International Committee of the Fourth International

The Fourth International is the World Party of Socialist Revolution. It was founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938 to carry forward the fight for Marxism in opposition to the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union and the Communist (Third) International.

Trotsky had founded the Left Opposition in 1923 to oppose the usurpation of power by a nationalist bureaucracy headed by Joseph Stalin and defend the program of socialist internationalism that had animated the Russian Revolution in 1917. In 1933, with the coming to power of the Nazis, facilitated by the disastrous policies of Stalinism, Trotsky called for the formation of a new (Fourth) International.

In the decades after its founding, revisionist tendencies repeatedly emerged inside the Fourth International, advocating in one form or another the abandonment of its orientation to building a revolutionary party in the working class, and calling instead for an orientation to one or another petty-bourgeois, Stalinist, Social Democratic or bourgeois-nationalist tendency.

The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) was established on November 23, 1953, following a split in the Fourth International between the orthodox Trotskyists, led by James P. Cannon, a founder of the Trotskyist movement in the United States, and an opportunist faction led by Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel. The ICFI, which publishes the World Socialist Web Site, has upheld the principles of Marxism and is today the sole representative of revolutionary socialism in the world.

On this page, readers will find links to essays, books and topics on the history of the Fourth International. We also encourage our readers to explore the works available in our Library.

Leon Trotsky
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The 1917 Russian Revolution

In October 1917, in the midst of the slaughter of World War I, the Russian working class, led by the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the capitalist provisional government headed by Alexander Kerensky and established the first workers’ state in world history. Less than nine months earlier, Russia had been ruled by a monarchical dynasty headed by Tsar Nicholas II. The revolution was the beginning of the end of the imperialist war.

The Russian Revolution marked a new stage in world history. The overthrow of the capitalist Provisional Government proved that an alternative to capitalism was not a utopian dream, but a real possibility that could be achieved through the conscious political struggle of the working class.

More on the Russian Revolution
The fight of the Left Opposition against Stalinism (1923-1933)

Trotsky and his supporters formed the Left Opposition in October 1923. Its aim was to reform the Communist Party and Comintern along the line of socialist internationalism, against the rising conservative, nationalist bureaucracy headed by Joseph Stalin.

The conflict that emerged between Stalin and Trotsky was between irreconcilable political programs. The consolidation of power by Stalin, and the bureaucratic dictatorship that he personified, was not inevitable. It developed out of the conditions of an economically backward and isolated workers' state due to the delay of the international and European revolution.

In his critique of Stalinism, Trotsky developed a theory of world socialist revolution that proved immeasurably more far-sighted than the pragmatic nationalist maneuvers of the Stalinist bureaucrats.

More on the struggle of the Left Opposition
Trotsky’s struggle to found the Fourth International (1933-1938)

The principled strategy of bringing about the reform of the Russian Communist Party and Comintern had guided the International Left Opposition since its founding in 1923. 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 Hitler’s victory, Trotsky waited to see if any criticism of the policies pursued by Stalin would emerge from any of the parties of the Comintern. On April 7, 1933, the Communist International unequivocally endorsed the policies of the German Communist Party. Trotsky concluded that a new course was necessary. In a statement dated July 15, 1933, he called for a break with the Comintern and the building of a new International. The entire remainder of his life was devoted to this struggle.

More on the founding of the Fourth International

In this 1938 recorded speech, Trotsky addresses the founding of the Socialist Workers Party, the American section of the Fourth International, and speaks on the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Trotskyist movement in the United States, from the founding of the Communist League of America in 1928.

The Moscow trials and the political genocide in the Soviet Union

In the course of the 1930s, the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy in the Soviet Union headed by Joseph Stalin murdered virtually the entire leadership of the October Revolution. Show trials of Bolshevik leaders were organized between 1936 and 1938, including Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and Rakovsky. Hundreds of thousands of socialists, the finest representatives of several political generations of Marxist intellectuals and workers, were physically exterminated. Nearly 1 million people were killed in a wave of counter-revolutionary violence from 1936 to 1939.

