A number of comrades in various parts of the world have asked why we are Fifth Internationalists. They usually assume that we are hostile to the Fourth International. Either we are anti-Trotskyists, Maoists, Cliffites, Tony Bennites, or we are misguided ‘Fourthists’ who have not justified our rejection of the ‘Fourth’ adequately. Here we try to explain as briefly and simply as we can what we are on about.

We can dispense with the first objection easily. We are Trotskyists, who recognise the founding of the Fourth International in 1938 as the world party of revolution to replace the degenerated 3rd International. We oppose state capitalists of all sorts as anti-Trotskyists. Their calls for a 5th International are an act of betrayal of the founding of the 4th International.

But while we recognise the founding of the 4th International, we are against its ‘refounding’. For the same reason as the earlier 2nd and 3rd Internationals were replaced by the 4th we replace the 4th because it betrayed the revolution. There can be no rebuilding of an international that has historically betrayed the international working class. By this we mean that the act of betrayal changed history for the worse from a revolutionary to a counter-revolutionary outcome.

This is where our critics claim we are unable to defend our position. Our critics are usually Fourthists who recognise the historic degeneration of the 4th, sometimes as early as 1946, but mostly 1948 or 1951. But this term ‘degeneration’ means that the 4th has yet to betray and can be rebuilt, reborn, refounded etc. Degeneration is not as serious a crime as betrayal.

We think that this is a copout. Degeneration is used to shift the blame from the leadership of the 4th to external factors that caused the 4th to be too small, too weak and too isolated to lead workers against the bourgeoisie, the reformists and the Stalinists. We think that these external factors were clearly present but do not provide an excuse for betrayal.

What do you call the leadership that led to such clear betrayals as Indochina in 1945, Yugoslavia in 1948, Bolivia in 1952? It cannot be said that the 4th had so little influence in these situations that workers in 4th Parties took no notice of their leaders. The fact is that in where there were revolutionary situations, the potential for victory was real, yet the 4thist leaders abandoned their revolutionary duty and joined or adapted to popular fronts with Stalinists and elements of the bourgeoisie. The consequence of each was an historic betrayal that changed history decisively for the worse.

Popular Front

Trotsky called the popular front the "question of our time", and it was on this question that the 4th betrayed. But is this test of betrayal of the same order of importance as the betrayal of the 2nd in 1914 and the 3rd in 1933? Those betrayals seemed clear cut. They were historic betrayals because they led to historic defeats. There was no going back after the 2nd sided with imperialism. There was no going back after the 3rd sided with fascism against social democracy. In both cases the international leaderships handed the international working class over to their bosses and certain death.

Is capitulation to a popular front a betrayal of the same order? Let’s hear what Trotsky had to say about this when the POUM joined the Popular Front and signed its program during the civil war in Spain. There is no doubting that Trotsky condemned this as a ‘betrayal’. He called on Spanish Trotskyists to "condemn and denounce mercilessly before the masses the policy of all the leaders participating in the Popular Front". "To grasp in full the wretchedness of the leadership of the "Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification" (POUM) and especially the former "Left Communists" – Andres Nin, Andrade, etc. –and to portray them clearly before the eyes of all the advanced workers." (The Spanish Revolution, p.214 Pathfinder ed). So there is no doubt on this question Trotsky referred to Nin and his party as the "Spanish betrayers" (p. 220).

Then follows Trotsky’s best known statement on the Popular Front:

"The question of questions at present is the Popular Front. The left centrists seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the Popular Front. In reality, the Popular Front is the main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism. For it is often forgotten that the greatest historical example of the Popular Front is the February 1917 revolution. From February to October, the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, who represent a very good parallel to the "Communists" and the Social Democrats, were in closest alliance and in a permanent coalition with the bourgeois party of the Cadets, together with whom they formed a series of coalition governments. Under the sign of this Popular Front stood the whole mass of the people, including workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ councils. To be sure the Bolsheviks participated in the councils. But they did not make the slightest concession to the Popular Front. Their demand was to break this Popular Front, to destroy the alliance with the Cadets, and to create a genuine workers’ and peasants’ government. " (p. 220 emphasis Trotsky’s)

So it is clear that Trotsky saw entry into a Popular Front and agreeing with its program as an historic betrayal making the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism, and thus grounds for expulsion from the 4I. It remains to be seen when and how the Fourth International betrayed the revolution after his death, and whether these betrayals were historic, in changing the course of history.

