In Defense of the Fourth International (Part II)

Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky (1879 - 1940) working on his book 'The History of the Russian Revolution' in his study at Principe, Gulf of Guinea. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

By Eduardo Almeida

VI- How to rebuild the IV

One must have the ambition to unite revolutionaries in order to rebuild the Fourth. The dispersion of revolutionary currents has been a reality for decades. The first question on the method to advance in regrouping emerges. Is it correct to summon an “Open Conference” to rebuild the Fourth? In other words, is it correct to group all organizations that claim to be revolutionaries to begin a process of confluence and discussion?
We believe this is a mistaken method. The experience of the 1930s, before the founding of the IV, shows its inefficiency. Trotsky, when analyzing the proposals to build the IV International thought:
“The proposal of a Conference with all the groups that claim the Left Opposition (…) expresses an attempt to set back the wheel and shows complete lack of understanding of the conditions and laws of development of a revolutionary organization, and the method of selection and education of its cadres. We not only rejected but condemned such attitude for been highly contradictory with Marxist organizational policy.” [11; our translation].
“This regards the elaboration of the fundamental bases of revolutionary policy for a long period. This type of issues was never solved by heterogeneous and improvised conferences. On the contrary, the lack of political preparation and the hasty summoning in a disorganized atmosphere, which will only serve to run the risk of increasing ideological chaos and much irritation of the different groups.” [12; our translation].
The IWL defends that the unification processes must be solid, prepared and deeply discussed, and if necessary, they must be slow. In this sense, we propose clear criteria. The first is that the rebuilding of the IV must be based on a program. In other words, in a common understanding of reality and the tasks that we propose to the proletariat in the current epoch and stage. As part of this understanding, it is necessary to have agreements on the fundamental facts of class struggle and joint action in it.
Trotsky stood by these criteria in the 1930s,
“In the grounds of our relations with the SPD, the issue must be reduced to the program, tactic and regime of the new Party. Evidently, no general abstract formulas are needed, but verification, on paper, of all the experiences of the last years, where both organizations participated. (…) We do not pose the issues mechanically to the leaders. We say: Before reaching a definitive resolution on our collaboration, which we wish to be the closest possible, it is necessary to be completely sure that we share one same standing regarding the fundamental issues of proletarian strategy. Here are our standings forged in the heat of class struggle in different countries. What is their attitude before these issues? If you do not have a definitive standing, we will attempt to study them together, beginning with the most immediate and controversial political issues. In general, Marxists cannot take a standing any other way. It is necessary to add that we are willing to collaborate in action without waiting for a definitive answer to all the issues in question. [13; our translation.]
On the other hand, it is necessary to reaffirm that relations between revolutionary organizations must have the objective of approximation of common standings and actions to advance towards unification, as there are solid agreements. This, as a precondition, these relations must be based on a common method of honesty, openness and loyalty. In other words, in a framework of mutual respect, to seek agreements that unite us and discuss in complete detail the existing differences. If there are fundamental agreements, one may advance towards unification. On the contrary, even if one does not reach unification, one may sustain fraternal relations and agreements of a lesser level.

VII- Whom to rebuild the Fourth with?

