Brief History of Marxist Internationalism

Why must socialism be international?

What was the First International

What was the Second International?

What was the Third International?

What was the Left Opposition?

What was the Fourth International?

What were Trotsky’s perspectives for after WWII?

Q. Why must socialism be international?

A. The need for internationalism flows from the position of the working class internationally. This in its turn has been developed by capitalism through the organization of world economy as one single, indivisible whole. The interests of the working class of one country are the same as the interests of the workers of the other countries. Because of the division of labor established by capitalism, the basis is laid for a new international organization of labor and planned production on a world scale. Thus, the struggle of the working class in all countries forms the basis for the movement towards socialism.

Capitalism, through the private ownership of the means of production, developed industry and smashed the local particularism of feudalism. It broke down the archaic customs dues, tolls, and exactions of feudalism. Its great creation is the national state and the world market. But once having accomplished this task, it itself has become a fetter on the development of production. The national state and private ownership of the means of production hamper the development of society. Production possibilities can only be fully utilized by abolishing national barriers and establishing a worldwide federation of workers’ states. These, with state ownership and workers’ management, are a necessary transition stage on the road to socialism. It is these factors which dictate the strategy and tactics of the proletariat, as reflected in its conscious leadership. In the aphorisms of Marx “the workers have no country” and therefore “workers of the world unite.”

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Q. What was the First International?

A. It was with international considerations in mind that Marx organized the First International as a means of uniting the advanced layers of the working class on an international scale. In the First International were British Trade Unionists, French Radicals, and Russian Anarchists. Guided by Marx, it laid the framework for the development of the labor movement in Europe, Britain, and America. In its day, the bourgeoisie trembled before the menace of communism in the form of the International. It established deep roots in the main European countries. After the collapse of the Paris Commune, there was an upswing of capitalism on a world scale. Under these conditions, the pressures of capitalism on the labor movement resulted in internal quarrels and factionalism. The intrigues of the Anarchists received heightened impetus. The growth of capitalism in an organic upswing in its turn affected the organization internationally. Under such circumstances, after first moving the headquarters of the organization to New York, Marx and Engels decided that, for the time being, it would be better to dissolve the International in 1876.

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Q. What was the Second International?

A. The work of Marx and Engels with the First International bore fruit in mass organizations of the proletariat in Germany, France, Italy, and other countries as Marx had foreseen. This in its turn prepared the way for the organization of the International on the principles of Marxism, which embraced greater masses. Thus, in 1889, the Second International was born. But the development of the Second International largely took place within the framework of an organic upswing of capitalism, and while in words espousing the ideas of Marxism, the top layers of world social democracy came under the pressure of capitalism. The leaders of the Social Democratic parties and the trade union mass organizations of the working class, became infected with the habits and style of living of the ruling class. The habit of compromise and discussion with the ruling class became second nature. The negotiation of differences through compromise molded their habits of thought. They believed that the steady increase in the standard of living, due to the pressure of the mass organizations, would continue indefinitely. The leaders raised themselves a step higher above the masses in their conditions of existence. This affected the top layers of the parliamentarians and the trade unions. “Conditions determine consciousness” and the decades of peaceful development which followed the Paris Commune of 1871, changed the character of the leadership of the mass organizations. Supporting socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat in words, and espousing internationalism in phrases, in practice the leadership had gone over to the support of the national state. At the Basel Conference of 1912, with growing contradictions of world imperialism and the inevitability of world war, the Second International resolved to oppose by all means, including general strike and civil war, the attempt to throw the workers of the belligerent countries into senseless slaughter. Lenin and the Bolsheviks, together with Luxembourg, Trotsky, and other leaders of the movement, participated in the organization of the Second International as the means for the liberation of mankind from the shackles of capitalism.

In 1914, the leaders of Social Democracy in nearly all countries rallied to the support of their own ruling class in the First World War. So unexpected was the crisis and the betrayer of the principles of socialism, that even Lenin believed that the issue of Vorwaerts, the central organ of the German Social Democracy, containing the support for the war credits was a forgery of the German General Staff. The International had ingloriously collapsed at its first serious test.

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Q. What was the Third International?