This liquidation—which confirmed, in the most direct sense, Trotsky’s assessment of Stalin as the “gravedigger of the revolution”—dealt a blow to the revolutionary consciousness of the Soviet working class from which the Soviet Union never recovered. The history and record of these unparalleled crimes constitute the unanswerable refutation of the claim of countless bourgeois propagandists that Stalinism based itself on the theoretical and political heritage of Marxism, let alone the claim that Stalinism and Trotskyism were merely variants of one and the same Marxism. The real relationship between Stalinism and Trotskyism was described best by Trotsky: they were separated, he wrote, by “a river of blood.”

More on the Moscow Trials

Trotsky delivered this speech denouncing the Stalinist Moscow Trials and publicizing the calling of the independent Dewey Commission to investigate the charges, from Mexico in January 1937.

“Stalin’s trial against me is built upon false confessions, extorted by modern Inquisitorial methods, in the interests of the ruling clique,” he said. “These trials develop not from communism, not from socialism, but from Stalinism, that is, from the unaccountable despotism of the bureaucracy over the people!”

A petty-bourgeois opposition in the Socialist Workers Party (1939-1940)

With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, following the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact, a section of the US Socialist Workers Party led by Max Shachtman and New York University Professor James Burnham capitulated to the pressure of democratic public opinion, rejecting the defense of the Soviet Union on the grounds that it could no longer be considered a degenerated workers state.

Burnham declared that the Soviet Union must now be characterized as “bureaucratic collectivist”—a historically new form of exploitative society, in which the Stalinist bureaucracy had been transformed into a new form of ruling class. The Fourth International, Shachtman and Burnham stated, should not call for the defense of the USSR in the event of war.

Trotsky replied that the characterization of the Stalinist regime as “bureaucratic collectivist”—an unprecedented form of exploitative society unforeseen by Marxism—had far-reaching political and historical implications. At issue, in the final analysis, was the historical viability of the Marxist project itself.

In the final months of his life, Trotsky contributed several documents to the struggle within the SWP that are among his most brilliant and far-sighted. It culminated in a split in April 1940.

The Fourth International and the struggle against Pabloite revisionism
Security and the Fourth International

Trotsky’s assassination ranks among the most politically consequential crimes of the 20th century, with far-reaching implications for the international working class and the world socialist movement. And yet, for decades, the circumstances surrounding the assassination remained shrouded in secrecy. The massive scale of the Stalinist conspiracy against Trotsky was the subject of a carefully orchestrated cover-up.

In 1975, the International Committee of the Fourth International launched the first systematic investigation by the Trotskyist movement into the assassination. This investigation, known as Security and the Fourth International, led to the exposure of the network of GPU agents within the Fourth International that ensured the success of Stalin’s conspiracy against Trotsky’s life.

More on the investigation
The 1982-1986 split in the International Committee

In 1985, after a protracted process of political degeneration, the Workers Revolutionary Party, the British section of the ICFI, broke decisively from Trotskyism. In documents written contemporaneously in the course of its struggle of with the WRP, the ICFI demonstrated that the political collapse of the WRP was the outcome of its retreat and betrayal of principles of genuine Trotskyism that it had previously defended, and its adaptation to Pabloite opportunism.

The struggle waged by the ICFI against the WRP from 1982-1986 ensured the continuity of orthodox Trotskyism and the ICFI. In this page, readers can find the major documents of this struggle.

More on the split with the WRP
The dissolution of the Soviet Union

On December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union (also known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics)—which emerged out of the socialist revolution of October 1917—was formally dissolved by the Stalinist regime led by Mikhail Gorbachev. The destruction of the Soviet Union was the outcome of the anti-socialist and nationalist policies of the ruling bureaucracy, which confirmed the warnings of the Trotskyist movement of the counterrevolutionary nature of Stalinism.

In the immediate aftermath of its split with the national-opportunists of the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1985-1986, the International Committee of the Fourth International had developed an extraordinarily prescient analysis of the pro-capitalist orientation of the Stalinist bureaucracy, reflected in Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika. It warned the Soviet and international working class of the danger of capitalist restoration.

More on the dissolution of the USSR
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