To mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Fourth International, in 1938, a rally at this year’s CWI Summer School, in Belgium, discussed the ideas and experiences of the international Trotskyist movement. The rally started with a series of short videos, which brought together different footage of Trotsky, from his leadership of the 1917 Russian Revolution to the Stalinist show-trials against his supporters and to Trotsky’s death at the hands of an assassin sent by Stalin.
We then heard from Virginie Pregny, from the French section of the CWI (Gauche Revolutionaire) who spoke about how the events of May 1968, in France. These momentous events showed the potential for the working class to come to power but which also tragically proved Trotsky’s argument for genuine Marxist parties to lead revolutionary movements. The ‘month of revolution’ saw 10 million workers on strike, occupying factories, and moving to overthrow capitalism. The betrayal the French ‘Communist’ Party of the workers’ movement contributed to providing capitalism with the vital space to survive and to come back from the brink. Serious mistakes by ‘far left’ groups were also made in these crucial days.
Virginie explained that we must seize the opportunities of the future, by learning the lessons of the past. The key lesson is the need for a revolutionary party, organically linked to workers and youth, based on the ideas and methods of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. If a party with this approach, with mass support, existed during the events of ’68, the working class in France could have extinguished capitalism and introduced democratic socialism. This would have acted as a powerful beacon to the European and world working class to follow suit, including the working class in the former Stalinist states.
Comrade Luciano, Socialismo Revolucionario, spoke next about the history of the Trotskyist movement in Brazil. In the 1960’s, the Trotskyists grew, as a left alternative to the Communist Party’s abandonment of an independent, socialist position, and due to the CP’s disastrous policy of supporting the “progressive” capitalists of Brazil.
‘Guerrillaism’ and opportunism in Latin America
Later, there was a split in the Fourth International in Latin America, with one section taking a political turn to ‘guerrillaism’ and opportunism, with another opposing guerillaism, but taking a sectarian approach. At this stage, the Communist Party was in decline in Brazil, partly due to its policies and partly due to oppression by the ruling dictatorship in Brazil, and it subsequently split.
In the 1980s, with the fall of the dictatorship, there was a rise in working class struggle and the formation and growth of the Workers’ Party (PT), led by Lula. It was in this period that a section of the CWI, Socialismo Revolucionario, was founded in Brazil.
Luciano concluded by explaining how, since the sell-out of the Lula government, which carried out neo-liberal policies, the CWI is playing a principled role in the new workers’ party, P-SOL, and growing, as a result.
Lucy Redler, from the CWI in Germany (SAV), talked about the events leading up to the founding of the Fourth International, in 1938, in particular, the Stalinist betrayal of the fight against Nazism in Germany. The Communist Party (KPD) in Germany, in the late 1920s and 1930s, instead of working with the Social-Democratic (SPD) workers against the Nazis, denounced them “social-fascists”.
Trotsky and others in the Left Opposition (precursor to the Fourth International) argued for the Communist Party in Germany to build a ‘united front’ tactic with the SPD, to organise resistance to the growing danger of the Nazis. Lucy explained how, in this united front, the CP could have argued for a revolutionary change in society, exposing the reformist leaders of the SPD, who did not want a break with capitalism, in practice. If this policy had been carried out, it could have defeated the Nazis. After all, in 1932, the SPD and CP together got half a million votes more than the Nazis.
Tragically, the betrayal of the German Communist Party resulted in the coming to power of Hitler and the destruction of the organised German workers’ movement. This paved the way for the horrors of WW2. It was this failure of the German Communist Party and the Moscow dominated Third International (Comintern) to respond in the face of huge events, which convinced Trotsky that the Stalinist Communist International had completely degenerated, and of the need for a new revolutionary international. Lucy concluded by saying that this is still needed, today.
1938 Foundation of Fourth International & world socialist revolution in the 21st century
Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the CWI in England & Wales (Socialist Party), elaborated on these points, and brought the rally to a conclusion. He argued that of all the important anniversaries for the international workers’ movement celebrated this year (France and Czechoslovakia 1968, Germany 1918 and others), the foundation of the Fourth International in 1938 is the most important. The need for a mass revolutionary international is crucial, particularly in today’s globalised world.
The CWI seeks to be part of the building of such parties and a new mass international. Peter pointed out that history, though made by the masses, is prepared for by a minority. During World War One, after the collapse of the reformist Second International, Lenin commented that all the genuine Marxists of Europe would fit in two stage coaches. Yet, just a few years later, Europe was ablaze with revolutionary fire.
The successful 1917 Russian Revolution, and the revolutionary wave throughout Europe that followed, saw the rise of the Third International. Unfortunately, the European revolutions failed and the young Soviet Union was isolated. The revolution was crushed by the counter-revolution of Stalinism. This led Trotsky to found the Fourth International, in the late 1930s, in anticipation of a new upsurge of international revolutionary events, which Trotsky, correctly, predicted would take place following World War Two. However, the forces of genuine Marxism were still too weak at that time to stop the betrayal of the workers’ movement by reformists and Stalinists.
During the long period of capitalist economic upswing, in the 1950s and 1960s, the objective situation was difficult for Trotskyists. But, despite this, there were still successes, particularly in the neo-colonial world. A mass Trotskyist party (the LSSP) was built in Sri Lanka, although its leaders later made fatal mistakes. Similarly, in Vietnam the Trotskyists built a mass base. And the CWI also had successes, particularly in Britain, in the 1980s and early 1990s, where ‘Militant’, the forerunner of the Socialist Party, led the mass anti-poll tax movement, which defeated Thatcher.
The setbacks of the 1990s (widespread ideological confusion following the collapse of Stalinism and the seeming ‘triumph of market capitalism) meant a phase of intense political debate within the left. The CWI defended the ideas of Trotskyism and the need for a revolutionary international. Now, in a new period of crisis for capitalism, which brings misery to millions and forces many people to question the system and to look for an alternative, there will be opportunities for the growth in numbers and influence of the CWI.
Peter finished by returning to the life and legacy of Trotsky, who was not only a great theoretician, writer and organiser, but also one of the greatest martyrs of the workers’ movement. By building the forces of the CWI, and by rebuilding the workers’ and revolutionary movement, we can pay tribute to Trotsky and ensure that the 21st century is the century of world socialist revolution.