We, the Revolutionary Internationalist Organization (RIO), have studied the development of the Fourth International from its founding in 1938 until the first split in 1953. We were not interested in this topic for historical reasons, but rather to draw political conclusions for building a revolutionary workers’ International today. In the last 60 years, international Trotskyism has fragmented into dozens of tendencies, and the present document does not provide an analysis of this development. However, it does provide a basis for a concrete investigation of these different tendencies.
For us, Trotskyism is not outdated. Although Trotsky rejected the term as a Stalinist invention until his death, it now stands for the consistent defense of Marxist ideas against reformist or Stalinist revisions. For example, Trotsky insisted on the need for an international revolution, which Marx had already spoken about, while Stalin tied the Communist International to the “theory of socialism in one country”.
Trotsky was also able to develop Marxist theory in a number of ways: with his systematization of the “transitional method”, he showed how to connect the daily demands of the working class with the goal of world socialist revolution; with the theory of “permanent revolution”, he explained that, in backward country, only a proletarian revolution can solve fundamental democratic tasks; with the theory of the “degenerated workers’ state”, he explained that the Soviet Union and other so-called “actually existing socialist” countries were not socialist were not capitalist either. We consider all of these points important elements of a revolutionary theory for the world today – that’s why we base ourselves on Trotskyism, even though we are not practicing a cult of personality and do not uncritically repeat every statement Trotsky ever made.
Today there are dozens of tendencies that base themselves on Trotsky and the Fourth International he established. Sometimes they have similar positions and sometimes they are opposed; sometimes they work together and in some cases they are hostile to each other. RIO, the Revolutionary Internationalist Organization, is one of these tendencies. With the following theses we follow the development of the Fourth International after Trotsky’s death and give an explanation for the current fragmentation of Trotskyism. This is not to say that our small tendency is the only revolutionary force in the world – only that we believe that especially the large Trotskyist tendencies do not represent the revolutionary Marxism of the Fourth International, but rather embody centrism.
For Marxists, the term centrism refers to all forces that waver between reformist and revolutionary positions. Centrist organizations often develop under the pressure of mass radicalization: in the revolutionary wave after the First World War, the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) emerged, which fluctuated between the SPD and KPD and ultimately failed due to their own contradictions. In the 1930s, a series of centrist organizations emerged from the Second and the Third Internationals, which had broken with the reformism of their mother parties but did not develop consistently revolutionary politics. The forerunner of the Fourth International attempted, through cooperation and also sharp criticism, to win these centrist forces for Marxism. But their success was limited.
“Trotskyist centrism” emerged under special conditions: the absence of a revolutionary wave, the hostility of the strong Social Democratic and Stalinist parties, and the resulting lack of mass influence of the Fourth International created a huge pressure to conform. With the attempt to deal with this difficult situation by revising important elements of revolutionary Marxism, the Trotskyists did not create a revolutionary program appropriate to the situation, but rather enshrined their impotence. This resulting “Trotskyist centrism” does not so much reflect the contrast between revolutionary masses and a reformist leadership, but rather the contradiction between a formally Marxist program and permanently adaptationist politics.
The Founding of the Fourth International
The formal foundation of the Fourth International in September 1938 ended the cycle that had begun with the formation of the International Left Opposition (ILO) in 1930: the gathering of revolutionary oppositionists to Stalinism for the continuation and elaboration of the theoretical gains of Marxism in the 20th century.
At the time of its inception, the Fourth International faced a number of extraordinary problems:
- The 1930s were marked by a series of historic defeats for the world proletariat – the establishment of fascist dictatorships in Germany (1933) and Austria (1934), imperialist attacks on semi-colonial countries such as Abyssinia (1935-1936) and the strangulation of the Spanish Revolution (1936-39);
- All of the sections of the Fourth International were far away from a genuine implantation in the working masses of their respective countries;
- The smallest propaganda groups as well as the relatively largest organizations (for example in the United States, Ceylon, Vietnam, Brazil…) were, because of their revolutionary program, persecuted not only by fascist but also by democratic regimes; at the same time the Stalinist parties, the state apparatus of the USSR and in particular its intelligence agencies organized the worldwide persecution, kidnapping and murder of revolutionary cadres.