We understand that the rebuilding of the Fourth is a task for revolutionaries, not only for those with a Trotskyist origin. A Fourth rebuilt must group revolutionaries coming from different Marxist traditions, mainly around a revolutionary program.
As we said in the document adopted by the 1997 IWL Congress, “the reconstruction of the Fourth, and of the IWL-FI to face this task, will take place based on the confluence of individuals, groups and parties that come not just from Trotskyism or Marxism. [14; our translation.]
In the second place, this task may only be carried out with the organizations that want to build today a world party for the socialist revolution. Evidently, we cannot group organizations against this task. In that same document (1997) we said, “The currents that come from revolutionary Marxism, but today renounce to struggle for the building of the world party of socialist revolution, may take on all the tasks they want, except the rebuilding of the Fourth International.” [15; our translation.] The national Trotskyist currents, opposed to the rebuilding of the Fourth, are part of these.
We cannot rebuild the Fourth with those who set aside the building of revolutionary parties to build “anti-capitalist parties”, in other words, reformist electoral parties.
Neither may we rebuild the Fourth with those who, even vindicating Trotskyism, abandoned Trotskyist principles, crossed the class frontier, collaborated and capitulated to bourgeois governments. Among these currents, we find those that support bourgeois governments like the Nicolas Maduro administration in Venezuela or the Portuguese PS administration, the Assad genocidal dictatorship in Syria, and the PT administrations in Brazil.
This attitude is not self-proclamatory. We are not the Fourth rebuilt. This task is yet to be done, and we hope to carry it out will all revolutionaries willing to face it. We barely want to rebuild it seriously, with a program, a party and international conception.
Most of the revolutionary principles and strategies of our time are condensed on what we consider as “programmatic basis”: the Communist Manifesto, the resolutions of the first four congresses of the Third International and the Transitional Program, adopted by the founding conference of the Fourth International.
Besides, we must take on the task of updating the Transitional Program, particularly after the East Europe events, marked by the complex combination between revolutionary mass processes and capitalist restoration.
This very important historical fact generated enormous ideological confusion, just as a reorganization of the revolutionary left worldwide, generating crisis and splits. When Trotsky wrote the Transitional Program, he had to synthesize the accumulated teachings of Marxism, and he had to explain what had happened with the bureaucratization of the USSR. Now, due to the restoration of capitalism and the overthrow of Stalinist dictatorships in the East, the updating of the Transitional Program prevails.
The IWL began this task. We had one congress focused on the programmatic tasks and will have another one in 2018, and we will continue to develop the program until we have conditions to update it. We want to pose the challenge to the currents and groups who actually set on to rebuild the Fourth, to answer class struggle. This is our proposal to establish a dialogue with other organizations, for this rebuilding.

VIII- A New Epoch that changes Everything?

We understand the rebuilding of the Fourth parts from the vindication of the Transitional Program, with its worldview and the task posed for revolutionaries. The growing polarization and instability in world situation with the harsher confrontations between revolution and counterrevolution, and greater space for the extreme right and left, only updates this understanding.
The crisis of humanity continues to be the consequence of the crisis of revolutionary leadership, due to the action of reformist apparatus that abort or stop the revolutionary processes from advancing. The fall of the world Stalinist apparatus frees reorganization forces of mass movement. But the task to build revolutionary parties to lead the proletariat is just beginning.
