Fourth International & Trotskyism

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

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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.