Published in International Socialism (1st series), No.60, July 1973.
(The first part of this article appeared under the title Against the Stream – The Origins of the Fourth Internationalist movement, in IS 53.)
Downloaded from REDS – Die Roten.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
There was general agreement ... that following a post-war period of reactivation and reconstruction, a serious economic crisis would occur. Marxists, basing themselves more particularly on Lenin’s concepts of imperialism. believed that the loss of colonies would contribute to the disintegration of the imperialist centres. Yet far from disintegrating, for about 15 years the capitalist world experienced boom, an unprecedented economic prosperity interrupted not by crises but only by “recessions” of varying but always limited size and duration ... A capitalism deprived of its colonies yet flourishing more than ever, with a working class shorn of its political aspirations and almost exclusively preoccupied with its standards of living; in the workers” states an extension of the new relationships of production. with bureaucratic domination maintained and without any workers” mobilisations; in the colonial countries a revolutionary upsurge based essentially on the peasantry – all this largely explains the proliferation of theories denying, in one way or another, the historical mission, of the proletariat as formulated by Marx ... (Pierre Frank: The Fourth International)
It does not, however, explain why the Fourth Internationalist movement itself came to succumb to such theories; and so to the most fundamental revision of Marxism. Nor is it an honest formulation of the case. As we shall see, Pierre Frank and the political tendency of which he is part, specifically denied, at the relevant time, that there would or could be “a post-war period of reactivation and reconstruction”, and insisted on the capitalist nature of all but one of what he now calls “the workers’ states”.
The fact is that the victory of “substitutionist” ideas in the Trotskyist movement was not due simply to the pressure of circumstances. It owed more to the incorrectness of important parts of the Trotskyist heritage of ideas and was the outcome a political struggle within the movement which led to the victory, initially, of a conservative, “orthodox” group which proved incapable of solving the theoretical or practical problems facing it. When this became obvious even to the “orthodox”, they collapsed into a series of unprincipled zig-zags led them ultimately to “critical support” for Stalinism.
The Fourth Internationalist groups went into the Second World War with the perspective that it would end in a revolutionary crisis similar to that of 1917–on a still bigger scale. In 1944, when the German war machine was visibly declining, the newly created European secretariat of the FI issued theses which proclaimed: “With an inexorable necessity, the imperialist war is developing towards its. inevitable transformation into civil war ... the rapid development of revolutionary events and the situation in the USSR will create all the necessary conditions Or a break between the masses and the Stalinist leaders ... The large scale use of the Red Army as a counter-revolutionary force is excluded ... The German revolution remains the backbone of the European revolution ... The German proletariat, stronger than ever in numbers, more concentrated than ever will from the first play a decisive role ... The most favourable conditions will exist for a victorious revolutionary movement.” (1)
And six months after the war in Europe had ended, the most authoritative figure in the movement, James P. Cannon,national secretary of the US Socialist Workers Party, declared “Trotsky predicted that the fate of the Soviet Union would be decided in the war. That remains our firm conviction. Only we disagree with some people who carelessly think the war is over ... The war is not over, and the revolution which we said would issue from the war in Europe is not taken off the agenda.” (2)
Thus Trotsky’s predictions were elevated to the status of sacred writings, of gospel; and if there was a contradiction between gospel and reality, so much the worse for reality.
The revisionist opposition attacked the programme itself. Their position. at bottom, represented a fundamental break with the programmatic concepts, traditions and methods embodied in the Fourth International. (James P. Cannon, The Convention of the SWP,1940)
The American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was by far the strongest (about 1,500 members) (3) and most stable organisation in the FI. The Cannon leadership had been profoundly influenced by the factional struggle and split in 1940 when “the Shachtmanites had not less than 40 per cent of the party and a majority of the youth organisation. If you count the youth, who were not voting members of the party, it was almost a 50–50 split.” (4) The Abern-Burnham-Shachtman group had split from the SWP to form the Workers Party and thus inflicted a heavy set-back in the SWP. They had seceded on a confused and an unprincipled basis.
