Michel Pablo

Twenty Years of the Fourth International

(A History of Its Ideas and Its Struggles)

(Autumn 1958)

From Fourth International (Paris), No. 4, Autumn 1958, pp. 55–62.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Fourth International During the Second World War (1940–1944)

The occupation of Europe by Hitler’s armies had at first the effect of shaking the young organizations of the Fourth International in various countries. The contacts among them in Europe and with those operating on the other continents were loosened, and soon, for the most part, completely interrupted. Experience later demonstrated, however, that despite this forced isolation of various organizations, they all maintained a substantial community of ideas and of line throughout the whole war, and were convinced of the victorious survival of the International.

Under these conditions, the withdrawal of the international leadership to the American continents, which remained practically outside the storm, was confirmed and stabilized. Beginning with the outbreak of the war, and until just after the end of the conflict, the central international leadership functioned in the United States, in close collaboration with the American organization. But on account of the reduced contacts with the sections, it had only a limited activity. Nevertheless, it noted, commented, and explained all the important events and main turns of the war, in its constant effort to regroup an international vanguard on the basis of effective revolutionary action.

France’s passing under Hitler’s control in 1940 and the Pétain regime were subject-matter for a manifesto of the Fourth International, issued in November 1940, centred around a demonstration of the historic impossibility for the Nazis to “unify” Europe, and anticipating the inevitable emancipating resistance of the European masses against fascist tyranny:

Hitler has reduced Europe to a vast concentration camp of nations. The struggle for the unity of all Germans has been followed by that of unity of all non-Germans under the Nazi boot. But history is a sure guarantee that there has never been national oppression without national struggle.

Soon Hitler’s hope of ending the war by the occupation of Europe vanished. The Battle of Britain, which marked the beginning of 1941, led to neither its occupation nor its surrender, while American imperialism was mobilizing and stepping up its intervention in the conflict.

Faithful to its line of revolutionary opposition to all imperialisms, the Fourth International took a stand on the American intervention in China on the side of Chiang Kai-Shek against Japan. Naturally the question was complicated by the fact that China was a semi-colonial country attacked by Japan and that inside China there was a masked civil war between the regime of the Chinese bourgeoisie and the peasant armies led by the Communist Party.

In the 31 March 1941 resolution of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International, the imperialist aims of American intervention in favor of Chiang Kai-Shek were clearly denounced, while the victory of the Chinese armies over the Japanese invaders was called for, opening up the perspective of the socialist revolution in China:

The growing collaboration between Chiang Kai-Shek and the American imperialists has already had repercussions in the attacks by Chiang Kai-Shek on the Stalinist-controlled peasant armies. While we condemn the class-collaborationist policy of the Chinese Stalinist leaders which facilitates these attacks, the revolutionists proclaim their solidarity with the brave peasant fighters under Stalinist leadership, and their readiness to join with them in resisting the counter-revolutionary moves of Chiang Kai-Shek. [...] The defense of China by American imperialism is in reality preparation for new slavery for that country. [...] Just as the war against Japan has led Chiang Kai-Shek to become a tool of American imperialism, so the masses of China, in alliance with their class brothers in the Japanese empire, will be led to the Social Revolution.

The alliance of American imperialism with Chiang Kai-Shek was consolidated during the war both to serve against Japan and to open up the post-war Chinese market to the Americans.

It can be measured only a posteriori, in the light of present events, how right it was during the war to put the masses constantly on their guard about the real nature of American imperialism and its operations, as opposed to the Stalinist policy which embellished the American “ally” and always went easy on Chiang Kai-Shek.

In June 1941 the war underwent a historic and decisive development: Hitler, despite all the assurances given to Stalin and swallowed by the latter, unexpectedly attacked the Soviet Union. The press of the Fourth International immediately called for the unconditional defense of the first workers’ state. The manifesto issued oil this occasion by the American organization, the Socialist Workers Party, declared without ambiguity:

Defend the Soviet Union at all costs and under all circumstances against imperialist attack! Stalin must be overthrown – but only by the working class. The workers’ struggle must be subordinated to the struggle against the main enemy: the armies of Hitler. Everything that we say or do must have as its primary object the victory of the Red Army. The Soviet Union can be best understood as a great trade union fallen into the hands of corrupt and degenerate leaders. Our struggle against Stalinism is a struggle within the labor movement. Despite imprisonment and repression our comrades in the Soviet Union will prove to the Soviet masses that the Trotskyists are the best fighters against the capitalist enemy.

