The Fourth International Is Founded (1938)

Submitted by dalcassian on 25 July, 2011 - 11:39

[Introductary note: Max Shachtman chaired the founding conference of the Fourth International, in Paris in September 1938. He wrote this brief survey of the events that had preceded the proclaimation of the new International in "Socialist Appeal", the paper the the Socialist Workers Party USA. Even if some of the names are unfamiliar, the political characterizations given in the article will enable the reader to make out the political story Shachtman tells. One of those Shachtman lists, Henk Sneevliet, was shot by the Nazi occupiers of Holland, in 1942.]

Just as the main body of the communist international came out of the second international, so the root of the fourth international are to be traced to the beginnings of the crisis in the Third.

15 years of elapsed since the movement now organised under the banner of the thought international first took shape. It arose in the form of the Opposition in the the Russian Communist Party, variously called the "Moscow" or "1923" or "Trotskyist" opposition. Uniting the best elements of the Old Guard and the youth of the party and led by Leon Trotsky, it was the first to sound the alarm against the growing menace of degeneration in the ruling party and the revolution itself.


Significantly enough, the first blows dealt the ruling clique by the Opposition centred around the struggle against bureaucratism and for party and proletarian democracy.these questions were, however, inseparably associated interviews of the Opposition, with the question of the rhythm of industrialisation of the country and the relationships the Soviet peasantry, questions which were to play such an overwhelmingly decisive part in the further evolution of the Soviet Union.

The Opposition was supported by an unmistakable majority of the party and youth members in Moscow and numerous other important centres. But the almighty apparatus was in the hands of the notorious "Triumvirate" – Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin. They proceeded to invent the bogeyman of "Trotskyism", to befuddle the mind of those they could not intimidate, and by the craziest manipulation of the party machinery they not only succeeded in putting down the Opposition but in accelerating the trend towards bureaucratic degeneration.


It is interesting to note that from the verybeginning, many of the most solid and ablest elements in the Communist International took a position either out rightly in favour of the Trotskyist opposition Opposition or conciliatory to it. The leadership of the Polish party protested vigourously against the disloyal and dishonest assaults against the opposition: it was answered – the reply soon became standardised! – by having its leadership arbitrarily removed, its leader Domski called to Moscow, from which, years later, he was exiled, then imprisoned and, according to more recent reports, shot.

The founders and outstanding leaders of the French party took the position of the Trotskyists, and such figures as Rosmer, Loriot, Souvarine, Dunois, Monatte, Chambelland, and among the younger elements, Thorez (yes, the present Thorez!) ranged themselves alongside the opposition, with Airlie expulsion from the Comintern as their reward.

The German party leadership of the time – Bandler-timer – only "dissociated" itself from the Russian Opposition under the most severe pressure and threats of retaliation. The leadership of the Italian party, headed by Bordiga, also circulate itself substantially with the Russian Opposition, and met the usual fate at the hands of the Kremlin machine. Virtually the entire party leadership in Belgium was arbitrarily ousted for the same reason. The same occurred in varying degrees in all the parties of the International.


In the course of the inner struggle which followed in the International, centring, mainly around the question of the Regulation of the Stalinist to the British Labour bureaucracy, culminating in the fiasco of the 1926 general strike and the notorious Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee; of the Chinese Revolution, in which Stalin reduced the communist, the working class and peasant movements to so many serfs of the perfidious national bourgeoisie; of the domestic policy of the Soviet Union, which brought the country to the brink of catastrophe by favouring the well-to-do kulak and the Labour aristocrat as against a policy advocated by the Opposition, the broad industrialisation plan and the collectivisation of agriculture; and above all of the generalised theoretical expression of Stalinist the action contained in it national is static concept of "socialism in a single country" – the original Moscow Opposition gain new support in a second layer of adversaries of Stalin.

Led by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Krupskaya and other former opponents of tan alleged "Trotskyism", the Leningrad party organisation join with the Moscow revolutionists perform in 1926-1927, the United Opposition Bloc. It was crushed even more savagely by the Stalin-Bukharin bloc than the 1923 Opposition had been. But not before significant international repercussions where heard. A whole section of the Comintern leadership which had been forced into power by Zinovievist appointment, broke away from the Stalinists and came closer to the opposition.


These included did new German leadership of Maslow-Fisher-Urbahns-Sholem; the French party leadership of Treint- Girault; the new Neurath-Michalic grouping inCzechoslovakia, the Frei group in Austria. In the course of the next few years, you'll forces developed in the direction of the Opposition – Nin, Andrade and others in Spain, Chen Tu-Hsiu in China, the Italian party leaders Feroci, Blasco and Santini, Specter and Macdonald in Canada, Diego Rivera in Mexico, Juan Antonio Mella in Cuba, Abern, Cannon and Shachtman in theUnited States and similar groups of active and leading militants, many of them founders of the International, in other lands.

Almost everywhere, their places were taken by unknown upstarts, young (and old) celebrated bureaucrats, people without ideas a character of principle, who were appointed today and as like as not demoted tomorrow as scapegoats forStalin's catastrophic policies.