Though the defectors were in disagreement with Trotsky’s analysis of the events following the Hitler-Stalin pact (1939) – the Russian seizure of the Western Ukraine and Western White Russia from Poland, the Russo-Finnish war and so on – they had no common position of their own on the “Russian question”. As Cannon later conceded, “Shachtman, up to the point of the split, did not openly revise our programme on the Soviet Union, which was the central issue in dispute ... As for Abern, he did not yield anything theoretically to revisionism at all.” (5) In fact the Shachtman group had concentrated on the issue of “party regime” which they described as “bureaucratic conservatism”. Trotsky’s description of them as “a petty-bourgeois opposition” was essentially correct.
The disastrous effect of this split on the international movement was that it confirmed and hardened the view of Cannon and his associates that the “defence of our programme” was the main, indeed practically the sole, theoretical task of the leadership. The SWP leadership became, by default, the effective leadership of the FI. By programme they meant the letter of The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. After Trotsky’s murder in 1940 they had no competent guide, so they believed, to abate one jot or tittle of that document. The programme and the perspective of 1938 were indissolubly connected in the minds of the SWP leadership. After the Shachtman split, any attempt to modify the perspective was treated as an attack on the “traditions and methods” of the FI.
The Europeans had much the same outlook but some of them were capable of learning from experience. Therein lay the difference between the (pre-1948) leadership of the French FI section (PCI) and of the British Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the Americans. These two organisations – small as they were (the PCI claimed 1,000 members in 1947, the RCP 400) – were the only other organisations in the FI of any substance at all, which were in a position to influence its politics. (6)
They came into conflict with the SWP at an early stage and the erection of a new “international leadership” independent of the only two serious European sections (and therefore dependent on the Americans), together with the fostering of internal opposition to the French and British leaderships, became important SWP policy objectives. The battle was fought, in the first instance, on whether or not there was any possibility of a temporary revival of European capitalism and there fore of a revival of bourgeois democracy after the defeat of fascism. Such a revival was held to be incompatible with the perspective of immediate proletarian revolution. Therefore it must be excluded.
The experience of the countries “liberated” by the Red Army, as in those “liberated” by the Allied armies, already shows that the bourgeoisie, ruined, incapable of making the smallest concessions to the masses ... turns from the beginning to “strong” solutions, to police and military dictatorships ... A relatively long intermediate “democratic” period, lasting until the decisive victory either of the socialist revolution or once again of fascism, will be impossible ... In all the “liberated” countries the bourgeoisie is incapable of restoring economic life. (The Maturing Situation in Europe and the Tasks of the Fourth International, FI International Executive Committee Resolution 1945)
At the outbreak of the Second World War the “International Secretariat” was transferred to New York. In fact the in. international leadership elected in 1938 was unable to function. When certain Executive members came out in defence of Shachtman, the SWP leadership unceremoniously deposed them, with Trotsky’s approval (7), and appointed a new secretary of the FI, the European emigré Gerland (“Logan”). (8)
However Gerland had a mind of his own, and as early as 1943 he, together with the editor of the SWP’s journal, Morrow (“Cassidy”) and others, began to draw attention to the signs of the revival of mass support for the communist parties arid social-democratic parties in the European resistance movements. These signs suggested that the tiny FI groups might confront a real mass revival of reformist parties, rather than the revolutionary masses looking for leadership. This, of course, was exactly what happened in 1944–45. Far from there being “a break between the masses and the Stalinist leaders”, the Stalinist parties mushroomed into organisations vastly bigger than before the war.