- Finally, the International was founded in a moment at which it was clear that a new imperialist world war was imminent.
Was the Founding Premature?
In 1933, the ILO decided that the creation of a new International was necessary after the Communist International had proven incapable of leading the fight against fascism in Germany or learning the lessons from their own defeat. At the founding conference of the Fourth International in Perigny in the outskirts of Paris (September 3, 1938), the Polish delegates and representatives of the Revolutionary Communists of Austria (RKÖ) were among those arguing against the formation of a new International in a period of defeats for the workers’ movement.
We share the position of Trotsky and the majority of the conference, who saw the founding of the International as the logical conclusion of the years of struggle by the Bolshevik-Leninist cadres for a regroupment of the revolutionary forces, and who could point to the practical and political work of the associated sections.
Given the impending danger of war, the founding of the Fourth International was necessary to maintain the continuity of the revolutionary workers’ movement, which threatened to break off due to the Stalinist betrayal of the fundamental principles of the Communist International. To resist the imperialist pressure in all the belligerent countries, a visible banner was needed. And indeed, the centrist forces which opposed the founding of the Fourth International as “premature” (POUM, SAP, ILP), were all swept away in the maelstrom of the world war.
The founding of the Fourth was meant to build up a revolutionary leadership of the working class for the difficult times of the world war and especially for the expected revolutionary situation in the aftermath. During the war, it became clear that the forces united in the Fourth were virtually the only ones that defended revolutionary, internationalist positions. For example, it was only the Trotskyists who did not fall victim to anti-German chauvinism and did revolutionary, internationalist work amongst the German Wehrmacht soldiers.
The Transitional Program
In addition to a number of organizational documents and resolutions on the class struggle situation in different countries and continents, the founding conference decided on the Transitional Program, which had already been discussed internally for months: “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International.”
Trotsky, the most important leader of the young Fourth International, had repeatedly pointed out that this document was not a complete program. The Transitional Program was written in expectation of unprecedented carnage and a subsequent revolutionary offensive by the proletariat. In a few years, the carnage had in fact surpassed the worst fears, but the revolutionary offensive of the postwar period could be held in check by the Social Democrats and the Stalinists. A revolutionary leadership could have transformed the imperialist war into a revolutionary war – this was precisely the task of the Fourth International.
The Transitional Program can only be seen as a part of the program of the International Left Opposition and the Fourth International, as worked out in more than ten years in documents and interventions in the international class struggle.
The importance of the Transitional Program was that the Trotskyists, basing themselves on the theoretical achievements of the first four congresses of the Comintern, counteracted the reformist separation of the program into minimum and maximum demands (demands that only respond to the day-to-day struggles and the abstract propaganda for socialism) or the replacement of the communist program by a bourgeois one (the “People’s Front” orientation of the Comintern beginning in 1934).
We regard the method of the Transitional Program as an essential part of our heritage. In this sense it has retained its relevance for us. We do not see it as a sacred text that has retained its relevance regardless of time and space.
The Transitional Program is based on the objective situation of 1938. The character of the imperialist epoch, despite the defeats of the proletariat, is still valid. The “highest stage of capitalism” has created the conditions for socialist revolution on a world scale, not only in the developed capitalist countries but also in the colonial and semi-colonial world.
However, the concrete framework has changed significantly since then. While the Communist International in its early years was trying to break the masses away from Social Democratic reformism, the Fourth International was confronted with Stalinism as a second counter-revolutionary obstacle. Solving the crisis of leadership of the proletariat was thus the decisive lever for socialist revolution, which the Fourth International saw maturing as a possible result of a new imperialist world war.
(However, we believe that the statement in the Transitional Program that the crisis of human civilization can be reduced the crisis of proletarian leadership, is only partially correct today. The crisis of leadership, which has been ongoing for decades, has led to a greatly intensified crisis of proletarian subjectivity: the international working class, numerically stronger than ever before in history, is also politically weaker than at any time since the early days of the labor movement.)
The Fourth International during the War
At the beginning of the Second World War, the young International faced a series of problems: a third of the membership of the US section, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), broke with the party around the positions of Shachtman and Burnham who rejected the characterization of the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state and thus the defense of the Soviet Union in the case of an imperialist attack; the French section went through a series of crises and splits.
