Second, Third, and Fourth Internationals

Second and Third Internationals

The period that followed saw the creation of mass parties of the working class. These parties were mostly influenced by the ideas of Marx and Engels. This process culminated in the foundation of the Second International in 1889. This organization developed in a generally progressive phase of capitalism. Tens of thousands of working-class people were mobilized by these parties, attracted to the ideas of socialism and given a basic class education. But because of the objective conditions – the steady progress of capitalism in developing the productive forces – this led the leaders of the parties who adhered to the Second International to collaborate with the capitalists, seeking compromises, which became a way of life. In effect, a stratum rose above the working class, with catastrophic consequences, once capitalism’s progressive phase had exhausted itself. This was clearly shown in the onset of the First World War. The overwhelming majority of the leaders of the parties of the Second International supported their own bourgeois in the bloody slaughter of the war.

The adherents to genuine internationalism were reduced to a handful. Some who may feel that the genuine internationalists today have been enormously weakened by the collapse of Stalinism and the ideological offensive of the bourgeoisie, should ponder the situation of Lenin, Trotsky, Connolly, MacLean, Liebknecht, Luxemburg and other genuine Marxists, in the First World War. At the Zimmerwald conference, which gathered together those who were opposed to the First World War, the old joke went that the delegates could have fitted into two stagecoaches! Yet two years later the Russian revolution exploded, and within nine months of this, the Bolsheviks were in power and the first genuine workers’ state had been established. This set in train the ten days that shook the world.

Out of the Russian revolution came the creation, in 1919, of the Third International. If anyone has any doubts of the effects of the Russian revolution, read John Dos Pasos’s USA. He gives many headlines from the US press about the Russian revolution. Not just the yellow press, whose editors dipped their pens in mad-dog saliva, but also the so-called “responsible and informed” journals of capitalism, like the New York Times, which carried headlines such as, “Lenin Assassinates Trotsky”, or “Trotsky Kills Lenin”. Even more lurid was the edition that claimed, “Trotsky Kills Lenin in Drunken Brawl”. The Hungarian workers attempted to follow their Russian brothers and sisters, as did the German and Italian workers. In fact, the whole of the European working class was striving in this direction. It is not possible to go into detail on the causes of the Third International’s degeneration. Trotsky traces this out in detail. The main causes were the isolation of the Russian revolution and the development of privileged strata that usurped political power. The defeat of the German revolution and the later betrayal of the German working class with the coming to power of Hitler consolidated the political counter-revolution carried out by the Stalinist elite.

Fourth International

The political collapse of the Third International led Trotsky to pose the need for a new Fourth International. But the founding conference did not take place until 1938. This was no accident. This step was based upon the perspective developed by Trotsky and the Trotskyist movement of a new world war. As a consequence, Trotsky envisaged a mighty revolutionary wave that would sweep across western Europe. He was absolutely right in this, as the revolutionary events of 1944-47 demonstrated. This began with the Italian revolution of 1943-44 and was followed by the revolutionary events in France and other convulsions throughout Europe. But Trotsky could not have anticipated that Stalinism would come out of the war strengthened and that imperialism would be greatly weakened. As part of this process the Communist parties, which had participated and often led the struggle against Hitler, Mussolini and fascism, increased their mass support. Social democracy was also strengthened. The very power which had been vested in these organizations by an aroused working class allowed their leaders to save capitalism at this crucial historical juncture. Capitalist counter-revolution was carried through, not in an outright military or fascist form, but mainly by “democratic” means. Social democracy and Stalinism, and the mass parties which based themselves on these ideas, saved capitalism in Western Europe in this period and, in effect, laid the political preconditions for the beginning of the upswing of world capitalism in the post-1945 situation.

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