Far from there being an “inevitable transformation into civil war” in countries like France and Italy (let alone Germany where the working class was atomised by Nazism and then subject to Allied military rule), socialist-communist-liberal bourgeois coalition governments were coming to power in one country of Western Europe after another and proceeding to recreate the war-shattered state machines under cover of a cloud of left-wing rhetoric. Not the proletarian revolution but the “counter-revolution in its ‘democratic’ form”, as Lenin had called it, was ascendant. (9)
The Red Army proved only too capable of large scale use as a “counter-revolutionary force”. All over Eastern Europe (Yugoslavia and Albania excepted) it was used to impose coalition governments of, apparently, the same political complexion as those of the West. Where revolutionary enthusiasm threatened this process, it was firmly repressed. In Bulgaria, for example, the Stalinist-appointed war minister had in 1944 “issued a stern order to the troops to return immediately to normal discipline, to abolish soldiers’ councils and to hoist no more red flags. Now Sofia reports that the Bulgarian army has been placed under the supreme command of (the Russian) Marshal Tolbukhin. Apparently, the Soviet commander has no patience with Balkan repetitions of 1917.” (10)
Gerland, together with Morrow, Goldman and others in the SWP, saw the way things were going at an early stage, and attempted to shift the line of the SWP and the Europeans away from what Morrow, tactlessly but accurately, called “ultra-left braggadocio” and towards immediate demands that take into account the actual consciousness of the radicalised workers supporting the communist and socialist parties. For example, the demand to abolish the monarchy in Italy and Belgium (which was resisted by the CP leaders), for the legalisation of the PCI and so on. They also suggested a short term “entry” tactic in the Belgian, French, Italian and other socialist parties and, generally, an end to “revolutionary heroics and chest-beating”.
The orthodox reaction to this was to treat it as “an attempt to revise our programme”, which must of course be smashed, and to loudly re-affirm the imminence of the inevitable proletarian revolution. The perspective had clearly been falsified. But it was still defended by the SWP leaders with ferocious vigour. The critics were driven out of the SWP. (11) However, the Europeans began to show disturbing signs of being influenced, in retrospect, by similar ideas. The SWP leadership needed an instrument to combat the heresy in Europe itself. They exerted their influence and financial support (12) to ensure that the new International Secretariat centred in Paris, should be impeccably “orthodox” both in its perspectives and, of course, on the sacred “Russian question”.
Our relations with the leadership in Europe at that time were relations of the closest collaboration and support. There was general agreement between us. These were unknown men in our party. Nobody had ever heard of them. We helped to publicise the individual leaders ... They had yet to gain authority, not only here but throughout the world. And the fact that the SWP supported them up and down the line greatly reinforced their position. (James P. Cannon, Internationalism and the SWP, 1953)
The leadership of which Cannon spoke was not, of course, drawn from suspect leaderships of the two major European sections. Cannon’s emissary in Europe, Gordon (“Stuart”), had found, and was able to vouch for, a number of “unknown men” who combined the necessary qualifications: no base in a major Trotskyist group, talent and an unquestioning acceptance of the gospel according to the SWP. The most important of the “unknown men” were Michel Raptis (“Pablo”), a Greek resident in France, and Ernest Mandel (“Germain”), a Belgian. Pablo, an “organisation man” of some skill, became the new secretary of the FI; Mandel, a brilliant journalist and master of the arts of polemic, became the “theoretician”.
Mandel’s most urgent task was to counter the subversive notion, which was gaining ground amongst the PCI and RCP leaders, that, given the failure of immediate revolutionary prospects in Europe, a major post-war economic boom was in prospect.
“There is no reason whatever”, he wrote in 1946, “to assume that we are facing a new epoch of capitalist stabilisation and development.” On the contrary, the war has acted only to “aggravate the disproportion between the increased productivity of the capitalist economy and the capacity of the world market to absorb it”. (13) Mandel’s sleight-of-hand technique was already well developed; his opponents had not predicted “a new epoch of capitalist stabilisation” – that was not yet expected by anyone – but merely a major boom.
The RCP reply was blunt and to the point. “The classic conditions for boom are present in Europe today. A shortage of capital goods; shortage of agricultural produce; shortage of consumer goods ... the specific position of the Secretariat and SWP ... that the Western European countries will remain on a level approaching stagnation and slump is entirely false.” (14) But since the SWP was wedded to the idea of “the accelerated ruin of the European economy by the war and the utter impossibility of restoring it to health on a national capitalist basis” (15), as Cannon had put it two years earlier, Mandel was forced to stick to his thesis.
