“To unite these Marxian elements, however small their number may be at the beginning, to revive in their name the words of real Socialism now forgotten, to call on the workers of all countries to relinquish chauvinism and raise the old banner of Marxism, this is the task of the day.” Lenin during the First World War.

In September 1938, thirty men and women met near Paris and proclaimed the Fourth International, World Party of the Socialist Revolution. “No conference of revolutionists ever met under circumstances more tense and ominous or faced tasks of such supreme historical gravity than did this one” declared a “Review of the Conference” which was issued afterwards.

It was the brink of World War Two. The reformist and stalinist leaders of the Second and Third International by their betrayals and misleadership had opened up the masses to imperialist war and fascism. Stalin had set as the capital task of his GPU apparatus the destruction of the trotskyist world conference and the assassination of Trotsky. In the year preceding the Founding Conference, Erwin Wolf, Trotsky’s secretary was kidnapped and murdered in Spain. Ignace Reiss, a GPU functionary who broke with Stalinism, and announced his adherence to the Fourth International, was murdered in Switzerland soon after. In February 1938, Leon Sedov, Trotsky’s son died in a Paris hospital under circumstances that leave no doubt of a GPU assassination. In July 1938, Rudolf Klement, responsible for the preparation of the Founding Conference, was kidnapped and murdered in Paris. Documents and reports he had been collecting for the conference disappeared with him. This tiny handful of people was facing awesome world prospects. They could draw strength only from a consciousness that the future of humanity depended on creating a world organisation and strategy for the working masses.

Trotsky in his struggle for internationalism against Stalin had hammered home the truth that the period in which we live is above all a period of world economy and world politics. Trotsky did not underestimate the tasks facing the new International. “We do not need any self deceptions” he wrote, and continued: “The discrepancy between our forces today and the tasks on the morrow is much more clearly perceived by us than by our critics.” He saw the future in terms of what must happen to the masses, and declared : “…the harsh and tragic dialectic of our epoch is working in our favour. Brought to the extreme pitch of exasperation and indignation, the masses will find no other leadership than that offered by the Fourth International”. Trotsky’s confidence in the working class was the axis of his political life and he expressed it throughout the period of sever defeats of the masses before the war.

It has been absolutely vindicated by the vast revolutionary upsurge which began during the last war. The old empires have disappeared; in a great number of countries the feudal and capitalist property forms have been changed. The upsurge carried stalinist and petty bourgeois nationalist forces into power. But history has been determined not just by this upsurge there has been another decisive factor. That factor is the crisis of leadership which remains as acute

today as in 1938. Because of it, all the advances of revolutionary events over great areas of the world have left the world and world economy under the domination of imperialism. Socialism in one Country has been proved a reactionary illusion. But what is involved is not just a question of history or abstract theory but of practical politics today. No section of the masses in any country can resolve any of its problems within its national boundaries – neither in the capitalist countries nor in the workers states can there be any permanent advance except through taking it into an international struggle.

Above all the conclusions of trotskyists in 1938 that the future would be decided on the world arena were absolutely correct.

The only movement which is based on that internationalism which alone can make the advances of humanity permanent is the trotskyist movement.

The principled trotskyist international organisation which exists today is the International Workers League (L.I.T.) Fourth International built on the principles of that conference fifty years ago. The IWL has proved in declarations and practice that it strives to build a world party with sections in every country and with mass influence. By words and deeds it has stood for internationalism and made a decisive break from circle existence in many countries. To our readers we say: If you wish to struggle for internationalism which means building an international organization and taking trotskyism out of propaganda sect existence and building deep connections with the masses; if you want to struggle for a world trotskyist party and carry forward the traditions of the Founding Conference and of Trotsky then join the ISL the British section of the IWL.

Taken from a statement in 1989. Bill Hunter is a member of the ISL editorial team.


Bill Hunter – Biography

Lifelong Apprenticeship – Life and Times of a Revolutionary

Born into the Durham working class six years before the 1926 General Strike, Bill Hunter has stayed loyal to his class and dedicated his adult life to the fight against capitalism, and against capitalism’s apologists in the Labour Party and Communist Party.

A Trotskyist from the age of 18, a factory shop steward at 21 and a borough councillor at 32, bureaucratically expelled from the Labour Party in 1954. Here he recalls these battles with humour, anecdote and documentary evidence.

These pages are crowded with thumbnail sketches of Trotskyist and working class fighters of the period before, during and after the second world war: Harry Wicks, Hugo Dewar, Reg Groves, Gerry Healy, Ted Grant, Tony Cliff, John Lawrence and the stalwart dockers’ champion Harry Constable. There is an affectionate portrait of Bill’s lifelong companion Rae. The book’s heroes are the rank-and-file dockers, engineering workers, and miners in whose struggles Bill played a part, either directly as shop steward or as editor of the lively left-wing journal Socialist Outlook (1948-54).

Lifelong Apprentice shows Hunter’s part in the international struggles of the Fourth International against capitalism and Stalinism, and includes an inside account of the Trotskyists’ response to the 1956-57 crisis in the Communist Party. It ends with the launching of the Socialist Labour League in 1959.

Price £8 including P&P ISL, c/o

News from Nowhere, 96 Bold Street, Liverpool L1 4HY