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

From May to August of 1934, Minneapolis was rocked by a strike that would forever change the course of U.S. labour history. This was the strike of Teamsters Local 574, a union led by Trotskyists. Many of the best techniques used by organised labour today find their origins in the Minneapolis Strike, in particular the flying picket. However, the strike's greatest conquest was in laying the foundations for industrial unionism in North America, leading to the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the following years. Above all, the Minneapolis Strike demonstrated the role played by the young forces of American Trotskyism in obtaining gains for workers.

It is a well-known fact that accident can play a considerable role in both history and the lives of individuals. In the course of my life I have observed many accidents and extraordinary coincidences. But I have never experienced such a unique and unforeseeable concatenation of circumstances as that which I am about to relate here.

"The development of the International Left Opposition is proceeding amidst sharp crises that cast the fainthearted and the short-sighted into pessimism. In reality these crises are completely unavoidable. One has only to read the correspondence of Marx and Engels attentively, or to preoccupy oneself seriously with the history of the development of the Bolshevik Party to realise how complicated, how difficult, how full of contradictions the process of developing revolutionary cadres is."

The following are new translations of excerpts from Trois points c’est tout by Fred Zeller (1912-2003). Zeller, who, at the time, was the secretary of the Seine (Paris) Young Socialists and a sympathiser of the Trotskyist movement in the mid-1930s, visited Trotsky in Norway at the end of October 1935. This was at the time when the Socialist Party leaders were expelling the left from the Young Socialists as well as dissolving the Bolshevik Leninist tendency, whose members had joined the SFIO in late 1934.

Ted Grant was a well-known figure in the international Marxist movement. He had a significant impact on British politics. When he died all the most important newspapers carried extensive obituaries that recognised this fact. This is a remarkable work that comprehensively covers the development of Ted's life and ideas, starting from his early family background in Johannesburg right up to his death in London in 2006 at the age of 93.

The publication in English of The Man Who Loved Dogs by the Cuban author, Leonardo Padura is a major literary and political event. I read this remarkable novel when it came out in Spanish and it made a profound impression on me. I had intended to write a review then, but was prevented from doing it by a combination of circumstances. With the greatest pleasure I will now rectify this omission.

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the brutal assassination of Leon Trotsky by a Stalinist agent. We commemorate this event by publishing the transcription of his address to the N.Y. Hippodrome Meeting. The speech "I Stake My Life!" was delivered by telephone from Mexico City for the opening event of the Dewey Commission on the Moscow Trials.

Today, 9th July, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ted Grant, the founder of the International Marxist Tendency. Rob Sewell, editor of the British Marxist paper Socialist Appeal, outlines the important role played by Ted in building the forces of Marxism during his lifetime and discusses the legacy of Ted for Marxists today.

This is a video recording of the book launch of Ted Grant: The Permanent Revolutionary. Alan Woods spoke and gave an account of Ted's struggle for and his contribution to the ideas of Marxism. In the speech he gives an account of the history of the 4th International and the role of the British Marxists, the rise of the Militant Tendency and its degeneration.

In the darkest days of the Italian labour movement in the early 1930s, shortly after Mussolini had consolidated his grip on power, and as many Italian Communists and Socialists languished in fascist prisons or were forced to live in exile, a small group of Communist Party members, including three Central Committee members, turned to Trotsky as they attempted to build an opposition to the Stalinist leadership of Togliatti. Here we publish five letters of Trotsky to the newly formed group.

Continuing the theme of Trotskyism and the Second World War, this volume covers the period 1943-45. The articles and documents contained within this book covers the period of the emergence of the WIL and the setting up of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Many documents are appearing in print for the first time since they were written.

Twenty years ago the powerful repressive Stalinist police states fell one after another under the pressure of mass upsurges. The collapse of Stalinism was a dramatic event and a turning point in world history. But in retrospect it will be seen as only the prelude to something even more dramatic: the death agony of world capitalism.

Trotsky, Lenin and Kamenev in 1919.

This article was originally written for an Indonesian audience, but we believe it is of value for all our readers. It points out the conditions in which the Fourth International came into being and its subsequent demise, but also points to the future when a new and powerful Marxist international organisation must be formed out of the revolutionary events that impend.

We present John Peterson's introduction to the newly published Ted Grant Selected Works Volume 2: The Work of Marxists in the Mass Organizations. Ted Grant’s writings on the mass organizations represent a deepening of our understanding of Bolshevik strategy and tactics when it comes to connecting the ideas of revolutionary Marxism with the working class, and Peterson's introduction concisely explains Ted's method and the history of the Marxist approach to the mass organizations.

