Michel Pablo

20 Years of the IVth International


From Fourth International (Amsterdam), No. 7, Autumn 1959, pp. 48–52.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

From the End of the Second World War
to the Second World Congress (April 1948)

When one examines a posteriori the history of the Fourth International since the Second World War, one soon realizes the need to distinguish a first period running from the end of the war until the Second World Congress (April 1948), marked by the following general thought: The new international situation is dominated by the power which the conjuncture of the war conferred on the United States and the USSR and by their reciprocal relations. In the trial of strength between these two powers, which threatens to culminate in the Third World War, American imperialism, more powerful than ever, sets out as the favorite. Only the intervention of the proletarian revolution under the leadership of a new revolutionary Marxist vanguard would be able to prevent the USSR from succumbing in this test.

The estimate of the global correlation of forces in favor of imperialism – particularly American imperialism – was based at that time on a series of real facts as they emerged from the world conflict: the world-wide expansion of American imperialism, enormously developed and enriched during the war; the economic weakening of the USSR; the ultra-opportunist policy of the Soviet bureaucracy and the Communist Parties, thoroughly spoiling and even bringing into mortal danger the revolutionary positions and possibilities in the countries occupied by the Soviet army, the capitalist countries of Europe, and the colonies.

But the specific weight of each of these data, as well as the dynamism of the evolution of each of them, and especially their interaction, had not yet been properly evaluated. What handicapped a correct estimate of the dynamics of the situation at the outcome of the Second World War was especially the disappointments generated by the foreshadowed failure of the European revolution and by the behavior of the Soviet bureaucracy in the countries occupied by the Red army.

To the degree that it was becoming evident that the chances of the European revolution, real in a whole series of countries such as Italy, France, and Greece, ran the risk of being wasted by the ultra-opportunist conduct of the Communist Parties, and to the extent also that dual power continued in the occupied countries, our movement had a tendency to underestimate the Soviet Union’s ability to recuperate and victoriously to resist the pressure of American imperialism, then in full economic upsurge and at that time the sole possessor of the atomic bomb.

We were basing our revolutionary outlook especially on the aggravation of the contradictions of capitalism, on the advances of the colonial revolution, and on the role of the revolutionary Marxist vanguard in replacing the opportunist traditional leaderships.

In April 1946 was held the first postwar International Conference of the Fourth International, gathering together the representatives of the British, French, German, Belgian, Dutch, Swiss, Irish, Spanish, Canadian, and Palestinian sections, and those of certain other countries of the Western hemisphere and of the colonies.

The political orientation of our international movement at that period is quite clearly reflected in the principal political documents worked out by this conference: the Resolution on The New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the Fourth International, and the Manifesto entitled Only Victorious Socialist Revolutions Can Prevent the Third World War.

The conference documents stressed the economic and social difficulties of capitalism on an international scale. They noted the development and concentration of the productive apparatus of a series of countries, first of all the United States and Canada, and the industrialization of new countries, a process accompanied on the other hand by the exhaustion, decomposition, and destruction of the economy of other countries. They emphasized the “enormous diminution of the specific weight of Europe in the world economy, accentuating in the extreme its economic dependence on the other continents, and particularly on America.”

On the specifically economic plane, the April 1946 conference fixed the evolution and outlook as follows:

Thus, the war facilitated the development and the concentration of the productive apparatus of certain countries, and above all the United States, raising the productive capacity of world economy as a whole to levels above those of 1939, but simultaneously it created the universal impoverishment illustrated by the colossal national debts in all countries including the United States, by inflation, by the crisis of agricultural production, and the resulting drop in the absorptive capacity of the world market.

The war has not only failed to resolve the crisis of the markets, but on the contrary, has enormously aggravated it.

On the basis of this evaluation the April conference sketched out the following general economic prospect:

The revival of economic activity in capitalist countries weakened by the war, and in particular continental European countries, will be characterized by an especially slow tempo which will keep their economy at levels bordering on stagnation and decay.

American economy will soon experience a relative boom, since it is the only country capable of satisfying the immediate needs of the world market. This fact will facilitate the full functioning of its productive apparatus.

This increased production, however, will in a short while run up against the limited capacities of the domestic and world markets.

The United States will then head for a new economic crisis which will be more deep-going and widespread, whose repercussions will shake the whole of the world economy.

Setting out from a general analysis of the economic, social, and international situation, the documents of the April conference set up the prospect of “a lengthy period of grave economic difficulties, convulsions, and partial and general crises.” From this point of view, the documents insisted:

Thus it is impossible to draw conclusions about the real dynamics of the revolutionary upsurge when limiting ourselves to the European scale, and simply noting the absence, for a certain time, of the German revolution, however important this absence may be.