At that time the SWP was, politically as well as organizationally, the strongest section. Despite its problems with limitations of democracy in the USA, it was the force that could have maintained the cohesion of the Fourth International under the difficult conditions of war. However, the SWP did not fulfill its internationalist responsibility for special exertions to lead the International: its national narrow-mindedness prevented it from developing a clear perspective for the International and especially its European sections. On the other hand, it is a merit of the SWP that its cadres serving in the US Navy and the armed forces transported Trotskyist propaganda around the world, including into the Soviet Union, and re-established the network of sections.
The emergency conference in May 1940 confirmed the perspective of orienting the sections towards a revolutionary crisis in the wake the world war.
In Europe, the experience with the Nazi regime led to a series of errors and deviations: parts of the French Trotskyist movement gave in to the nationalist pressure of the French petit and big bourgeoisie and adapted themselves to a supposed “natural nationalism” of the proletarian masses. The German IKD exaggerated this mistake by abandoning any socialist perspective for Nazi-occupied Europe and spoke of the need for a new era of bourgeois-democratic revolutions.
In the United States, the SWP showed inclinations to soften the classic position of revolutionary defeatism. In the name of the “Revolutionary Military Policy”, they gave the impression that subordinating the bourgeois army to the control of the trade unions was enough to change its character into a kind of workers’ militia. This position stands in stark contrast to the Marxist position that the workers can not take over the existing state machinery and use it for their own purposes, but have to smash it and build up their own organs of power.
At the same time, the SWP leadership argued that German fascism was the greatest threat to the American proletariat. This position pushed the key struggle against their own bourgeoisie into the background.
The Nazi terror and the war naturally hampered contact between the sections. The European Secretariat, founded in 1942, could only fulfill its tasks inadequately, and the necessity of conspirative work led to the strengthening of the position of Secretary of the European Secretariat, Marcel Hic, who was a representative of the nationalist line outlined above. The creation of the Provisional European Secretariat in the summer of 1943 broadened the international leadership and partially corrected the organizational and political deficiencies; however, the arrest and assassination of important cadres in France in October 1943 meant an important setback for the reorganization of the International in Europe.
It was not until the European Conference (February 1944) that the nationalist errors were thoroughly criticized and, at least on the surface, overcome. As a consequence of the fall of Italian fascism, a catalogue of transitional demands was elaborated for countries where the possibility of the toppling of fascist rule was becoming apparent.
The Revolutionary Post-War Crisis
The revolutionary wave at the end of the Second World War did not reach the intensity predicted by the Fourth International at its foundation and at its emergency conference. Stalinism emerged from the war not weakened – as expected by Trotsky – but strengthened. The assumption that the American bourgeoisie would drop its democratic mask and move towards fascism did not materialize.
The young leadership of the Fourth International, however, could not correctly analyze the contradictory post-war situation and based its analysis above all on the prognoses which were made in 1938 in the Transitional Program. The economic recovery of capitalism in the post-war period – particularly of US imperialism – was ignored or downplayed.
At this time, the long boom tied important parts of the working class in the West to the capitalist order, which severely isolated the revolutionary forces. Nevertheless, the leadership of the Fourth International declared that the tendency towards the collapse of Social Democracy and Stalinism, envisaged by Trotsky in 1938 as a possibility, was the current reality. The Fourth was therefore not able to arm its sections for their daily political struggle with a correct assessment of the world situation.
The sections of the International started into the post-war situation – in accordance with the pre-war expectations – with a consciousness based on an imminent revolutionary breakthrough. The International Conference of the Fourth International (1946) described in its documents a “long revolutionary period”. The main document of the SWP congress in November 1946 – the “Theses on the American Revolution” –, despite all precautions in the the formulations, was clearly based on the perspective of a proletarian revolution in the USA in the immediate future.
From 1948 onwards, a revision of the Trotskyist position on Stalinism became apparent: while the “orthodox” position on the characterization of the USSR was maintained at first for the Soviet bureaucracy, the International Secretariat of the Fourth International threw these principles overboard in the “exceptional case” of Yugoslavia.