How many historic betrayals is enough?

We will attempt to prove our point by looking at the cases of Indochina (1945) Yugoslavia (1948) and Bolivia (1952). In the cases of Indochina and Bolivia, colonial or semi-colonial sections were sufficiently large to be able to challenge the Stalinists for the leadership. Neither small size nor class composition provided excuses or mitigating circumstances for the betrayals that occurred. In each case the FI leadership played a supporting role by misleading these non-European sections into the traps of popular fronts.

The betrayal of the Vietnamese revolution was a failure of Eurocentric leadership of the 4I to overcome its own divisions to give a strong lead to correct elements of the Trotskyist movement that had illusions in the Stalinists. As a result the movement was split and one group, La Lutte, condemned the other, the LCI, for organising armed action committees to defeat the allies and the Stalinists in 1945 (Revolutionary History 3, 2, 1990).

In other words, the more petty bourgeois layers of VietnameseTrotskyists who looked to France for guidance were already adapting to the Eurocentric perspective that the Stalinists could be a progressive force. This was a tragic defeat because large sections of the workers and peasants voted for the Trotskyists rather than the Stalinists in 1939, and in 1945 were mobilised and armed and could have been won over from the Stalinist misleadership by uniting around a correct program. This betrayal was second only to that of Stalin in China in 1927, but this time the International Trotskyist leadership and not the Stalinists was responsible.

By 1948 the perspective that Stalinism could be progressive was to become official after a victorious Marshall Tito in Yugoslavia was pronounced an "unconscious Trotskyist" by the 4I leadership. From here on in, Trotsky’s perspective that Stalinism was a counter-revolutionary force in the worker’s movement became turned into its opposite – a progressive force able to create and defend workers’ states independently of a Trotskyist revolutionary party. The lessons of the Stalinists’ role in suppressing revolutions in Europe and IndoChina were forgotten in the enthusiasm of the Pabloite perspective of a long period of Stalinist rule.

In 1952 Bolivia was the first test case of this perspective. In 1952 a mass workers organisation, the COB (Bolivian Trade Union Centre), that had endorsed Trotsky’s Transitional Program, was led into a national popular front government by the Bolivian 4I party! Even more than in Vietnam, the masses were under the clear leadership of Trotskyism, only to be sacrificed within reach of the seizure of power to the popular front. Here there was no question of who was responsible since the 4I leadership openly endorsed joining the MNR government ( see J. Villa "A Revolution Betrayed?" in Revolutionary History 4, 3, 1992 or at http://www.geocities.com/guiamarx/).

Each of these betrayals has a common cause and it is the misleadership of the Imperio-centrist dominated centres and the breakdown of democratic centralism that resulted in the adaptation to the Stalinist popular front.

Failure of dialectics

Our explanation for these betrayals is that the imperialist based sections developed before and after the war an imperio-centrist deviation from Trotsky’s program in adapting to the labour aristocracy. Trotsky had already recognised the dangers inherent in the small international going into a world war inadequately prepared. He dealt with the hesitancy of those who opposed the founding of the 4I in quick measure. Bolsheviks had no option but to fight for the leadership of workers in an imperialist war or else by default that leadership would remain in the hands of the popular front.

This danger was unavoidable but could be lessened by rearming the leadership with Marx’s method and in revolutionary strategy and tactics. This meant removing the petty bourgeois intellectuals and their hostility to dialectics from the international leadership and basing the sections in the industrial working class for whom Trotsky said dialectics was natural. The decisive test was the war.

