Marxist Theory

Trotsky's Struggle to Build the Fourth International

We commemorate the 70th death anniversary of Lev Davidovitch Bronstein on August 21 this year with a question: Do his revolutionary formulations have any relevance for the world, especially the developing part of it, any more? Or is classical Marxism dead and buried? But if the news of this burial is more in the nature of rumour, prematurely doing the rounds, there could be some profit for the human race – especially the submerged nine-tenth, in a manner of speaking, condemned to dehumanized despair in the ‘developing’ world – in revisiting the thoughts of one of the greatest Marxist revolutionaries who ever walked this earth.
Lev Davidovitch Bronstein (Trotsky) spent the last decade and a bit more of his life trying to reorient the international communist movement away from the suicidal course towards which the Soviet bureaucracy led by Stalin was taking it. This meant initially a struggle to reform the Communist International, and then a struggle to establish a new, Fourth International. We publish below a chapter from The Marxism of Leon Trotsky, by Kunal Chattopadhyay, dealing with the struggle for the Fourth International.





I.       Introduction

Never had times been so bleak for internationalism as in the 1930s.  The Soviet Union had disappeared behind an autarchic veil, secured by the OGPU and the great frame–ups.  Two Internationals had collapsed in the lifetime of a generation. Even the heritage of the enlightenment, Aufklarung and the French Revolution was besieged, as ultranationalist, racist and obscurantist ideologies gained ground.

When Trotsky was expelled from the USSR, he still had some adherents, and more admirers.  Few of the latter, however, were willing to following him in continuing the battle for world revolution.  It cost little to applaud him in abstract. But to take him seriously enough to stake everything on building up new communist parties and a new International required a tremendous faith in the regeneration of working class politics and a commitment to internationalism unshaken by the demise  –– and current anti–revolutionary roles –– of the two Internationals.

This gives us a measure of Trotsky’s stature as, above all, a revolutionary who fought, “with a passion, a tenacity, and a success such as few could rival”, to quote words spoken on the graveside of another revolutionary.[i] Such a claim would certainly be hotly contested –– from a number of considerations.  It would be claimed –– though today   with far less vigour and faith than in the past –– that Trotsky worked for the counter–revolutionaries.[ii] On the other side, there is the position of Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky’s great biographer. Deutscher concurred with Trotsky’s analysis of fascism and Stalinism, of the decline of revolutionary politics, only to prescribe withdrawal from active politics and the transformation of Marxism into a method for analysis of events and trends.[iii] One could say, despite Deutscher’s differences with them, that in this Deutscher stands as a forerunner of the current known as ‘Western Marxism’. Finally, it could be argued that Trotsky’s claims were pretentious, and led to little in terms of solid achievements. It will be the case of this essay that such an argument is erroneous.

Accepting that Marxism is theory and practice, it is still possible to question Trotsky’s ideas.   It can be asked, as J. Arch Getty has done, as to how far his failure to the recalled to Moscow led to the decision to form a new International.[iv] It can, on the other hand, be accepted that it was necessary to break with the Comintern, but then claim that since the Trotskyist movement was weak, not sufficiently implanted in the working class, the new International should not have been proclaimed. This proclamation, it can be claimed, was what so burdened the fledgling movement that it was stuck in a groove of ‘orthodoxy’ and practical incapacity.[v]

We must, therefore, explore, in order, the following issues:  why and how did Trotsky move towards a break with the Comintern; why did he, after so many warnings of his own, speed up the proclamation of the Fourth International; what was the political basis of the new organization; and what, if any, were the problems built the organisation. At each stage, we shall find that the evolution of world politics and especially of the Comintern had a close bearing on the shifts in Trotsky’s ideas.


II.      The Break With the Comintern

Between 1929 and early 1933, Trotsky repeatedly rejected any course towards founding a new International. He insisted that he was fighting for a reversal of the Comintern’s course.[vi] He rejected “the cry” for a Fourth International as “merely ridiculous.”[vii]

As late as 1932, Trotsky had written: “The Stalinists by their persecution would like to push us on the work of a second party and a forth international.  They understand that a fatal error of this type on the part of the Opposition would slow up its growth for years, if not nullify all its successes altogether.”[viii]

Yet less than a year later he was to concede that the German party was gone for good, and by July 1933 he was to call for a new international.  The parties of the Communist International  –– the world party founded as the indispensable instrument to achieve workers’ power worldwide  –– had degenerated beyond any scope of revival. From being a part of the solution to the crisis of humanity, they had become a part of the crisis. It was necessary to start again.

The necessary conclusions were drawn not without hesitation.  When Getty tries to score a point by showing that Trotsky called for the formation of a new party in Germany in April 1933, of a new international only in July 1933; for the use of force against Stalinism in the USSR only in October 1933,and a revolution as late as 1935 (The Revolution Betrayed), he shows a singular lack of sense.[ix] It would be difficult for any leader of a revolution, any founder of a mass movement, to accept its degeneration and turn against it –– calling for a supplementary revolution.  Moreover, Trotsky had to answer theoretical questions and move forward not alone, but with his organization.

Getty’s main thesis is that Trotsky had hopes of being recalled to Moscow.  It was a renewed capitulation by Zinoviev and Kamenev in May 1933, plus Moscow’s non–response to Trotsky’s  ‘secret letter’ of 15 March 1933, that forced him to break with the Comintern.[x]

For our purposes, however, a supplementary claim by Getty is more important.  It is the claim that the German debacle was not central to the change in front by Trotsky. (This follows, of course, from Getty’s claim about Trotsky’s real motivations).

We have already seen the importance placed on the German question by Trotsky.  Within his repeated insistence on fighting to revive the Comintern we can see again and again this theme: “ … [for the immediate future, though not forever] a victory of fascism in Germany would mean a break in the continuity of revolutionary development, collapse of the Comintern, and the triumph of world imperialism….”[xi]practically a new course began)  but that the worst-case  scenario had materialised. And if the Comintern had indeed collapsed, if the KPD had been driven to suicide, the communist task was to build anew. Consequently, the failure of the KPD to fight, and the Comintern’s defence of this line, meant not that Trotsky was breaking new ground theoretically (though of course

On 14th March, 1933, Trotsky wrote ‘The Tragedy of the German Proletariat: The German Workers will Rise Again –– Stalinism, Never!’[xii] This is a particularly important article, because in it, Trotsky does not only talk about the need for a new party. He also shows how, within the ultraleftism of “Third Period” Stalinism, there existed the class collaborationist and liquidationist policy of an earlier period. This collaborationist policy would bloom again, in due season. Trotsky’s critique of Stalinism is very often abused by non–Trotskyists, and at times by Trotskyists, who fail to see the dialectical character of this critique, and therefore fail to see why Trotsky was equally implacably hostile to the popular frontism and liquidationism of the 7th Congress of the Comintern. This has a strong relevance for the present. As the pressure of a resurgent imperialism mounted after 1989-91, many forces, even on the non-Stalinist left, tended to succumb to similar illusions. Thus, the PT, led by its historic leader, Luis Ignacio da Silva, won elections in Brazil and Lula became president in a classic popular front, with a bourgeois vice president and bourgeois ministers in key economic positions. The PT left wing was restive, with Senator Heloisa Helena in particular throwing down the gauntlet. But important sections of the left also decided to give Lula a space, and as a result, Trotskyists and others also joined the cabinet. Yet, both in 1933, and later, during the Spanish Civil War and the French upsurge of 1936, Trotsky argued why any governmental alliance with the bourgeoisie was going to be a disaster and a betrayal of working class interests. Te response to these arguments in the present day world by those who defend joining such governments is simply a rejection of theory, of the sort that says: “what someone said fifty years ago cannot be cited to oppose adapting to current realities”. Every effort to look at the experience of history is rejected by such leftists on the road to ideological dilution as dogmatism.

It also follows, that for Trotsky, forming a new party was not something to be done out of pique. Only if objective circumstances dictated such a course would he accept it. This is the central message of the article under discussion. “About eighteen months ago, we wrote that the key to the situation is in the hands of the German Communist Party. The Stalinist bureaucracy has now let this key fall from its hands.”[xiii]

But was this clear to all? This was what Trotsky wanted to gauge -- not passively, but by confronting communists everywhere with his alternative. Hence the slight obscurity in the title –– no clear statement as to the links between the party to be built up and the party that had been sold down the river. The conclusion of the article shows that it was a call to members of the International to rethink: “The law of uneven development acts also upon in different stages of decomposition. To what degree the tragic experience of Germany will serve as a stimulus to the rebirth of the other sections of the Comintern the future will show. In Germany, in any case the swan song of the Stalinist bureaucracy has been sung.”[xiv]

Trotsky’s secretary Jean Van Heijenoort has related that nearly two weeks earlier, on 2nd March, Trotsky had already told Heijenoort something along the following lines: “I am certain that, if Hitler remains at the helm in Germany and the party collapses, then a new party will have to be built.”[xv]

On 12th March, Trotsky wrote an internal letter for the left opposition. It is sharper that the public essay of the 14th. He wrote that the KPD had become a corpse. Reform of a dead party was not possible. “The question of preparing for the creation of a new party must be posed openly.”[xvi] The cautious phrasing should be noted. This was no ultraleft rhetoric about “we” being the true party. Trotsky was not likely to underestimate the role of theory. But he knew well that no programme could exist ready-made, without constant inputs from working class practice. So he wrote “The turn obviously does not consist in “proclaiming” ourselves the new party. There can be no question of that. But we declare the following: “The official German party is politically liquidated, it cannot be reborn. The vanguard of the German workers must build a new party. We Bolshevik–Leninists offer them our collaboration.”[xvii]

As a split with the Stalinists in Germany raised the question of a split generally, Trotsky also turned to this issue. A problem was however created, in his writings of this period, by the conflation of two issues –– splitting the Comintern and defending the USSR. We saw in an earlier chapter that for many years, Trotsky remained stuck in the one party rule formula. He therefore made a series of equations which were to subsequently plague him, and after him, the world Trotskyist movement. As he wrote in a programmatic statement: “This question is put more clearly and more sharply in the USSR than anywhere else. The policy of a second party there would mean a policy of armed insurrection and a new revolution. The policy of the faction means steering a course toward internal reform of the party and the workers’ state.”[xviii] But since the Stalinists controlled the entire Comintern, what was the Left Opposition to do? Trotsky did not, pace Getty, bank of Stalinist Stalwarts suddenly donning revolutionary garbs. What he hoped was that the very magnitude of the disaster might provoke rebellion in the Comintern ranks.(However, the assertion that the call for a second party meant a call for an insurrection would lead to many Trotskyists rejecting the call for a second party or for openly campaigning for a multiparty democracy in Cuba at various times).

An objection at this point can take the form of saying that in times of defeat, workers don’t stream out of old organizations into a new and untested one, whatever its revolutionary claims. To this Trotsky’s reply was that he wanted to reorganise the vanguard. There was no scope of immediately mobilising millions of workers. But the communist parties had been built, by and large, at a higher theoretical level than the best of the pre–war Social Democratic parties. So it was not all that wild a hope that sizeable segments would break away. Therefore, Trotsky wrote: “In my opinion it would be incorrect to give a rigid answer –– yes, we break with them. The collapse of the KPD diminishes the chances for the regeneration of the Comintern. But on the other hand the catastrophe itself could provoke a healthy reaction in some of the sections. We must be ready to help this process. The question has not been settled for the USSR, where proclamation of the slogan of the second party would be incorrect. We are calling today for the creation of a new party in Germany, to seize the Comintern from the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy. It is not a question of the creation of the Fourth International but of salvaging the Third.”[xix]

Leaving aside for the moment the question of the Soviet Union, then, the main objection for calling for a new international was the hope that the Third might be salvaged. The April 1933 resolution of ECCI Presidium, and the failure of any significant section of the Comintern to protest against the abysmal “theory”, forced Trotsky to conclude that the whole International had to be refounded. It seems that only in Germany was there series opposition. Heinz Neumann had been moving towards an oppositionist (though not Trotskyist) position since 1931.[xx] Even Remmele, who had been on the receiving end of many of Trotsky’s attacks, had reservations. At the 13th Plenary Session of the ECCI, in December 1933, it was claimed that he had been opposing Thaelmann’s line since 1932. He had also advocated armed insurrection in response to Hitler’s seizure of power.[xxi]

But by and large, Comintern “discipline” held the forces together. Two reasons may be put forward. On one hand, where even Trotsky was making the error of linking second party and revolution in the USSR together, the mass of communists may be expected to feel that opposition to the CPSU leadership, and hence, through them, the Comintern, was not possible, however unfortunate such a situation might be. Even the rebels in their rebellion felt themselves to be heretics rather than open challengers for leadership.