At the same time the manifesto warned about the capitalist allies of the Soviet Union, calling for irreconcilable opposition toward all imperialists and a revolutionary conduct of the war against Hitler. That is to say, in the capitalist countries allied to the USSR, not to paint Churchill, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, Chiang Kai-Shek in rosy colors, as the Stalinists were doing, but to maintain revolutionary opposition against them, to call for fraternization with the workers and peasants in uniform of the Nazi armies, to avoid secret diplomacy and the sharing out of zones of influence with the imperialist allies, and constantly to prepare the future of the socialist revolution in Germany itself, in Italy, Japan, and all countries.

The manifesto for the defense of the Soviet Union issued in the name of the Executive Committee of the Fourth International in August 1941 takes essentially the same line:

The Soviet Union is at war! The Soviet Union is in mortal danger! In Germany and in European countries occupied by German troops, defense of the Soviet Union means directly the sabotage of the German military machine. German workers and peasants in soldiers’ uniforms, the Fourth International calls upon you to pass over with your arms and equipment into the ranks of the Red Army! German workers and peasants, now in the factories, on railroads, and on the farms, and enslaved peoples of Europe, paralyze in every possible way the march of German militarism!

At the same time the manifesto called for opening up for the German workers the perspective of the German and European socialist revolution. In the Soviet Union, it called on the workers “to be the best soldiers,” and concluded by declaring to the workers everywhere: “[...] defend the Soviet Union, and you thereby defend yourselves, you will hasten the hour of your liberation.”

The Soviet Union’s entry into the war had, however, as foreseen, the result of causing a new turn by the Kremlin: to come back as it were to the alliance with the “democracies” against fascism, and once more to call for the subordination of the policy of the Communist Parties operating in “allied” countries to that of the bourgeoisie of these countries. We thus had the spectacle of the American Stalinists returning to the adulation they used to give Roosevelt in 1936, the English Stalinists preaching “national union” around Churchill, the French Stalinists building up de Gaulle’s prestige, the Chinese Stalinists under the Kremlin’s instigation putting the mute once more on their struggle against Chiang Kai-Shek. Everywhere it was the policy of “national union” under bourgeois leadership “against fascism.”

The USSR’s entry into the war stimulated resistance against Hitler in occupied Europe. The re-groupment of the revolutionary forces was intensified, and contacts were restored on the intra-European scale. But is was necessary to wait till the beginning of 1943 before it was possible to speak of a considerable extension of the mass resistance movement in Europe, and of a more serious reorganization of the revolutionary vanguard.

News about the activity of Trotskyist organizations throughout the world was already growing more frequent beginning with late 1941. In the United States, 18 militants of the SWP and members of the CIO Teamster’s Local 544 in Minneapolis were indicted under the Smith Act for the propaganda of revolutionary ideas against the imperialist war being carried on by the United States, and were sentenced to prison terms running from 12 to 16 months.

In France, the reorganized Parti Communiste Internationaliste was bringing out its newspaper, La Verité, regularly each fortnight. In September 1941 it held a conference in which it proclaimed the need of combining a resolute fight against Hitler with a policy of fraternization with the German workers and peasants in uniform, and its opposition to the policy of the “national front” for “the independence of France.”

It was also at this period (1941) that the Lanka Sama Samaja Party of Ceylon joined the Fourth International and that there was news of the activity of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, a Trotskyist organization.

The year 1942 opened with agitation spreading in India in quest of its independence, a process speeded up by the Cripps Plan of April 1942.

In March 1942 the Governor of Ceylon, Sir Andrew Caldecott, outlawed the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. On April 9th 1942, the Times of London related in the following terms the spectacular escape of Comrades Colvin da Silva, N.M. Perera, D.R.R. Gunawardene, and Edmund Samarkkody from the prison where they were held, and their passage to India with their own jailer who had followed them: “It is presumed that they left with their gaol guard who is missing. [...] They have been in detention since June 1940.” Comrade Leslie Gunawardene, for whom a similar warrant had been out since 1940, had also succeeded in reaching India in time.

In May 1942 there was formed in India the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Burma and Ceylon which published the Permanent Revolution.