In Britain, Europe and North America the strategy was to turn imperialist war into civil war. The tactic was to counter petty bourgeois pacifism with the Proletarian Military Policy. The tactic was for the revolutionaries to enter the military and to agitate for a civil war perspective, counterposing to the chauvinist, racist and authoritarian policies of the military, proletarian policies of antiracism, workers internationalism, and rank and file democracy against the officers.

This was a daring tactic expressing a dialectical transformation through the vanguard acting on the opportunites offered by imperialist war. Unfortunately these opportunities were turned into opportunism in practice by the leaderships of the US and European sections. The reactionary aspects of the war bent and then broke first the PMP tactic and then the Leninist strategy. In the US Cannon and other SWP leaders were arrested as war resisters. Instead of explaining in full their program they pulled back from confronting the chauvinism, racism and authoritarianism of the US military and ruling class that had permeated into the labor aristocracy, and instead referred to Fascism as the ‘main enemy’.

What influence Cannon and the SWP could have had in rallying the ranks of the military against the war was lost in the compromise to retain the support of the chauvinist labour aristocracy of the US working class. This chauvinsm has dire consequences for Latin American workers and poor peasants too. The SWP (US) characterised Argentina (like the rest of the LA states) as a semi-colony, but never spelt out the full implications of this as it would have meant the prospect of nationalist wars against the US running up against the chauvinism of the US labor aristocracy. This set the seal on the mishapen development of LA Trotskyism which split between the majority who entered popular fronts with the national bourgeoisie, and thel minority that abstained from the national question and took a sectarian line. This imperio-centrist misleadership made the 1952 Bolivian betrayal virtually certain.

In Europe, where the tasks of the sections were complicated by Nazi occupation, the 4I sections split between the majority who joined the underground alongside the Stalinists fighting for democracy against fascism, and the few who bravely fought alone against their own military. As we have seen this pattern was repeated in IndoChina where the French parent section promoted its disastrous popular front policy that surely led to the beheading of the Trotskyist movement in a situation when a permanent revolution against the nationalists and imperialists was on the agenda.

In all cases the post-war reconstruction of the 4I failed to see these ‘deviations’ as decisive breaks from the Bolshevik/Leninist program. These capitulations to the popular front could not be corrected because their main critics in the colonies and semi-colonies were not given sufficient representation to outvote the imperialist sections. The betrayal in IndoChina was such as to destroy the Bolshevik/Leninist leadership and as in China two decades earlier to forestall permament revolution. It eliminated a powerful force that could have helped counter the Imperio-centrist sections. The calls of other semi-colonial sections such as that of Munis and Natalia Trotsky for greater representation failed to win support and they could not prevent the 4I from rolling down its path the self-destruction.

The wartime 'deviations' therefore led unchecked to the post-war liquidation of the 4I into the popular front politics of nationalist socialism. The defeat of workers at the hands of imperialism and its Stalinist ally disoriented the 4I theoretically and politically. The imperialist sections turned their subjective defeat into objective wishful thinking. Faced with the choice between a revolution that had failed, and a fait accompli in which new ‘workers’ states’ formed by Stalinists ‘from above’ offered a progressive way forward, the majority abandoned dialectics and the independence of the working class vanguard and sought refuge in any progressive, democratic, or popular movement going. Thus Cannon in the US and Pablo/Mandel in Europe retreated from Trotskyism into a sort of Menshevik fatalism which proclaimed the war was not over, or WW3 was just round the corner, or that the struggle for democracy would last 1000 years. A minority rejected the new states as contradicting the Marxist theory of revolution and became state capitalists (see article on Cliff).

Liquidationists break

The first big break for the liquidationists came with Tito’s victory in Yugoslavia in 1948. As we have seen this in itself was not a decisive betrayal by Trotskyists. Unlike Italy, Greece and Indo-China they played no role in Yugoslavia. But in adapting to Tito, the 4I virtually abolished their separate existence. All sections of the 4I welcomed the victory inYugoslavia as evidence that a popular Stalinist movement could overthrow the bourgeoisie. As much Trotsky had anticipated in the Transitional Program, but he did not then go on to say that this fact made the existence of the 4I superfluous. The 4I drew the opposite conclusion revising Trotskyism in its fundamentals back into Menshevism.