Not all those who associated in cells at one time or another which the Opposition, remained in its ranks. Far from it. Many of them, then into extremes but the brutal provocations of Stalinism, went off on while political tensions have retired from politics altogether. Others proved to have insufficient stamina and endurance, and capitulated under the terrific pressure of the Stalinist machine and defeats and world-wide reaction is engendered. Still others were broken in character, and collapsed under bribes.

But in the course of 15 years of struggle but the principles and methods of Bolshevism, other revolutionary internationalist, a process of selection was constantly at work. This process was enormously speeded up and assisted in 1000 ways by that most colossal of all of Stalinism's factional blunders: the deportation to Turkey in 1929 of comrade Leon Trotsky.


The relative freedom he thereupon enjoyed as compared with the isolation and almost insuperable restrictions imposed upon him in Stalinist exile at Alma-Ata, made it possible for the international oppositional movement to benefit for the first time in such a grand scale by the theoretical, literary and organisational activity of its clearest and boldest thinker. Thousands upon thousands of communist militants began to learn for the first time the truth about the profound historical disputes in the Russian party and the International, butwhich had hitherto reached us in distorted scraps – when it reached abroad at all. Literally years of activity had to be devoted to sweeping away the muck of misrepresentation and the ideological cobwebs with which the Stalinist machine had for muddied and muddled up the issues involved and the minds of the revolutionist abroad.

It is in the course of these years that a small boating estimate be precious nucleus of the reconstructed world movement was welded together in one country after another, more genuinely United and more high majors, more qualified to assemble the forces of the coming mass movement than any revolutionary Marxist movement before it had been.


It is impossible in so brief the space to do more than indicate the great events and issues around which the International Left Opposition – established at the first world conference in piracy 1930 on the initiative of our American organisation – developed in the past nine at 10 years, for that would require narrating the history of the decade of the class struggle.

Suffice it to remind the reader of the notorious "Third Period" policy of the Stalintern and the incessant struggle fought against it by our movement. "Social-Fascism" and alliedspacedogmas of Stalinism have, it is true, given way to not better dogmas, yet not without leaving murderous scars not only upon the Third International, but, alas, on the body of the world working class.

The lamentable tragedy of the German and,the Austrian, the Saar the Czech proletariat can be traced to the criminal capitulation of Stalinism to Hitler in 1933, in which it outdid the long ago bankrupt social democracy in cowardice and treachery. Under the guise of the trice-stupid policy of "United Front only from below", the Stalinists condemned the German proletariat to a state of division through which fascism marched unmolestedly to power. The interests of the German proletariat were sacrificed by the Comintern for the sake of preserving the Soviet bureaucracy and its positions in a state of not very permanent tranquillity during which presumably a national-socialist utopia might be constructed in Russia unaffected by "disruptive" social clashes abroad.


The International Communist League, as our movement was then named, had pursued to then a policy based upon the reforming the Third International. The German catastrophe demonstrated a complete visibility of continuing along that line. We therefore took the initiative in calling forthe organisation of new communist parties everywhere and a new communist, a fourth, International.

In that period, while the Comintern remained virtually unmoved because of the bureaucratic vice in which it was held, there occurred unmistakable shifts to the left in the camp of the social several countries therefore almost coincidental with determine of the Stalinist to the fatal policy of "Peoples Front is" in the formal abandonment of even the pretence to debating revolutionary principles upon which to comment on had been founded, small revolutionary internationalist groups entered the sections of the Second International for the purpose of fusing into a solid Marxist block with the leftward-moving socialist countries like France, Belgium, England and United States, this tactic yielded significant results, and brought new forces onto the road of the Fourt international.

In the same period, there occurred the decisive test of policies and strength between the genuine Marxists of the Fourth International, on the one side, and the ultra-left sectarians and the centrists on the other side.

Of the sectarian currents, that of Sneevliet in Holland – more opportunist then radical – came to the inevitable and inglorious end. Starting out with a "left" criticism of our movement, he has ended recently in a state of complete demoralisation and disintegration as the tail of the no less demoralised and I disintegrated London Bureau.he did not even have the courage to appear on the Tribune of our international movement, at the world conference, to defend his line of action as he was invited to do.

The same holds true of Vereecken, who withdrew from the Belgian party on the very eve of the conference,taking with him less than a bakers' dozen of individuals, and thereby in avoiding attendance at the meeting which would have drawn the balance sheet of the sectarian sterility he exemplified. It is significant that not one of the other groups which in their time broke from the Fourth International – Oehler, Eifel, Bauer Lastrada, and similars – has even been able to emerge out of a vegetable existence.


In the other field, that of the centralists of all varieties, the picture of stagnation of decline is no less striking. The right-wing Brandler groups have with the exception of the Lovesone group in this country, disappeared to all intents and purposes.Gone is the Indian champion Roy, who has become a 99% Stalinist, i.e., has a main body was. Gone are the German and Austrian and Czech gone is the Alsatian group of Heuber, the Schaffausen group in Switzerland. The pitiable remnants of the Brandler group, which is now but a shadow of its never very substantial self.

The only current of remains as an effective, consolidating revolutionary internationalist current that successfully resistedthe backwash of the reaction, is that which is today rallied under the banner of the Fought International. It alone feels this surefootedness that will guide the movement to the triumphant future which belongs to it!

Socialist Appeal, New York

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