Secondly, of course, the same process that had killed the CPSU had also affected all Comintern parties. Independent–minded leaders had been repeatedly purged. The newer crop of “leaders” was dependent on reflected glory from Moscow. The ranks had been diluted by constant miseducation.

Trotsky was therefore to move towards a total break. But at the same time, a new question came up. Heijenoort says that though Trotsky favoured a new orientation from April, he was unsure about the name to be taken, on the ground that “When we broke with the Second International, we changed our theoretical foundations. Now, no; we remain based on the first four Congresses. We could also proclaim: the Communist International is us.”[xxii]

The internal discussion came out in the open by April, as the U.S. Trotskyist paper Militant published an article by Trotsky. The article noted the existence of a fairly large group, including among German comrades, who wanted a continuation of the old course. Trotsky’s most important comment was perhaps: “In what concerns the essence of the objections themselves, I cannot agree with them although I can understand them psychologically.”[xxiii]

Trotsky strove to explain to his comrades in the International Left Opposition that Hitler’s conquest of power, and the liquidation, within weeks, of every kind of independent working class organisation, had radically changed the situation. Upto March 5, 1933, the KPD still had “a centralized apparatus, tens of newspapers, thousands of units, tens of thousands of members, millions of votes. We declared ourselves a part of this party…. Not for the sake of the Stalinist apparatus but for the sake of the lower units…. Now, when the official apparatus, found by ultimatism and illegality, must transform itself completely into a Stalinist agency, there can be no thought of influencing it through the lower strata from which it is completely cut off.”[xxiv]

The nub of the question was the relation of forces. Hitler’s victory had not automatically increased the strength of the Left Opposition. Trotsky did not deny it. He admitted that “Today, as yesterday, our main task is to form cadres”.[xxv] But cadres, i.e., the core of a revolutionary party, comparable to, say, the Social Democrats of Russia in 1904–5, cannot be formed without a programme. The programme may be amended subsequently, but to start with, the advanced workers’ outlook must fuse with the given level of theory.

This was not possible unless one engaged in party building as a concrete process. Even earlier, he had argued that fighting for reform of the old party did not mean confining oneself to Stalinist legality. “Today, under the conditions of the split, our adherence to the Communist International cannot be expressed by organizational self–limitation, by refusal to assume independent political initiative and to engage in mass work, but must be expressed by the content of our policy.”[xxvi] So the difference lay not at all in propagandism vs mass work. Even more, building cadres did not mean, at any stage whatsoever, simply or mainly, organizing study circles, party schools, etc. The school where cadres are taught is the school of class struggle, as Trotsky pointed out at all times. When counter–revolution was forcing the best cadres of the old party to question their leaders, sticking to the old course was an error of huge magnitude. “The Brandlerites, as is reported, are already calling for a new party; this shows that, although opportunistic, they are politicians. If we, with our revolutionary platform, should prove ourselves doctrinaire, then opportunistic politicians will always succeed in pushing us aside.”[xxvii]

However, Trotsky dithered on the question of the international. Alternately, he may have had to cope with a great deal of opposition.  But by July, he was insisting that the Comintern as a whole was a rotten tree that had to be chopped down. Moreover, because of the immeasurable prestige it enjoyed through its association with the only surviving workers’ state, even revolutionary workers were disarmed before it, as they were not before the Social Democracy.

Two articles summarized Trotsky’s position.  A brief review of these two will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘new Trotskyism’.  Prior to the German debacle, he wrote, “the masses were waiting in the critical moment for the political leadership of their old organizations.”[xxviii] Now, however, the situation had changed. Events since 5th March, 1933, had shown that in Germany, the fate of the entire Comintern had been decided.  Politically, the Comintern was dead. And yet, Trotsky warned, this fact, while imposing imperiously the duty of building a new world party, slowed down the process of such construction. “A revolutionary tendency cannot score stromy victories at a time when the proletariat as a whole is suffering the greatest defeats.  But this is no justification for letting one’s hands hang.  Precisely in the periods of revolutionary ebb tide are cadres formed and tempered which will later be called upon to lead the masses in the new assult.”[xxix]

Having said this, he was forced to hold out the hope of a relatively faster growth.   From the necessity of a new organization of the vanguard, he moved to assert that its necessary prerequisites were being provided.[xxx] The tension between the realism of the analyst and the ‘one-foot-in-utopia’ attitude of the revolutionary politician here went beyond the point of containment.  In later years, it did at times, distort his perspective and lead to absurd propositions, such as the illusion of a rapid growth of the Fourth International in war–time.

Regarding the USSR, a first important step forward lay in the admission that the “CPSU is not a party”[xxxi] [i.e., not a workers’ party – K. C].  But he went on making a false analogy with Thermidor.

In the second article, cast in the form of a dialogue, he wrote that “To speak  now of   the “reform”  of the CPSU  would  mean to look backward and not forward ….”[xxxii] But still, revolution was not on the agenda.  The new party was the instrument of reform of the USSR.[xxxiii]

Responding to doubts that he was overestimating the forces on his side and therefore moving to an adventurist course, he wrote: “It would be pure adventurism if we were to “Proclaim” that our present organization is the Communist International…. It is impossible to “proclaim” a new International: the perspective as yet is still to build it. But one can and should, from today on, proclaim the necessity of creating a new International.”[xxxiv]

To sum up: Trotsky’s perspective was resolutely internationalist. In a polemic with the Prometeo group, he argued that building a national party first, and then building the international, was a false perspective. From the Communist league and the Manifesto through the Communist International, the proletarian internationalist task was one of simultaneously building a national and an international organisation. In a polemical vein he wrote that if there were five communists in the world they would still have to adopt this perspective. It was possible for a revolutionary proletarian tendency to arise in one or another country, but it could not thrive and develop in one isolated country. A guarantee of the correctness of the national policy could exist only when a proper international orientation existed. A tendency, which remained shut in nationally over a stretch of years, condemned itself irrevocably to degeneration.[xxxv]

This passage is cited by Duncan Hallas in order to decry the foundation of the Fourth International.  According to Hallas, the Communist Manifesto was written for essentially a national organization, the First International developed on the opposite lines of the Communist League, etc.  As a matter of fact, the Manifesto, written on behalf of the Communist League, looked beyond it to a whole international tendency. The first International and the League were certainly different, but in the days of the League, there was already a growing international linkage (with the English and the French left in particular).  The programme of the First International was less precise, but that too spoke of the self-emancipation of the working class.

The real objection lies elsewhere. Can an international party be proclaimed without first building strong national sections?  If the question is posed in this way, Trotsky can be faulted for at all trying to build an international.  His real vocation should have been, by this logic, to provide an analysis of political trends in the USR, and in imperialism, and let Trotskyists implant themselves in working class politics with those analyses in one or more country, and build national parties. To this we shall return below.


III.    Stalinism and Revolution

Trotsky repeatedly claimed that in the case of the rupture with the Third International, at stake was not breaking with the political foundations but returning to them. Yet this was an incomplete and in part misleading claim.  Integral to the political foundations of the Fourth International was the struggle against Stalinism.  This involved two issues.  The first was a re–evaluation of the nature of the USSR. The other issue was the transformation of the Comintern. Both were related, but for analytical purposes we must separate them.

The problem of the earlier analysis of Stalinism has already been commented on.  Trotsky saw Stalinism as “bureaucratic centrism”, standing between the Left Opposition and the Bukharinist Right with its kulak–NEPmen following. Moreover, he saw the Plan as a bureaucratic response of the workers’ state to a restorationist threat.  Finally, using the Thermidor analogy, he claimed repeatedly that the Thermidoreans were the restorationists, while the bureaucracy, though it paved the way for the Thermidoreans, was itself distinct from them. Politically, the tasks that flowed out of this were the need to struggle energetically for reforms, and the defence of the gains of the October Revolution.  Even as Trotsky began revising his assessment of the KPD and the Comintern he reaffirmed the old course in the Soviet Union.  Parenthetically speaking, this is where Getty stumbles. On 15th March 1933, Getty writes, Trotsky wrote a ‘secret letter’ to the CPSU. The letter was an offer to return to the USSR.  On  10th May he added an explanation which served notice that he would take the letter to lower ranks.  As a matter of fact, on 3 March Trotsky wrote a long article, ‘Alarm Signal’ where an offer was again made for a united front. The article was double edged.  It offered conditional support to the existing rulers, and at the same time, distrusting them, it appealed, not only to the workers, but also the lower ranks of the bureaucracy.  “The slogan “Down with Stalin!”  may be understood,  and inevitably would be understood, as a slogan for the overthrow of the  faction now in power, and even  more ---  the overthrow of the apparatus.  But we do not want to overthrow the system but to reform it by the efforts of the best proletarian elements.  Of course, an end must be put to the Bonapartist regime of a single leader….  But what matters is not the expulsion of individuals but the change in the system…. Revenge is not a political sentiment….We are motivated by considerations  of revolutionary expediency ….”[xxxvi]

The letter to the Politburo followed the same line of argument.  In fact, reading the letter, it is impossible to find any plea to be restored to power. What it says is that “The Left Opposition –– of this I have no doubt  –– will be willing to offer the Central Committee full cooperation in returning the party to the track of normal existence …”[xxxvii] This was not a personal plea. Trotsky acknowledged that “The Left Opposition has its own program…. Naturally there can be no question of renouncing this program…”[xxxviii] Even before he made the contents of the letter public, Trotsky wrote another article in the Byulleten Oppozitsii, which explained the contents of the letter.[xxxix]

From late 1933, Trotsky slowly began to revise his position. The revision consisted of disentangling the struggle for workers’ democracy in the Soviet Union from the Thermidor analogy. In “The Class Nature of the USSR”, he affirmed that the USSR remained a workers’ state, and so historically progressive not so much for what its current leaders were doing but due to the impulse given by the October Revolution.[xl]

In early 1935, he wrote an essay in clarification and self–criticism. This was ‘The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism’. In it he admitted that “the analogy of Thermidor served to becloud rather than to clarify the question”[xli] The error lay in assuming that Thermidor –– the original Thermidor –– was in any way a social counter–revolution, i.e., a starting point for the restoration of feudalism. In fact, of course, Thermidor brought about a political shift to the right within the same bourgeois order. So Thermidor, in the revised theory, was to mean a reaction on the political foundation of the revolution. The Thermidoreans, or for that matter their heirs, including and up to Napoleon, had a dual characteristic. From the viewpoint of the fighters on the barricades, the revolutionaries of the first wave, they were reactionaries, ‘most unambitious slaves’ who did ‘dance and revel on the grave of Liberty’. Yet, as the united hostility of old Europe showed, ‘virtue owns a more eternal foe’ than the worst of Bonapartist despotism: ‘old Custom, legal Crime, and bloody Faith’.[xlii] With the more sober passion of an older revolutionary, Trotsky denounced Stalinism in almost identical terms. He urged the workers of the world to hate Stalinism as a tyrannical, totalitarian despotism that had donned the stolen mask of socialism, but urged them to realise that when the capitalist world hated even the degenerated USSR as the living embodiment of the revolution, it was correct according to its standards.