Meanwhile Pablo was engaged in the more mundane but essential task of undermining the PCI and RCP leaderships by organisational manoeuvres. In France especially, this was an urgent task. The Craipeau-Demazière leadership had carried the 1946 party congress on a platform calling for an end to “sectarian politics” and phrase-mongering about “ascending revolutionary struggles”, and for a serious orientation of the organisation on the real mass movement. (16) In short, for a rejection of the politics of Cannon-Pablo-Mandel. The PCI was gaining ground. Craipeau had won 14,000 votes in Seine-et-Oise in the 1946 election. La Verité was growing in circulation and influence. The Renault strike (influenced by members of what is now Lutte Ouvriere) had shattered the “no-strike” campaign of the Communist trade union federation and the government. The Socialist Youth organisation, nominally 5,000 strong, had broken with its parent party and was negotiating with the PCI for unity on a revolutionary basis, as was a smaller group from the adult party headed by the former joint national secretary of the socialists, Yves Dechezelles. The fusion of these forces had to be stopped at all costs. If successful, or even partially successful, it would give the Craipeau-Demazière leadership an unassailable majority and, even worse, would alter the whole balance of forces in the FI and end the hegemony of the SWP and its European acolytes.
Accordingly Pablo, assisted by Pierre Frank (also a member of the secretariat), set to work to cobble together a coalition of tendencies to oust the leadership before the fusion could take place. The coalition consisted of elements that had nothing in common except their opposition to the “dilution” of the PCI by fresh forces, i.e. to its serious growth. There were the former Molinierists headed by Pierre Lambert, then as now, sectarian phrase-mongers. There was the personal following of Frank, still officially part of the Lambert tendency but soon to be its most violent opponent. There was the ultra-left Peret group (which, incidentally, regarded the USSR as state-capitalist), the Shachmanite-influenced group of Chaulieu, which regarded the USSR as a new kind of exploitative society, and the French Communist Party as the embryo of the new “bureaucratic collectivist” ruling class in France, and the future Stalinist apologist, Mestre, and his friends. The coalition could not possibly lead the PCI, but, aided by the full weight of the SWP-Secretariat support, it did manage to scrape together enough votes to depose the leadership at the end of 1947 and so kill the fusion and the hopes of breaking out of the sectarian ghetto. (17) This achieved, the coalition fell apart, its constituent parts seceding or being expelled until, a few years later, all that was left of the PCI was a small rump presided over by Pierre Frank.
In Britain Pablo was less successful. Building on the earlier work of “Stuart”, he and Mandel did their best to develop the Healy-Lawrence minority, which was slavishly devoted to the SWP line, into a credible alternative to the Haston-Grant leadership. When this proved to be impossible – Healy could gain the support of only about one-fifth of the membership – the secretariat intervened to split the RCP into two sections, both officially recognised (1947). The Healy group entered the Labour Party, the RCP continuing the open-party tactic. Pablo had failed to destroy the RCP leadership. In the event, that leadership solved his problem for him. It destroyed itself. The rock on which it foundered was the “Russian question”, the question which was to disorientate and demoralise the whole Trotskyist movement.
The bureaucracy which became a reactionary force in the USSR cannot play a revolutionary role on the world arena. (Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International)
In 1944–45 the Russian Army gained control of most of Eastern Europe. Russia’s political masters proceeded to erect new bureaucratic state machines to replace the shattered German puppet regimes that had been destroyed. The personnel were drawn from the servants of the previous semi-fascist regimes, reinforced by emigré and underground members of the Communist Parties. These “people’s democracies” were headed by the same type of CP-socialist-liberal bourgeois (or peasant) party governments as in the West. The difference lay in the fact, that military and police machines were under effective Stalinist control backed by the Russian Army.
The line of the FI, affirmed in April and June 1946, was to call for “the withdrawal of all occupation troops including the Red Army”. (18) There was however a complication. As Mandel wrote: “The bureaucracy in general began by curbing and breaking the revolutionary upsurge of the masses. A year and a half later, however, the situation in these countries is marked by a more or less widespread introduction of agrarian reforms and nationalisation of heavy industry.” (19) In fact, virtually all modern industry was nationalised.