First, Stalinism as a counter-revolutionary caste was transformed theoretically into a force with both positive and negative features. Its positive aspect was its ability to overthrow the bourgeoisie. The negative was its exclusion of the working class from democratic participation in the process. But if Stalinists could do the former then the latter could be left to the vanguard with the lesser role of fighting for democracy and workers control during the transition to socialism. And if the Stalinist bureaucracy could act on behalf of workers, why not the petty bourgeoisie or even the progressive nationalist bourgeoisie? After all, all that would be necessary in such popular fronts would be the participation of the vanguard as a partner dedicated to completing the democratic transition to socialism.

So by 1948 Menshevism ruled where before the war Bolshevik Leninism had ruled. This applied equally to the minority that rejected the new states as workers’ states and who ended up as state capitalists. Their position was an idealist one also since they rejected any gains from the overthrow of the bourgeoisie unless they resulted from the actions of the working class itself. While earlier state capitalists had taken the purges, or the Stalin-Hitler pact as evidence of the lapse of the SU from socialism, a new layer of state capitalists once more found new grounds in ‘soviet expansionism’ on which to question the credentials of the SU itself to be considered a workers state.

The scene was set for Bolivia and Ceylon and beyond. In 1963 the ‘re-united’ 4I overcame its European/US rivalry and agreed to the Menshevik scenario of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the petty bourgeoisie, and even the national bourgeoisie, playing a progressive role in the transition to socialism. The Cuban revolution was the catalyst. The SWP (US) could now claim its own ‘workers’ state’ led by Castro the "unconscious YankeeTrotskyist". In effect, a petty bourgeois nationalist movement transformed itself into a Stalinist movement and then into a socialist movement by an objective process without the subjective agency of the revolutionary vanguard.

The ‘new’ vanguard was made up of social movements such as youth, blacks women and petty bourgeois nationalists, rather than the industrial proletariat. This amounted to a fundamental rejection of the vanguard party and the industrial proletariat on which it is based, and the Transitional Program and the dialectical method that informs it. Permanent Revolution was junked for the Menshevik conception of the completion of the democratic revolution in some more or less peaceful transition to socialism. In our view that these betrayals, and the fundamental shift from BL to Menshevism that caused them, have destroyed the 4th International beyond res-errection.

In the first part of this article we argued that the Fourth International has betrayed the international working class, so that it is necessary to build a new international. We call for a Fifth International to make it clear to workers that we reject the false claims of degenerate Trotskyism to any rebuilding, reforging or renewal of a bankrupt movement. But this does not mean that we abandon the foundation documents of the 4I any more than we do the 3I and 2I as a part of the living legacy of revolutionary communism. Here we explain why we believe no new revolutionary international can be built unless it reclaims the revolutionary theory and method of Trotskyism up to 1940.

We believe that the founding of the 4I was necessary in 1938. Trotsky was correct to draw the conclusion in 1933 that the 3I was past reform. The betrayal of the German workers to fascism was a decisive betrayal of the same order as that of 1914. From that point on, it was a matter of preparing the ground for a new international. The rush to war made it necessary to found the 4I in 1938 even while its cadres around the world were small in number. There was no alternative. A new imperialist war would open up the possibility of new revolutionary situations and the 4I had to be prepared to challenge the Stalinists and Social Democracy for the leadership of the working class. As we saw in the first part of this article, Trotskyists did challenge for that leadership and in Indo-China and Bolivia come within reach of victory.

Programmatic Foundations

While the 4I lacked in numbers and implantation in the working class in most countries it was well armed in its theory and method. The Transitional Program condensed the method and theory of Bolshevik-Leninism for the period and the developing situation of war and revolution.