Trotsky now presented a revised chronology, “The smashing of the Left Opposition”, he wrote, “implied in the most direct and immediate sense the transfer of power from the hands of the revolutionary vanguard into the hands of the more conservative elements among the bureaucracy and the upper crust of the working class. The year 1924 –– that was the beginning of the Soviet Thermidor.”[xliii] Returning to an oft-repeated theme, he showed how the personnel at the top had changed. More and more, those who had been Mensheviks, SRs, and the like, and who therefore knew a little Marxist or socialist jargon but were steeped in petty–bourgeois prejudice had replaced old revolutionaries. Dissecting for posterity one such specimen, he wrote that in Lenin’s 1917 writings, the phrase “Zaslavsky and other scoundrels like him” appears as a refrain, while in 1934, “he defends Stalinism from the counterrevolutionists Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev.”[xliv]

More than personnel, it was a matter of the kind of state, the kind of society being built. And that was where the analogy had to be brought to a halt. Once feudal political power was broken, and capitalist production could grow unchecked, restoration of the monarchy could no longer mean restoration of feudalism. “In contradistinction to capitalism, socialism is built not automatically but consciously[xlv] So, even while Trotsky conceded that the factual bureaucratic dictatorship could be called, sociologically speaking, an extremely degenerated form of the proletariat, he insisted that all the forms did not equally guarantee a transition to communism. The regime of Stalin was a regime of Red Bonapartism. But while Napoleon I’s Bonapartism guarded one exploiting class against another and at the same time consolidated the bourgeois revolution despite the liquidation of its democratic political institutions, Stalin’s Bonapartism (or a bureaucratic regime of proletarian origin that stood vis-à-vis the proletariat as Bonapartism had stood vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie) could not consolidate the revolution. Indeed, “the Bonapartist degeneration of the dictatorship represents the direct and immediate threat to all the social conquests of the proletariat.”[xlvi]

The final product of this line of reasoning was The Revolution Betrayed, which remains the most important theoretical work to grapple with the problem of degeneration of a post–revolutionary society. As Miliband wrote decades back (and little has changed since then) “There has not really been very much, beyond Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed of forty years ago, by way of Marxist attempts to theorize the experience of Stalinism.”[xlvii] The only significant effort, in fact, is the Trotskyist updating by Ernest Mandel.

The aim of the book was to define the nature of the USSR and its dynamic (the subtitle was What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going?). Point-by-point, he tackled what he often called “official theory”, and showed that all it offered were sophistries and empty syllogisms, in an attempt to prettify the totalitarian regime. He insisted that statisation was not identical to the socialisation of the means of production. And hence, he flatly denied the claim that the USSR was in any sense a socialist society. It was a society in transition from capitalism to socialism, and the bridge on which it now stood stretched a long distance ahead. “In order to become social, private property must as inevitably pass through the state stage as the caterpillar in order to become a butterfly must pass through the pupal stage. But the pupa is not a butterfly…. State properly is converted into socialist property in proportion as it ceases to be state property. And the contrary is true: the higher the Soviet state rises above the people, and the more fiercely it oppose itself as the guardian of property to the people as its squanderer, the more obviously does it testify against the socialist character of this state property.”[xlviii]

From this, Trotsky did not proceed, as others had done, to immediately conclude either that a new bureaucratic class had come to power, or that “state capitalism” had been established. Instead, he argued that reality was complex, and should be viewed in its complexity, not for academic accuracy that was devoid of political content, but in order to establish proper programmatic goals.

Though there have appeared many criticisms of Trotsky on this score, his basic arguments have been hardly demolished. He correctly pointed out that though the bureaucracy gained chiefly on the distribution side, there was a ‘dialectic of interaction’[xlix] between production and distribution. “The means of production belong to the state. But the state, so to speak “belongs” to the bureaucracy. If these as yet wholly new relations should solidify, become the norm and be legalized, whether with or without resistance from the workers, they would, in the long run, lead to a complete liquidation of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution.”[l]

Though, as he said, the book was not a statistical compendium, enough data was cited to show how massively inequality had grown. The idea of workers’ self–management had been shattered, and workers were now the underlings of a new “corps of slave drivers.”[li]

But all this, and the necessary moral indignation that this should have provoked in a communist, was not to lead, Trotsky insisted, to some overhasty generalisation. Discussing the nature of the state, he showed it had deviated far from the programmatic norms -- of a programme worked out not a priori but on the basis of the historical experience of class struggles stretching from Babeuf to the Russian Revolution -- in the hypertrophy of the state and the skewed distribution enforced by the state itself. The role of the state was shown by the constitution. “The Soviet state in all its relations is far closer to backward capitalism than to communism. It cannot yet even think of endowing each “according to his needs”. But for this very reason it cannot permit its citizens to work “according to their abilities.” It finds itself obliged to keep in force the system of piecework payment…. Instead of frankly acknowledging that bourgeois norms of labour and distribution still prevail in the Soviet Union, the authors of the constitution have cut this integral Communist principle in the two halves, postponed the second half to an indefinite future, declared the first half already realized, mechanically hitched on to it the capitalist norm of piecework payment, named the whole thing “principle of Socialism”, and upon this falsification erected the structure of their constitution.”[lii]

The actual state was, Trotsky said, being changed by the juridical liquidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.[liii] The anti–democratic nature of the state was asserted.[liv] In a long discussion, he showed that without a multiplicity of parties, the promise of socialist democracy was a vulgar joke at the expense of the downtrodden.[lv] This remains the sole classical Marxist statement since the Russian revolution’s decline that is unambiguous on this point.[lvi]

Despite all this, he insisted time and again, the bureaucracy was not a class. “Classes are characterized by their position in the social system of economy, and primarily by their relation to the means of production. In civilised societies, property relations are validated by laws. The nationalisation of the land, the means of industrial production, transport and exchange, together with the monopoly of foreign trade, constitute the basis of the Soviet Social structure. Through these relations, established by the proletarian revolution, the nature of the Soviet Union as a proletarian state is for us basically defined.”[lvii]

Trotsky was not arguing that a check–list of rules by themselves made up the proletarian state. No. This check–list was valid only as the boundary created by a workers’ revolution. Its continued existence showed that the work of the revolution had not yet been wholly undone. Failing to understand this argument, Tony Cliff has ascribed to Trotsky’s ‘definition’ of the (or all) workers’ state an ahistoricity that is absent in reality.[lviii]

Basically, Cliff insists on a full correspondence between content and form in a workers’ state. The problem with such a theory is that it is itself normative and ahistoric, and hence a prey to critics further to the “left”, which end up by arguing that the October Revolution itself was a coup, and the existence of even the Sovnarkom was proof of the non-proletariann nature of the regime.[lix]

So according to Trotsky, the state remained a workers’ state, but terribly deformed. In the chapter entitled ‘The Soviet Thermidor’, he sought to explain again how this had happened. The reasoning was complex, and avoided both the thesis that Stalinism was inevitable, was rooted in Bolshevism, in Russia’s entire past, etc., except as a partial explanation is so far as the last point is concerned; and the thesis that Stalin’s victory was only the victory of the shrewder tactician vis-à-vis the inferior opponents. “A political struggle in its essence a struggle of interests and forces, not of arguments.”[lx]

Within this complex reasoning, one striking self-criticism stands out. The ban on the opposition parties, he wrote, was “obviously in conflict with the spirit of Soviet Democracy”,[lxi] and claimed that the Bolshevik leaders had “regard [this ban] not as a principle, but as an episodic act of self-defence.”[lxii]

What he now saw, and characteristically admitted, was that there had been too many unthinking ‘emergency’ measures, leading to a deformation at an early age. “We are far from intending to contrast the abstraction of dictatorship with the abstraction of democracy, and weigh their merits on the scales of pure reason …. The dictatorship of the Bolshevik party proved one of the most powerful instruments of progress in history. But here too, in the words of the poet, “Reason becomes unreason, kindness a pest.” The prohibition of oppositional parties brought after it the prohibition of factions. The prohibition of factions ended in a prohibition to think otherwise than the infallible leaders.”[lxiii]

Without this self-criticism, the next step – making the legalisation of all soviet parties a part of the programme – would be impossible.

So how did Trotsky characterise the bureaucracy? Unlike other bureaucracies, it did not serve one class and live off the production by another. The proletariat was both socially dominant and politically prostrate. Unlike a real ruling class, the bureaucracy had no independent ideology. Its whole existence was justified functionally. It’s battening down represented, not the rule by a new class but a social parasitism.

Trotsky gave no single sentence definition. But the whole book is centrally about this theme. The contradictions in the USSR were piling up. The bureaucracy, having obtained privilege, was trying to legalise and perpetuate this privilege. For the moment, the bureaucracy did not rest on its own class foundations. What was as important was a subordinate line thrown out by Trotsky. Here, as well as elsewhere, he constantly called the bureaucracy ‘caste’. The suggestion is that unlike a class (e.g., the bourgeoisie) in modern society, the bureaucracy had certain peculiarities. It depended on its membership of a politico-ideological order. To gain privilege, to be a bureaucrat, one rose through the ranks of the party.[lxiv]

One reason why Trotsky objected so strongly to all “new class” notions was the damage it would do to historical materialism. If all classes have roots in the production process, how in the old society, did a Communist party become the basis for the new class? Moreover, was the class-struggle worldwide going take on a new, tripolar basis?

As for the other alternative, USSR was not “state capitalist” either. As Trotsky wrote: “The bureaucracy has neither stocks nor bonds. It is recruited, supplemented and renewed in the manner of an administrative hierarchy, independently of any special property relations of its own. The individual bureaucrat cannot transmit to his heirs his rights in the exploitation of the state apparatus. The bureaucracy enjoys its privileges under the form of an abuse of power.”[lxv]

History’s verdict has lain with Trotsky, and not his critics. Let us look at his final summation, and at the evocation of models of growth. In a long definition he wrote: “The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrollable caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces both on the national and the world arena. …. In our analysis, we have above all avoided doing violence to dynamic social formations which have had no precedent and have no analogies. The scientific task, as well as the political, is not to give a finished definition to an unfinished process, but to follow all its stages, separate its progressive from its reactionary tendencies, expose their mutual relations, foresee possible variants of development, and find in this foresight a basis for action.”[lxvi]

Even the route to be travelled was better told by Trotsky. For Cliff and his adherents, the East European events are a case of one kind of capitalism changing into another. If so, why this jubilation now, among capitalists world-wide? Trotsky, on the contrary, had predicted that the victory of the counterrevolution, including through the solidification of the bureaucracy, would mean the collapse of the planned economy, and the abolition of state property. But the return to capitalism in an imperialism-infested world would mean [as in today’s Russia] a “decline of industry and culture”.[lxvii]

So to build socialism, a supplementary anti-bureaucratic revolution was essential. The agenda was broadened to include this. This strategy of an anti-bureaucratic revolution was a vital programmatic development, one of Trotsky’s greatest legacies, along with the whole struggle that he waged, since 1923, to halt the degeneration.[lxviii]

IV.     The Liquidation of the Comintern

Though Trotsky called for a Fourth International in 1933, he did not immediately proclaim it. He repeatedly argued that it could only be built slowly, by an accumulation of cadres. But the centrist formations that he tried to win over by and large proved to be incapable of understanding either the need for an international party or for theoretical solidity.

From 1936, there appeared a certain pressure, a demand that the International be proclaimed. This had ill effects, to be discussed below. But why did Trotsky do it? It would appear that the imminence of war and the 7th Comintern Congress with its liquidationist politics greatly influenced him.

Hitler’s victory did not lead to an immediate united front. Till mid-1934, the Comintern continued blithely along the old path. Then, after having participated in the right-wing and royalist demonstration of 6 February 1934,[lxix] the French CP carried out a volte face. On 12 February the French working class responded to the rightists by a one-day general strike. The idea of a workers’ united front grew. Trotsky, then in France, drafted in collaboration with French cothinkers ‘A Program of Action for France’.

This was an attempt to put forward an action programme, and through it, to reach out to the proletarian masses. This was a kind of transitional programme, intended as a step to the revolutionisation of the workers.

The Stalinists, however, responded in a completely different manner. Already, a short-term panicky gesture of 5th March 1933 had seen the ECCI swing to the opportunist extreme, offering a united front and saying that if two conditions (organising joint defence and struggle for economic elements) were met, “the ECCI considers it possible to recommend the communist parties to refrain, for the period of the common struggle, … from attacks on social democratic organisations.”[lxx]

At that time, Trotsky had denounced this as the beginning of a capitulationist strategy. Though the Comintern soon withdrew this line, it was clear that in future, calls for a united front would be distorted in the rightist direction as well as the “left” one (“non-aggression” as well as “united front from below”).

