Socialist Equality Party (Germany)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Germany)

The decision for the Fourth International

80. The German disaster caused Trotsky to change his attitude to the KPD. He no longer called for its reform, but for the construction of a new party. Before 1933, the key to the situation had been in the hands of the KPD. “Under such conditions to oppose the party and in advance to declare it to be dead would have meant to proclaim a priori the inevitability of the victory of fascism,” explained Trotsky. “We could not do that. We had to fully exhaust all the possibilities of the old situation.” But with the victory of fascism the situation had changed fundamentally. “It is no longer a question of making a prognosis or a theoretical criticism, but it is a question of an important historical event which will penetrate ever deeper into the consciousness of the masses, including the Communists. One must build the general perspective and the general strategy upon the inevitable consequences of these events and not upon secondary considerations.”[1] Answering the objection that the KPD was still far stronger than the Left Opposition, Trotsky responded by pointing to the fact that the development of a cadre “is not merely an organisational problem, it is a political problem: cadres are formed on the basis of a definite perspective. To again warm up the slogan of party reform means to knowingly set a utopian aim and thereby to push our own cadre toward new and ever sharper disappointments. With such a course the Left Opposition would only become the appendage of a decomposing party and would disappear from the scene together with it.”[2]

81. Trotsky did not immediately apply this conclusion to the Comintern and the CPSU. He waited to see whether they would react to the German disaster and draw the lessons of it. That was not the case. The Moscow leadership defended the policy of the KPD and banned any discussion about it. Not in a single communist party did opposition to this position arise. “An organization which was not roused by the thunder of fascism and which submits docilely to such outrageous acts of the bureaucracy demonstrates thereby that it is dead and that nothing can revive it”, concluded Trotsky. “In all our subsequent work it is necessary to take as our point of departure the historical collapse of the official Communist International.” At the same time, the defence of the Soviet Union depended now on the building of a new international, he stressed: “Only the creation of the Marxist International, completely independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy and counterposed politically to it, can save the USSR from collapse by binding its destiny with the destiny of the world proletarian revolution.”[3]

82. Two years after Hitler’s seizure of power, the Comintern swung sharply to the right. Without ever admitting to the errors in Germany, it turned from rejecting the united front to supporting the popular front. Whereas it had so far rejected any co-operation with reformist workers’ parties, it now endorsed alliances with purely bourgeois parties in the name of the fight against fascism. Thus the Stalinist bureaucracy completely separated the fate of the Soviet Union from the international class struggle. It relied on the support of allied bourgeois governments and instructed the respective communist parties to suppress any revolutionary struggles against their new allies. It feared that successful uprisings by the European working class could give the Soviet workers new courage and endanger its own rule. In 1943 it dissolved the Comintern.

83. With the transition to the popular front, the policy of the communist parties took on an openly counter-revolutionary character. In order not to deter its bourgeois popular front partners, it suppressed all the revolutionary efforts of the working class. In France, the popular front suffocated a powerful revolutionary offensive between 1936 and 1938 and secured the political survival of the bourgeoisie, which soon thereafter turned to openly repressive measures, and―under the Vichy regime―to collaboration with the Nazis. In Spain, the popular front suppressed every independent political initiative of the workers and peasants. While Franco’s troops threatened the republic, the GPU, the Stalinist secret service, hunted down revolutionary workers behind the front, took thousands prisoner, and tortured and murdered them. Its numerous victims included the leader of the centrist POUM, Andres Nin, Trotsky’s secretary Erwin Wolf and the Austrian socialist Kurt Landau. Stalin’s counter-revolutionary policy finally helped Franco to secure victory.

84. Stalin’s counter-revolutionary course culminated in the Great Terror of the years 1937 and 38. In a preventive civil war, he liquidated all of those around whom the opposition of the working class could have crystallized. Practically the entire leadership of the October revolution, the members of the Left Opposition, outstanding intellectuals and artists, capable engineers, as well as the leadership of the Red Army, were condemned to death during public show trials or in secret proceedings. They were then executed by being shot in the head. No other comparable political genocide has ever taken place. Nearly one million people lost their lives in the Great Terror, with Stalin’s regime responsible for the deaths of more communists than Hitler’s and Mussolini’s together. To this day, the working class has not recovered from its political impact.


Writings of Leon Trotsky [1932-33], KPD or New Party?, New York 1972, p. 161.


Writings of Leon Trotsky [1932-33], The Collapse of the KPD, New York 1972, p. 195.


Writings of Leon Trotsky [1932-33], It is necessary to build Communist Parties and an International anew, New York 1972, p, 305-6, 310.