The conflicts between the Soviet bureaucracy and the Yugoslav bureaucracy under the Stalinist Josip Broz Tito led to an open split in 1948. This was proof enough for the International Secretariat that the CP of Yugoslavia had broken with Stalinism and developed into a centrist party. In order to underpin this position, the term Stalinism was re-defined. The decisive criterion was now the “subordination of the interests of the workers in each country to the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy” – a huge difference from the points Trotskyists historically used to characterize Stalinism:
- A workers’ state which is controlled by a privileged bureaucracy which has made itself independent of the masses;
- The theory of the possibility of establishing socialism in one country;
- The subordination of the goal of world revolution to the peaceful coexistence of the workers’ state with capitalism;
- The political expropriation of the proletariat and the establishment of a bureaucratic dictatorship over the proletariat;
- The betrayal of the historic interests of the proletariat in the name of popular fronts, other forms of class collaboration or ultra-left adventures.
In Yugoslavia, this changed position led to an abandonment of the goal of a political revolution against the bureaucracy and limited the role of the revolutionary party to an advisory function for the Tito bureaucracy. The masses were not to overthrow the Tito bureaucracy, but instead apply sufficient pressure to bring them onto a revolutionary course. The construction of an independent party was not necessary under these conditions. Through fraternal criticism, the centrist deviations of the Yugoslav Communist Party were to be overcome. The Stalinist Tito bureaucracy was even offered a joint International, but they refused. In Germany there was even a short-lived Titoist Party (UAPD) in which the Trotskyists participated.
The Yugoslav example was the first step on a long path of the Fourth International in search of “shortcuts” for building parties, so that the crisis of proletarian leadership could be solved together with non-revolutionary forces.
The leadership of the Fourth International had to react impressionistically to the changes in the world situation – transformations of the social structures in Eastern Europe, revolution in China – if they wanted to maintain their claim to be able to formulate answers to the key questions of international class struggle as an international revolutionary centre. On different fronts, important tenets of the Marxist method were thrown overboard.
According to them, the international situation was no longer characterized by the class antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but by the antagonism between two “camps” – “imperialism and Stalinism”. The main theoretician of this position was the General Secretary of the Fourth International, Michel Pablo.
The recovery of the capitalist world economy, which was no longer disputable, was regarded as an argument that the drive towards a war between the “imperialist” and the “Stalinist” camps was intensifying. The need for the expansion of the imperialist world market would make a new world war inevitable. For the “nature” of this war, Pablo created a new pair of definitions: the “war-revolution” and the “revolution-war”.
In this way, Stalinism would regain a progressive character: with the expected expansion of the degenerated workers states, the Stalinist bureaucratic dictatorship was, for Pablo, a necessary step on the inevitable road to socialism. Stalinism would therefore disappear out of “objective necessity”. The necessity of political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy was thus thrown overboard. According to this theory, there was ultimately no need for a Trotskyist International either.
In addition, a momentous programmatic turn was made: those sections which despite the decisions of the post-war conferences of the International had not been successful in the “construction of mass revolutionary parties” were now to focus on winning “influence” amongst the working class base of the Social Democratic and Stalinist mass parties.
Criticism of the Leadership
Despite all the deficiencies cited, the Fourth International remained a revolutionary force until the end of the 1940s and a pole of attraction for the most progressive and conscious elements of the working class around the world. The outlined revisionist tendencies or openly revisionist positions did not remain unchallenged inside the sections.
Felix Morrow (SWP) spoke out against the majority line of the American section and the European Secretariat, which ruled out the establishment of bourgeois democratic regimes in Europe; at the same time, he emphasized the role of democratic demands as part of a transitional program. In addition, he cautioned against the opinion that US imperialism had no interest in stabilizing European imperialisms through capital export and investment.
The British Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) opposed the catastrophist position of the international leadership, on an inevitably sharpening economic crisis of imperialism on a world scale, with a more differentiated analysis based on the expectation of economic growth in the USA and a slow yet perceptible growth of the capitalist economies in Europe. At the same time, the RCP tried to correct the position of the International on the “sharpening crisis of Stalinism” and referred to the strengthening of the Kremlin bureaucracy through its military victory over German fascism and the expansion of its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The RCP was also the only section to criticize the “open letter” of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International to the Yugoslav CP, which downplayed the differences between Trotskyism and Stalinism.