Trotsky’s pre-war perspective which led him to predict either the victory of capitalism or socialism, was proven incorrect. But the survival of the SU and the failure of revolutions and political revolutions would not have disoriented him like it did his feeble followers. In 1923 he had quickly adjusted to the defeat of the German revolution against those who were to adopt the "3rd Period" ultra-leftism of Stalin, and the Mensheviks who abandoned hope in proletarian revolution for the fatalism of the march of history. There is every reason to suppose that Trotsky would have corrected his perspective and quickly set about rebuilding the international to meet the new tasks facing it.

For example, Trotsky was correct in anticipating revolutions in the East and in foreseeing the possibility of revolutionary pressure forcing the petty bourgeois Stalinist leadership to expropriate the bourgeoisie to defend and extend its parasitic privileges. After all he was able to point to this as it happened in Poland and Finland in 1939. He would have had no problem explaining the ‘buffer states" well before 1948. And he would have led the 4I in the unconditional defence of those states. It seems that only the Marcy-Copeland faction of the SWP (US) was able to apply this method consistently to the Degenerate Workers States in Eastern Europe in their unconditional defence of the Soviet intervention against the restorations Nay Government in Hungary in 1956.

We can see therefore, that Trotsky’s founding of the 4I as an organisation and based on fundamental programmatic documents served to provide the guidance for Trotskyists in struggles in both the colonies and semi-colonies and the imperialist heartlands during and after WW2. Similarly, they can serve once more as foundation documents for a new international, along with the revolutionary heritage of the 2I before 1914 and the 3I up to and including the 4th Congress in 1924. Hence we adhere to the Documents of the Fourth International , specifically the Transitional Program of 1938, and the Documents of the Emergency Conference of the 4I of May 1940, which include the "Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution", and "The Colonial World and the Second Imperialist War".


Regroupment is a term used these days to mean splits from degenerate tendencies, and fusions with other groups and tendencies that share an agreed program. For us regroupment has to be on the basis of agreement on fundamental principles of program. This must mean sharing a common understanding of the transitional method, or which is the same thing, dialectics. It is this method and the principles of program that flow from it that is missing from post-war degenerate Trotskyism. However, there are many tendencies and individuals who are moving left or are capable of moving left and open to discussion around method and program. Inevitably the ability of groups to reach agreement is tested by events such as the restoration of capitalism in the workers’ states, the bombing of Iraq, imperialist war in Yugoslavia and other crucial struggles.

We split, along with the Bolivian and Peruvian sections, from Workers Power (LRCI) in 1995 over fundamental programmatic differences. These were first, a rightward adaptation of WP to left imperialism over capitalist restoration. WP preferred bourgeois democracy to Stalinist rule in Germany, the SU etc. They mistook the initial popular movements against the Stalinist regimes for political revolutions when they were in reality popular fronts for restoration. Second, in Yugoslavia in 1995. WP did not oppose the NATO bombing of Bosnian Serbs outright thereby tailing democratic imperialism. A full account of this split and its documentation can be found on our website in the International Bulletins 1, 2 and 3.

Of course underlying these programmatic differences was a difference in method. WP had abandoned its attempts to apply dialectics to its characterisation of the degenerate workers’ states. It began to identify the Stalinist regimes with the state as a whole and to call this state a bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie. This is an inconsistent position between Trotskyism and State Capitalism since the class nature of the bourgeois state (were the bureaucracy must now fill in for the bourgeoisie as class) is in contradiction with the class nature of workers property. WP had made a break from state capitalism in 1975, but under the pressure of the democratic counter-revolution against workers internationally, they began to retreat back towards the state capitalist position.

These sections that split formed the LCMRCI, or CEMICOR in Spanish, which is not yet a democratic centralist organisation. Thus the CWGNZ position on the 5I is not shared by the other groups in CEMICOR. In 1996 we entered discussions with the WIL and Workers Voice. Both groups split as a result but we failed to recruit members all the same. We have since collaborated in a number of joint statements with the LBI and POR (Argentina) but have yet to open formal discussions with them. The documents that relate to these groups can be found in the Internationalist Bulletins on our website.

For a New Revolutionary Communist International!

From Class Struggle No 33/34, June-July 2000

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