What confronts us now is a world-wide crisis transcending anything known in the past, and a world-wide revolutionary upsurge, developing, to be sure, at unequal tempos in different parts of the world, but unceasingly exercising reciprocal influences from one centre to another, and thus determining a long revolutionary perspective.

It is naturally easy to criticize a posteriori the underevaluation of the revival of the European economy, or the speculation about an American crisis of the classic type. It is necessary, however, to make an effort of imagination and place oneself in the concrete conditions of that time, with the European economy really collapsed, its productive apparatus broken up in the majority of countries, its workers in revolt, and American aid limited to foodstuffs aimed at confronting the genuine want that reigned more or less everywhere on the continent, beginning with Germany.

The real revival of the European economy took place after 1948 or even 1950, and its genuine boom began only in 1953 – i e, several years after the systematic aid of the United States had powerfully contributed to the revival of the economy, and after the capitalist economy had been reconstructed by the European proletariat, urged on and misled by the reformist and Stalinist leaderships.

At the end of the war, with the European capitalist economy dilapidated and the proletariat in revolutionary ebullition, the Fourth International was absolutely right to stake on the masses’ refusal to pay the bill for the imperialist war and to agree, to the detriment of their own living standards, to patch up the collapsing capitalist regime.

The prospect of a boom in the European economy could result only from a certain defeat of the revolutionary possibilities and prospects of the European proletariat.

The Fourth International, during those years, was not ready to accept this defeat in advance as inevitable. It was staking on the struggles of the European proletariat, and casting its own weight, limited though it was, into these struggles, for a revolutionary solution to the undeniable crisis of European capitalism. It was that, furthermore, which marked the political differentiation that took place at that period in the ranks of our European and world movement.

A basically right-wing tendency, disappointed by the fact that the European revolution had not immediately taken place following on the end of the war, and impressed by the mass influence of the Communist Parties, began to wager on capitalist stabilization in Europe, on a basis of economic prosperity and bourgeois democracy. It blurred over the jerky and convulsive character of the evolution of the international situation, punctuated by crises and abrupt turns, in favor of a much more controlled, “peaceful,” “democratic,” and parliamentary evolution.

Tainted by an undeniable pro-Stalinist opportunism during the apogee of the parliamentary strength of the Communist Parties in the years 1945 to 1947, this tendency later, with the hardening of the “cold war,” swung over to sectarian anti-Stalinist positions tainted by pro-Western opportunism.

Other tendencies, on the contrary, during this first postwar period – disappointed by the ultra-opportunist policy of the Communist Parties and the behavior of the Soviet bureaucracy in occupied countries, pillaged, dismembered, and oppressed – revived the discussions on the nature of the USSR and of Stalinism, defending on these questions the revisionist positions of “state capitalism” or “bureaucratic collectivism.”

But the bulk of the forces of the International held fast between these two tendencies, demonstrating a growing capacity for better adaptation of its revolutionary reorientation amid the extraordinary developments marked by the new situation created by the liquidation of the Second World War.

Granted, one might still pause now over one central prospect held by our movement at that period which seems not to have been verified: a crisis of a classic type in the United States.

Since the war the American economy has experienced recessions but not classic crises, and this question naturally requires an answer.

Our movement began to raise it only relatively late, toward 1955, following on the extraordinary boom that the capitalist economy went through from 1953 to 1957, and the undeniable effects of this boom on the evolution of the international and social conjuncture. We shall return to this question later. For the moment it suffices to say that the prospect of an American economic crisis, counted on in the near future and in a classic form, naturally had as a consequence the over-estimation of the possibilities of revolutionary crisis in the advanced capitalist countries, and especially the United States.

This estimate, combined with the importance assigned at that period to American imperialism, caused a premature advancing of the hour of the American revolution. In such a prospect, the meanwhile very real progress of the colonial revolution seemed dim and lacking in the specific weight which it must now be recognized it had in the concrete development of the proletarian revolution in our period.

The important document, Theses on the American Revolution, adopted by the XIIth National Convention of the SWP in the United States, is characteristic of this state of mind. The document is centred around the perspective of “the coming economic crisis” of the classic type in the United States: “In the wake of the boom must come another crisis and depression which will make the 1929-32 conditions look prosperous by comparison.”

The document, furthermore, is dominated by the idea of the “decisive” role of the USA in the world. It draws therefrom the following conclusions:

Should the European and colonial revolutions, now on the order of the day, precede in point of time the culmination of the struggle in the US, they would immediately be confronted with the necessity of defending their conquests against the economic and military assaults of the American imperialist monster. The ability of the victorious insurgent peoples everywhere to maintain themselves would depend to a high degree on the strength and fighting capacity of the revolutionary labor movement in America. [...]

