What is the Fourth International?
Marx and Engels were the first
socialists to establish an international working class party, or
"International" as it is known, in the middle of the last century. It
was known as the First International and among other things played an important
role in trying to aid the Paris Commune in 1871. It eventually collapsed and
since then a number of subsequent attempts have been made to establish
successor "Internationals". The Second International became the first
mass workers’ International in the latter part of the last century and in the
early part of the twentieth century. It ended by betraying the international
workers movement when each national section of the International supported its
own national war effort in 1914 at the start of the First World War. The only
section that did not was the Russian section, led by Lenin, which maintained an
internationalist position on the war. Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks
established the Third International (also known as the Communist International)
in 1919. It attempted to spread revolution from
The Fourth International
subsequently gained a mass base in several Third World countries (
What exactly do we mean by political programme? Just as a play has a programme guide listing, in order of occurrence, the acts and scenes of the play, or just as a TV channel programme guide shows the individual TV shows being presented during the day or week, so a political programme outlines the order of events in a revolutionary drama. It outlines, in a practical step by step way, how we anticipate that the class struggle will unfold, drawing on the lessons of similar struggles of the working class in the past. And it also outlines the tasks of the class conscious vanguard within this process, drawing on the successes of past victorious working class insurrections, and highlighting the mistakes made by the vanguard in past defeats, so that they are not tragically repeated. So, a very important part of a revolutionary political programme is basing present conclusions on what Trotsky called the “living history” of past workers’ struggles.
Behind every sentence of a truly revolutionary programme is the memory of all that has gone before applied, not in a mechanical, but in a creative way to the tasks of the present.
There have of course been previous attempts to draw up such programmes for other parties and workers’ international organisations: Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto (1848), the programme of the early Communist International (early 1920s) and the Transitional Programme (1938). Any programme for the present may be seen as a development of these earlier efforts.
From the Communist Manifesto we receive the idea of the need for the working class to organise itself as a new ruling class. "When in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production is concentrated in the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so-called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class." Communist Manifesto Pelican edn. p 105.
From the same Manifesto, the objectives of socialism are summarised as follows:
"1) abolition of property in land and application of all rents to public purposes.
2) A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3) Abolition of all right of inheritance
4) Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5) Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank.
6) Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7) Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of wastelands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8) Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9) Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country.
10) Free education for all
children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its
present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c.,
&c." Communist Manifesto p 105. The International Working Men’s
Association (also known as the First International) was established by Marx and
Engels in the mid-nineteenth century. It organised solidarity with the Paris
Commune which was the first manifestation of the dictatorship of the
proletariat. The workers took over
The 1905 Russian Revolution
again showed the capacity of the working class to organise itself as a new embryonic
ruling class. The Petrograd Soviet was a kind of workers parliament. These were
formed all over
The October Revolution was
quickly followed by the establishment of Communist Parties in many countries
and the Communist International (also known as the Third International or Comintern)
was established to co-ordinate the work of the CPs on an international basis.
The programme of the Comintern drew out the lessons of the victorious October
Revolution for the benefit of other Communist Parties. The first period after
the October Revolution was one of revolutionary struggles in eastern and
The Comintern also developed a transitional approach to agitation and propaganda. These demands were neither restricted to piece-meal concessions within capitalism (i.e. reformist, trades union, minimum demands) nor were they calling for revolution tomorrow and to man the barricades (i.e. maximum demands) when it was obviously not a possibility.
Transitional demands articulated the daily
needs of workers who were not yet convinced of the need for revolution; but
they also presented the solution to the needs of the working class in a form
which had been adopted by the workers’ government in the period after the
October Revolution. So, for example, under capitalism, workers needed their pay
protected from rampant inflation. Instead of presenting the answer to this in
the form of a temporary, piece-meal concession from the bosses, i.e a one-off
pay rise, the Comintern programme presented it in a way that would enable
workers to envisage a more lasting solution to their problems. Instead of a
one-off pay rise, which would be quickly swallowed up by a new round of
inflation, would it not make sense to demand a sliding-scale of wages which
would rise automatically as inflation rose? Was this not the system in operation
implemented by the Russian Revolution? Likewise the solution to unemployment
was presented not as a temporary concession from the bosses (e.g. a few more
jobs), but in away that would enable workers to visualise a system without
unemployment: everybody should have the right to employment; it is necessary to
share the available work between all who need to work without loss of pay; we
demand a sliding scale of working hours in line with this policy. Was this also
not the system in operation in the
This transitional methodology
maximised the impact of the Communist Parties in a period of relative retreat
during the mid-1920s when it was applied to the international workers movement.
From the late 1920s however, this method was discarded by the then Stalinist
dominated Comintern. A new "Third Period" of imaginary revolutionary
advance was announced. The united front and the transitional approach were
junked overnight as the Communist parties were urged into ridiculous ultra-left
adventures. The united front tactic was replaced with a policy in
The transitional method was
rejected also in favour of crazy adventurist revolutionary demands and an
equally lunatic policy of self-isolation of the vanguard through splitting the
reformist unions and setting up tiny "red unions". Trotsky and his co-thinkers
had consistently opposed this disastrous line within the Comintern. The result
of the refusal to form a united front against Hitler, and the division and
isolation of the vanguard, was the victory of Hitler and the smashing of the
most powerful workers’ movement in
The Comintern’s transitional approach was later presented again in a more developed form in the programme of the Fourth International The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. The demands in this programme are still very relevant to socialists today and, despite the fact that much water has flowed under the bridge since it was written, it is a document which is essential reading for socialists today.