A. After the collapse of the Second International, Lenin, Trotsky, Liebknecht, Luxemburg, MacLean, Connolly, and other leaders were reduced to leading small sects. The internationalists of the world in 1916, as the participants of the Zimmerwald Conference joked, could be gathered together in a few stage coaches. The unexpectedness of the betrayal led to the position where the internationalists, isolated and weak, tended to be a little ultraleft. In order to differentiate themselves from ‘”social patriots” and “traitors to socialism,” they were compelled to lay down the fundamental principles of Marxism—the responsibility of imperialism for war, the right to self-determination of nationalities, the need for the conquest of power, separation from the practice and policies of reformism. Lenin had declared that the idea that the First World War was a “war to end wars” was a pernicious fairy tale of the labor bosses. If the war was not followed by a series of successful socialist revolutions, it would be followed by a second, a third, even a tenth world war until the possible annihilation of mankind. The blood and the suffering in the trenches to the profit of the millionaire monopolists would inevitably provoke a revolt of the workers and peasants against the colossal slaughter.

The principles achieved their justification in the Russian Revolution of 1917, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks. This was followed by a series of revolutions and revolutionary situations from 1917 to 1921. However, the young forces of the new International, which was officially founded in 1919, were weak and immature. As a consequence, though the effect of the Russian Revolution was to provoke a wave of radicalization in most of the countries of Western Europe and the organization of mass Communist Parties, they were too weak to take advantage of the situation. The first waves of the radicalization saw the masses turning to their traditional organizations and because of the inexperience, lack of understanding of Marxist theory, method and organization, and due to their immaturity, the young Communist Parties were incapable of taking advantage of the situation. Thus capitalism was able to stabilize itself temporarily.

In the revolutionary situation in Germany in 1923, because of the policies of the leadership, which went through the same crisis as the leadership of the Bolshevik Party in 1917, the opportunity to take power was missed. After this, imperialism hastened to come to the aid of German capitalism for fear of “Bolshevism” in the west. This prepared the way for the degeneration of the Soviet Union, because of its isolation and backwardness, and the corruption and rotting away of the Third International.

In 1923 we had the beginning of the consolidation of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its usurpation of power in the Soviet Union. A similar process to that which had taken place in the degeneration of the Second International over the decades, took place in a short period of time in the Soviet Union. Having conquered power in a backward country, the Marxists were prepared confidently for the international revolution as the only solution to the problems of the workers of Russia and of the world. But in 1924, Stalin came forward as the representative of an officialdom which had raised itself above the level of the masses of the workers and peasants.

Where “Art, Science and Government” had remained their preserve, instead of the ideas of Marx and Lenin of the participation in government and the running of industry by the mass of the population, the vested interests of the privileged layers came to the fore. In the autumn of 1924, Stalin, in violation of the traditions of Marxism and Bolshevism, for the first time brought out the utopian theory of “socialism in one country.” The internationalists under Trotsky fought against this theory and predicted that it would result in the collapse of the Communist International and the nationalist degeneration of its sections.

Theory is not an abstraction but a guide to struggle. Theories, when they secure mass support, must represent the interests and pressure of groupings, castes or classes, in society. Thus the theory of “socialism in one country,” represented the ideology of the ruling caste in the Soviet Union, that layer of officialdom who were satisfied with the results of the revolution, and did not want their privileged position disturbed. It was this outlook which now began to change the Communist International from an instrument of international revolution into merely a border-guard for the defence of the Soviet Union, which was supposed to be busily constructing socialism on its own.

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Q. What was the Left Opposition?

A. The expulsion of the Left Opposition from the Communist Parties (Third International) which stood by the principles of internationalism and Marxism, now took place. The defeat of the British General Strike of 1926 and the Chinese Revolution of 1925–27, prepared the way for this development. At this stage it was a question of “mistakes” in the policies of Stalin, Bukharin, and their henchmen. It was a question of their position as ideologists of the privileged layer and the enormous pressures of capitalism and reformism. These mistakes of leadership had doomed the movement of the proletariat in other countries to defeat and disaster.

Having burned their fingers in trying to conciliate the reformists in the West and the colonial bourgeoisie in the East, Stalin and his clique zig-zagged to an ultra-left position, dragging the leadership of the Communist International with them. They split the German workers instead of advocating a united front to prevent Fascism from coming to power in Germany, and thus prepared the way, by paralysis of the German proletariat, for the victory of Hitler. The degeneration of the Soviet Union and the betrayal of the Third International in its turn prepared the way for the crimes and betrayal of the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union.

