Trotsky, Kahlo, Heijenoort

Trotsky, Kahlo, Heijenoort

July 23, 1912 – March 29, 1986

In 1932, he joined the Trotskyist movement (recruited by Yvan Craipeau) and the Communist League. Very soon thereafter, the recently exiled Trotsky hired van Heijenoort as a secretary and bodyguard, primarily because of his fluency in French, Russian, German, and English. Thus began seven years in Trotsky's household, during which he served as an all-purpose translator, helping Trotsky write several books and keep up an extensive intellectual and political correspondence in several languages.

 He was elected to the secretariat of the Fourth International in 1940 but resigned when Felix Morrow and Albert Goldman, with whom he had sided, were expelled from the SWP. Goldman subsequently went on to join the US Workers Party but Morrow joined no other party/grouping. In 1947, he too was expelled from the SWP. In 1948, he published an article, signed "Jean Vannier", in the Partisan Review renouncing Marxism. – This is outright lie! I corrected this on Wikipedia today, 27 September, 2016

In late 1940's, made a career in mathematics.

"The Source Book (van Heijenoort 1967), perhaps the most important book ever published on the history of logic and of the foundations of mathematics, is an anthology of translations."

How the Fourth International Was ConceivedEdit

by Jean van HeijenoortEdit


The resistance to corruption of the party came from Trotsky. The struggle began in the autumn of 1923. On October 8th, he sent a letter to the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission denouncing the stifling of the right of criticism on the part of party members. This is the first document of our movement.

The organizational cohesion of the International Left Opposition was not seriously undertaken until the time of Trotsky's expulsion from the USSR and his arrival in Turkey, in February 1929. The first international conference of the Left Opposition took place in Paris in 1930.

The leaders of the two official workers' parties vied with each other in their impotence in the face of the fascist menace. The Social democratic leadership desperately grasped at a democracy which, in the midst of economic chaos and the sharpened social and political conflicts, was disowning itself. The Stalinists acted in line with the "genial" theory of their leader, that it was necessary to crush the Social Democrats before fighting fascism.

In the face of their passivity, Hitler became more brazen. He had never hoped to win such an easy victory. At the beginning of March, the crude provocation of the Reichstag fire allowed him to definitely entrench his regime. The workers' organizations were swept away.

The problem of the Third International in its totality could not fail to be posed. After the collapse of the German Communist Party, the executive committee of the International passed in April a resolution which declared that the policy followed by the German Communist Party "up to and at the time of Hitler's coup d'etat was fully correct."

the decisive fact was that all the sections of the International accepted the Moscow resolution and thus became equally responsible for the historical catastrophe in Germany. The members who denounced the line that had been followed, or merely questioned it, were expelled. The policy of reform was losing all reality.

On July 15, 1933, Trotsky, under the pen-name of G. Gurov, addressed to the sections of the Opposition an article entitled, It is necessary to build new Communist parties and a new International. Here the perspective of reform was definitely abandoned. After the lessons of the events the turn was decisive: "Talk of 'reform' and the demand of readmission of the oppositionists into the official parties must be definitely given up, as utopian and reactionary," he wrote. And he took this opportunity to give general and valuable advice: "The most dangerous thing in politics is to become a prisoner of your own formula, which was appropriate yesterday, but is deprived of any content today."

The problem was: how to discard the policy of reform of the Bolshevik Party and at the same time retain the perspective of reforming the workers' state?

Trotsky then clarified his position toward the USSR in a long article entitled, The Class Nature of the Soviet State, dated October 1, 1933. This article definitely eliminates the perspective of a peaceful removal of the bureaucracy, and clarifies the formulas in the documents on the new International.

The conference in Paris proved to be the maximum effort of which the centrist groups were capable. It remained without results. All the perspectives gradually revealed themselves to be empty, unrealistic, with the exception of one: to create a new International. The formal founding of the Fourth International took place five years later, in 1938.

It was born amidst the defeats provoked by the old official organizations of the working class. While a defeat will stir the best elements of the vanguard to examine its causes and to build a better organization, its effect on the class as a whole is one of disorientation, discouragement and passivity.


“the Fourth International was born in a period of general retreat of the labor movement

Jean Vannier

A Century’s Balance Sheet

(March 1948)

This article, written on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the publication of the 'Communist Manifesto, marks Jean van Heijenoort’s break with Marxism.


the course of the proletariat has, for more than a third of a century, been increasingly erratic. So much so that it is impossible today to shrug off the necessity of a systematic scrutiny of Marx’s fundamental hypothesis

What the proletariat is incapable of achieving is a leadership which will be faithful to its interests, will understand and defend them boldly, imaginatively, and tenaciously. Such is the task which, for these last one hundred years, it has proved itself incapable of carrying out

Unless we are prepared to say that the whole evil lies in the fact that nature has not produced the germs from which upright, farseeing leaders can emerge, we are constrained to examine the social situation and political history of the working class in order to seek out the causes of its century-old political incapacity. [“The fact that we repeatedly fail in some venture, merely through chance is perhaps the best proof that chance is not the cause of our failure.” (Gournot)]

In 1850 Marx was addressing European workingmen in these terms: “You will have to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of civil wars and international conflicts, not only in order to transform your circumstances but to transform yourselves and make yourselves fit for political power.” Is this process of political education still going on today? Are European workingmen now more “fit for political power” than they were at the conclusion of the First World War? The answer is no. There, as elsewhere, the social and economic conditions of present-day Europe hardly permit us to hope for improvement. Marx’s fundamental hypothesis would only regain a measure of reality if some notable development in Europe’s productive forces made the proletariat once more a cohesive body with a capacity for struggle and with faith in the future. These qualities would, in fact, have to be raised to an even higher level than that which prevailed in the past, for, even in its best days, the proletariat was not yet “fit for political power.” But such a possibility is extremely chimerical: European economy will not emerge from its quagmire for a long time to come.

since it is permissible to expect an internal crisis of the Stalinist regime in the years to come, may we not look forward to a renaissance of the working-class movement at such a time?