In August 1942 a very important wave of strikes of the proletariat was sweeping India. The Fourth International, which defended the Soviet Union against Hitler, and China against Japan, also defended India against Great Britain. Far from assimilating the struggle of these countries against their imperialist adversaries with a struggle “of one imperialist camp against the other,” as Max Shachtman affirmed at that time, the International practised unconditional defense of these countries against imperialism. In its September 1942 manifesto to the workers and peasants of India, the Fourth International took a position for the immediate independence of India, and, as opposed to the methods of “passive resistance” put forward by the Congress leaders, called for revolutionary methods of struggle and slogans: agrarian reform; democratic committees of struggle; constituent assembly; a programme of industrialization of the country; a workers’ and peasants’ government.

The British and Hindu Stalinists, on the contrary, anxious not to displease the British “ally” of the USSR, were towed along by the Churchill policy toward India and took a position against mass agitation in the country.

The year 1943 was marked by resounding victories of the Soviet army, the dissolution of the Comintern, and the invasion of Italy by the Anglo-Americans. At the same time the consequences – reactionary for the future of the European and world revolution – of the alliance of the Kremlin with the “democratic” imperialists grew more clear – first of all concerning Germany and the German revolution, key to the European revolution.

The American Welles and the Briton Vansittart had already in 1942 put forward the theory of the collective responsibility of the German people, and called for an equally collective punishment. The secret treaties which, beginning with this period, were concluded between the Kremlin and its British and American allies aimed at preventing any possibility of revolution in Europe, in order to guarantee each of the allies an exclusive zone of influence. Thus, for example, the agreements concluded in 1942 by the Kremlin, on the one side with the British, and on the other the Americans, stipulated that the allies pledged themselves to: refusing to make a separate peace with any government in Germany, that is, including a possible revolutionary government; disarmament of all of the future Germany; working together for the “peace, security, and prosperity of Europe.”

In June 1943 Stalin decided to dissolve the Comintern, to reassure his allies about his counter-revolutionary intentions and to guarantee the respect of the conventions that had been concluded. With the pretext that the importance and maturity acquired by the different Communist Parties henceforth rendered superfluous the existence of the International, in reality he merely formalized a practical reality: the Comintern had for many years already ceased to function as an International that was autonomous and alive to any degree.

The Fourth International, in a manifesto of June 1943, noted and explained the event and concluded that

there is only one International now, the World Party of Socialist Revolution, the Fourth International. Enter its ranks and prepare with it to lead the successful struggle for the World Revolution!

The dissolution soon after of the American CP, decreed by Browder at the Kremlin’s instigation, was another step in the same direction, of appeasement of its allies by the Kremlin, so that its future conquests might be made through secret agreements about the dividing up of zones of influence among states without any irruption of the autonomous revolution.

A quite other policy was followed by the Fourth International, which aimed at the preparation of the proletarian revolution in Europe and the world and was trying to give the necessary struggle against Hitler a revolutionary orientation and perspectives, i.e., starting out with the mass resistance to Hitlerian occupation and war, to endow it gradually with a proletarian content and guide it toward objectives that were not exclusively “national,” but finally anti-capitalist. The difficulty of such a task, resulting from the complex character of the war and from the class collaboration of the Socialist and Stalinist leaderships, was reflected even within the ranks of the Fourth International by the discussions that arose, especially beginning with 1942, about the “national question in Europe,” and then about the meaning and perspectives of the Italian events of 1943 and the perspectives of the European revolution in general.

The National Question

The first positions taken on the national question go back as far as 1941. They were so to speak the result of two facts: a certain national oppression to which the subjection of Europe by the Nazis had led, and the beginning of a mass resistance to this oppression.

But by its very nature the question was “indiscutably very tangled up,” to use Lenin’s expression concerning the same subject during World War I. For it was necessary to take into account both the imperialist character of the war on the side of the big capitalist countries of the Axis, as well as on the side of the big capitalists countries of the “democratic” camp, and the reactions of the masses in the occupied countries.

The temporary occupation of one capitalist country by another in the imperialist epoch does not automatically wipe out the imperialist character of the conquered country, and gives no right to a “national” mobilization of all its classes against the occupant on a “national” programme. According to Lenin’s teachings, the national question in the imperialist epoch is characteristic of colonial and dependent countries, as of countries permanently annexed by capitalist and imperialist countries. Naturally Lenin did not deny the possibility of certain recessions in the imperialist epoch, pulling a capitalist country back to the level of an oppressed country in which the “national question” is again raised, and the question of a “national war.”