Sadly, the understanding of most of the so-called Trotskyist movement is opposed to this. The “United Secretariat” continues to be called “Fourth International” due to inertia, despite not resembling at all the Fourth founded by Trotsky. The currents that lead it are the continuity of those that destroyed the Fourth in the post-war and never managed to rebuild it.
With the European East events, the USEC took a qualitative leap. With capitalist restoration in the USSR and neoliberal globalization, the USEC leadership understood there was “a change in epoch”, which would lead to “a new program” and “a new type of party”. The change of epoch, according to them, places the workers’ movement in a defensive situation for decades and makes a socialist revolution impossible. The characteristics of the “new epoch” are the “social weakening of the workers” and the “crisis of the socialist project”. This unfavorable “world balance of power” is not due to objective elements but subjective elements, like the ideological setback of the workers’ movement due to the “deep effect of the crisis of the existing real socialism”.
According to them the need of a different program prevails, one that is focused on reforms to capitalism instead of the socialist revolution and the building of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Consequently, they set aside the strategy of building revolutionary parties, to build anti-capitalist ones. Consistently, the USEC has no reasons left to build parties separated from the reformists. United parties with reformist programs are called for.
Thus, with a different formulation, the standing of the old Pabloist leadership in the second post-war against the building of revolutionary parties was reborn.
This happened in a very different situation from the one faced by Pabloism after WWII. There is no strengthening of Stalinism. It is actually a brutal crisis due to the disappearance of the states they used to lead.
Now, this policy has even worse consequences due to the direct dissolution of the previously Trotskyist parties into the reformist ones. The greatest and most traditional USEC party, the French LCR, which had an important role in May of 68, dissolved into the NPA (New Anti-capitalist Party). The example was internationally followed: in Portugal, they dissolved into the Bloco de Esquerda, in Spain into Podemos, and in Brazil into the PT and PSOL. The “limits” of these leaders, according to the USEC, are due to the setback in mass consciousness, due to the “historic defeat that took place with restoration”. The only alternative is to support them or be part of them.
Consequently, the USEC stopped being a revisionist current, to become an international front of reformist parties.
The XVII Congress of the USEC took place last March 2018, and it reaffirmed these theses. They did not draw any balance from the NPA disaster, which goes through a deep crisis with little over 1200 members, much less than what the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League, Trotskyist party that dissolved into the NPA) used to be. Or the crisis generated by Syriza (which was uncritically supported by the USEC leadership), with its neoliberal government in Greece. The most important party today that was present in the USEC congress was the Portuguese Bloco de Esquerda (led by cadres that come from the USEC), which is part of the PS bourgeois government in Portugal.
This “congress” was an actual meeting of reformist parties, some sort of World Reformist Forum, with decreasing influence in reality. They reported 6000 members around the world, counting 3000 of a Guerrilla organization in the Philippines (which has no relation with Trotskyism) and 1000 of an anti-capitalist party in Pakistan. These reports from the Philippines and Pakistan are a disguise, far from reality, to hide the world decadence of this current.
Happily, a left opposition emerged within the USEC, which reaffirms the understanding of the world today as part of the same imperialist epoch, and sustains the need to build revolutionary parties.

