Forty-five years ago, Leon Trotsky wrote that the crisis facing mankind was reducible to a crisis of proletarian leadership. For Trotsky, this statement had a precise meaning. The old leadership of the working class - the social democratic and Stalinist parties - had paved the way for terrible defeats in China, Germany, Austria and Spain.
They were useless to the working class as the storm clouds of world-wide war gathered. Unless a new party, a new leadership for the working class could be built and could lead genuine proletarian revolutions, then the war would not merely lead to untold suffering for millions, but would set back the struggle of the international working class for decades. The building of a party, an international revolutionary party, capable of leading the proletariat, was the only hope of averting, or bringing to a speedy revolutionary conclusion, the crisis that engulfed the entire world in the late 1930s.
The new leadership was to be forged by the Fourth International.
This organisation, comprising the most dedicated fighters for the cause of the proletariat, was not compromised by the defeats and betrayals of the past. Its leader, ~on Trotsky, had waged a revolutionary struggle against the bureaucratic usurpers in the USSR led by Stalin. He forged a world movement that carried out a courageous and active defence of revolutionary communism under conditions of defeat which drove tens of thousands of militants from other parties to utter despair.
The Fourth International never became the leadership of the proletariat on a significant scale. The war shattered its weak structures. The fascists, the imperialist Allies and the Kremlin's army of hired assassins murdered its finest cadres. The Allied victory ensured that the world was shaped according to a pattern unforeseen (and unforeseeable) by Trotsky. The forces of the Fourth International remained marginal to the class struggle. They became disoriented by the falsification of Trotsky's perspectives. Their banner, alas, was not taken up by millions.
The problem of leadership remained unresolved, and capitalism gained a respite that, on a world scale, has lasted to this day.
These developments contributed to the destruction of the Fourth International. It was destroyed at two levels. First, its inability to develop the Marxist programme in the face of new developments undermined its adherence to that programme.
By 1951 it had embraced a programme at odds with Marxism. Second, the confusion in its ranks produced a muddled organisational conflict that led, in 1953, to a split in the Fourth International. Thus, it died in an organisational sense too.
The original, politically unclear, fragmentation of what had been the Trotskyist movement, inevitably bred further ideological confusion and further splits. What is patently clear is that no Fourth International in the tradition of Leon Trotsky exists today.
Certain organisations, for example the Socialist Workers Party (GB), use this fact to scoff at any talk of building "Internationals". The fragmentation of ostensible Trotskyists is a cause for philistine jokes inside such profoundly national sects. In contrast, we believe that the destruction of the Fourth International poses the urgent need to build a new International.
Today the relative social peace, engendered by the "long boom", has drawn to an end. Since the late 1960s, successive economic and political crises have rocked France, Britain and Italy. At the same time, the conflicts between imperialism, its agents and the anti-imperialist movements, draw the capitalist powers and the USSR ever closer to war.
The stockpiling of nuclear weapons; the struggles in the Middle East, Asia, Central America and Southern Africa; the belligerent stance by imperialism against threats to its interests, exemplified by Britain's war against Argentina, are all examples of the present unstable period. They are graphic reminders of Lenin's description of the imperialist epoch as one of wars and revolutions.
The danger is, that faced with this sharpening world crisis, the working class finds itself, once again, led by traitors and vacillators. Once again the revolutionary communists are in a tiny minority. The task of building a new leadership is inextricably linked to the struggle to pull the world back from the brink of a nuclear catastrophe. Imperialism will destroy the world, rather than let itself be destroyed. The working class must be won to a revolution against imperialism.
The task, therefore, is enormous. There is a world to win. In order to take that struggle forward, to build an international revolutionary party, it is necessary to look clearly and carefully at the history of the Fourth International, to examine the origins and nature of its political and organisational collapse. Many tendencies have attempted this task, some providing useful insights. Most have failed to "settle accounts" with the tendency from which they emerged, thus carrying with them the political errors which blinded their predecessors.
Workers Power's break from one of the fragments of the Fourth International (SWP-GB) was political as well as organisational. It has enabled us, we believe, to look at the history of the FI from its foundation to its collapse in 1951, without detracting from the achievements of its cadres, or refusing to criticise its errors.
The document is divided into five sections. The first looks at the development of the Fourth International's programme and method.
The second deals with the inability of the FI after the war to develop Trotsky's programme in the face of a temporary stabilisation of the imperialist world order and a strengthened Stalinism. It traces the origins of the 1953 split to this disorientation, showing clearly that neither side were able to offer a revolutionary perspective and programme for the class struggle: The third and fourth sections examine the political record of these major fragments, as well as the "splinters" which have been thrown off them. It demonstrates the centrist bankruptcy of the major currents, and the failure of any of the recent splits to fundamentally break with their politics and method.
However, this work is not simply a history of the FI. History is necessary as a guide to understanding; understanding is a guide to action. In the final section, we delineate the tasks that face genuine Trotskyists in fulfilling the goal that Trotsky set his followers - to resolve the crisis of leadership by building a World Party of Socialist Revolution.
Finally, a word on the origins and intention of this book. It was originally produced as a set of theses for discussion inside the Workers Power Group. At an extended National Committee of Workers .Power in January 1983, the theses were amended and adopted. They have since been agreed by the Irish Workers Group. For both organisations, they represent our most developed position to date on the Fourth International. Our intention in publishing them is to submit them for discussion amongst all those tendencies, internationally, who are committed to a thoroughgoing analysis of the Fourth International and the tasks that face Trotskyists today. We are committed to having such discussions on an open and honest basis. Unlike the centrists, we have nor fear of public polemic and criticism. We believe that it will be through discussion of the fundamental questions raised in this book that a new revolutionary banner can be raised.