Fourth International & Trotskyism

Leon Trotsky Bundesarchiv500The struggle to uproot capitalism and plant the seeds of socialism has always been an international task. It is not out of sentimentality that Marx and Engels proclaimed “Workers of the world unite!” Capitalism is an international economic system and therefore the struggle against it must be international. While for all practical purposes, the workers must organize themselves at home as a class with their country as their immediate arena of struggle, the real ultimate context of the class struggle is international.

The history of the Fourth International was one of a struggle to keep the genuine international spirit of the working class struggle alive when Stalin and his bureaucratic clique were undermining it. While Stalin was preparing to dismantle the Third International and renouncing the struggle for world socialism, Leon Trotsky was building, under a very difficult situation, the Fourth International not only to defend the first proletarian revolution, the October Revolution, but also to spread it beyond its border.

The building of the Fourth International was also part of Trotsky’s effort to recruit and educate a new generation of genuine Bolsheviks who would be able to finish what the Russian Bolsheviks had started. What is important is not the apparatus but the ideas that the Fourth International sought to protect and pass on to the next generation.

— From Keeping the International alive: a history of the Fourth International

In 1988 Alan Woods interviewed Esteban Volkov in a room in the Trotsky Museum in Coyoacan, of which he is the curator. On the night of 24 May 1940, Esteban Volkov, then only 14 years old, was wounded in a brutal machine-gun attack by Stalinist supporters, from which the Trotsky family miraculously escaped alive. Sixty-six years after the murder of Leon Trotsky, we republish this interview dealing with the various assassination attempts on Trotsky and his family.

Ted Grant remembers the day the news of Trotsky's murder came over the radio as he lay in bed in hospital. First published in Militant 17 August 1990.

The media have just finished celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. We would like to remind our readers of an important event that took place around the same time, the Neath by-election on 15th May 1945. For the first time in Britain, a Trotskyist party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, contested a Parliamentary election. The seat was solid Labour, but the vote for the RCP was significant. Even more significant was the way the party was able to link up with the most advanced workers and youth.

In 1946 the perspectives of the then leadership of the Fourth International were that through “the combined economic, political and diplomatic pressure and the military threats of American and British imperialism” the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union could collapse. The complete opposite was the truth. Ted Grant, together with the leadership of the RCP, attempted to correct this mistaken prognosis. Here we provide the historical 1946 documentation.

We remember all those thousands of genuine Communists who perished in Stalin’s camps, butchered simply for defending the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. Old Bolsheviks like Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin were forced to confess to crimes they had not committed. These famous victims were only the tip of the iceberg. Not remembered are the thousands of Trotskyists who languished in brutal concentration camps. They were brave and defiant to the end.

In 1946 the leaders of the Fourth International were predicting imminent revolutonary upheavals, when in reality capitalism was entering the biggest boom in its history. The leadership of the British Trotskyists, in particular Ted Grant, tried to convince the International that their perspective was false. History has proven Ted to be right. No one can doubt it, and we are proud to continue the tradition that he laid down of serious, meticulous analysis of the real processes taking place in society.

The resolution adopted by the International Pre-Conference of the Fourth International in April 1946, was permeated with the false perspective of the impending revolutionary crisis, the impossibility of a general economic recovery of capitalism and therefore it highlighted the excellent possibilities to develop the forces of the Fourth International. All this of course was false and eventually led to one crisis after another of the organization, and to its final collapse.

I recently visited Mexico at the invitation of Esteban Volkov, Trotsky's grandson, to participate in the filming of a documentary about the life and death of the great Russian revolutionary. The documentary, by the Argentine-Mexican director, Adolfo Videla, was filmed in the house in Coyoacan where Leon Trotsky lived for the last few years of his life, together with his faithful companion and comrade, Natalia Sedova. The documentary draws on rich archive material and includes valuable contributions by people like the French Trotskist historian Pierre Broue. It is due to be shown on Mexican television in the autumn.

In January Wang Fanxi died in Leeds, England. He was one of the few remaining links to the early Chinese Trotskyist movement. It was after the defeat of the 1926 Chinese revolution that, together with hundreds of other members of the Chinese Communist Party, he began to question the policies of the leadership and joined Trotsky’s Left Opposition.

Ajit Roy, Speakers' Corner, 1942

Trotsky's struggle with Stalin was a life or death struggle. It was a struggle to defend the clean banner of Lenin against the growing bureaucratic reaction within the Soviet state and party. Rob Sewell examines the origins of Trotskyism in Britain.

This book by Ted Grant is a unique contribution to the history of British Trotskyism. It begins with the debate on Trotskyism in the British Communist Party in 1924 and ends with the break-up of the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1949 and the beginning of more than thirty years of work within the Labour Party. Ted Grant was the founder and political leader of the “Militant Tendency”, which haunted the Labour leadership, and was eventually expelled along with the Militant editorial board in 1983.

The 1930s were a decade of revolution and counter-revolution. On the one hand there was the victory of fascism in Germany and the atomisation of the German working class - on the other, after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1931, was the unfolding proletarian revolution in Spain. This article by Rob Sewell continues our series marking the 75th anniversary year of the founding of the International Left Opposition.

Ted Grant has been the foremost figure of Trotskyism in Britain and internationally. In the post-war period, the effects of world boom, the policies of right wing Labour Party reformism and the degeneracy of Stalinism combined to make a massive onslaught against the ideas of Marxism. While Grant's contemporaries now stand on the right of the movement, in dusty academic circles or have sunk into obscurity, the articles in this collection show the clarity of Grant's understanding and his ability to deepen and expand the ideas of Leon Trotsky.

The end of the war brought about an entirely novel situation in Europe, presenting the Marxists with difficult and unforeseen theoretical problems. The revolutionary wave in Western Europe did indeed manifest itself in the election of left governments and the strident demands of the workers for concrete reforms and social change. But the full impact of the workers' movement was blunted by the Communist and Socialist Party leaderships, acting as a brake on developments. The precise characterisation of the post-war regimes in Western Europe and the perspectives for these countries were the subjects of intense debate within the Trotskyist movement.

Just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall and later the Soviet Union, Ted Grant delivered this speech on the crisis in the USSR. To deflect any blame, Gorbachev and co. heaped blame on Stalin and Brezhnev, even going so far as to rehabilitate some of the victims of the purge trials – including those accused of “Trotskyism”. But Trotsky was not rehabilitated: he was still hated by the bureaucracy because they feared the ideas he represented.

Much has changed since this document was first produced, and we have continually refined and updated our perspectives and analysis in subsequent books and articles.  However, the historical value of this document, especially those parts concerning the history of the internationals, the rise of proletarian Bonapartism, and the post-WWII period retain their full force and value.

This is a document, dictated in 1966, in defence of the basic tenets of Trotskyism. It was a reply to an Irish socialist, Brendan Clifford, who put the classic Stalinist position, using garbled and one-sided quotations from Lenin to show how Trotskyism was a 'counter-revolutionary trend' opposed to the ideas and methods of 'Leninism'.

At the end of the Second World War a polemic broke out between the British Trotskyists of the RCP and the European Secretariat of the Fourth International as to whether bourgeois democratic or Bonapartist regimes had been established in Western Europe. This bitter exchange of letters between Ted Grant and the leader of the US Workers’ Party, Max Shachtman, gives a taste of that debate. Ted’s letter was first published in The New International in February 1947 with a reply by Max Shachtman.

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