In the French section, one of the leaders of the PCI, Favre-Bleibtreu, criticized Pablo’s bloc theory and emphasized the importance of the class antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as the point of departure for any analysis of the political and economical situation.
Although we can say in hindsight that none of the minority positions in the International succeeded in developing a complete platform for the correction of these mistakes; although we know today that many critics sooner or later broke with the Fourth International or retired from political life – the importance of their criticism lies in the fact that they developed elements of a revolutionary alternative to the centrist positions of the international leadership.
The Third World Congress of the Fourth International…
Despite several amendments, the Third World Congress of the Fourth International in 1951 followed the line developed by Pablo at the beginning of that year in the now famous text “Where are we going?” As a lesson from the Yugoslav and Chinese developments – under the leadership of Mao a workers state, degenerate from the start, had been established – they drew the conclusion that the CPs were no longer counterrevolutionary forces, but “under certain extraordinary conditions had the potential for a revolutionary orientation”.
The organizational implication of this orientation was entryism sui generis – an entryism “of a special kind”. Trotsky’s conception of “entryism” or the “entry tactic” was that a section of the Fourth International would enter an existing reformist mass party with a radicalized rank and file, while maintaining its organizational structures and its press, to fight for the rank and file to adopt a revolutionary program. Contrary to this entryism that Trotsky had proposed to the French section and the SWP in the 1930s, with the goal of a temporary faction fight, the sections of the Fourth International were now supposed to integrate themselves into the Stalinist and (to a lesser extent) Social Democratic parties for an extended period in order to exert “pressure” on the leaderships which were supposedly capable of learning. In order to implement this deep and long-term entryism in the face of the anticommunist witch hunts of the Marshall plan period, the sections were recommended to hide their revolutionary politics – at least in the initial years.
This search for “shortcuts” was extended beyond the class divide – Argentina’s Bonapartist ruler Juan Peron was declared an “anticapitalist” leader, and thus the path was opened for an adaptation to Peronism by the Argentinean section under the leadership of Nahuel Moreno.
… and the collapse into centrism.
For us, the preparation and the decisions of the Third World Congress mark the turning point at which the Fourth International ceased to be a revolutionary International. Fundamental positions of revolutionary theory and practice were thrown overboard. Except for criticisms of individual details, which did not reach a principled character, all the sections and national leaderships followed the revisionist turn of the international leadership. In the pre-congress period, there was a further break with the former principles of the Fourth International which had been based on democratic centralism: Oppositional positions were suppressed or hidden from the membership, and open debates were replaced by factional agreements behind closed doors.
The Second World Congress in 1948 had further consolidated the false analysis of the world situation in the previous period and based itself on the expectation of an imminent World War which would transform into a civil war. But it upheld the revolutionary programmatic positions. The Third World Congress went a fundamental step further and revised the programmatic foundations as well, thus marking the definitive collapse of the Fourth International into centrism.
During the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, the Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) was able to implement these false perspectives, as they were one of the few sections of the Fourth International with mass influence. However, this was used to enter the government of the bourgeois-nationalist MNR which had emerged from the revolution, with the aim to push it to the left, instead of consistently fighting for a permanent revolution. In the ranks of the Fourth International, only isolated voices (the Vern-Ryan-Tendency from California) spoke out against these centrist politics.
The SWP gave full backing to Pablo and his supporters – even though they tried to present themselves as militant “anti-Pablists” in the following years. The resistance of the majority of the French section was not directed against the incorrect world perspectives or the revision of the characterization of Stalinism – it was directed against the disastrous effects of the entryism sui generis tactic in France. Thus, oppositional tendencies within the Fourth limited themselves to tactical questions and did not develop a fundamental criticism of the programmatic adaptation of the entire International in the post-war period.
The Split of the Fourth International in 1953
The collapse into centrism in 1951 was followed by organizational disintegration in 1953. Led by the US section, the SWP, a number of sections split from the Fourth International and formed the “International Committee of the Fourth International” (IC). The rest of the Fourth International was subsequently referred to as the “International Secretariat of the Fourth International” (IS).