At the Ivry Congress of the French Communist Party, the united front line was endorsed. Soon after, Soviet diplomacy made a major turnabout. On May 2, 1935, the announcement of a Franco-Soviet nonaggression pact was made in Moscow. On May 15, a final communiqué was issued at the end of Laval’s conferences with Stalin, Litvinov and Molotov. It stated: “They were wholly in agreement about recognizing, in the present state of the international situation, the obligations that force themselves upon the governments sincerely dedicated to safeguarding the peace and which have clearly demonstrated this desire for peace by their participation in every search for mutual guarantees, precisely in the interest of preserving peace. Duty first of all obligates them not to weaken in any way their means of national defence. In this respect Mr. Stalin understands and fully approves of the policy of national defence made by France in order to keep its armed strength at the level of security.”[lxxi]

Stalin’s participation, and the use of his name in the communiqué, gave a special twist to it, for he was the leader of the party, not of the state. Whatever the reality, so far this distinction had been made in practice. So Stalin’s understanding implied an instruction to the French Communist Party. The PCF, which had only recently called the French government fascist, promptly turned a somersault. Thorez declared: “The peace policy of the Soviet Government is in conformity with the historic instructions of Lenin; it is firmly conducted by Stalin; it corresponds to the interests of the international proletariat … there is, for the moment, a correspondence of interest between bourgeois France and the Soviet Union against Hitler.”[lxxii]

Trotsky’s immediate riposte was an article entitled ‘Stalin has signed the Death Certificate of the Third International’. Comparing the pact with the Brest-Litovsk peace, Trotsky pointed out that since the recent pact was being hailed as a victory, “Should, then, the Communist and Socialists vote in parliament [in France] for the ratification of the Franco-Soviet agreement?”[lxxiii] Such a vote, he pointed out; would be a vote of confidence on the right-wing Flandin-Laval government. And he went on to make the prediction that having shifted from anti-patriotism and an outright hostility to one’s own bourgeoisie, Thorez and Co. would find it impossible to stop midway. “Today we are told, ‘with throbbing hearts we shall make common cause with our bourgeoisie in the defence of the USSR’ …. The very same people will be obliged to proclaim, ‘with throbbing hearts we shall make common cause with our bourgeoisie to defend our people against the barbarism of Hitler, because the French people has the right to call for the same sacrifices on the part of its heroes as the Russian people.’

There is nothing new in the new position of the Communist Party. It is social patriotism.”[lxxiv]

Trotsky anticipated the coming line of argument: the main danger stems from fascism, so it was necessary to make a bloc against it. He conceded that such an approach could, within limits, define the cause of Soviet foreign policy. But it could not be communist party policy. War was being prepared by the contradictions of capitalism, and exclusively relating war with fascism would be to repeat the social patriotic errors of the last war. “Have we forgotton that revolutionary activity during the last war considered precisely in denouncing the propaganda of the allies who spoke in the name of democracy against the Prussian junkers and the Hohen-Zollerns?”[lxxv] He predicted that when war broke out, this line would lead to a subordination of the French workers to the French imperialist bourgeoise on the plea of saving democracy or the USSR.

Not only would such a submission weaken and ideologically disarm the French working class, but it would enable Hitler to stand before the German working class with the slogan of racial or national unity in a racial/national struggle. Stalinism was therefore now a greater enemy (since unexpected and possessing the mantle of Bolshevism) than reformism.[lxxvi]

“When we, the Bolshevik-Leninists, began our struggle against the theory of socialism in one country, it may have seemed that only an academic question was under discussion. Today the historical function of this formula may be clearly seen: its task is the severing of the fate of the USSR from the fate of the world proletariat…. And it is precisely at the moment when the war danger threatens the state founded by the October Revolution that the government of the USSR draws the final conclusions from the theory of socialism in one country, prostituting the ABC of Marxism and degrading the Comintern to the role played by Scheidemann, Noske, Renaudel, Vandervelde and Co.”[lxxvii]

It was this, what Trotsky considered to be an open, definitive and irrevocable crossing of the class lines that prompted him to speed up the work of founding the new international. The entries in his personal diary reflect the same concern. In June 1935, he wrote: “Two years ago, l’Humanite used to harp daily: “The Fascist Daladier has called the social fascist Trotsky to France in order to organize, with his assistance, a military intervention against the USSR.”…. Today, as everybody knows, these gentlemen have made an antifascist “People’s Front’ with the “fascist” Daladier …. Right now, Messrs. Calumniators are beginning to say … that the policy of Trotsky and the Bolshevik-Leninists performs a service … to Hitler.”[lxxviii] This was reminiscent of the previous war, when Trotsky was sentenced in absentia for Lese majesty in Germany and accused of being a German agent in France.

“The Stalinists actually stand at the extreme right wing of the working class movement, and to the extent that they continue to drape themselves with the authority of the October Revolution, they are immeasurably more harmful than the old, traditional opportunists.”[lxxix]

On the same day, he wrote to the International Secretariat of the International Communist League that “It is absolutely essential to speed up the preparatory work for the Fourth International.”[lxxx]

The accuracy of Trotsky’s analysis of the evolution of the Comintern could be seen at the Seventh Congress. In closing the Congress, Dimitrov said: “At this congress we have adopted a course for the formation of a single mass political party of the working class, for putting an end to the political split in the ranks of the proletariat, a split caused by the class-collaboration policy of social democracy.”[lxxxi]

Communist parties were now to become “responsible” parties. Manuilsky explained that “the Communist parties had to abandon their old propagandist view that they represented the militant revolutionary opposition in the working class, while disclaiming responsibility for what happened.”[lxxxii]

The continuity between the old and the new lines was explained by Wilhelm Pieck, who even now claimed that the KPD’s error had been “to dissociate itself from the social-democratic workers”[lxxxiii] --- i.e., asserting that calling Hermann Muller and Otto Braun, Wels and Leipart, fascists had not been an error, not calling for a proper united front had not been an error.

The World Congress resolution on the work of the ECCI began to openly liquidate the International. Initially, the International had been founded as a world party. Then it had declined, and had become a tool of Stalinism. But once the line of collaborating with one’s ‘own’ bourgeoisie became the norm, direct control was more and more unfeasible (which does not mean that Moscow ceased to exert control through its hand on the purse-strings, and by other means). Moreover, once the unity of the world revolution was negated at the realm of theory, steady global coordination was of course unnecessary. So the resolution stated that henceforth the ECCI should avoid direct intervention in national parties.[lxxxiv] Of course, this was also due to the success, as Manuilsky said, in building up reliable cadres, for “a Bolshevik Stalinist guard has grown up.”[lxxxv]

A long discussion on fascism, working class unity and the tasks of the Comintern produced the main political plank for liquidationism. In the name of fighting fascism, a swing from ultraleftism to ultrarightism was made, as in India, where the old (2nd Congress) distinction between national revolutionaries and reformists was rejected. In his speech, Dimitrov again said: “The interests of the class struggle demanded a single party of the proletariat in each country”. It is true that he also said that “unity was impossible unless the socialists recognized the necessity for the revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois rule and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship ….”[lxxxvi] Stalinists on the would-be left could quote this. But this was a necessary cover-up for liquidationism.The splits in international Social Democracy had occurred because of the division between revolutionary and reformist politics. To call on the socialists at this stage, when more years had passed to unite on the basis of a revolutionary programme was farcical. Rather, this showed a willingness to accept their words in good faith beyond necessary limits.    Also, for the first time, communist participation in governments in bourgeois states (not in states in the process of dissolution, as indicated by the ‘Workers’ Government’ formula of the early Comintern) was discussed.[lxxxvii]

Finally, there was a total reappraisal of the question of war. The indefatigable Manuilsky said, in course of a single speech: “Many people believe that by our attitude to the united front with the social-democrats we are …. Deviating from Stalin’s theory that fascism and social-democracy are not antipodes but twins …. By its entire policy of class collaboration social democracy paved the way for fascism and demonstrated the correctness of the thesis …. Now the threat of war divided all classes, peoples and states into two camps – the camps of war and of peace.[lxxxviii]

On August 23, 1935, Trotsky wrote for the Byulleten Oppozitsii the article ‘The Comintern’s Liquidation Congress.’[lxxxix] The main lessons that he tried to highlight were the need for a separate revolutionary party, the need to oppose campism, the distinction between a proletarian united front and a multi-class bloc with the “democratic” bourgeoisie. Harking back to the split with the Second and the foundation of the Third International, he wrote: “To achieve a militant alliance of the proletariat with the petty bourgeoisie, he [Lenin] considered it necessary in the first place to purge the workers’ ranks of reformists, and secondly to free the small people of town and country from the influence of bourgeois democracy. A parliamentary coalition of the Social Democracy with the bourgeois democrats meant for Lenin marking time and thereby preparing the way for the most reactionary dictatorship of finance capital.”[xc]

On the question of war he wrote that in repeating that the source of the war danger was German fascism, the Comintern was returning to the official doctrine of the Entente in 1914-18.[xci] Moreover, in place of the extension of world revolution, “reformist and pacifist cooperation with the “left” bourgeois parties and with all the “friends of peace” in general”[xcii] had come to the fore.

On the question of party unity, Trotsky wrote: “Twenty-one years ago Lenin proclaimed the slogan of a break with reformism and patriotism. Since then, all the opportunist and intermediate, so-called centrist leaders have imputed to Lenin above all the guilt of sectarianism…. The Seventh Congress has arrived at the conclusion that sectarianism was the source of all the subsequent great defeats of the proletariat. Stalin is thus correcting the historical “error” of Lenin, and correcting it radically: Lenin created the Communist International; Stalin is abolishing it.”[xciii]

So far as Trotsky’s criticisms go, particularly the one cited above, his critics hardly dispute him, merely putting a plus sign where he puts a minus, and vice versa. Thus, Degras in her introduction writes: “It can indeed be argued that with the adoption of the united front policy the Comintern abandoned not only its original strategy but the very principles underlying its existence, formulated in the belief that other countries besides Russia were ripe for revolution.”[xciv]

What marked off Trotsky was not merely his appraisal of the retreat of the Comintern but his bitter hostility to the Popular Front. It was not, as remarked earlier, the Workers’ united front. It differed in four ways from the united front. First, the united front was a front of parties based on the working class, whereas both the French, and subsequently the Spanish popular fronts included “left” bourgeois parties.

Secondly, the united front had been intended as a tactic, however important, not an overall strategy. The Comintern however, seemed to turn the Dimitrov version of the united front into a generalised strategy. Though applied all over the world, the French and the Spanish cases are most instructive, and brought forth clarifications and biting attacks from Trotsky.

Third, the united front had meant making practical agreements to fight for specific objectives, like defence of living conditions, the struggle for wages, the defence of workers’ organisations from fascist attacks, etc. The popular front was to involve a common electoral programme and the support for those bourgeois governments which were ‘friends of peace’.

Finally, unlike the united front with its firm insistence on the independence of the Communist Party, the popular fronts presupposed an alliance of a kind that limited or even halted communists’ ideological political struggle with the reformists.

Trotsky commented, in the case of France, that “if in spite of all the objective indications … the coalition government of the left bloc nevertheless comes about, it is possible, without being a prophet, to say in advance that it will be merely a brief episode, and that, when it itself falls, it will bring down the “People’s Front”. We shall be very fortune if it does not only bury in its ruins the remnants of French democracy.”[xcv]

There exists a kind of leftist politics that hails Trotsky’s criticisms of the Comintern’s 1928-34 line, but sees sectarianism in his line of 1934 onwards. There also exists the opposite line, which assumes that his criticism of Stalinist reformism was more important than his condemnation of the previous ultraleftism.[xcvi][xcvii] In opposing Popular Frontism, Trotsky fought for class independence. As Mandel wrote elsewhere, “the task of a proletarian revolutionary is not to ‘take power’ by any means, under any conditions; it is to take power in order to implement a socialist programme. If ‘power’ can be won only under conditions which drive one away from the realization of that programme, instead of bringing one nearer to it, it is a thousand times preferable to stay in opposition.”[xcviii] This is evidently not recognised even by many who swear by Trotsky and Mandel and write about their legacies. Mandel’s brief statement is much more balanced, when he says: “Now, class independence is as important a condition as class unity for successful resistance against fascism.”