But in general he reasoned in the following way:

In 1793 and 1848 in France, as in Germany, and as in all Europe, the bourgeois-democratic revolution was on the order of the day. To this historical situation there corresponded a “genuinely national” programme, i.e., the bourgeois national programme of democracy as it then was, which in 1793 was carried out by the most revolutionary elements of the bourgeoisie and by the plebs; a programme which in 1848 Marx proclaimed in the name of all advanced democracy. To the feudal and dynastic wars there were then opposed, objectively, the democratic revolutionary wars, the wars of national emancipation. At present, for the great states of Europe, the objective situation is different. Progress – apart from certain temporary regressions – can be carried out only by going toward the socialist society. As against the bourgeois imperialist war, the war of a highly developed capitalism, there can be set up in opposition, objectively, from the viewpoint of progress, from the viewpoint of the advanced class, only a war against the bourgeoisie, the war for power, without which there can be no serious movement forward, and later – but only under certain particular conditions – a possible war for the defense of the socialist state against the bourgeois states.

Lenin was opposed even to “those Bolsheviks” or “those revolutionaries” who called for “national defense,” who in 1914–1918 wanted to put forward in their respective countries (Russia, Germany, and elsewhere) a “national programme,” and to defend “the fatherland” conditionally against “invasion” and “occupation” by “means of the class struggle.”

But Lenin, on the other hand, and quite properly too, paid great attention to any mass movement whatever that rose up against “the calamities of imperialism” during the war, and was ready to use it in the “struggle of the proletariat for socialism.”

Consequently a distinction had to be made also during the Second World War among the social natures of the temporarily occupied countries, and the mass movements objectively standing up to Hitlerian occupation, despite their subjective “impurities.”

The discussions and divergences on the national question that occurred in our movement during the last war concerned in reality the following points: a struggle that was preponderantly if not exclusively “national-democratic,” or one that was subordinated to the proletarian struggle for socialism; the exact coupling of the “national-democratic” slogans with the socialist slogans properly so called, in the sense of a transitional programme; the practical attitude to be taken toward the resistance movements.

On all these questions clarity was far from being complete and the line adopted from being correct, throughout our movement. Opportunist or leftist deviations developed here and there because of the complexity of the question, under the weight of Nazi oppression, the class collaboration of the Socialist and Stalinist leaderships, and the contradictory character of the resistance movements. As rightist and opportunist deviations there must be listed all tendencies that made each people’s right to self-determination an end in itself, separating it from the rest of the socialist, revolutionary, and internationalist programme, that confined themselves to the struggle “by stages,” beginning with the “national-democratic” stage allegedly imposed by the war conditions; that were in favor, in one form or another, of our participating, as a distinct political movement, in the political organizations of the “Resistance,” or of thus collaborating with them; who put “national resistance” on the same level in a defeated big country like France and in oppressed small states like Jugoslavia, Poland, and Greece.

The most extreme illustration of these tendencies was given in the 1941 Three Theses worked up on the national question by the emigré comrades of the German section, the IKD. These theses emphasized the “backward evolution” of the situation under the weight of fascism, which had raised to the level of “the most urgent question in Europe the national liberation of the countries enslaved by Germany,” which had dissolved all political movements, including the workers’ movement, into a sort of “popular movement” without distinction of classes, struggling exclusively for “national liberation,” and which rendered “the transition from fascism to socialism a utopia without an intermediate stage basically equivalent to a democratic revolution.” “National liberation,” according to the authors of these theses, should be the immediate agitational slogan, and “The United States of Europe” a purely propaganda slogan, without a transitional coupling of these two demands.

As leftist sectarian deviations must be considered all tendencies that denied the existence of national oppression, or that did not take a clear stand about each people’s right to self-determination; that failed to organize under our own banner (the banner of the revolutionary party) the struggle against German imperialism (carried out, of course, in an internationalist class sense); that minimized the importance of work in the popular resistance organizations (Jugoslav or Greek partisans, French FTP, etc.).

The example of the resistance movements in the “small states,” such as Jugoslavia, Poland, and Greece, and the popular resistance movements that soon arose against Nazi oppression in the big capitalist countries, is characteristic of the overall aspects of this question. Unquestionably it was here a matter of authentically popular movements which, despite their subjective “impurities,” rose up objectively against the “calamities of the imperialist war,” especially against national oppression. But because of their plebeian composition – a majority of poor peasants and nuclei of workers – and in the concrete international and national conditions, these movements had a tendency quickly to overflow the “national” frame properly so called, and to become transformed into forces aspiring to and fighting for the socialist revolution. Such a transformation naturally depended very much on the leadership of these movements.

