Seventy years ago today, thirty people from eleven countries came together secretly in the home of a French anti-war revolutionary Alfred Rosmer in Périgny, near Paris. In addition to those who had travelled from the United States, France, Great Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union, Italy, Latin America, Poland, Belgium, Holland and Greece, organisations in many other countries pledged their support for the risky venture being undertaken. Their mission? To found a new organisation that would work internationally for revolutionary socialism. It was to be called the Fourth International.
The meeting was held on the eve of World War II, six months after Germany annexed Austria, and just 27 days before Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the infamous ‘peace in our time’ agreement with Hitler. As the American Trotskyist, Max Shachtman, wrote: “The Fourth International is proud of the fact that during the dramatic Munich week, when Europe seemed to be hurtling headlong towards a new imperialist slaughter, when the traditional parties of the proletariat were rallying to the flag of the bourgeoisie and the centrists were paralysed by their internal contradictions—our world conference, meeting at the same time, issued the only clear cut, flaming call to the proletariat to unite on resolute internationalist struggle against imperialists, its war and its lackeys.”
Within a few years of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, unemployment had risen dramatically. Right wing and fascist politicians – amongst them Adolf Hitler - who a few years earlier had been seen as cranks and demagogues, suddenly rose into prominence. But their coming to power was not inevitable. In the last analysis, it was the outcome of the degeneration of the Third Communist International under Stalin. Hitler’s rise to power, as Trotsky analysed so acutely, was facilitated by the disastrous political leadership on the part of working class organisations – the German Communist and Socialist Parties in particular, which allowed the powerful workers movement against Hitler to be split.
The creation of the a new International was the culmination of a campaign launched led by Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the 1917 Russian Revolution, along with others who opposed the rise of Stalinism from a revolutionary standpoint - the Left Opposition. They issued a declaration in 1933, after Hitler’s establishment of a Nazi dictatorship in Germany, a confirmation of the warning Trotsky had issued a year earlier. He noted that the Communist International could not survive the victory of Fascism in Germany.
Trotsky’s analysis of the disastrous impact of Stalinism which led to the collapse of the German Communist Party had led him to conclude that the Third International- the Comintern - founded largely by himself and Lenin in 1919 – had ceased to be a revolutionary organisation. He concluded that a new organisation, a Fourth International, had to be built. There were many people who came into conflict with Stalinism, but only Trotsky and his supporters were able to develop a revolutionary alternative. As Leopold Trepper, leader of the secret anti-Nazi intelligence organisation, the Red Orchestra was to note many years later “Let them not forget, however, that they [the Trotskyists] had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profound distress at seeing the revolution betrayed,” he wrote in his book The Great Game.
Today, as the credit crunch turns into fully-fledged recession, threatening to eclipse earlier slumps in the 20th century, the political effects will take new and different forms from those of earlier times. Conditions are maturing for social and political upheavals which will again pose issues of leadership. It is imperative to understand both the dangers and the great opportunities which this offers new generations today.
Political regimes like that of Bush and Brown continue in power largely due to inertia and the lack of attractive political alternatives. Protests, strikes, social movements and campaigns for rights of every kind already exist which challenge the capitalist economic system and its antidemocratic and authoritarian states. For success under these new conditions, it is vital to connect with historic movements – and use that knowledge to forge new solutions and alternatives. This is why A World to Win is hosting the Stand Up For Your Rights Festival on October 18.
Gerry Gold and Corinna Lotz