Since the founding of the Left Opposition in 1923, Trotsky had insisted, despite the crimes of the Stalinist leadership, that the fight to reform the Communist International and win its parties back to the revolutionary program of its first four congresses could not be prematurely abandoned. But the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany in 1933, facilitated by Stalin’s disastrous policies, demanded a reconsideration of this policy.
In the months that followed, Trotsky waited to see if any criticism of Stalin’s policies would emerge from any of the parties of the Comintern. On April 7, 1933, the Comintern endorsed the policies of the German Communist Party. Trotsky concluded that a new course was necessary. A new world revolutionary party was an historical necessity. He devoted the remainder of his life to this struggle.
This conception was substantiated further by his analysis of the Soviet regime, contained in the monumental work, The Revolution Betrayed. The Soviet bureaucracy had not yet destroyed all of the conquests of the 1917 Revolution, but as a privileged and parasitic caste its material interests were irreconcilably opposed to those of the working class. It could not be reformed, but had to be overthrown by means of a political revolution. Confirming Trotsky’s prognosis, the Stalinist bureaucracy assumed a consciously counterrevolutionary role in the 1930s, murdering its left-wing opponents in the Soviet Union in a political genocide and collaborating with world imperialism in the suppression and betrayal of revolutionary struggles by the working class in Spain, France and internationally.
The five years between 1933 and the founding of the Fourth International in September 1938 were marked by a continuous struggle against centrist political organizations, particularly in Europe. Many of them professed sympathy with Trotsky’s perspective, and some declared themselves for the Fourth International, but they refused to undertake the struggle to defend the legacy of Bolshevism.