In the case of Jugoslavia, the conscious line of the leadership soon permitted transforming “the detachments of partisans into proletarian brigades of national liberation” [1], i.e., to combine the struggle for national liberation with that for the socialist revolution. This combination was objectively possible because the aspirations of the masses were simultaneously “democratic and socialist” [2], to the contrary of the affirmations of the “Three Theses” concerning the necessity of an exclusively “national-democratic” stage allegedly flowing from the existence of a liberation movement indiscriminately assembling elements of all the classes. Besides, the rapid differentiation in Jugoslavia (as in Greece, Poland, and even France) between partisans of the proletarian tendency and partisans of the reactionary bourgeois tendency is a further confirmation of the interpenetration of the national and the social in an organic combination whose dynamics more and more brought out the preponderance of the social over the national.

Better balanced conclusions about the line to be followed in the national question ripened among the cadres of the European leadership of the Fourth International that was formed in 1943. As a result of contacts established in full Nazi occupation of Europe among the different sections and groups of the Fourth International, a provisional European secretariat was formed early in 1943, which undertook the task of coordinating the struggle of the organizations of the Fourth International on the continental European plane, and published the magazine Quatrième Internationale. [3]

In 1944, “somewhere in occupied Europe,” there was held a conference of the European sections of the Fourth International, the first in Europe since the founding of the International and the declaration of the Second World War. This conference brought together representatives of the Trotskyist organizations of France, Belgium, Greece, Spain, and Germany, and its labors lasted six consecutive days. The communique of the conference, published in the clandestine February 1944 number of Quatrième Internationale, declared with legitimate pride:

That, in a Europe blood-stained by more than four years of total war, crushed under the most hideous yoke of the imperialisms, whose prisons and concentration camps are gorged with the victims of the most savage and most systematic repression, our organization has been able to hold its European assembly, to work out and define its political line of struggle, of itself constitutes the most eloquent manifestation of its vitality, its internationalist spirit, and the revolutionary ardor by which it is animated.

The principal text that emerged from the European Conference was the theses on The Liquidation of the Second Imperialist War and the Revolutionary Upsurge. It is in this document that, among other matters, the line was established on the national question. The document stated clearly that the European proletariat must not “play craftily with” the bourgeois slogans, but must put forward its own policy and get prepared, not for a “national insurrection,” but for the socialist revolution in Europe. It adds, however:

Though the proletariat must refuse the alliance with its own bourgeoisie, it cannot be indifferent to the mass struggle against the oppression of German imperialism. The proletariat supports this struggle in order to help and speed up its transformation into a general fight against capitalism. This attitude implies the most energetic struggle against attempts by the agents of the national bourgeoisie to get hold of the masses and make use of them for rebuilding the capitalist army and state. Everything must be put to work, on the contrary, to develop the embryos of workers’ power (militias, committees, etc.), while the most energetic fight must be carried on against all forms of nationalism.

The document was centred around the perspective of transforming the liquidation of the war, not in the French style (de Gaulle), or in the Greek style (Papandreou), but in the Jugoslav style, so to speak, i.e., not to permit the reconstruction of the bourgeois state, but to take an orientation toward proletarian power.

The question of the popular resistance movements was also broadly treated in this document. It observed that the question of the partisans had undergone an evolution since 1942, a date until which groups of a few franc-tireurs in Belgium, France, and elsewhere were completely taken in tow by the chauvinist policy of the bourgeoisie and of Anglo-American imperialism, engaging in individual terrorism against German soldiers. It was now a matter of partly “spontaneous” movements expressing

the open and inevitable revolt of the broad toiling masses against German imperialism and against the order and the state of the native bourgeoisie, which personified in their eyes those responsible for their present poverty and sufferings.

The duty of the Fourth International was, consequently,

to take into consideration this will to struggle on the part of the masses, and to try, despite the many dangers resulting from the national forms which this struggle takes on, to guide it toward class goals.

For this reason it was necessary, according to the document, to combine propaganda that was anti-chauvinist and in favor of a class orientation, with practical efforts

to make this propaganda penetrate into the ranks of the partisans, with a view to regrouping the latent revolutionary forces existing therein on a political and organizational class basis.