The issue of socialism or capitalism will not be finally decided until it is decided in the US. [...] The decisive battles for the communist future of mankind will be fought in the US.


The year 1947 was marked by important developments on the international and social planes: Truman’s 12 March speech which as it were inaugurated the “cold war” and the active intervention of American imperialism in Greece and Turkey; the launching of the Marshall Plan for the consolidation of European capitalism; the formation of the Cominform in September; the liberation of India; the progress of the Vietnamese revolution; the second civil war in Greece; the war in Indonesia; the great workers’ struggles in France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Japan, etc.

The Fourth International, reorganized at the time of the April 1946 conference, took a stand on all these events and participated actively in the class combats. The April 1946 conference took the decision of dissolving the International Executive Committee and the International Secretariat, which had during the war had their seat outside Europe, and to elect a new IEC and a new IS, predominantly European, based on the nuclei of the European Executive Committee and the European Secretariat. [1]

Beginning with this date, the leading organisms of the International began to meet and function regularly. The First Plenum of the new IEC met from 15 to 18 June 1946. It adopted a series of important resolutions on the subjects of: the withdrawal of occupation troops from all the territories of Europe and the colonies; the situation in Spain; the unification between the SWP and WP in the United States; the opportunist deviation committed by the majority of the Central Committee of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (the French section) on the question of the 5 May 1945 referendum in France; the tactic of the Revolutionary Communist Party (the British section) toward the Labour Party. For the first time since the war, the IEC took a stand in favor of a decisive orientation of the British Trotskyists toward essential work in the ranks of the Labour Party.

In October 1946 there was held the IInd Plenum of the IEC, which declared international discussion open in preparation for the convocation of the Second World Congress of the International. This discussion was to bear especially upon: the question of the USSR and the policy of the Communist Parties; the meaning of the Transitional Programme and the way of applying it; the tactic to be followed for building mass revolutionary Marxist parties. The agenda planned for discussion broadly reflected the main questions which concerned the International at that period, and on which divergences had appeared. The IIIrd Plenum of the IEC, meeting at the end of March 1947, adopted a series of important documents: an open letter to the workers of Japan; an appeal for solidarity with the Indochinese masses fighting against imperialism; an appeal to the workers of Europe and the United States to oppose the projects of the imperialists and the Soviet bureaucracy concerning Germany, especially the exploitation of the Ruhr.

The Manifesto against the war in Indochina ended by calling on

all the workers’ organizations to demonstrate their solidarity with the struggle of the Indochinese and colonial masses against imperialist oppression, and to boycott the production and transport of materiel to the imperialist armies.

The Manifesto concerning Germany took a stand against

the plans of brigandage of the Big Four, [against] annexations, reparations, and attempts to dismember Germany, [and for a] German republic of workers and peasants, united and free.

The IVth Plenum of the IEC, the last before the Second World Congress, was held in September 1947.

The reorganization of the forces of the International and its development are clearly reflected in the activity, both ideological and practical, of its different sections and of the new organizations that were being formed. The central press of the International at that period, essentially represented by the theoretical review, Quatrième Internationale, is a faithful mirror of this activity. The holding of the Second World Congress afforded the opportunity to observe how strikingly the International’s organization had progressed and its ideology and policy had matured since the war.

The labors of the Second World Congress of the Fourth International, beginning in early April 1948, lasted three weeks. About 50 delegates, representing 22 organizations of the Fourth International and 19 different countries, were present at the congress, held in Paris.

Among the delegates were representatives from most of the European countries, including some still under American or Soviet occupation, from North and South America, from Africa, and from the Middle and Far East. The number of representatives from the colonial and semi-colonial countries was already particularly high. The main documents adopted by or worked out at the congress were:

The general political resolution on The World Situation and the Tasks of the Fourth International; the theses on The USSR and Stalinism; the resolution on the struggle of the colonial peoples and the world revolution; and the programmatic Manifesto, Against Wall Street and the Kremlin! For the Programme of the Communist Manifesto! For the World Socialist Revolution! addressed to the exploited masses of the entire world; the new Statutes of the Fourth International; and lastly the organizational report of the International Secretariat bearing on the “ten years of combat” of the Fourth International. Various minor resolutions concerned settlements of political and organizational questions of the different organizations of the International.

The delegates to the Second World Congress did not fail to hail the fact that they were meeting on the hundredth anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, the first programmatic declaration of revolutionary Marxism and of the worldwide workers’ movement that it inspired. [Editorial on the Second World Congress in Quatrième Internationale, March-April 1948.]