IX – Against Sects

Trotsky rejected sects. As the Transitional Program states,
“These sterile politicians generally have no need of a bridge in the form of transitional demands because they do not intend to cross over to the other shore. They simply dawdle in one place, satisfying themselves with a repetition of the same meager abstractions. Political events are for them an occasion for comment but not for action. Since sectarians as in general every kind of blunderer and miracle-man, are toppled by reality at each step, they live in a state of perpetual exasperation, complaining about the “regime” and the “methods” and ceaselessly wallowing in small intrigues. In their own circles, they customarily carry on a regime of despotism. The political prostration of sectarianism serves to complement, shadow-like, the prostration of opportunism, revealing no revolutionary vistas. In practical politics, sectarians unite with opportunists, particularly with centrists, every time in the struggle against Marxism.” []
We reject the sects. We seek ways to reach mass movement permanently and obsessively. We vindicate the conceptions of the Third International regarding the united front intervention in the mass movement, which sects reject.
Not by chance, the parties linked to the IWL compose the Trotskyist current with the most influence in the union and popular movements. We are in the leadership of the CSP Conlutas in Brazil, Coordinadora (El Salvador), No Austerity in Italy, Cobas Madrid in Spain, just as important unions like Sitrasep (Costa Rica) and many others.
This discussion is interesting because reformist and centrist currents accuse us of “sectarians”. We are not sectarians. The sectarians reject united front and united action tactics. Sectarians do not manage to open a way through the mass movement. However, they accuse us of “sectarians” because we struggle against reformists.
This was the Third International’s understanding, which always combined the united front policy with an open struggle against reformist leadership. In its Third Congress, when the young communist parties continued to be the minority in the mass movement and had to face the dispute for the masses in Europe against the bourgeois leadership and reformists mass parties, the Third discussed the need of the united front.
The recommendations of the International had, in essence, a double meaning: on one hand, the defense of common actions in class struggle, along with the working class, for their struggles for minimum demands through unions or outside them. In this practical work of leading the masses to action, the united front and united action tactics are indispensable. As Trotsky said, “Reformists fear the revolutionary potential of the masses; their most precious arena is the parliamentary tribune; the union headquarters, the justice courts, the lobbies of the ministries. On the contrary, what interests us, apart from all consideration, is to drag the reformists from their paradise and set them beside us before the masses. Using the correct tactic, we may only win.” [Our translation.]
In this sense, all the tactic arsenal used by the workers’ movement, like unity in action and united front continue valid to promote the direct action of the masses, on one hand, and to unmask reformist leaders, on the other. The use of these tactics of demands and denunciations continues to be essential to advance in the experience of the masses before these leaderships.
In the conception of the Third International, both movements (unity and confrontation) must be applied jointly. “The experience of the Communist Parties over the last two years of struggle has fully confirmed the position taken by the Communist International. The tactics of the Communist International have in a number of countries succeeded in separating the revolutionary workers not only from the open reformists but also from the centrists.” [On Tactics,]
If we have the objective to destroy reformism, this must be expressed at all times. If we take part in a struggle, even with a unitary tactic, revolutionaries must delimit from reformism and seek to help the masses carry out their experience with these leaders. Thus, this tactic is called unity-confrontation, where demands and denunciations are made.
To be relentless against reformism is not sectarian. To be sectarian is not to use correctly the united front and unity in action tactics. We fight sects… and reformism.
Another characteristic of the sects that we reject is that they do not develop loyal and fraternal relations with other revolutionary organizations. They intend to parasite more important Trotskyist organizations and win over members. They build themselves in some sort of “political cannibalism” and permanent disloyalty, and not through deep and loyal programmatic discussion and common action in class struggle.
We particularly reject the method of entryism (and secret fractional work) frequently used by these organizations within organizations they say to be approaching. Entryism is a tactic only admissible with enemy or opportunist organizations, not amongst revolutionary organizations. Thus, there are no possibilities to rebuild the Fourth with these sects.