Apart from the nationalization of the means of production, the monopoly of foreign trade and planned production, nothing remained of the heritage of October. The purge, the one sided civil war in the Soviet Union, had their counterparts in the parties of the Communist International. The victory of Hitler and the defeats in Spain and France were the results of these developments. From 1924 to 1927, Stalin had based himself on an alliance with the Kulaks and “Nepmen” in the Soviet Union, and the “building of socialism at a snail’s pace.” At the same time, Stalinism abroad stood for a “neutralization” of the capitalists, and a conciliation of the Social Democrats as a means of “warding-off” the threat of war. The defeat of the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union, with its program of a return to workers’ democracy, and the introduction of five-year plans, was due to the international defeats of the proletariat, caused by Stalinist policies.

From grovelling before the Social Democrats, and other international “friends of the Soviet Union,” the Communist International swung over to the policies of the “third period.” The slump of 1929–33 was supposed to be “the last crisis of capitalism.” Fascism and Social Democracy were twins, and these “theories” paved the way for the terrible defeats of the international working class.

At the same time, the policies of the Left Opposition in Russia won over the most advanced elements in the most important Communist Parties in the world. Lessons of October, a work by Trotsky, dealt with the lessons of the abortive revolution of 1923 in Germany. The general program of the opposition at home and abroad was answered by expulsions, not only in the Russian Party, but in the main sections of the International. There was a rise of opposition groups in Germany, France, Britain, Spain, the US, South Africa, and other countries. The program of the opposition at this time was one of reform in the Soviet Union and the International, and the adoption of correct policies as against the opportunism of the period of 1923–27, and the adventurism of the period from 1927–33.

These splits, as Engels had remarked in another connection, were a healthy development in the sense of attempting to maintain the best traditions of Bolshevism and of the ideals of the Communist International. The crisis of leadership was the crisis of the International and of all mankind. Thus, these splits were a means of maintaining the ideas and methods of Marxism. In the first period of its existence, the Left Opposition regarded itself as a section of the Communist International; although expelled, and stood for the reform of the International.

The masses, and even the advanced layers of the proletariat, only learn through the lessons of great events. All history has shown that the masses can never give up their old organizations until these have been tested in the fire of experience. Up until 1933, the Marxist wing of the International still stood for the reform of the Soviet Union and the Communist International. Whether they would remain viable organizations would be shown by the test of history. Thus tenaciously the opposition maintained itself, although formally outside the ranks, as part of the International.

It was the coming to power of Hitler and the refusal of the Communist International to learn the lesson of the defeat which doomed it as an instrument of the working class in the struggle for socialism. Far from analyzing the reasons for the fatal policy of Social Fascism, the sections of the Communist International declared the victory of Hitler to be a victory for the working class, and as late as 1934 continued the same suicidal policies in France, of united action with the fascists against the “social fascists” and the “radical fascist” Daladier, which if successful would have prepared the way for a fascist coup in France in February 1934.

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Q. What was the 4th International?

A. This betrayal (of the Third International) and the terrible effect of the Hitler defeat led to a reappraisal of the role of the Communist International. An international which could perpetrate the treachery of surrendering the German proletariat to Hitler, without a shot being fired and without provoking a crisis within its ranks, could no longer serve the needs of the proletariat. An international which could acclaim this disaster as a victory could not fulfil its role as a leadership of the proletariat. As an instrument of world socialism, the Third International was dead. From an instrument of international socialism, the Communist International had degenerated into a complete and docile tool of the Kremlin, into an instrument of Russian foreign policy. It was now necessary to prepare the way for the organization of a Fourth International, untarnished with the crimes and betrayals which besmirched the reformist and Stalinist internationals.

As in the days after the collapse of the Second International, the revolutionary internationalists remained small isolated sects. In Belgium they had a couple of MPs and an organization of a thousand or two, in Austria and Holland, the same. The forces of the new international were weak and immature, nevertheless they had the guidance and assistance of Trotsky, and the perspectives of great historical events. They were educated on the basis of an analysis of the experience of the Second and Third Internationals, and of the Russian, German, and Chinese Revolutions and the British General Strike, and of the great events which had followed the First World War. In this way cadres were to be trained and educated, as the indispensable skeleton of the body of the new international.