Thus it was decided to engage in a work of systematic penetration into the popular resistance movements and to give more importance to the revolutionary possibilities of their content than to the chauvinist aspects of their form.

The Perspective of the European Revolution

The national question was in the last analysis connected with that of the perspectives of the European revolution. In fact, it was a question of knowing whether, with the liquidation of the war, the path led to “national insurrection” and then a “bourgeois-democratic” period, or whether it was necessary to orient toward the socialist revolution, by profiting from the revolutionary crisis created precisely by the war, the defeat of Germany and Italy, the victories of the Soviet army, and the exasperation of the European masses against all persons responsible for the “calamities of imperialism.”

The discussion around these perspectives began to grow particularly lively in 1943, with the invasion of Italy and the revolutionary agitation that spread through that country. It was hailed as the beginning of the Italian and European revolution. Little by little, however, it was realized what a weight the counter-revolutionary role of the Socialist and particularly the Stalinist leaderships (both the Kremlin itself and the Communist Parties) and the Anglo-American occupation, threatened to bring to bear on a favorable revolutionary development. The Kremlin contemplated only the continuance of a secret diplomacy with its imperialist “allies” in order to complete the division into zones of influence through the successive conferences at Cairo and Teheran, extended later by those at Yalta and Berlin.

The publication of the memoirs of the various statesmen, like those of Churchill, as well as the correspondence among Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, and the testimony from the Jugoslavs and from other sources, have by now cast sufficient light on these transactions, which in the majority of cases sealed the fate of Europe by knowingly blocking the autonomous development of the revolution.

The Communist Parties faithful to the Kremlin, with the exception of the de facto position of independence taken by the Jugoslav CP, limited themselves to a strict policy of “national union” with the bourgeoisie, nowise oriented toward the revolution. On the contrary, what mattered for those parties in reality was to guarantee the secret agreements made by the Kremlin with its allies, which provided that countries like Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Greece, etc., belonged to the latter’s zone of influence. Hence they must remain under bourgeois regimes. It was further necessary to take into account the fact that to a certain degree this “national” policy of the Communist Parties had created a situation, a certain state of mind, in the mass movements, and that the long Hitlerian oppression would also favor the birth of “democratic illusions.”

These considerations naturally were not to alter the correct general orientation toward workers’ power in Europe, and all the efforts necessary to transform the revolutionary crisis caused by the war into a victorious revolution. But they were to influence the perspectives about the rhythm of revolutionary developments and the conception of the transitional programme on which the masses would be mobilized. There were good grounds to fear lest the rhythm be slower, and to take partly into account the democratic illusions of the European masses.

These questions were simultaneously debated in the American organization and in Europe, between 1943 and 1946. Apart from small minorities that had a simplistic vision of the transition from war to “peace” with a possibility of skipping over stages, as it were, and quickly arriving at the power of the “committees,” of the Soviets, the overwhelming majority of the International took into account the difficulties resulting from the aforementioned factors (policy of the traditional leaderships, democratic illusions of the masses, Anglo-American occupation).

The principal difference within the majority concerned the conception, the structure, of the programme to mobilize the masses: an essentially democratic programme, as some advocated, adapted to the “political consciousness” of masses filled with democratic and parliamentary illusions? or an essentially transitional programme centred especially around the objective conditions in which capitalism would find itself after the liquidation of the war?

The majority of the International was resolutely oriented toward this latter conception of the programme, without minimizing the “enormous role” that democratic slogans might play at certain moments in the struggle. But also without forgetting that for us

the formulae of democracy are only passing and episodic slogans in the independent movement of the proletariat, and not a democratic hangman’s noose hung round the neck of the proletariat by the agents of the bourgeoisie (Spain). [The Transitional Programme of the Founding Conference of the Fourth International]

A mistake in evaluation that was common to the whole International until the end of 1944 was that of the perspective of the German revolution. From the inevitable perspective of the defeat and collapse of the Hitler regime there was derived that of the German revolution, for it was not well realized at that period what would be the consequences of the reactionary policy of the Kremlin in close alliance with the Anglo-Saxon imperialists to occupy Germany jointly, to dismember it, to pillage it, and to deprive it of any possibility of revolutionary revival. This perspective was in reality bound up with the more general one of the European revolution, based on the conception of Europe as the no. 1 “epicentre” of the revolutionary crisis that would accompany the liquidation of the war. It required the passage of some time before it was realized that the genuine revolutionary transformations would be situated in the colonial field and in the countries occupied by the Soviet army.