The central founding document of the “International Committee” was the “Open Letter” of the SWP “to Trotskyists Throughout the World” of November 16, 1953, which recalled the importance of essential positions of Trotskyism and called for the dismissal of the leadership of the International Secretariat. It included no mention of why the SWP had supported the leadership around Michel Pablo for years or where the sudden conclusion had come from that the IS had broken with Trotskyism.
In fact, the SWP leadership had watched and even supported the expulsion of the majority of the French section, critical of Pablo, and only became active when Pablo built up a faction inside the SWP (the Cochran-Bartell-Clarke faction). Thus, the “Open Letter” lacked a self-critical balance sheet of the politics of the Fourth International and the SWP in the post-war period.
The IC did not go beyond the call for the “dismissal” of the IS – instead of consistent steps towards building an international Trotskyist center, which would have included a critical analysis of past mistakes, the founding sections (the SWP, the Swiss, British, French, Chilean, Argentinean and Canadian sections) opted for a federalist conception. Instead of a joint elaboration of revolutionary positions, there was a mentality of non-interference in the politics of other IC sections.
In this way, the door was opened for centrist, mostly opportunist deviations in the individual countries and for “National Trotskyism”, and a historic opportunity for a reform of the Fourth International was wasted. The adaptation by the French IC section around Lambert to the petty-bourgeois Algerian MNA was on the same level as the capitulation by the French IS section to the petty-bourgeois Algerian FLN; the “deep entryism” of the IS sections had its counterpart in the deep entryism of the British IC section under Gerry Healy in the Labour Party. The IC and the IS gave different political answers, but they shared a similar centrist political basis.
Broken Continuity and Red Threads
In conclusion, we have to state: The Fourth International after the war only had a limited ability to analyze the world situation and give programmatic answers to the developments in Eastern Europe. This led to a definitive programmatic revision at the Third World Congress and to adaptations to the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Social Democracy and petty-bourgeois nationalist tendencies. The Trotskyist movement became centrist.
As a result of these centrist adaptations, Trotskyism has fragmented. In the framework of this document we cannot provide an analysis of all the tendencies that emerged after the collapse of the Fourth International. But we believe that the disputes within Trotskyism can essentially be reduced to the question of which non-proletarian forces one should adapt to and how much. No Trotskyist tendency can claim to have consistently maintained, throughout the post-war period, political independence from the bourgeoisie, the Social Democracy, Stalinism and diverse petty-bourgeois tendencies.
Despite all the correct partial analyses that were developed by different tendencies claiming to be Trotskyist, in our opinion, the revolutionary continuity has been broken since 1951 and has not been re-established since. There are certainly different “red threads” – precisely these correct partial analyses that Trotskyist tendencies have developed, including through polemics among themselves – and therefore we can learn a lot from international Trotskyism. But none of these tendencies can claim to embody a continuity with Trotsky’s Fourth International.
However, this does not negate the central programmatic and theoretical achievements of the Fourth International, which – although they need to be adapted to the current world situation – still represent the most advanced expressions of revolutionary Marxism and which have not been superseded. The transitional logic elaborated in the “Transitional Programme” remains in our eyes the central method for the elaboration of the revolutionary program. However, it is not merely a collection of “eternal” revolutionary truths, but must also contain an assessment on the past and future periods and the resulting central tasks.
The Transitional Program of 1938 was written for a revolutionary period and the death agony of capitalism. With the start of the economic boom and the ebb of the revolutionary wave after the war, this program came into contradiction with reality. The transitional slogans represented less and less a bridge from the current consciousness of the masses to the conquest of power, and the inability to adapt these slogans to a changed reality was an important factor in the degeneration of the Trotskyist movement. The method behind the slogans, nonetheless, remained the necessary orientation for all revolutionary politics.
In addition to the incompleteness attested by Trotsky himself, the Transitional Program necessarily lacked an analysis of the developments in Eastern Europe, a correct position on the stadium of imperialism and the world situation and, resulting from this, the central tasks for the new period. Despite the continuing importance of the transitional method, the Transitional Program of 1938 was, after the war, no longer up to date .
