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

The founding of the Fourth International

95. In September 1938, on the outskirts of Paris, the founding congress of the Fourth International took place. The founding document “The death agony of capitalism and the tasks of the Fourth International (the Transitional Programme)” was written by Trotsky. It stated that “The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only ‘ripened’; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”[1]

96. The sceptics and centrists who regarded the construction of a new International as premature, and held that such an organization must come out of “great events”, were answered in the Transitional Programme: “The Fourth International has already arisen out of great events: the greatest defeats of the proletariat in history. The cause for these defeats is to be found in the degeneration and perfidy of the old leadership. The class struggle does not tolerate an interruption. The Third International, following the Second, is dead for purposes of revolution. Long live the Fourth International!” Even if the Fourth International was weak in numbers, “it is strong in doctrine, program, tradition, in the incomparable tempering of its cadres.” The Transitional Programme declared “uncompromising war” on the “bureaucracies of the Second, Third, Amsterdam and Anarcho-syndicalist Internationals, as on their centrist satellites”, and stated: “All of these organizations are not pledges for the future, but decayed survivals of the past.”[2]

97. In order to overcome the gulf between the maturity of the objective, revolutionary conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard, the Transitional Programme formulated a set of economic and political demands―such as a sliding scale of wages, the nationalization of industry, the banks and agriculture, the arming of the proletariat, the formation of a workers’ and peasants’ government. These transitional demands represented a bridge, “stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.” They had the task of developing the revolutionary consciousness of the working class and were not meant to be an adaptation to the predominant consciousness. “The program must express the objective tasks of the working class rather than the backwardness of the workers”, Trotsky emphasised. “It must reflect society as it is and not the backwardness of the working class. It is an instrument to overcome and vanquish the backwardness.”[3]

98. Revisionist currents have repeatedly tried, ever since, to interpret the Transitional Programme in an opportunist manner by taking individual demands out of their context. Thus the American revisionist George Novack called the Transitional Programme a “versatile toolbox”, from which one could select, “like a good craftsman” the tool suitable for a certain task. In this way, every opportunist manoeuvre could be justified. But this is precisely not the sense of the transitional demands, which must never contradict the socialist perspective upon which they are based.

99. The persecution of Trotsky and the Fourth International escalated following the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. The revolutionary consequences of the First World War were still fresh in the minds of the leaders of the imperialist powers and the Soviet bureaucracy. Stalin feared that the war could unleash a revolutionary movement capable of bringing Trotsky back to power. In order to liquidate Trotsky and hinder the growth of the Fourth International, Stalinist agents penetrated the Trotskyist movement and murdered Trotsky’s close collaborators, including his son Leon Sedov. Trotsky himself was struck with an ice-pick in his house in Coyoacan, near Mexcio city, by the GPU agent Ramon Mercader on August 20, 1940. He died one day later. With his death, international socialism suffered a severe blow. The most important figure in the Russian Revolution after Lenin, Trotsky was an irreconcilable opponent of Stalinism, the founder of the Fourth International and the last and greatest representative of the political, intellectual, cultural and moral tradition of classical Marxism, which had inspired the revolutionary workers’ movement at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.




Leon Trotsky, cited in The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International, Labor Publications 1988, p74.