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.

Trotsky in Coyoacan, Mexico
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The Popular Front and the Stalinist betrayal of the Spanish Revolution

In the year following Hitler’s victory in Germany in 1933, the Stalinist bureaucracy moved toward the adoption of the Popular Front, which it imposed on all the parties of the Communist International. This policy, formally adopted at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935, found its most complete expression in Spain. It meant that Communist Parties renounced the objective of proletarian revolution and instead engaged in cross-class collaboration with bourgeois parties as well as the Social Democrats, in a supposedly common struggle against fascism. The Popular Front subordinated the working class to its own bourgeoisie and betrayed revolutionary internationalist principles by committing the Communist Parties to the defence of their own capitalist nation-states. With the Popular Front, Stalinism for the first time became a consciously and openly counterrevolutionary force.

The Stalinist forces in Spain, including the secret police, worked to strangle the developing revolution, physically liquidate the Trotskyists and others, terrorize wider layers of workers and peasants, and prevent their spontaneous revolutionary strivings from acquiring a more politically conscious form.

A workers and peasants brigade in Spain
The founding of the Fourth International (1938)

In September 1938, the Fourth International held its founding congress, a historical milestone for the socialist movement and the international working class. Its founding document, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (The Mobilization of the Masses around Transitional Demands to Prepare the Conquest of Power) was written by Trotsky and outlined the central tasks facing the socialist movement:

Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.

The subsequent history of the 20th century would prove the correctness of the assessment of the Fourth International as the only genuinely revolutionary leadership.

Trotsky with Farrell Dobbs in Mexico

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 tenth 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. These gruesome proceedings, in which the defendants were compelled to denounce themselves (having been falsely promised that such confessions would save themselves and their families), ended invariably with the announcement of death sentences that were carried out within hours. In the few cases where prison sentences were imposed—as with Rakovsky and Radek—the defendants were later murdered in secret. The trials were the public image of only one side of an unprecedented campaign of mass murder, most of which was conducted away from public view.

Read 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!”

From the founding documents of the Socialist Equality Parties
Historical and International Foundations of the SEP (Australia)
Available from Mehring Books
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