Every tendency claiming to be Trotskyist must have a clear position on the centrist deviations of the Fourth International beginning in 1948. It is not enough to criticize individual positions of the Fourth International, but rather it must be clearly stated where the methodological and programmatic mistakes of the post-war Trotskyist movement lay.
If we regard the revolutionary continuity as broken, this of course has implications for our understanding of how to build a revolutionary workers’ international. Today, there are many international tendencies claiming to represent a continuity that was long ago destroyed by centrism. These tendencies often try to avoid an in-depth balance sheet of the centrist degeneration of the Fourth International. They draw on bits of the program of the historical Fourth International without theoretically and methodologically analyzing the mistakes that led to its failure.
In this sense, the Fourth International, due to its programmatic and organizational collapse, cannot be rebuilt by simply re-uniting the various international tendencies today claiming a Trotskyist heritage. At the same time, any attempt to form a “new” international that is not based on the working class and revolutionary Marxism – whether it is together with the NGOs of the World Social Forum or the bourgeois government of Chávez in Venezuela – leads to even greater revisions of the revolutionary program.
For us, a revolutionary workers’ international needs to be based on a regrouping of the vanguard of the international workers’ movement and the most advanced expressions of revolutionary Marxism, including both the heritage of the Fourth International and a profound criticism of the adaptations of the post-war Trotskyist movement. Such an international needs to be forged in the class struggle – which is also expressed in the political-ideological struggle between different tendencies.
The reconstruction of the Fourth International is an absolute necessity in order to build up an international leadership of the proletariat. Today, after more than three years of the deepest capitalist crisis since 1929, we see the first responses by the working class and the poor masses against its effects, such as the struggles in Greece, Portugal, France, or – most recently and in the most radical way – in the popular uprisings in the Arab world. These struggles, which could play an important role in changing class relations on an international level, so far lack a leadership with a clear program and strategy to fight the causes of the crisis, without which all these movements are doomed to fail.
Therefore, the task of the hour is to lay the political groundwork for the reconstruction of the Fourth International. This fundamentally means regrouping the workers’ vanguard around a revolutionary program. The reconstruction of the Fourth International as a world party of socialist revolution will require a major shift in the class struggle and a much greater role of revolutionary organizations. This process will require a constant reinterpretation and updating of the Transitional Program of 1938. It also implies a permanent struggle against centrist currents, through both collaboration and criticism.
A central task is to develop a program for the current period that provides answers to the most pressing issues of the international class struggle. But this can only be achieved through the systematic construction of revolutionary organizations which intervene in the concrete class struggle as an organic part of the working class – because a Marxist program is not simply worked out at a desk but must be based on a combination of scientific analysis with the experiences of the most advanced sections of the international proletariat.
However, we reject the notion that winning a base in the working class will automatically lead a revolutionary organization to a correct program or save it from political degeneration. (That means we reject the one-sided fixation on interventions in workplaces at the cost of programmatic work, as is the case with the tradition of the French organization “Lutte Ouvrière”.) For even the most class-conscious workers, without the correct strategy, are doomed to defeat. Revolutionary Marxists must develop a program, put it into practice and thereby expose it to the criticism of the entire workers’ movement.
Concretely, our task is to exchange with other Trotskyist tendencies who are close to us in order to work out a Marxist program for the coming period. This includes serious but comradely criticism of other positions. But we will not limit ourselves to this exchange, but also – as far as we are able – take part in the struggles of workers, developing revolutionary politics and building a revolutionary organization. We will not arrive at the absurd idea to proclaim ourselves as the only revolutionary force on the planet. But we think that a truly revolutionary force can be built only through the struggle to reconstruct the Fourth International – and this includes an analysis of the failures of the Fourth International – and concrete interventions in the class struggle.
- For the reconstruction of the Fourth International!
passed by the first international conference of RIO, December 2010, Munich, and amended by the International Leadership of RIO, April 2011
This document based primarily on the theses by the GRA from 2005, which RIO DE re-worked extensively as a result of a lengthy discussion. The GRA theses in turn are based primarily on the book “The Death Agony of the Fourth International” by the group Workers Power from 1984.
The conclusions are partly based on the analysis “En los límites de la restauración burguesa” by the FT-CI, whose translation into English and German we support.