The objective of this article is, on the one hand, to serve as an introduction to the reading of Trotsky's last writings, and on the other hand also to extract the principal lessons of the attempt to create a Fourth International. For reasons of space, we cannot go into a detailed analysis of the subsequent history of Trotskyism and we will therefore limit ourselves to give an overview of the main reasons for the decline of the Fourth International after the end of WW2.

This is the first volume of Ted Grant’s Writings. It covers the period from 1938 to 1942, when he was involved in building up the forces of Trotskyism in Britain. During the early years of the Second World War, Ted became editor of the Socialist Appeal and political secretary of the Workers’ International League. In this role Ted emerged as the principal theoretician of the British Trotskyist movement.

At a recent meeting of the International Marxist Tendency in Canada, Alex Grant, editor of Fightback magazine, speaks on the writings of Trotsky in the 1930's. This period, encompassing the Great Depression and mass revolutionary movements, is a goldmine of ideas for today's youth and working class activists. Grant gives an overview of the flavour of Trotsky's writings of the period in order to encourage further reading and study.

"We must not for a minute lose sight of the fact that the power of American capitalism rests more and more upon the foundation of the world economy, with its contradictions and its crises, military and revolutionary. This means that a social crisis in the United States may arrive a good deal sooner than many think, and have a feverish development from the start. Hence the conclusion: it is necessary to prepare." These words of Leon Trotsky seem written for today's situation!

This year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Fourth International. The International was established by Leon Trotsky and his supporters in September 1938. As part of the commemoration of this event Rob Sewell draws out some of the key lessons and methods on which the Trotskyist movement was built during the 1930s. He also explains that while the Fourth International no longer exists in an organisational form, it continues for Marxists today in our theory, programme, method and approach.

Leon Sedov

Tomorrow marks the 70th anniversary of the murder of Trotsky's eldest son - Leon Sedov - by agents of the Stalinist secret police, the GPU. He was thirty-two years of age. This crime constituted part of the systematic hounding and murder of Trotsky's key supporters and family, whose only ‘crime' was to defend genuine Marxism against Stalin and the crimes of the Russian bureaucracy.

Leon Trotsky's murder was no accident or spontaneous action by the dictator Stalin, but a monstrous preconceived act that was the culmination of a murder campaign against the whole of the old Bolshevik leadership of the revolution and those who stood by the genuine ideas of Marxism. We republish this article published in Militant in 1985.

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.

Esteban Volkov, grandson of the Russian revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky, was recently able to go to Turkey and return to the places where his grandfather had lived after his expulsion from the Soviet Union. In particular, Esteban was able to see, for the first time since 1931-1932, the house in Prinkipo — the Ile of Princes — where he had lived with Trotsky. On our way across France towards Grenoble in August 2003, Esteban spoke of his journey to Turkey. 

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.

One organisation that took the post-war IS position of the Fourth International to its logical, and absurd, conclusion was the IKD, an organisation of German and Austrian Trotskyists who had spent most of the war years in exile in Britain. It published a statement in 1943 in which it argued that the occupation of Europe by nazi Germany had led to an economic regression', that is, to the destruction of technology and advanced methods of production, in favour of small and even handicraft techniques. At the same time, the democratic rights of the masses had been completely destroyed. The conclusion they drew was that the basic tasks in the post-war period would be the struggle

...

After WWII, the leadership of the Fourth International were still repeating old and out-dated ideas. Among such leaders was Pierre Frank, one of the leaders of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI), the French section of the International. He wrote an article which argued that in Western Europe, there had been established only Bonapartist governments, ie 'Governments by the Sword', denying, in other words, that 'normal' capitalist democracy existed. Ted Grant's reply was a devastating critique of Frank's muddled and un-Marxist approach.

This document was presented by Ted Grant as a policy document at the March 1945 Central Committee of the RCP, approved in August at the national conference and printed in Workers International News in September. The resolution presents a broad analysis, an estimation of the political situation coming out of the war and a tentative perspective for the future.

In an attempt to discredit the Trotskyists once again, the CP attempted to disorient and confuse the working class by spreading out-and-out lies on the Chinese Revolution. Ted Grant replies to these points in a effort to set the record straight and expose the methods of the Stalinists.

In 1942 the British Stalinists launched a vicious campaign of slander and lies against Trotskyism. Ted Grant, in the best traditions of Marxism, used the weapon of truth to reply to the Stalinists, whose methods were without honour, truth and conscience.

In 1942 a slanderous campaign against the Socialist Appeal waged by the Communist Party leaders was backed up by the Sunday Dispatch, infamous for its early enthusiastic support of Hitler, Mosley and the Blackshirts. They shamelessly joined forces to accuse the Trotskyists of being Hitler's agents! Here is Ted Grant's reply to these slanders.