The moment of the congress seemed crucial:

Scarce three years after the end of the second imperialist war that ravaged the planet and pushed to the pitch of paroxysm all the contradictions of the capitalist regime, mankind finds itself once more before a concatenation of calamities inherent in the nature of this regime as long as it continues to last: the prospect of a new world economic crisis, threats of dictatorship and fascism, the atomic Third World War. [Ibid.]

Indeed, we were already fully in the “cold war,” which had considerably changed the aspect of the international and social situation since 1946. Since that date, the congress resolution on the world situation said,

there have occurred developments on both the economic and political fields, allowing a more precise definition of the character of the present period, as well as the prospect and tasks in the near future.

Basically, the period opened by the war remained that of

an unstable equilibrium, i.e., a period of economic and political difficulties, of convulsions and crises, which inevitably generate great struggles of the proletarian and colonial masses. By spreading and growing exacerbated, these struggles endanger the capitalist regime itself.

[Nevertheless,] in the absence of a revolutionary outcome, the stepped-up crisis of capitalism threatens to lead once more to fascism and war, which this time would imperil the existence and future of all mankind.

On the level of economic prospects, the Second World Congress, while recording the advance in reconstruction of the European economy and the effects of the Marshall Plan, insisted on the irregular and precarious character of the revival. It noted, furthermore, “the signs heralding an oncoming depression” in the United States, without overemphasizing this time an imminent crisis of the classic type.

The Second World Congress continued to evaluate the global correlation of forces as being in favor of imperialism. American imperialism, according to the Second World Congress, had

succeeded in tightening its stranglehold round the USSR and the countries controlled by it, and has continued its offensive against the USSR on every plane: diplomatic, economic, political, military, and propagandist.

Nevertheless, “despite its superiority in atomic arms” and its various successes, it was not getting ready to start the war.

The reason for this was the following:

American imperialism, before plunging into war, must feel itself in a real economic impasse and must have stabilized both in Europe and Asia solid support that will permit it to believe that it will be able rapidly and effectively to master the world chaos that would inevitably result [from such a war.] [Political Resolution] [2]

Confronted by the aggressivity of American policy, the Soviet bureaucracy, which had meanwhile recorded notable progress in the reconstruction of its economy, reacted

by consolidating its control over the countries of its zone and by stiffening the oppositional attitude of the Communist Parties in the capitalist countries that are entering the American orbit.

The Second World Congress, while having taken steps in the direction of the thesis of “the structural assimilation” of the countries occupied by the USSR, continued to characterize them as still essentially bourgeois states. But there was no longer unanimity on this question among the international leadership, and internal discussions were beginning that brought into question the validity of this position.

It is true that, under the pressure of the “cold war,” the Soviet bureaucracy itself was forced to speed up the liquidation of the vestiges of “dual power” on both the economic and political planes. The “coup de Prague” was already there, and not in Czechoslovakia alone.

The theses on The USSR and Stalinism contained a section relating to the historical discussion on the Russian question, which happily made short work of the revisionist arguments put forth by the various “pro-Stalinist” or “anti-Stalinist” tendencies that had shown themselves in our own ranks.

With the discussion that took place both during the preparation for and at the Second World Congress, the “Russian question” has since then ceased to be a matter of controversy as to the social character, “worker” or not – although degenerated – of the USSR.

Another merit of the Second World Congress was that it began an orientation toward real mass work for the organizations of the International, despite the fact that it still placed the main emphasis on the essentially independent work, and only exceptionally entrist work.

The Second World Congress furthermore reaffirmed the democratic-centralist character of the World Party, the International, by unanimously adopting new and more complete statutes, based both on those of the Third International and on the statutes voted at the Founding Conference of the Fourth International in 1938.

The document on The Struggle of the Colonial Peoples laid the emphasis on the new forms of indirect colonialism.

Seen a posteriori, the Second World Congress appears in an overall way as having closed the first period in the International’s life and postwar development, during which our national forces were regrouping, sifting themselves, and reorienting themselves in the complex new situation bequeathed by the Second World War.

During that period, the forces of the Fourth International, grown more homogeneous politically, were gradually getting rid of sectarian habits and, here and there, of opportunist weaknesses, were becoming conscious of new international and social realities, and were making their way confidently toward their well-thought-out and effective integration in the real mass movement of each country.


1. There were unanimously elected, as members of the new IEC, 2 British, 2 French, 1 German, 1 Italian, 1 Spaniard, 1 Belgian, 4 North Americans, 1 South American, 1 Vietnamese, and the secretary. Among the alternates were 1 Hindu and 1 Chinese.

2. “The launching of a war under present conditions would mean its rapid transformation into an international civil war with uncertain results.” [Ibidem]

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Michel Pablo
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Updated on: 29 January 2016