Stalinist insistence that Popular Fronts should not go beyond the bourgeois level had a terrible effect in Spain, where a living revolution was crushed by Stalinism, and then handed over to Franco. As Trotsky noted, “Politically most striking is the fact that the Spanish Popular Front lacked in reality even a parallelogram of forces. The bourgeoisie’s place was occupied by its shadow…. Political attorneys of the bourgeoisie but not the bourgeoisie itself.”[xcix]

In his opposition to Popular Frontism, Trotsky was not suggesting that the working class, or its left wing, should remain isolated. But he insisted that making alliances with parties possessing petty bourgeois bases did not constitute valid worker-peasant, or worker-petty bourgeois alliances, and certainly not alliances directed towards revolution.[c]

V.      The Foundation of the Fourth International :

The foundation of the Fourth International came about through a series of steps. In 1933, after the fall of the Weimar Republic a number of left socialist and dissident communist groups came together. Four of these, the ILO, the German SAP, and two Dutch organisations, the OSP and the RSP, issued a declaration, known as the ‘Declaration of Four’ (On the Necessity and Principles of a New International). This was followed in 1935 by an ‘Open Letter to Revolutionary Groups’, among whose signatures was Trotsky – indeed, he drafted both documents.

Between mid-1933 and 1936, Trotsky made a number of attempts to break out of the isolation, to proletarianise the ILO/ICL. At the Paris Conference of Left Socialist and Communist organisations, the ILO’s declaration called for a simultaneous break with Stalinism and reformism.[ci]

The Declaration of Four put forward an “point programme on which to unify the revolutionary left. This summed up the major lessons of 1914-1933 – the necessity of internationalism, the role of the party, the need to fight for power without “waiting” for other countries, the united front, the class nature of the USSR and the question of Stalinism, the necessity of party democracy, etc.[cii]

Therefore, especially from 1934, as fresh ranks of millitant workers joined the left social democratic currents, Trotsky sought a bridgehead to them. Out of this there developed the ‘French turn’.[ciii] This was an attempt at entering the socialist parties carrying out sharp ideological struggles, and tearing the healthy proletarian elements away. Though initially a plan for the French Bolshevik-Leninists, it was soon generalised. But only in the USA did it lead to an appreciable gain, as a sizeable number of cadres were recruited from the Socialist Party of Norman Thomas, and especially its youth wing, the YPSL. Generally, “Entry …. does not include a long term perspective. It is only a stage which under certain conditions can be limited to an episode.”[civ] The generally rightward swing in the workers’ parties, and the workers’ desire for unity made victory in such operations a remote prospect but entryism did lead to an important gain, as did the unity talks with the SAP, the British ILP, and so on. Entryism meant getting inside a mass party and attempting to win over cadres by combining mass work and theoretical clarification. Personal squabbles, petty bourgeois intrigues, and sectarian fears of being contaminated by impure mass movements were revealed and cut off as the French League turned to the SFIO. Two whole series of articles came from Trotsky in this period, against centrism and against sectarianism.

All this was theoretically correct, and of some use practically. But overall, the ICL remained a weak organisation even when the 1935 ‘Open Letter’ was written. In the ‘Open Letter’, the following arguments were put forward : Oppositionist moods bore a predominantly centrist character. The centrists and the reformists urged “unity”, regardless of programmes. “Genuine unity of the International and of its national sections can be assured only upon the revolutionary Marxist foundation …..”[cv]

The main argument was: “During the year and a half that has elapsed since the publication of the first program of the Fourth International, the struggle for its principles and ideas has not abated for a single day. The revolutionary national sections and groups have grown in number: some of them extended their ranks and influence, others attained a greater homogeneity and cohesion …. All this labour will indubitably proceed much better if correlated and unified on a world scale under the banner of the Fourth International. The impeding war danger does not brook a delay in this task for even a single day.

“The new parties and the new International must be built upon a new foundation: that is the key with which to solve all other tasks. The tempo and the time of the new revolutionary construction and its consummation depend, obviously upon the general course of the class struggle, the future victories and defeats of the proletariat…. The conditions are difficult … [but] Only in the socialist revolution is there salvation for mankind.”[cvi]

There are two sides to this argument. Taken on a historical time scale, Trotsky was absolutely correct. Without building an international organisation, it was not possible to ensure revolutionary continuity. But on a shorter time-scale, the whole tenor suggested a kind of rapid growth that was never to materialise.

Trotsky was calling for a transition from the intermediate status as early as 1935-36. Between 1933 and 1936, he engaged in debates with the SAP, the POUM, and the ILP. In all three cases, only small groups (or even individuals) were recruited, while the organisations refused to take the path of the Fourth International. Why did he then insist on the new organisation? It was precisely because of the negative balance sheets that he felt further delay to be unwarranted.

Basically, the answer given to two questions decided the orientation. First, were fascism and Stalinism passing phases within a long-term era of proletarian revolutions, or did they signify a general decline of socialism, and even bourgeois parliamentary democracy? Second, how important was the role of the revolutionary party in successes and failures alike? If one answered that yes, the epoch was one of revolution, then the role of leadership of course became more important. For while in an age of capitalist stabilisation, even the most revolutionary and the most far-sighted leadership could do little more than hold on and gradually build, in an era of sharp ups and downs, the leadership could influence events much more strongly. In a sharp attack on the SAP, Trotsky wrote: “…. We read [in the SAP’s document]: “This International will be the result of the historic process, and it will be able to take form only through the action of the masses.” Very well! But why then do you butt into somebody else’s business; you haven’t been given the power of attorney for this either by the “historic process” or by the “masses”, have you? …. The policies of the SAP … are a downright mockery of the fundamental demands of the revolutionary education of our successors!”[cvii]

This is essentially where his critics diverged. For the centrist parties that he was criticising, the task was not to create a new, revolutionary International, but to try to unite the two existing ones. For Isaac Deutscher, the author of the main opposition, within the Movement for the Fourth International of the turn to openly proclaiming the Fourth International, the “only dignified attitude the intellectual ex-communist can take is to rise au-dessus de la melee. He cannot join the Stalinist camp or the anti-Stalinist Holy Alliance without doing violence to his better self. So let him stay outside any camp. Let his try to regain critical sense and intellectual detachment.”[cviii] Thus, Deutscher categorically givers up the option of a proletarian anti-Stalinist struggle.

Another critic of Trotsky on this score is Molyneux, who believes that while Trotsky ought to have organised his co-thinkers, he should not have called it the Fourth International. There is a grain of truth in this criticism, in as much as the “proclamation” could and did have unwarranted effects. Thus, in the speech cited earlier, Trotsky made a wild claim: “Permit me to finish with a prediction: During the next ten years the program of the Fourth International will become the guide of millions and these revolutionary millions will know how to storm earth and heaven.”[cix] Even if such claims are discounted there exists the reality that small groups, weakly implanted in the class struggle (only two Trotskyist groups had Trotsky’s unqualified admiration – the Charleroi group in Belgium and the Minneapolis group in the USA – for their proletarianization)[cx] could not adequately internalize the lessons of the class struggles nationally and internationally, and provide a comprehensive theory. To call a united network of such small groups the International ran the risk of ossifying doctrine and of creating illusions of grandeur among the groups.

However, Trotsky did not bank on an immediate overthrow of capitalism. What is necessary, here, is to distinguish, in so far as it is possible, between analysis based on serious theoretical work, and claims based on hopes. Thus, in conversation which C.L.R. James, he said: “We are not progressing politically. Yes, it is a fact, which is an expression of a general decay of the workers’ movement in the last fifteen years. It is the more general cause. When the revolutionary movement in general is declining, when one defeat follows another when fascism is spreading over the world, when the official ‘Marxism’ is the most powerful organisation of the deception of the workers, and so on, it is an inevitable situation that the revolutionary elements must work against the general historic current, even if our ideas, our explanations, are as exact and wise as one can demand. But the masses are not educated by prognostic conception, but by general experiences of their lives. It is the most general explanation – the whole situation is against us.”[cxi]

And yet, unlike in the days of Marx, when the events after 1850 showed that revolution and workers’ power could not, for some time, be on the agenda, now the world was ready for socialist revolution. Therefore, come what may, a revolutionary leadership had to be built. This was the conception that Trotsky made the basis of the Fourth International.

VI.     The Political Basis

A number of programmatic documents were written by Trotsky in the period 1933-40. The most important, historically, was ‘The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International’. He did not expect that a few thousand people, inspired by these documents, would change history. But he did expect that revolutionary action could succeed to the extent it corresponded to social needs. Hence a scientific analysis of historical reality was needed. To change the world, a correct interpretation was required.

The Fourth International was not founded on only the experience of its living cadres. It was also founded by assimilating to work of its cadres the historical experience of socialism/workers’ power from the days of the French Revolution to the victory of Hitler. This work of assimilation had to be done by a class leadership. Such a leadership could not be created ad hoc. It had to grow consciously. Without practice, on however small a scale, it was not possible to maintain revolutionary continuity. It was from this final consideration that Trotsky stated the basic reason for founding the Fourth International: “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat”, and again, “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”[cxii]

These two statements are highly compressed ones. There is a claim about a historical crisis of humankind. Its existence is testified in a thousand ways. The problem of wars, of famines and starvation deaths, of nuclear disasters and innumerable damages to the eco system all are aspects of this crisis, where human social relations fail to cope with economic and technological changes. This crisis is not a crisis where proletarian militancy has steadily declined. Nor is it indicative of a decline of the productive forces. Nor has the working class become so integrated to bourgeois society, so progressively disalienated that revolution disappears from the agenda.[cxiii] Finally, as some East European experiences show, there exists a third option to capitalist exploitation and bureaucratic oppression. But to develop the option, there has to be a world organisation, capable of assimilating various experiences. Otherwise, national, self-centred organisations will give rise to nationalism or its extension (big power outlook, Eurocentrism etc.) and programmatic inadequacies.

Trotsky was aware of both sides of the problem. It is enough to look at the programme. He did not call for a programme in the way of Comintern had a programme, because such a finished programme was impossible without a world party of considerable strength. What he put forward was a transitional programme.

The programme of revolutionary Marxism is one that by definition cannot be simply taken from outside to millions of workers and explained to them one at a time. Even when the revolutionary organization is present, it can win over the masses only by the method of the transitional programme. It is based on the concept of self-emancipation, aimed at bridging the gap between the workers’ given consciousness and that level which made them partisans of the struggle for power. It was a set of demands which in their totality organise the proletariat and constitute the stages of the struggle for the rule of the working class and its allies. Each specific demand expressed an urgent need of the broad masses, and thus aimed to draw in those who were not consciously fighting for workers’ power. But this does not mean that the programme kind of planned to con the workers into supporting a revolution. Rather, it was felt that by fighting for those specific demands the workers would become more conscious, and eventually fight for class power.

In that sense, the prototype for the 1938 programme was the 1934 ‘Program of Action for France’. It called for ‘Abolition of “Business Secrets”; ‘Workers’ and Peasants’ Control over Banks, Industry and Commerce’; a set of measures for workers like the 40 hours week, social security, equal wage for equal work, anti-racialism, etc., nationalisation by the workers of banks, big industry etc.; the monopoly of foreign trade so that consumers’ interests were cared for; specific slogans that made workers-peasant alliance a reality; a series of political calls including political rights for soldiers, dismissal of fascist officers, freedom for the colonies, and a democratisation of the constitution, the state apparatus, by breaking the bureaucratic structure.[cxiv]

The slogans corresponded to needs of the day. It was expected that if a mass revolutionary party took them to the working class, the dynamic of class struggle would go in favour of the proletariat.