Our Victims During the War

It is not yet possible even to rough out a picture, however incomplete, of the practical activity of the militants of the Fourth International during the Second World War, and of the exact cost of that activity. It is not yet well known, for example, what was the activity of the Trotskyists in the USSR, in the concentration camps and prisons. From some testimony provided by persons freed from the Soviet camps who have been able to reach the West, we know, however, that the Trotskyist militants who survived the Stalinist terror of the years 1936 to 1938 continued their indomitable resistance, and were among the politically most solid and active elements in these places of desolation.

Nor do we know either all the details about the activity of our militants in the concentration camps and prisons of Nazi Germany, or of Chiang Kai-Shek’s China.

What is sure in any case is that everywhere the Trotskyist militants were able to reorganize their forces during the war itself, and that new organizations and contacts arose during this very period, as in India, Ceylon, and in various countries of Latin America.

We know much better, on the contrary, what went on in the countries of Western Europe occupied by the Nazis, as well as in England, the United States, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. There are even places which have not had much weight on the world’s fate, such as Palestine under English mandate during the war, but where nevertheless the activity of the Trotskyist militants is of great significance for the correctness of the line advocated and the sacrifices accepted for that task. For example, in the light of the present Arab revolution, it would be hard to exaggerate the struggle which the Trotskyists carried on before and during the war in Palestine, against British, French, and American imperialisms, against Zionism, against the creation of a Jewish state to the detriment of the Arabs, for the liberation and unification of the Arab countries, and for an inter-Arab revolutionary socialist workers’ movement.

This line was defended by the Palestinian Trotskyists during the war in numerous publications, severely repressed by British imperialism and its Zionist allies, which appeared in Hebrew, Arabic, and English (for the use of British soldiers). It must not be forgotten, on the other hand, what the line of the Stalinists was, for example that followed by the Syrian Communist Party, led by Bakdasch, which stood for absolute cooperation with de Gaulle, which was opposed to any class action against the native feudalists and capitalists, rejected any idea of agrarian reform, and was satisfied to implore the “pity” of the feudalists for the “miserable fellahin.”

The only public trials attempted during the war. and the only condemnations to death or to prison of revolutionary leaders and militants accused of opposition to the imperialist war, in both camps, had Trotskyists as their victims. It was thus that in Holland the Gestapo assassinated, after a public trial on April 12th 1942, nine well known leaders of the RSAP, Trotskyists and pro-Trotskyists, among them Comrades Sneevliet and Dolleman. In Vienna, Trotskyist militants were executed after a public trial, as well as in Germany. We have already spoken of the trial and imprisonment of the Trotskyist leaders in the United States, and of the Trotskyist leaders imprisoned in Ceylon.

In England, in 1943 and 1944, the Trotskyists played an outstanding role in the wave of strikes that marked the reawakening of political consciousness in the British workers and their opposition to the imperialist war. The capitalist press accused the Trotskyists, bourgeois justice hounded several leaders held to be responsible for the agitation among the workers, unlike the Stalinist Party which was preaching sacred union around the “national” leadership of Churchill.

But it was in the countries of continental Europe occupied by the Nazis that the Fourth International had to pay the heaviest tribute for its consistent and courageous struggle against the imperialist war and against the regime that generated it. [4] In France, very early, several comrades fell victims to the ferocious Nazi repression. Among the first were Marc Bourhis and Pierre Gueguen, shot on October 22nd 1941 at the camp of Chateaubriant, and dozens of other comrades arrested and deported, most of whom died in the concentration camps. In October 1943, the Gestapo arrested the secretary of the PCI, French Section of the Fourth International, Comrade Marcel Hic, and sent him to Buchenwald, then to Dora, where he died.

Despite this repression, which again and again decimated their ranks, the Trotskyist militants in France reorganized and carried on a tireless activity. For four years the Trotskyist press appeared regularly, most often in printed form. In fact, beside the Stalinist press, the Trotskyist publications were the only ones to appear regularly and in printed form. La Verité appeared in duplicated form in the underground, beginning with August 1940, calling for resistance to the Nazi occupation. The PCI brought out in all 73 clandestine issues of La Verité, of which 19 were duplicated and 54 printed, beside other clandestine Trotskyist publications in France.

