Max Shachtman, writing in 1938, surveys the stages of the long struggle against Stalinism which was crystallised in September 1938 by the founding of the Fourth International. Shachtman, who together with James P Cannon had represented the US Trotskyist organisation there, had chaired the Founding Conference.
Just as the main body of the Communist International came out of the Second International, so the roots of the Fourth International are to be traced to the beginnings of the crisis in the Third. Fifteen years have elapsed since the movement now organized under the banner of the Fourth International first took shape.
It arose in the form of the Opposition in the Russian Communist Party, variously called the "Moscow" or "1923" or "Trotskyist" Opposition. Uniting the best elements of the Old Guard and of 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, however, were inseparably associated in the views of the Opposition, with the questions of the rhythm of industrialization of the country and the relationships to 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 bogey man of "Trotskyism," to befuddle the minds of those they could not intimidate, and by the crassest manipulation of the party machinery they not only succeeded in voting down the Opposition but in accelerating the trend towards bureaucratic degeneration.
It is interesting to note that from the very beginning, many of the most solid and ablest elements in the Communist International took a position either outrightly in favour of the Trotskyist Opposition or conciliatory to it. The leadership of the Polish party protested vigorously against the disloyal and dishonest assaults against the Opposition; it was answered - the reply soon became standardized! - by having its leadership arbitrarily removed, its leader Domsky 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, Louzon, Dunois, Monatte, Chambelland, and among the younger elements, Thorez (yes, the present!) [Thorez was the leader of the French Communist Party until he died, in 1964] ranged themselves alongside the Opposition, with early expulsion from the Comintern as their reward.
The German party leadership of the time - Brandler-Thalheimer - 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 solidarised 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 capitulation of the Stalinists 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, of a broad industrialization plan and the collectivization of agriculture; and above all, of the generalized theoretical expression of Stalinist reaction contained in its nationalistic concept of "socialism in a single country" - the original Moscow Opposition gained new support in a second layer of adversaries of Stalin.
Led by Zinoviev, Kamenev, Krupskaya and other former opponents of an alleged "Trotskyism," the Leningrad party organization joined with the Moscow revolutionists to form, 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 were 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 the new German leadership of Maslow-Fischer-Urbahns-Scholem; the French party leadership of Treint-Girault; the Neurath-Michalec group in Czechoslovakia; the Frey group in Austria.
In the course of the next few years, new forces developed in the direction of the Opposition - Nin, Andrade and others in Spain, Chen Tuhsiu in China, the Italian party leaders Feroci, Blasco and Santini, Spector and MacDonald in Canada, Diego Rivera in Mexico, Juan Antonio Mella in Cuba, Abern, Cannon and Shachtman in the United States and similar groups of active and leading militants, many of them founders of the International.
Almost everywhere, their places were taken by unknown upstarts, young (and old) servile bureaucrats, people without ideas or character or principle, who were appointed today and as like as not demoted tomorrow as scapegoats for Stalin's catastrophic policies.
Not all those who associated themselves at one time or another er with the Opposition, remained in its ranks. Far from it. Many of them, driven to extremes by the brutal provocations of Stalinism, went off on wild political tangents or retired from politics altogether. Others proved to have insufficient stamina and endurance, and capitulated under the terrific pressure of the Stalinist machine and the defeats and worldwide reaction it engendered. Still others were broken in character, and collapsed under bribes.
But in the course of fifteen years of struggle for the principles and methods of Bolshevism, of revolutionary internationalism, a process of selection was constantly at work. This process was enormously speeded up and assisted in a thousand ways by that most colossal of all of Stalin'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 on such a grand scale by the theoretical, literary and organizational activity of its keenest and boldest thinker. Thousands upon thousands of communist militants began to learn the truth about the profound historical disputes that had shaken the Russian party and the International, but which 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 muddled and muddled up the issues involved and the minds of the revolutionists abroad.
It is in the course of these years that a small but inestimably precious nucleus of the reconstructed world movement was welded together in one country after another, more genuinely united and more homogeneous, 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 a space to do more than indicate the great events and issues around which the International Left Opposition - established at the first world conference in Paris in 1930, on the initiative of our American organization - developed in the past nine or ten years, for that would require narrating the history of a 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 allied dogmas of Stalinism have, it is true, given way to new but 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 then the Austrian, the Saar and 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 guise of the thrice 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 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 up to then a policy based upon reforming the Third International. The German catastrophe demonstrated the complete infeasibility of continuing along that line. We therefore took the initiative in calling for the organization 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 democracy. In several countries therefore, almost coincidental with the turn of the Stalinists to the fatal policy of "People's Frontism" and the formal abandonment of even a pretence to the basic revolutionary principles upon which the Comintern had been founded, the small revolutionary internationalist groups entered the sections of the Second International for the purpose of fusing into a solid Marxian bloc with the leftward-moving socialist workers.
In countries like France, Belgium, England and the United States, this tactic yielded significant results, and brought new forces on to the road of the Fourth International.