Now, to be effective, any transitional programme has to be concrete. And that makes it dated at a later time. The 1938 programme ran the risk of absolutising some of the conjunctural issues. But if this is picked out and inflated out of proportion, one runs the opposite risk of glorifying capitalism of the late twentieth century. Trotsky did not argue that unless a revolution would be started next week, one would miss the bus forever. “The capitalist world has no way out, unless a prolonged death agony is so considered. It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades, of war, uprising, brief interludes of truce, new wars, and new uprisings. A young revolutionary party must base itself on this perspective. History will provide it with enough opportunities and possibilities to test itself, to accumulate experience, and to mature. The swifter the ranks of the vanguard are fused the more the epoch of bloody convulsions will be shortened, the less destruction will out planet suffer. But the great historical problem will not be solved in any case until a revolutionary party stands at the head of the proletariat. The question of tempos and time intervals is of enormous importance; but it alters neither the general historical perspective nor the direction of our policy.”[cxv] This was the resolution, ‘Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution’, adopted by the 1940 Emergency Conference of the Fourth International. What Trotsky is arguing here has not been proved positively. But it has been (repeatedly) proved negatively. With less than clear programmes, power has been seized. But the ultimate result has been bureaucratization and/or the fall of the regime, with monotonous regularity. The working class can fight instinctively, but it must learn to organise its rule consciously. If this conscious organisation is not democratic, then the instinctive battles of the working class are appropriated by those who would like to create cliques and bureaucratic power structures.

Nor did Trotsky, despite occasional confused utterances, have a ‘model of society’ where the working class was always straining at the leash, held back by treacherous leaders. Our discussion in chapter 4 should dispel the notion that Trotsky showed “a systematic blindness to the actual consciousness and concerns of the working class.”[cxvi]

The method of the transitional programme had been obscured not only by Stalinism, but also by Zinoviev’s ‘left’ line. Trotsky wrote of this leftism in his critique of the Comintern : “Each party … fell a victim of the false points of departure [foisted by the 5th Comintern Congress]. Each chased after phantoms … transformed revolutionary slogans into noisy pharases … [there flourished] … a purely mechanical “left” conception [that] … there existed always and unalterably only the social democracy that was “disintegrating”, workers who were becoming “radicalised”, communist parties that were “growing” and the revolution that was “approaching”. And anybody who looked around and tried to distinguish things was and is a “liquidator”….”[cxvii] This was the basic standpoint of Trotsky, the basic meaning of the transitional programme.

Nevertheless, the compressed first sentence of the Transitional programme requires some further elucidation. It was the effort of classical Marxism to reassert itself against both Social Democracy and Stalinism. At the time the document was written, it was correct, to argue that the hundreds of thousands of workers flocking to the communist and the Socialist parties were in fact radicals who were seeking a way out of the mess capitalism had created. The masses of the workers were still committed to socialism, as shown, for example, by the fact that despite heavy repression, even in the 1933 elections, two out of every three Berlin worker voted either for the Communist party or for the Social Democratic party. At that time, as war loomed ahead, it was in fact possible to think of creating a revolutionary nucleus that might win over a significant part of this vanguard to a fresh initiative to rebuild a revolutionary Marxist party. But if, as some Trotskyist groups do, oe treats the Transitional programme as a holy writ, then the real evolution of the international working class and its implications would be ignored.

VII.    The Heritage

The great achievement of Trotsky was that in the face of extreme adversity he was able to maintain some links between theory and practice. Nevertheless, it was a flawed heritage that he bequeathed.

Its strengths, often inadequately appreciated, can be enumerated first. From the mid 1930s, Trotskyism appeared as the sole political force reasserting the basic principles of classical Marxism. In building the International and preparing elements of a programme, Trotsky developed the concept of the political revolution, the transitional method, and refined the united front tactic. He also affirmed the need to combine soviets and pluralism. In so far as revolutionary Marxism survives today, the Fourth International has played a vital role in it. Few things show the power of Trotsky as the last significant standard bearer of classical Marxism and proletarian internationalism as his position on the question of the war. On behalf of the International Secretariat of the International Communist League, he wrote “War and the Fourth International” in 1934. Trotsky sought to inoculate the cadres of the Fourth International from the inevitable onrush of chauvinism. “Only by realising fully the objectively reactionary role of the imperialist state can the proletarian vanguard become invulnerable to all types of social patriotism. This means that a real break with the ideology and policy of “national defense” is possible only from the standpoint of the international proletarian revolution.”[cxviii]

Trotsky demolished the slogan of national defence, not by an abstract reference to the workers’ not having nations, but by saying that “The working class is not indifferent to its nation. On the contrary, it is just because history places the fate of the nation in its hands that the working class refuses to entrust the work of national freedom and independence to imperialism for the sake of the interests of an insignificant minority of exploiters.”[cxix]

At the same time, he showed that national struggles in the colonies and semi colonies were “doubly progressive”, for “The national problem merges everywhere with the social. Only the conquest of power by the world proletariat can assure a real and lasting freedom of development for all nations of our planet.”[cxx]

Against the claim that democracy was being defended by the Western powers, he wrote that “A modern war between the great powers does not signify a conflict between democracy and fascism but a struggle of two imperialisms … in both camps will be found fascist (semifascist, Bonapartist, etc.) as well as “democratic” states …. “The struggle for democracy” [means] … above all, the struggle for the preservation of the workers’ press and of workers’ organisations against unbridled military censorship and military authority. On the basis of these tasks, the revolutionary vanguard will seek a united front with other working-class organisations – against its own “democratic government – but in no case unity with its own government against the hostile country.”[cxxi]

Trotsky anticipated the Stalinist and ‘post-Stalinist’ criticism, repeating the essentially social democratic/Menshevik standpoint, about the West being preferable to Hitler: (a) because it was democratic; (b) because it was, from 1941, allied to the USSR. He wrote: “And if we remain in irreconcilable opposition to the most “democratic” government in time of peace, how can we take upon ourselves even a shadow of responsibility for it in time of war when all the infamies and crimes of capitalism take on a most brutal and bloody form?”[cxxii]

As to the question of Soviet participation, Trotsky’s position was firm: “The international proletariat will not decline to defend the USSR even if the latter should find itself forced into a military alliance with some imperialists against others. But in this case, even more than in any other, the international proletariat must safeguard its complete political independence from Soviet diplomacy and, thereby, also from the bureaucracy of the Third International …. The proletariat of a capitalist country that finds itself in an alliance with the USSR must retain fully and completely its irreconcilable hostility to the imperialist government of its own country …. But in the nature of practical actions, considerable differences may arise …. For instance, it would be absurd and criminal in case of war between the USSR and Japan for the American proletariat to sabotage the sending of American munition to the USSR. But the proletariat of a country fighting against the USSR would be absolutely obliged to resort to action of this sort --- strikes, sabotage, etc.”[cxxiii]

In the long run, Trotsky stressed, a military alliance of the USSR with an imperialist country was fraught with danger. Only the overthrow of imperialism and the workers’ seizure of power could save the USSR from crisis.

As war approached, the issues were further concretised. ‘Imperialist War and World Revolution’, the main resolution of the 1940 Emergency Conference, reaffirmed the fundamental principles. But it also went on to discuss the question of defence of the USSR, the nature of Stalinism and the Soviet state, etc. Once more, Trotsky’s response combined a correct analysis with a faulty sense of time. The essential argument that his critics put forward was that the Nazi-Soviet pact and the partition of Poland showed the need to reassess Stalinism and the USSR.

Trotsky explained that the slogan defence of the USSR by no means meant giving up the world revolution. “The defence of the USSR coincides in principle with the preparation of the world proletarian revolution …. Only the world revolution can save the USSR for socialism. But the world revolution carries with it the inescapable blotting out of the Kremlin oligarchy.”[cxxiv]

The debate in 1939-40 spilled over into the nature of the USSR. Trotsky’s opponents gradually came to believe that the bureaucracy constituted a class. Trotsky replied that in so far as the programme of revolution was concerned, the tasks of the revolutionaries changed not a whit by calling it a ‘social’ rather than ‘political’ revolution. Had this been all, he wrote, it would be “a piece of monstrous nonsense to split with comrades who on the question of the sociological nature of the USSR have an opinion different from ours ….”[cxxv]

But, he realized matters actually went deeper. If the Stalinist bureaucracy constituted a new ruling class, then one had to ask whether capitalism was to be replaced by workers’ rule and socialism, or by a new exploitative state and class ? Theorists of the new class were at the greatest disadvantage when such a broad generalization had to be made.[cxxvi]

Nevertheless, while his opponents were indubitably wrong, Trotsky was not always right. While in the Emergency Conference resolution he implied that decades might pass, in other articles the conflicts and the resolutions were made too dependent on the events of the next few years, or even months. Thus, in ‘The USSR in War’, he wrote that “Twenty-five years in the scales of history … weigh less than an hour in the life of man.”[cxxvii] Yet in the same debate, only a little earlier, he had written: “Might we not place ourselves in a ludicrous position if we affixed to the Bonapartist oligarchy the nomenclature of a new ruling class just a few years or even a few months prior to its inglorious downfall?”[cxxviii]

That he was shaken, and that as a result his footing was less firm, comes out in the same essay, where he says that if the bureaucracy becomes a new exploiting class,  “nothing else would remain except only to recognize that the socialist program … ended as Utopia.”[cxxix] Even in such a case, he was to place himself, not with the rising star of bureaucratic collectivism but with the working class: “It is self-evident that a new “minimum” program would be required ---  for the defence  of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society.”[cxxx]

There existed another alternative --state capitalism. Though it was not raised in 1939 – 40, Tony Cliff, Raya Dunayevskaya, CLR  James, etc. were all Trotskyists who later split from the Fourth International by developing state capitalist theories. This theory had a number of advantages. First, it avoided the notion of a tripolar world, retaining the bourgeoisie/ working class antagonism as the basic antagonism everywhere, and thereby enabled its adherents to avoid having to choose between the USSR and the USA, a choice that Burnham, Schactman, and other theorists of bureaucratic collectivism could seldom duck.

Secondly, the theory of state capitalism required less  (though by no means absolutely nil) mangling of Marxist theory.[cxxxi] Marx observed in the Gurndrisse that ‘Capital exists and can only exist as many capitals, and its self-determination therefore appears as their reciprocal interaction with one another”.[cxxxii]universal capital … is therefore a non-thing.”[cxxxiii] And so, “A

In Capital, Marx did accept the theoretical possibility of a single capitalist corporation in one country.[cxxxiv][cxxxv] Thus stray references to Marx hardly improve the situation. But Cliff’s theory, as developed by his followers, stands Marx on his head by arguing that competition confers, the character of commodities on products, rather than the conflict of capitals and commodity production entailing competition.

Trotsky was responsible for this whole confusion only to a small extent, but that was important.  By insisting that the coming war would either lead to a clear-cut proletarian revolution or an immediate transformation of the USSR, he took an undialectical position, and miseducated his followers. On one hand, many Trotskyists therefore succumbed to extreme Stalinophobia after the war. On the other hand, groups, in the USA, in Britain and elsewhere left the Fourth International for the Stalinist parties.

