Leon Trotsky
Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka)

The LSSP’s turn to the Fourth International

4-1. The Fourth International was founded at a secret meeting held in Paris in September 1938 of 30 delegates from 11 countries. Although unable to send delegates, three Asian parties—in China, French Indochina, and Australia—affiliated as sections of the Fourth International. The Transitional Program: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International written by Trotsky and adopted at the conference declared: “All talk to the effect that historical conditions have not yet ‘ripened’ for socialism is the product of ignorance or conscious deception. 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 now is 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] The program outlined “a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”[2] The transitional demands were to develop the revolutionary initiative and consciousness of the working class, not to water down the program to the existing consciousness of workers.

4-2. The founding document succinctly summed up the perspective of Permanent Revolution based on the combined and uneven development of capitalism: “Colonial and semicolonial countries are backward countries by their very essence. But backward countries are part of a world dominated by imperialism. Their development, therefore, has a combined character: the most primitive economic forms are combined with the last word in capitalist technique and culture. In like manner are defined the political strivings of the proletariat in the backward countries: the struggle for the most elementary achievements of national independence and bourgeois democracy is combined with the socialist struggle against world imperialism. Democratic slogans, transitional demands, and the problems of socialist revolution are not divided into separate historical epochs in this struggle, but stem directly from one another.”[3]

4-3. In a letter to Indian workers in July 1939, Trotsky further elaborated on the political issues they faced in the impending war. “Agents of the British government depict the matter as though the war will be waged for the principles of ‘democracy’ which must be saved from fascism. All the classes and peoples must rally around the ‘peaceful’, ‘democratic’ governments so as to repel fascist aggressors. The ‘democracy’ will be saved and peace stabilised forever. This gospel rests on a deliberate lie. If the British government were really concerned with the flowering of democracy then a very simple opportunity to demonstrate this exists: let the government give complete freedom to India.”[4] While not minimising the danger of fascism, Trotsky insisted that the main enemy of oppressed classes and peoples was at home. In India, that meant British imperialism whose overthrow would deliver a massive blow to all oppressors, including the fascist dictators.

4-4. Trotsky was scathing in his appraisal of the Indian bourgeoisie: “They are closely bound up with and dependent upon British capitalism. They tremble for their own property. They stand in fear of the masses. They seek compromises with British imperialism no matter what the price, and lull the Indian masses with hopes of reforms from above. The leader and prophet of this bourgeoisie is Gandhi. A fake leader and a false prophet! Gandhi and his compeers have developed a theory that India’s position will constantly improve, that her liberties will continue to be enlarged, and that India will gradually become a Dominion on the road of peaceful reforms. Later on, perhaps even achieve independence. The entire perspective is false to the core.”[5]

4-5. Turning to the role of Stalinism, Trotsky explained that as in other countries, the Soviet bureaucracy subordinated the interests of the Indian masses to its diplomatic manoeuvres with the “democratic powers”—advocating the right to self-determination for peoples under fascist domination, but continued subjugation for the colonies of Britain, France and America. To wage a struggle against British imperialism and the approaching war meant a complete break with Stalinism. That was precisely the issue that confronted the LSSP leaders who turned towards the Fourth International. Selina Perera was sent to Britain and the United States in 1939 to make contact with Trotskyist leaders in Europe and North America and, though the attempt failed, to meet with Trotsky.

4-6. In December 1939, the Trotskyist faction threw down the gauntlet to supporters of Stalinism within the LSSP by moving the following motion in the LSSP’s Executive Committee: “Since the Third International has not acted in the interests of the international revolutionary working class movement, while expressing its solidarity with the Soviet Union, the first workers’ state, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party declares that it has no faith in the Third International.” The motion was passed 29 to 5. The Stalinists and their supporters broke from the party, forming the United Socialist Party in November 1940 and then the Ceylon Communist Party in July 1943.

4-7. Leslie Goonewardene wrote a critique of Stalinism entitled: “The Third International Condemned,” in which he highlighted the opportunist shifts of the Communist parties in Britain and France in 1939 from support for the imperialist war to opposition to it. He pointed out that the wild political swings were dictated by the about-face in the Kremlin from unprincipled manoeuvres with the “democratic powers”—Britain and France—to the signing of the Stalin-Hitler Pact in August 1939. He concluded: “The Second International betrayed the working class in the war of 1914–18. Today the Third International, by subordinating the international revolutionary movement to Soviet Union foreign policy, is committing another betrayal. It is our duty to point out this fact.”[6]

4-8. The breakaway by the Stalinists and the LSSP’s turn to the Fourth International marked a decisive shift in its class axis and the political reorientation of the party on the basis of the Theory of Permanent Revolution. Above all, the LSSP leaders recognised that the fight against imperialist oppression and for socialism in Sri Lanka was indissolubly bound up with struggles of the working class in India and internationally. In a farsighted step, the LSSP called for the formation of an all-India party as a section of the Fourth International to integrate the struggles of workers throughout the subcontinent against British imperialism. In accordance with this strategic turn, the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India (BLPI) was founded in 1942. The available histories of the LSSP, reflecting its subsequent degeneration in the 1950s, either ignore the experience of the BLPI or treat it as a hopeless adventure in revolutionary romanticism. But it was precisely in its break from the radical, nationalist outlook of Samasamajism and its reorientation on the basis of proletarian internationalism that the BLPI made an indelible contribution to the struggle for Marxism in South Asia and internationally that continues to hold crucial political and theoretical lessons for workers and youth today.

4-9. With the approach of war, Stalin set out to destroy the newly-established Fourth International and, above all, to eliminate Trotsky himself. Stalin feared that the revolutionary convulsions, which the war would necessarily produce, would immensely strengthen the Trotskyist movement, including in the Soviet Union, posing a direct challenge to the Soviet bureaucracy. Prior to the founding of the Fourth International, the GPU, aided by a network of agents planted inside the Trotskyist movement, murdered Erwin Wolf, one of Trotsky’s secretaries; Ignace Reiss, a defector from the GPU who declared his support for Trotsky; Trotsky’s son and close collaborator Leon Sedov; and Rudolf Klement, secretary of the Fourth International. After a failed assassination attempt in May 1940, Trotsky was assaulted by GPU agent Ramon Mercader on August 20, 1940 in his home in Coyoacán, Mexico, and died the following day. Trotsky’s assassination was the political crime of the century and a profound blow to the international working class. He was the co-leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution, the irreconcilable opponent of Stalinism, and the last and greatest representative of the traditions of classical Marxism that had inspired the mass revolutionary workers’ movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977) p. 112.


Emphasis in the original; ibid, p. 114.


Emphasis in the original; ibid, p. 137.


Writings of Leon Trotsky (1939–40) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 2001) pp. 29–30.


Ibid, pp. 30-31.


Blows Against the Empire: Trotskyism in Ceylon the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, 1935–1964 (London: Porcupine Press: Socialist Platform, 1997) pp. 64–67.