It was this period, taking into account the historical isolation of the movement from the mass organizations of the Social Democracy and Communist Parties, that the tactic of “entrism” was developed. In order to win the best workers, it was necessary to find a way of influencing them. This could only be done by working together with them in the mass organizations. Thus beginning with the ILP in Britain, the idea of entrism was worked out for the mass organizations where they were in a state of crisis and moving towards the left. Thus, with the developing revolutionary situation in France there was an entry into the Socialist Party. In Britain, the entry into the ILP, then in a state of flux and ferment after breaking from the Labour Party, was followed by the entry of many of the Trotskyists, on Trotsky’s advice, into the Labour Party. In the US there was an entry into the Socialist Party.

In the main, the prewar period was one of preparation and orientation and selection of cadres or leading elements to be trained and steeled theoretically and practically, in the movement of the masses.

The tactic of entry was also considered as a short term expedient, forced on the revolutionaries by their isolation from the masses, and the impossibility of tiny organizations getting the ear and finding support among the mass of the working class. It was for the purpose of working among the radical elements looking for revolutionary solutions, who would in the first place turn towards the mass organizations. But always, under all conditions, the main ideas of Marxism should be put forward and the revolutionary banner, i.e., the ideas of Marxism, maintained and defended. It was a question of acquiring experience and understanding, of combating both sectarianism and opportunism. It was a means of developing a flexible approach, with the implacability of principle, as a means of preparing the cadres for the great events which impended.

The defeats of the working class in Germany, France, and in the civil war in Spain, the defeats of the immediate postwar period, which were entirely due to the policies of the Second and Third Internationals, in their turn prepared the way for the Second World War. The paralysis of the proletariat in Europe, in conjunction with the new aggravated crisis of world capitalism made the Second World War absolutely inevitable. It was in this atmosphere that the 1938 founding conference of the Fourth International took place.

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Q. What were Trotsky’s Perspectives for after WWII?

A. The document which was adopted at the founding conference of the Fourth International is itself an indication of the reason for its foundation. The Transitional Program of the Fourth International is linked to the idea of mass work, which itself is geared to the idea of the socialist revolution through transitional slogans, from today’s contradictory reality. As distinct from the minimum and maximum program of the Social Democracy is put the idea of a transitional program, transitional from capitalism to the socialist revolution. This is an indication of the consideration of the epoch as one of wars and revolutions. Thus, all work has to be linked to the idea of the socialist revolution.

The perspective of Trotsky was that of war, which in its turn would provoke revolution. The problem of Stalinism would be resolved one way or another. Either the Soviet Union would be regenerated through political revolution against Stalinism, or the victory of the revolution in one of the important countries would resolve the situation on a world scale. With proletarian revolution victorious, the problem of the internationals of both Stalinism and reformism would be solved by events themselves.

This conditional prognosis, although revealing a fundamental understanding of processes in class society, was not borne out by events. Due to the peculiar military and political events of the war, Stalinism was temporarily strengthened. The revolutionary wave, during and following the Second World War in Europe was this time betrayed by the Stalinists in a worse fashion than the revolutionary wave following the First World War was betrayed by the leaders of the Second International.

Trotsky’s idea in pushing for the foundation of the Fourth International in 1938 was because of the collapse of Stalinism and reformism as revolutionary tendencies within the working class. Both had become enormous obstacles on the path of the emancipation of the working class, and from being a means for the destruction of capitalism had become incapable of leading the proletariat to the victory of the socialist revolution.

The question of new parties and a new international was a question of the immediate perspectives which lay ahead. A new world war in its turn would provoke a new revolutionary wave in the metropolitan countries and among the colonial peoples. The problems of Stalinism in Russia and the world would thereby be solved by these revolutionary perspectives. Under these conditions it was imperative to prepare organizationally as well as politically for the great events which were on the order of the day. Thus, in 1938 Trotsky predicted that within ten years nothing would be left of the old traitor organizations, and the Fourth International would have become the decisive revolutionary force on the planet. There was nothing wrong with the basic analysis but every prognosis is conditional; the multiplicity of factors, economically, politically, socially, can always result in a different development than that foreseen. The weakness of the revolutionary forces, indeed, has been a decisive factor in the development of world politics, in the more than thirty years since Trotsky wrote. Unfortunately, the so-called leaders of the “Fourth International,” without Trotsky’s guidance and without Trotsky’s presence, interpreted this idea of Trotsky’s not as a worked out thesis but as literally correct.

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