At the same time, in Trotsky’s writings, there were important caveats.  He warned that while the bureaucracy was not invested with any historic mission, it could still, conjuncturally, be forced, while defending its own interests, to partially negate or oppose capitalism.  If in territories occupied by its, Moscow carried out statification and expropriations, that would be not because of socialist aims but because  “it is neither desirous nor capable of sharing the power … with the old ruling classes  …”[cxxxvi] But   “the primary political criterion for us is not the transformation of property relations …  however important these may be in themselves [i.e., these could be very important – K.C.], but rather the change in the consciousness and organization of the world proletariat ….From this one, and the only decisive standpoint, the politics of Moscow …retains its reactionary character and remains the chief obstacle on the road to the world revolution.  Our general appraisal … does not, however, alter the particular fact that the statification  …is in itself a progressive measure…. But its progressiveness it relative … [The bureaucratic autocracy] by far outweighs the progressive content of Stalinist reforms in Poland.  In order that nationalized property … becomes a basis for …socialist development, it is necessary to overthrow the Moscow bureaucracy.”[cxxxvii]

Failure to grasp the complexity of his ideas led, in some cases to a hierarchy -- anti-imperialism is superior to the anti-bureaucratic struggles --or to a transformation of the “defence of the “USSR” slogan into  opposition to actual workers’ struggles, as with Isaac Deutscher,[cxxxviii] or a passive support  for bureaucratic reformism, as with Tariq Ali’s response to Gorbachev and Yeltsin’s early phase (i.e., when Yeltsin seemed to be still a “dissident Communist”.[cxxxix]

Nevertheless, it can be argued that Trotsky’s Marxism, including and upto the programme that he helped to develop for the Fourth International in 1933 – 40, remains the most advanced outpost of classical Marxism.  His uncompromising proletarian internationalism ensured that there would be few nationalist or ‘democratic’ defections during war. Despite tremendous repression world wide, the cadres of the Fourth International came out of the war more proletarianised, and with an unshaken faith in the future.[cxl] This would once again be a contentious claim. Ian Thatcher’s book has a clearly different claim. Citing the then Bukharinist on the road to Social Democratism (and later a rabid anti-communist) Bertram Wolfe’s review of Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed, Thatcher asserts that the Fourth International had the same bureaucratic tendency as the Third, and was dominated by the “Russian faction” and was a one-man show.[cxli] In view of some of the facts already discussed, such as the difficulty Trotsky had in getting others to agree to the proclamation of the Fourth International, it is surprising to find the charge that the Fourth International was a one-man show.     It is true that in the post-war world, there have been many pressures, many new forces have come up, and few of the Trotskyist trends have been able to cope with them all. Unless it can be shown that the heritage of classical Marxism could have survived fascism, Stalinism, and World War II without organisational forms, the foundation of the Fourth International, with all its flaws, remains among the most signal of Trotsky’s achievements -- an achievement made possible by his insight into the relationship between Marxist theory and the organisation.

But this achievement itself, as we saw, created an orthodoxy. Between 1951 and 1954, that orthodoxy blew up, and several splinters developed from the Forth International.  The role of Chinese poor peasants, the meaning of nuclear weapons for the Marxist slogan about the imperialist war and its conversion into civil war, and all manner of new issues knocked at the door. The most “orthodox” retreated to the position of checking everything against Trotsky’s utterances. But even others moved slowly.  On the question of permanent revolution and the possibility (incidentally foreseen by Marx) of peasants in different types of societies playing a positive role in such a revolution, Trotsky’s brief hint was not developed till the 1980s. And when it was done, it was often for opportunist reasons, such as supporting the decision of Philippine communists in their decision to support bourgeois anti-Marcos forces electorally. On issues about which classical Marxism had had faulty vision, notably feminism and the ecology question, shifts were equally slow. In fact, much of classical Marxism shares a productivist bias. Though Trotsky, and the Fourth International, corrected this in the case of industrialisation (rejection of the Stalinist model, emphasis on production and social relations, etc.), it can be argued that the belief, found even in The Revolution Betrayed, that under communism  “man” will  “control nature”, or that socialism will liberate women by providing legal equality and a productive role, are today questionable ideas.[cxlii] Thus, even the main Trotskyist current, the Fourth International (United Secretariat), could adopt a resolution on ‘Women’s Liberation and the Socialist Revolution’ as late as 1979 (11th World Congress),  while a resolution on ecology,  including a self critical balance sheet had to await 2003 (15th World  Congress).


For all this, Trotsky’s Marxism does not provide any ready-made answer. True, there are hints, comments, and part solutions even. But above all, what Trotsky’s revolutionary politics offers, in opposition to Stalinism, Maoism, and all other variants of similar ‘socialism from above’, is the sole certainty, that workers and working people, fighting for themselves, alone provide the road to human liberation, and the possibility of building an order where all other contradictions can be pursued and (hopefully) resolved without the oppressors’ and exploiters’ central apparatus, the state, bearing down, and without, above all, the power  of  capital holding down all the oppressed and exploited. The splits in the Fourth International, originally caused by “the Russian question”, continued. This had the ill-effect of creating several Trotskyist sub-currents, whose differences are often small enough for others on the left not to realise why they cannot exist within one democratic organisation. The Fourth International (United Secretariat), remains the largest, the most international (with affiliates in some 43 countries) and the most democratic. But it unites within it only a minority of the Trotskyists.Other currents of significance, as well as other powerful individual parties exist, taking Trotskyism as one of their key reference points, such as the British SWP and its International Socialist Tendency, the CWI, the Labour party of Pakistan, the Partido Obrero of Argentina and its international current, the Movement for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International, and so on. Even excluding the inevitable lunatic fringe of any movement (currents which do have a guru and a totally sectarian and idealistic viewpoint about the unfolding class struggles), the main problem for Trotskyism has been this many-way split, which was a key factor in its inability to politically mobilise enough around 1989-91, when the Stalinist certainties came tumbling down. Nevertheless, despite all its shortcomings, it remained the only significant internationalist, revolutionary current implanted in all sectors of the world.

[i].           ME: SW, vol. 3, p. 163 ––Engels’s speech at the graveside of Karl Marx.

[ii].          See M. Sayers and A. E. Kahn, The Great Conspiracy, New York, 1947, for the most comprehensive attack along these lines.  For the later, toned   down versions, see the discussion in my article ‘Soviet Bhashyakarer Chokhe Trotsky’, Naya Antarjatik, New Series, No. 1, May 1989, pp. 7 – 8.

[iii].          See I. Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, pp. 419 – 28.  For Deutscher’s own alternative, see I Deutscher, ‘The Ex–Communist’s conscience’, in Heretics and Renegades, pp. 9 – 22.

[iv].          J. Arch Getty,  ‘Trotsky in Exile:  The Founding of the Fourth International’, Soviet Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1, January 1986, pp. 24 – 35.

[v].          See, for such views, J. Molyneux,  Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution, And D. Hallas, Trotsky’s  Marxism.

[vi].          L. Trotsky, Writings: 1929, pp.108 – 9.

[vii].         Ibid.,  p. 134.

[viii].         L. Trotsky, Writings:1932,  New York,  1973,  p. 125.

[ix].          J.  Arch Getty, op. cit., p. 25.

[x].          For Getty’s central thesis and its rebuttal, see. T. Twiss, ‘Trotsky’s Break with the Comintern: A Comment on J. Arch Getty’, Soviet Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1, January 1987, pp. 131 – 7.

[xi].          L. Trotsky, ‘Germany, the key to the International Situation’, in The Struggle Against Fascism in German, p. 126.

[xii].         Ibid., pp.375–84.

[xiii].         Ibid., p.379.

[xiv].         Ibid., p. 384.

[xv].         J. Van Heijenoort, With Trotsky in Exile, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1978, p. 38.

[xvi].         L. Trotsky, Writings:1932–33, New York, 1972, p. 137. The letter is entitled ‘KPD or New Party? (I)’. It first appeared in the International Bulletin of the Opposition and was signed G. Gourov.

[xvii].        Ibid., p. 138.

[xviii].        ‘The International Left Opposition, Its Tasks and Methods’, ibid., p.54.

[xix].         ‘KPD or New Party? (I)’, ibid., p. 138.

[xx].         See M. Buber–Neumann, Kreig–schauplatze der welt–Revolution, Stuttgart, 1967. At the December ECCI meeting, other “deviationists” were noted. But most of these were not inclined to criticise the Comintern from a revolutionary standpoint. Chile provided an exception.

[xxi].         J. Degras, The Communist International: Documents 1929–1943, pp. 309–10. I have used, for this third volume of Degras’ anthology, not the OUP edition, (which was not available) but a cyclostyled copy of the same, brought out by some Indian Communists. The book has neither publishers’ name nor date. A note says that it is the Volume III of the Degras work, “being circulated here for information”. The pagination may therefore not be what a reader with a printed copy of the OUP book would expect.

[xxii].        J. Van Heijenoort, op. cit., p. 54.

[xxiii].        L. Trotsky, ‘The Collapse of the KPD and the Tasks of the Opposition’, in Writings: 1932–33, p. 189.

[xxiv].        Ibid., p. 193.

[xxv].        Ibid., p. 195.

[xxvi].        ‘The International Left Opposition….’ Ibid., p. 55.

[xxvii].       ‘The Collapse of the KPD….’, ibid., p. 196.

[xxviii].       L. Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, p. 420.

[xxix].        Ibid., p. 421.

[xxx].        Ibid., p. 422.

[xxxi].        Ibid., p. 424.

[xxxii].       Ibid., p. 430.

[xxxiii].       Ibid., p. 431.

[xxxiv].       Ibid., p. 432.

[xxxv].       L. Trotsky, Writings: 1930, pp. 285 – 6.

[xxxvi].       L. Trotsky, Writings:1923 – 33,  p. 113.

[xxxvii].      Ibid., p. 141.

[xxxviii].      Ibid., p. 142.

[xxxix].       Ibid., pp. 164 – 8.

[xl].          L. Trotsky, Writings: 1933–34, New York, 1975, pp. 102–3.

[xli].         L. Trotsky, Writings: 1934–35.

[xlii].         P.B. Shelley, ‘Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte’, in Shelley, Poetical Works, Ed. T. Hutchinson, Oxford, etc., 1983, pp.526–7.

[xliii].        L. Trotsky, Writings: 1934–35, p. 174.

[xliv].        Ibid., p. 178.

[xlv].         Ibid., p. 179.

[xlvi].        Ibid., p. 182.

[xlvii].        R. Miliband, Marxism and Politics p.14.

[xlviii].       L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p. 237.

[xlix].        Ibid., p. 239.

[l].           Ibid., p. 249.

[li].          Ibid., p. 241.

[lii].          Ibid., pp. 258–9.

[liii].         Ibid., p. 261.

[liv].         Loc. Cit.

[lv].          Ibid., pp.265–70.

[lvi].         See also A.R. Desai (ed.), Communism and Democracy, which contains a resolution of the Fourth International, developing this point. Ultraleft sectarians and descendants of Stalinism alike condemn this document as an adaptation to Social Democratic politics, because it admits that a whole series of gains made by the working class under capitalism must be retained under the dictatorship of the proletariat. While I consider many of the more recent political positions of the Fourth International (the United Secretariat or USFI) to be questionable, or even, at times, to be outright in opposition to the principles and political lessons learned with great pain, for example its willingness to tolerate the participation of a Socialist Democracy tendency (Brazilian affiliate of the FI and a current within the PT) member in Lula’s popular front government, I consider the document under discussion to be the best restatement and development of the real and positive classical Marxist tradition. Certainly, it stands in the tradition of Marx and Engels, Luxemburg, and the self-criticism of Trotsky. For Marx and Engels, see Soma Marik’s thesis, ‘The Theory of Worker’s Democracy and the Bolshevik Practice: 1847-1921’.

[lvii].         Ibid., p. 248.

[lviii].        See T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, London, 1974, pp. 267–8.

[lix].`        This is not my fantasy. Paresh Chattopadhyay has argued along these lines recently in Anustup, Autumn No. 1991. Similar criticisms have been made by so-called Luxemburgists who disregard the cautious position of Luxemburg for a muscle-bound and self-censored reading of her The Russian Revolution. It is possible to cite in this context A. Das’s’Introduction’ to the Bengali translation of Cliff’s book T. Cliff, Russiaye Rashtriyo Punjibad, Calcutta, 1992. P.xv. Das hauls Cliff over the coals for his failure to break fully with the “school of Trotsky” and hence for continuing to find vestiges of proletarian power upto 1928.

[lx].          L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp. 86-7.

[lxi].         Ibid., p. 96.

[lxii].         Ibid., pp. 104-5.

[lxiii].        Ibid., p. 96.

[lxiv].        I have developed this argument in my paper ‘Class Struggle Among the Molecules : The Rise of “Proletarian Science”, presented in an International Seminar on the 70th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Jadavpur University, 13-14 January, 1988.

[lxv].         Ibid., pp. 249-50.

[lxvi].        Ibid., pp. 255-6.

[lxvii].        Ibid., p. 251.

[lxviii].       Paresh Chattopadhyay, newly converted to the principle of self-emancipation from his old Maoist stance, holds Lenin and Trotsky to be the main culprits for the rise of the bureaucratic state. Seldom has a cleaner kettle been smeared by a blacker pot.

[lxix].        Manchester Guardian, 7 February, 1934; The Times, London, 7 February, 1934.

[lxx].         J. Degras, op. Cit., Vol. III, p. 277.