X- To build the Fourth International or to fall in national Trotskyism?

Internationalism was one of the principles broadly disseminated in the workers’ movement. It results from the understanding that the socialist revolution must be international or it will be defeated. Part of this implies understanding that without an international leadership, national parties end by capitulating to unavoidable national pressures.
Thus, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky always took the building of the internationals as inextricably related to the building of national parties. Without any self-proclamation, we affirm that we are the only international current of Trotskyism that preserves internationalism as a basis for its existence and functioning. We do not say this with joy, but looking objectively to the ideological and programmatic setback in the Trotskyist movement. Sadly, no other international current works with the criteria of a true international, a world party of the revolution.
The IWL has a functioning based on regular congresses – in general, every two years – that debate and decide democratically the policy and program of the international. This debate involves all the members of all the parties (with the translation of documents in at least three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese).
These congresses are very rich moments of discussions and controversies. When necessary, tendencies or fractions may be organized in these congresses, with the same rights as the international leadership. After the discussions, the documents are adopted by the Congress, and from there they are adopted as international standings of all the parties. Along with this, an international leadership is elected in the Congress to apply these policies.
The national parties, also in democratic congresses, define the national policies. Since the IWL leadership does not have the authority that the Third or the Fourth used to (which led revolutions), the international does not have the power to change the policy of a national section. However, it may discuss the policy of these parties, and this is essential to fight the unavoidable national pressures suffered by the parties.
After discussion, national sections determine the national policy (opposite to international standings, which are defined in the IWL congress). In the history of the IWL, there have been countless political crisis of national parties, where the discussion of international policy was decisive to correct the path.
The United Secretariat had an opposite path to ours. The former leadership of Mandel and Pablo imposed a federation, without actual centralization to the USEC. They formally acknowledged the need of a centralized international but built a loose federation of national sections with permanent international tendencies and fractions, each one with their own program and without any discipline.
Federalism is opposite to international democratic centralism. There is no democratic discussion after a collective decision that is applied by all. Each sector does what it wants. This conception has nothing to do with a democratic centralist International, like the tradition of the Third and the Fourth. This left the opportunist path of the national parties without an ideological and programmatic international counterweight. This type of international organization was linked to the policy of the very international leadership, which also capitulated to all type of reformist leadership.
Afterward, with the course of parties from centrism to reformism, the United Secretariat also changed and became a reformist international current, grouping mostly national reformist parties without any degree of centralization. We do not say that they are reformist as an insult. We usually do not do this. We are saying that these parties seized to defend the socialist revolution and the building of the dictatorship of the proletariat in their program, and they adopted an electoral strategy.
The United Secretariat has some periodic meetings and congresses distanced apart. The XV Congress was in 2003, the XVI in 2010, and the last one was in 2018. These congresses are merely forums of parties, without centralized resolutions for all. The name Fourth International is held to continue attracting new generations of revolutionaries attracted to Trotskyism.
The minority revolutionary sectors that have continued in the USEC until now are not in their actual place.
Another variation now a day, is the so-called “national-Trotskyism”, which is as pro-liquidation as federalism. Moreno defined this current as follows,
“[…] its different variations sustain that the matter of the leadership and the international organization constitute some sort of “maximum program”, for an undetermined future, which for now we must maintain in a declaratory status, of wishful thinking, in the expectation of ‘conditions’”[1].
For them, the essential task is to build national parties and then, in an undetermined future, to form an International. This ideology covers the action of these parties, as a “mother party”. They set up international currents, which are barely an extension of these mother parties. They serve for the leadership of these parties to give orders to the smaller parties, without there being congresses that democratically determine the policy of these currents. The definition of the policy and program of these currents is the one given by the “mother party” and not by the international congress.
This unavoidably leads to the destruction of these organizations. The national Trotskyist currents of the past, like Healy, Lambert of the French Lutte Ouvriere party, or the SWP in the USA already suffered brutal consequences. Healy’s current was destroyed after a brutal moral crisis, with Healy accused of rapes of young members. The Lambertist current is in complete decadence, both in France and in Brazil (its greatest groups), being a mere ghost of the strength they used to have. The party Lutte Ouvriere has less importance in France each time. The SWP today is an organization with less than 200 members, completely adapted to Castroism, without any real intervention in USA class struggle.
Today, other expressions of national Trotskyism are the Argentinian PTS or PO, which do not really attempt to build the IV, only their national parties and “international currents”, but without any actual congresses or real international functioning, as we will see in articles to come. They are still in ascent, but national Trotskyism will end by defining their future, as it happened with other currents in the past.

XIII- The IWL is in service of revolutionaries as a tool to rebuild the Fourth

We have stated the programmatic guidelines, method and actors with whom we set on to rebuild the Fourth. However, there is one central issue left to discuss: what is the organizational framework from where it may be rebuilt?
Before this, the IWL is in service of revolutionary organizations and activists around the world as a tool to rebuild the Fourth.
We have never defined ourselves, nor do we believe to be “the only international revolutionary current in the world.” It is very likely that other currents may emerge willing to build a revolutionary international following the models of the Third and the Fourth, in the framework of factors such as the deepening of class struggles, the crisis of the apparatus and most international Trotskyist currents.
This last factor has particular importance. The “Trotskyist movement”, considered as a set of organizations and currents that beyond the differences, sustain their independence from Social Democrat, Stalinist, nationalist bourgeois or petty bourgeois apparatus, although in several cases they capitulated politically, no longer exists. Some of these organizations, although they continue to exist, they are not independent. They are left-wing Castro-Chavist, Social Democracy or national appendixes. In the framework of this turn of the majority to the right, the IWL-FI, along with other organizations, remained as a principled international organization. We are engaged in the programmatic update, which is a central task for the rebuilding of the Fourth.
We are open to a unification with other revolutionary currents, as long as we have programmatic and methodological agreements.
We set our International in service of all international or national revolutionary organizations so that it serves as an instrument to build this international, in other words, to rebuild the Fourth.
Translation: Alejandra Ramírez.
[1] MORENO, Nahuel. Nuestra experiencia con el lambertismo. [Our experience with Lambertism] Available in: <>, accessed 03/21/2017.


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