, which related to his political perspectives, were simply wrong in reality.
The Second World Congress
At the Second World Congress in 1948, Pablo and Mandel began supporting the Tito regime in Yugoslavia. The leadership of the British RCP (led by Jock Haston and supported by Ted Grant) were highly critical of this move. By this point the FI was united around the view that the Eastern European countries were indeed deformed workers' states. The turn to supporting Tito was nonetheless a fundamental change in the policies of the International, since no caveats were made as to the nature of the regime in Yugoslavia and the state was described simply as a workers' state.
The Congress was also notable for bringing the International into much closer contact with Trotskyist groups from across the globe. The largest groups were the Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party in what was then Ceylon; the previously large Vietnamese Trotskyist groups had largely been eliminated or absorbed by the supporters of Ho Chi Minh.
The Third World Congress
At the Third World Congress in 1951, Pablo predicted an imminent Third World War, in which the Stalinists, who were seen as an anti-imperialist force, would represent the workers of the world against the imperialist camp. The logical conclusion given the tiny forces within the FI was that its groups should join (enter) the mass Communist or Social Democratic parties. This policy was known as entrism sui generis, to distinguish it from the short term entry tactic employed before World War Two.
This was opposed by Bleibteu and Favre, backed by Lambert, who now controlled the French section. The International leadership had them replaced by a minority, leading to a major split. All of this became too much for the forces which had initially controlled and benefited from the International. In 1953, Cannon and the SWP issued an Open Letter to Trotskyists and organised the International Committee of the Fourth International. Ths included, in addition to the SWP, Gerry Healy's group The Club, the PCI in France now led by Lambert (who had expelled the Bleibtreau-Favre grouping), Moreno's group in Argentina and some even smaller groupings.
The Fourth and Fifth World Congresses
The parts of the International that were loyal to the secretariat still claimed to be the Fourth International proper, while groups outside called them only the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. They held a Fourth World Congress in 1954 to regroup and build new sections in Britain, France and the US.
They took a relentlessly optimistic view of the immediate possibilities for the International and undertook entrism into Communist Parties where these were in power, pressing for democratic reforms, ostensibly to encourage the left-wing they perceived to exist in the bureaucracy to join with them in a revolution.
The Fifth World Congress was held in 1957. Mandel and Pierre Frank looked at the Algerian revolution and surmised that it was essential to orient toward guerrilla revolutions in former colonial states. This, they held, was confirmed by the Cuban revolution. These views led to a reunification with the Socialist Workers Party, who agreed with them and left the ICFI. The fused organisation, formed in 1963, was known as the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.
Later "Fourth Internationals"
The United Secretariat of the Fourth International continues to regard itself as the Fourth International, although it is not regarded as such by the majority of Trotskyists, outside the organisation. Contrary to popular belief, very few other groups claim to be the Fourth International, rather aiming to "refound" or "rebuild" it. Yet other groups hold that it cannot be regrouped, and call for either a less specific "workers' international" or for a Fifth International to be established.
- Benjamin, A (retrieved 2004) A Short History of the Fourth International in the U.S.
- North, D (1998) Leon Trotsky and the Fate of Socialism in the 20th century
- League for a Revolutionary Communist International (1983) The Death Agony of the Fourth International
- Fourth International – The 1951-53 Split documents from the Marxist Internet Archive. Retrieved April 3, 2005.
- The Transitional Program The 1938 founding document of the Fourth International and related documents from the Marxist Internet Archive. Retrieved April 3, 2005.
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