[lxxi].        Cited in L. Trotsky, Writings : 1934-35, p. 351.

[lxxii].        Cited in D. Hallas, The Comintern, p. 144.

[lxxiii].       L. Trotsky, Writings: 1934-35, p. 292.

[lxxiv].       Ibid., pp. 292-3.

[lxxv].        Ibid., p. 293.

[lxxvi].       Trotsky did not thereby intend to let reformists off the hook, but some Trotskyists, like the followers of Pierre Lambert in France, have used analoguous reasoning to conclude that it is better to adapt to social democracy.

[lxxvii].       L. Trotsky, Writings: 1934-35, p. 299.

[lxxviii].      Ibid., p. 306. See also his Diary in Exile.

[lxxix].       Ibid., p. 312.

[lxxx].        Ibid., p.318.

[lxxxi].       J. Degras, op. Cit., p. 382.

[lxxxii].       Ibid.

[lxxxiii].      Ibid., p. 386.

[lxxxiv].      Ibid., p. 390.

[lxxxv].       Ibid., p. 383.

[lxxxvi].      Ibid., p. 393.

[lxxxvii].      Ibid., pp. 402-3.

[lxxxviii].     Ibid., pp. 382-3. Thus, we see that campism was floated by the Stalinists, not Khrushchev.

[lxxxix].      L. Trotsky, Writings: 1935-36, New York, 1977, pp. 84-94.

[xc].         Ibid., p. 87.

[xci].         Ibid., pp. 87-8.

[xcii].        Ibid., p. 89.

[xciii].        Ibid., pp. 93-4.

[xciv].        J. Degras, op.cit., p. i.

[xcv].        L. Trotsky, Writings: 1935-36,, p. 92. Since we are not dealing with a history of the People’s Front, the following should suffice. By July 1936, a mass movement of unprecedented proportions had developed in France. This led to the electoral victory of the Front in May 1936. In June 1936, over 6 million workers engaged in struggles. But Leon Blum and Maurice Thorez, between them, managed to put on dampers. Thorez declared ‘it is necessary to know when to end a strike’. Major economic concessions were gladly given by the capitalists in exchange for the throttling of revolutionary development.

Once the threat of civil war disappeared, Blum moved to the right and began to whittle down the gains of June 1936. Eventually he was replaced as premier of Chautemps, and then Daladier, both of the petty bourgeois Radical Party. The PCF continued to stick to the Front till the Munich treaty of September 1938. By this time, the working class was in disarray. The strike call of 30 November, 1938, could mobilize only about two million workers. It ended in defeat. The parliament, elected with a Popular Front mandate, banned the PCF, and ultimately, in June 1940, voted to install the senile Bonapartist regime of Petain and Laval, which presided over the surrender to Hitler. It was difficult for any prediction to be more accurate than Trotsky’s was. This, sadly, does not stop professed Trotskyists from committing the same mistakes. The electoral victory of Lula created a difficult situation in Brazil. However, Lula swiftly moved to the right. Indeed, he had been doing that since before he got elected. Instead of moving openly into conflict, members of the socialist Democracy current, the Brazilian section of the Fourth International, adopted a series of constitutionalist positions. At the 15th Congress of the Fourth International, the inaugural speech by Livio Maitan, the best known senior leader, present in every Congress since the Second Congress, de facto endorsed this. Only a small current issued a statement, initiated by Brown, from the United States and Robin Singh, the Indian delegate, and supported by a few delegates from Germany, France, Mexico, Ireland, etc. The statement was based on an earlier (and stronger) line suggested by a British Trotskyist who was not present at the Congress. As the final copy for this book is being prepared, Lula’s class collaborationist or popular front government is moving inexorably in the direction of a showdown. And International Viewpoint, the organ in English of the international leadership of the International, projects a poor line. This is how the paper explains Trotskyist participation in a popular front government: “given the inclusive traditions of the PT, Lula was obliged to propose their participation in the government and to refuse to accept would have been seen within the party, and in particular among the millions of voters, as avoiding their responsibilities in the hopes for real change.” (International Viewpoint, No. 349, May 2003, p.15, introduction to a DS document, ‘Brazil: another economic model is possible’).

[xcvi].        For the former see Monty Johnstone’s review of L.J. Macfarlane’s The British Communist Part: Its Origin and Development until 1929, in New Left Review, No. 41, January-February 1967, especially pp.54-5, and

For the latter, see J. Molyneux, Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution, p.158.

[xcvii].       E. Mandel, Trotsky, p. 95.

[xcviii].       E. Mandel, in World Outlook, February, 1958, p. 118.

[xcix].        L. Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), pp. 309-10. For Spain, see P. Broue and E. Temime, The Revolution and Civil War in Spain, London, 1972. See also H. Thomas, The Civil War in Spain, London, 1965, and for a contemporary Trotskyist account, F. Morrow, Revolution and Counter Revolution in Spain, London, 1963. In a nutshell, the monarchy was overthrown in 1931. In 1936, the Popular Front formed a government. Civil war began when right-wing generals rebelled. In Barcelona, workers took power in response. The Stalinists insisted that such a thing was “absolutely impermissible” (see J. Diaz in Communist International, May 1937. See also Inprecorr, Vol. 17, No. 19, 1 May 1937, p. 445). After the Stalinists helped to smash the anarchist CNT, the semi-Trotskyist POUM, and the left wing of the Socialist Party, the revolution was over. The government lingered till early 1939, and then collapsed before France. Interestingly, in the name of limiting the struggle to a bourgeois-democratic stage, even the freedom struggle of Morocco was throttled. In fact, the Bourgeois state was destroyed by the working class in 1936, and then rebuilt by the Stalinists and their allies.

[c].          See. L. Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), pp. 308-9. See also Leon Trotsky On France, pp. 145-6.

[ci].          L. Trotsky, Writings : 1933-34, pp.37-44.

[cii].         Ibid., pp. 49-52.

[ciii].         For a detailed history as well as Trotsky’s writings on the issue, see L. Trotsky, The Crisis in the French Section, New York, 1976.

[civ].         L. Trotsky, Writings : 1935-36, New York, 1970 (Ist edition), p.31.

[cv].         L. Trotsky, Writings : 1935-36, New York, 1977, p. 25.

[cvi].         Ibid., p. 27.

[cvii].        L. Trotsky, Writings : 1934-35, p. 272.

[cviii].        I. Deutscher, ‘The Ex-Communist’s Conscience’, in Heretics and Renegades, p. 20. Of Course, this was a review article (of The God that Failed). But it is instructive to see Deutscher equate Stalinism with communism, or a variant thereof, and also to cheerfully disregard the mass of “non-intellectual” non-Stalinists. Deutscher was criticising ex-communists for becoming anti-communists out of revulsion to Stalinism. Fine. But the one alternative he expressly ruled out was Trotsky’s option – raising anew the banner of struggle. Shelley, whom Deutscher quotes, had not withdrawn from struggle.

[cix].         Leon Trotsky Speaks, p. 298.

[cx].         J. Van Heijenoort, op. cit., p. 130.

[cxi].         L. Trotsky, Writings: 1938-39, New York, 1974, pp. 251-2.

[cxii].        W. Reissner, op. cit., pp. 180, 181.

[cxiii].        F. Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, New York, 1992, after all his claims about the values of liberal democracy ends up with a grim picture of man as a totally isolated, alienated consumer.

[cxiv].        L. Trotsky, Writings: 1934-35, pp.21-32.

[cxv].        W. Reissner, op.  cit., p. 346.

[cxvi].        J. Molyneux, Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution, p. 180. It would be useful to make a study of the politics of the SWP and its predecessor, the IS. Unhappily, such a task is beyond the limits of the present work. It is however, possible to suggest that one can be an ultraleft sectarian without adhering to the 1938 programme. From a need to defend Cliff’s state capitalism thesis, there arose the revisionist theory of “deflected permanent revolution”, or petty bourgeois led revolutions achieving bourgeois modernisation (see chapters 2 and 3 above). Fron the same need there arose the revision of Marxist economic theory and a neo-Smithian Marxism (Soviet “capitalism” establishing itself as capitalism through trade and distribution). I call all this sectarianism, because a blind adherence of a thesis rejected by historical evidence causes these errors. The ultraleftism was well in evidence in 1976, when Edward Heath and Tony Benn (the left labourite leader) were equated and Heath’s attack on Labour’s call for massive nationalisation was treated as nothing more than “A stunt…. this carefully orchestrated propaganda …to con people …” (Socialist Worker, 22 June 1976, p. 3). Compare Trotsky’s View on a reformist proposal that “Our task is two-fold: first, to explain to the advanced workers the political meaning of “plan”…; secondly, to show in practice to possibly wider circles of workers that ….  We fight hand in hand with the workers to help them make this experiment. We share the difficulties of the struggle but not the illusions” (Writings: 1933-34, pp. 193-4). It is Trotsky, not the comrades of Molyneux, who shows an awareness of the actual consciousness and concerns of the working class. Since workers were with the reformists, Trotsky wanted to take up elements of the reformist programme that reflected the pressure of the workers to bring these workers into struggles that concretely posed the inability of reformism to even carry out its own programme.

[cxvii].       L. Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, pp. 118-26.

[cxviii].       L. Trotsky, Writings : 1933-34, p. 305.

[cxix].        Ibid.

[cxx].        Ibid., p. 306.

[cxxi].        Ibid., p. 307.

[cxxii].       Ibid.

[cxxiii].       Ibid., p. 315.

[cxxiv].       W. Reissner, op.  cit., pp. 327-8.

[cxxv].       L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, New York, 1976, p. 5.

[cxxvi].       Even the best of them, Hal Draper, had to devise a theory of state independence and a peculiar theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat (according to him, Marx did not include coercion in his definition, though as we know, for Marx the Commune as a dictatorship of the proletariat emerged due to the role of the National Guard, a coercive apparatus). See Chapter I, above for a discussion on Draper. A more extensive discussion appears in S. Wright, ‘Hal Drager’s Marxism’, Society and Change, Vol.VII, No. 4, January-March, 1991, pp. 1-39. Of course, written from a ‘state capitalist’ viewpoint, Wright’s article has formulations that the present author would not accept.

[cxxvii].      L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, p. 15.

[cxxviii].      Ibid.  p. 14.

[cxxix].       Ibid., p. 9.

[cxxx].       Ibid.

[cxxxi].       For the essentially un-Marxist nature of Cliff’s theory, see E. Mandel, ‘The Inconsistencies of State Capitalism’ in Readings in ‘State Capitalism’.

[cxxxii].      K. Marx, Grundrisse, translated and introduced by Martin Nicolaus, Harmonmdsworth, 1974, p. 414.

[cxxxiii].      Ibid., p. 421.

[cxxxiv].      Cf. K. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1,

[cxxxv].      See State Capitalism in Russia, pp. 210 – 12.  See also P. Binns, ‘The Theory of State Capitalism’, International Socialism, No.  74, January 1975, p. 24, for an attempt: “What  matters to the rules of Russia is not how many use values they pile up …  but how these use values  compare with the use values piled up by the American arms economy.  But when two piles of use values are measured up … They begin to behave like exchange values….”

[cxxxvi].      L.  Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, p. 18.

[cxxxvii].     Ibid., p. 19.

[cxxxviii].     See I. Deutscher, Marxim, Wars and Revolutions, pp. 146 – 8, where the opposes the heroic struggle of GDR workers in 1953.

[cxxxix].      E.g., T. Ali, Revolution From Above, London, 1988.

[cxl].         Some, unfortunately, also took his every prediction as a gospel, so that any attempt at concrete situation became ‘revisionism’.  Thus, when an attempt was made to update the analysis of Stalinism, there was a furious blow up.  It is false, however, to say that Mandel assigned a revolutionary role to Stalinism, as does A. Das, in his ‘Foreword’ to Russiaye Rashtriyo Punjibad, p. xv.

[cxli] I. Thatcher, Trotsky, p.207.

[cxlii].        This is not to say that Trotsky or Trotskyists have nothing to contribute in these spheres. For Trotsky see Problems … See also the writings of Vibhuti Patel, in the 1970s and 1980s a leading Indian Trotskyist and a well known feminist activist.