Quatrième Internationale, theoretical review of the European Secretariat formed in 1943, after a few duplicated issues also appeared in printed form beginning in late 1943. Special mention must be made of a printed organ in German, Arbeiter und Soldat, aimed at propaganda among the German soldiers in France and other countries of Europe. Also a publication of the European Secretariat, it had as editor Comrade Paul Widelin, a German emigré Trotskyist.

Arbeiter und Soldat was the only organ of revolutionary Marxism in German; its daring distribution among German soldiers cost the lives of several German comrades, soldiers and civilians, and of French comrades associated with this work.

Deeds of high heroism and devotion to the revolutionary cause of the International marked the activity of Trotskyists throughout the war, both in France and elsewhere. It is enough to mention the names of comrades such as the Belgian comrades Leon Lesoil, former leader of the Belgian CP and then of the Belgian Trotskyist organization, arrested in 1941, who died in deportation in Germany, and A. Leon, a remarkably gifted young leader of the Belgian organization, the author of the only book with a materialist conception on the Jewish question, who was arrested and died in deportation; of the Italian comrade Blasco, former leader of the Italian CP, founder of the Trotskyist Left Opposition in Italy, imprisoned by the Nazis and later assassinated by the Stalinists; of dozens of Greek comrades assassinated by the fascists or by the Stalinists (in December 1944), among them the renowned name of Pantelis Pouliopoulos, former secretary of the Greek CP; of several Polish, Chinese, and other comrades.

Not long before the liberation of Paris, at the beginning of the Spring of 1944, the Gestapo arrested four Trotskyist militants, two women and two men, among whom was Comrade Widelin. Taken to police headquarters, each had an extraordinary fate. One of the men comrades succeeded in jumping from the second storey of the building and escaping, an almost unique exploit in Nazi-occupied Paris. Comrade Widelin was taken to the Bois de Vincennes and left there executed. He was not, however, quite dead. Transported by a passer-by to the Rothschild Hospital, he was able to get word to the comrades outside, who went to work to organize a way to carry him off from the hospital, if necessary by force.

But the day before the plan was to be carried out, the Gestapo, tipped off by a member of the hospital staff, was able to get its hands a second time on the victim and to finish him off.

This year (1958) there died in Belgium, in the most complete anonymity, Comrade Gallois, a mine worker, who was deported during the war to Buchenwald. One day there the SS, laughing, displayed to the assembled deportees, themselves prostrated and scarcely able to stand on their feet, a mass of human beings who were only skeletons, stinking and covered with vermin. They were Jews whom the SS were getting ready to “gas,” except in case – they stated – some “charitable soul” would take it on himself to clean them up one by one. Nobody in the camp, Christian or otherwise, stirred to undertake the work, save Comrade Gallois who stepped humbly out of the ranks and offered to accomplish the task, on condition that the SS would respect their promise and spare the lives of these Jews. And for weeks on end Comrade Gallois steadily carried out his mission.

The death of Comrade Pouliopoulos is no less characteristic of the human quality and the mettle of several of our comrades who carried the banner of the Fourth International during the Second World War. Comrade Pouliopoulos, in prison since 1939, was executed with three other Trotskyists in June 1943, chosen among the first victims of fascist repression in Greece. He made a speech to the soldiers of the execution squad in their own tongue, producing a real mutiny among them so that they refused to fire. And it was finally the officers who had to fire, killing Comrade Pouliopoulos and his companions. Our comrades fell, not for the “Fatherland,” not for “Democracy,” but for the Revolution and for Socialism.

The young militants of the Fourth International will know how to perpetuate the memory of our heroic dead of the Second World War who, under various names, whether they be called Widelin or Leon or Lesoil or Hic or Blasco or Pouliopoulos or Gallois, succeeded in showing the same countenance: that of the revolutionary Marxist militant, intrepid against the stream, intrepid against the class enemy, proud to defend against wind and tide and in every place and circumstance the banner of the Fourth International.

[In the next issue: The Fourth International Since the War (1945 – 1958)]


1. Programme of the Jugoslav Communists adopted at their VIIth National Congress.

2. Ibid.

3. Which, after a few duplicated issues, appeared near the end of 1943 in printed form.

4. For more details, see the pamphlet, La lutte des Trotskystes sous la terreur nazie, published by the PCI in France in 1945.

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Michel Pablo
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Marxist Writers’

Updated on: 10 October 2015