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Leon Trotsky 19380531 Letter to Jiří Kopp

Leon Trotsky: Letter to Jiří Kopp

May 31, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York ²1976, p. 345-348, title "'For' the Fourth International? No! the Fourth International!”]

Dear Comrade:

The proclaiming of the Fourth International seems "premature" to you. You consider that it is more "modest" and more accurate to retain the name "Movement for the Fourth International." I cannot agree with this at all. This name seemed pedantic, unfitting, and slightly ridiculous to me even two years ago, when it was first adopted. The experience of the last two years has fully proved it a mistake. The best proof lies in the fact that it has not been accepted at all. No one calls us by this name. The bourgeois press, the Comintern, Social Democrats, all speak in one voice simply of the Fourth International. No one sees the little word "for." Our own organizations with minor exceptions act likewise, calling themselves sections of the Fourth International. This is so, in any case, with the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Americans, the Mexicans, the Cubans, and others. Only Sneevliet and Vereecken have fashioned their banner out of the little word "for." But this very fact best emphasizes the mistake in the old name, a name which to the overwhelming majority proved absolutely impracticable.

You are completely in accord with me that the Fourth International is being built only by us, that no other grouping is capable of fulfilling or will undertake to fulfill this task. On the other hand, I least of all am inclined to close my eyes to the fact that our International is still young and weak. But this is no reason for renouncing our name. In civilized societies a person carries one and the same name in childhood, in adulthood, and in old age, and this name merges with his individuality.

To you the little word "for" seems an expression of political "modesty." To me it seems an expression of indecision and lack of self-confidence. A revolutionary party that is not sure of its own significance cannot gain the confidence of the masses. The circumstance that class enemies as well as wide circles of workers already refer to us as the Fourth International shows that they have more confidence in this "firm" than some of the skeptics or semi-skeptics in our own ranks.

It seems to you that the name Fourth International will prevent sympathetic or semi-sympathetic organizations from approaching us. This is radically wrong. We can attract others to us only by a correct and clear policy. And for this we must have an organization and not a nebulous blot. Our national organizations call themselves parties or leagues. Here, too, it could be said that the "proclaiming" of a Revolutionary Socialist Party in Belgium makes it more difficult for sympathetic or semi-sympathetic groupings to approach us. If the principle of "modesty" is to be observed, our Belgian party, for instance, should have been called "the movement for a Revolutionary Socialist Party." But I think that even Comrade Vereecken would not agree to such a ridiculous name! Why then in our international organization should we apply principles different from those in our national organizations? It is unworthy of a Marxist to have two standards: one for national politics and the other – for international.

No doubt in Belgium, as in any other country, groups could arise that are sympathetic to us but are not yet ready today to enter formally into our ranks. We must be ready to establish friendly relations with them and, if they wish, to include them within the framework of the Fourth International on the basis of sympathizing organizations, that is, with a consultative vote.

You point to the fact that we have not as yet made a theoretical analysis of the latest stage of imperialism, etc. But if this is an argument against "proclaiming" the Fourth International, it is no less an argument against the existence of national parties. Again two standards! But the Fourth International as a whole is undoubtedly much better equipped theoretically and to a much greater degree assured against vacillations than any of the national sections separately.

The relation between theory and practice bears not a one-sided but a two-sided – that is, dialectical – character. We are sufficiently equipped theoretically for action; at any rate much better than any other organization. Our action will push our theoretical work forward, will arouse and attract new theoreticians, etc. The Fourth International will never spring from our hands ready made like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. It will grow and develop in theory as well as in action.

Let me remind you that the Communist League was created by Marx and Engels before they wrote the Communist Manifesto. That the First International was created before the appearance of the first volume of Capital. The Second International – before the publication of all the volumes of Capital. The Third International existed during its best period without a finished program, etc.

The historic process does not wait for "final," "finished," "exhaustive" Marxian research. We had to take a position on the Spanish revolution without awaiting Marxist studies on Spain. The war will demand an answer from us irrespective of whether or not our theoreticians have issued one, two, or three volumes of research work. Just as war cannot be postponed until the discovery of the most perfect weapon, so the revolution and the Fourth International cannot be postponed until the appearance of the most perfect theoretical work. Theory is very important. But pedantic fetishism of theory is good for nothing.

The paradox lies in the fact that those who call themselves "for the Fourth International" in reality carry on an ever-sharpening struggle against the Fourth International. In the example of Sneevliet this is most clear. He is "for" the POUM and "for" the London Bureau and in order to retain his equilibrium he is, in addition, "for" the Fourth International. We have no need for such confusion. The policy of Sneevliet only compromises the Fourth International in Holland as well as internationally. In Spain Sneevliet's policy took the form of direct strikebreaking at the most critical moment. And all this is covered up by the little word "for"! Vereecken's policy is only 51 percent of Sneevliet's policy. The question stands not very much different with Maslow. All of them are "for." In reality they all carry on a struggle against the basic principles of the Fourth International, furtively looking to the right and to the left in search of such allies as can help them overthrow these principles. We cannot permit this at all. We must devote the greatest attention to all the vacillating and immature working class groupings that are developing in our direction. But we cannot make principled concessions to sectarian-centrist leaders who want to recognize neither our international organization nor our discipline.

"That means you want a monolithic International?" someone, will say in holy fear. No, least of all that, I will reply calmly to this suspicion. The entire history of the Fourth International and of each of its sections shows a constant, uninterrupted, and free struggle of points of view and tendencies. But as our experience testifies, this struggle retains a sane character only when its participants consider themselves members of one and the same national and international organization which has its program and its constitution. We can, on the other hand, carry on a comradely discussion with groups who stand outside of our organization. But as the experience with Sneevliet and Vereecken indicates, the discussion inevitably assumes a poisoned character when some leaders stand with one foot in our organization, the other – outside of it. To allow the development of such a regime would be suicidal.

Because of all these considerations I stand completely for calling ourselves as we are called by the workers and by class enemies, that is, the Fourth International!

L. Trotsky