(In fact, proletariat brought about the end of Stalinism in Poland, in 1980, but only for Poland to enter NATO. Can we call such class “revolutionary”?)

Stalinism, however, is not the single and final cause of the stagnation. Before it, we had Social Democracy. And now, the degeneration of the Trotskyite Fourth International, although without practical importance, is still an extremely bad sign. Stalinism is, after all, only the most monstrous link in a chain of bankruptcies. Finally, it is as much an effect as a cause, or it is a disease which attacks an already feeble organism to make it still more feeble.

It is no good trying to explain the continuance and even extension of Stalinism in and across the international working-class movement on the grounds that the workers mistook Stalin’s Russia for the October Revolution. The causes lie much deeper and are precisely such as to call the political capacity of the proletariat into question. But even if one wanted to think of the whole business as little more than a fraud, a fraud that has been successfully engaged in for the last twenty years – and what a twenty years – that still presupposes a capacity on the part of somebody for being tricked for twenty years. And if the trickster were finally unmasked, would that mean that his victims were then and there “fit for political power”? 

The bankruptcy of the European ruling classes is as complete as one could have imagined a hundred years ago. But if this fact is a necessary condition to the seizure of power by the proletariat, it is by no means a sufficient condition. The question is not merely one of relative strength. To seize and hold power the proletariat would have- to demonstrate a minimum, a rather high minimum at that, of political capacity; more exactly, it would have to show a capacity to “secrete” a devoted and perspicacious leadership, to control that leadership, to change it with speed if the need arose – not thirty or forty years after a “betrayal.” A capacity for handling such problems is precisely what being “fit for political power” means after all. Without that aptitude, the fundamental hypothesis cannot hold.

The end of the Second World War, out of which no movement emerged to indicate that the proletariat was yet fit for power, has, I believe, conclusively invalidated the fundamental hypothesis of Marx, at least as far as Europe is concerned. What we have witnessed is the end of an era. Between 1848 to 1914 it was still possible to say that the political potential of the proletariat would continue to grow with time. From 1914 to the end of the Second World War, the answer to this question lay in the balance. But now the matter is clear. It is no longer permissible to expect a future complex of economic, social, and political conditions to be more favorable to the political ripening of the proletariat than any such complex was in the past. The whole inter-war period has now become a part of our history, and the present political impotence of the working class has finally given it meaning.

Does the collapse of Marx’s central hypothesis imply the collapse of his whole doctrine? On the plane of political action – and it is the one which interests us here- Man’s hypothesis on the exercise of political power by the proletariat acting as a class is fundamental and, compared to it, all other aspects of his doctrine are secondary. In the final analysis it is the main factor in any judgment that can be made of the Marxist system. But if we admit that the hypothesis is no longer valid, what becomes of the rest of the doctrine?

What remains of Marx’s economic doctrine must be determined by utterly different criteria. The same may be concluded of the historical, sociological, or philosophic aspects of his doctrine.

If, as seems only too clear, the proletariat has shown itself to be incapable of filling the political role originally assigned to it by the authors of the Manifesto, that does not mean it is condemned to remain a purely passive factor in the historical process. Quite the contrary; the belief in a steady decline is as ill-founded as that of continuous progress. – He still seeks a role for the proletariat.

Describing the intellectual climate of Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, Trotsky wrote: “Protestantism and democracy, under the aegis of which the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century revolutions of the West were accomplished, had long since become conservative doctrines ... Intellectuals needed a new doctrine for the struggles that lay ahead, one which nothing had compromised.” That would also seem to be what is needed today. Bolshevism, which thirty years ago had kindled unbounded hopes, has been compromised by Stalin no less than Jacobinism was by Napoleon. If the fine phrases of the French Revolution led to the rule of the bourgeoisie, the Bolshevik experiment has bogged down in the mire of the Stalinist universe, with its slave labor running into the millions, its omnipresent police, its pitiless exploitation of workingmen, its inflexible caste distinctions, its stifling of art, thought, and human feeling. Doubtless this is not what the old Bolsheviks bargained for. But in the eyes of millions of men, of the younger generations, Bolshevism – and this is the decisive point – is no longer anew doctrine which nothing has yet compromised. Marx and Bolshevism belong henceforth to history no less than Rousseau and Jacobinism. – What is needed today is a new doctrine! And it is my main business to develop it.

Hypothesis: the IV International was doomed to defeat because it was guided by incorrect perspective, i.e. view of the international working class as being revolutionary. And it was conceived in the period when the working class was already on decline, through a number of political defeats around the world: Social Democrats smashed in Germany, 1933, the working class in the Soviet Union smashed by Stalinism, the defeat of the working class in Spain, 1936-39.


1. Why Goldman-Morrow-Heijinoort broke with SWP of James P. Cannon?

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