What sort of regimes were these? The term “buffer” regimes was coined to describe them, implying that the Russian interest in them was purely military. Mandel declared: “In the ‘buffer’ countries the state remains bourgeois.” (20) “The bourgeois character of the state”, he explained, “flows from the capitalist relations of production and is expressed in a special kind of state structure. This structure (hierarchical and centralised administration, apparatus of repression etc.) is present everywhere, with the old officials still functioning ...” (21) But in these new Russian-controlled states the decisive sections of industry were nationalised. Surely this changed their nature? “Nationalisations”, replied Mandel, “in no way change the capitalist character of the ‘buffer’ nations; they merely express, in a new and concentrated form, the total incapacity of the native private capital of these countries to develop and even to run industry.” (22)
There was, however, a difficulty. For the first 10 years of the Left Opposition – until the end of 1933 – Trotsky had maintained, as an essential component of his conception of “Russia as a ‘degenerated workers’ state” that “the edifice of the workers’ state can be regenerated on the social foundations of the Soviet Union, without a new revolution” (23); that is to say Stalin’s despotism can be ended by reformist means. Trotsky abandoned this position and maintained, for the last seven years of his life: first, that only a revolution could “regenerate” the USSR; second, that it nevertheless remained a degenerated workers’ state but only because the means of production were state owned; third, that such state ownership of the decisive means of production could arise only from a proletarian revolution.
In the post-war period a hundred million people in a third of Europe were subjected to regimes that were counter-revolutionary in origin but satisfied the “state ownership” criterion for “workers’ states”. Inevitably, the argument was advanced that Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and so on were in fact “degenerated workers’ states” of the Russian type that had been created by “revolution from above”. To these arguments the “orthodox” Trotskyists reacted with violent hostility, partly because the suggestion undermined the whole argument for the necessity of a new international by implying that the Bonapartist bureaucracy of the USSR was not necessarily counter-revolutionary, partly because their class and revolutionary instincts were outraged at the idea that the repressive despotisms erected in Eastern Europe without or against the working class could be put on a par with the offspring, however degenerated, of the great October revolution. The “revolution from above” thesis, later associated with Deutscher and Pablo, was first advanced by the French renegade from Trotskyism, Leblanc. Mandel, as usual, replied for the orthodox:
The facts thus prove the complete falsity of Leblanc’s theory that the Stalinist bureaucracy would be compelled ‘objectively to carry through the socialist revolution in other countries’.
This theory is a complete petty-bourgeois revision of the Marxist-Leninist concept both of the state and of the proletarian revolution ... Finally Leblanc’s thesis completely revises the Trotskyist conception of the objectively counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy both in Russia and in other countries ... it is clear that what we have here is a capitulation under the pressure of Stalinism ... a very powerful pressure amongst the French intelligentsia. (24)
All of which was incontestable. But what then of the USSR? It too, had long had “hierarchical and centralised administration, apparatus of repression etc.” Its sole essential distinguishing feature was that nationalisation of the means of production which Mandel, following Engels, now proclaimed “in no way change[s] the capitalist character”. The truth was that it was no longer possible to maintain both the Marxist-Leninist theory of the state and the proletarian revolution and Trotsky’s theory that the USSR was still, in some sense, a workers’ state even though the only way the workers could obtain power was by smashing it in the course of a proletarian revolution. No longer possible, that is, unless the relevant facts were ignored. But the essence of “orthodox Trotskyism” (the term was coined by Cannon) was adherence to the letter of the sacred texts of 1938-40. And so, it was maintained, those who grasped either horn of the dilemma were damned. All who understood the essential identity of the class character of the USSR and the East European states were beyond the pale; those who maintained that both were in some sense workers’ states were damned equally with those who maintained that both were in some sense state capitalist. “The parallelism of these two revisionist tendencies strikes the eye”, declared the Second World Congress (1948). “There is no room for them in the revolutionary movement.” (25)
Were the path they have taken to be followed, that is, bringing liberation on the bayonets of the Red Army, which would really be but enslavement of peoples in another form, the science of Marxism-Leninism would perish. (Joseph Tito in Yugoslav Fortnightly, 2 November 1949).
The survival and expansion of Stalinism precipitated a crisis that ultimately destroyed “orthodox Trotskyism” as Cannon and his supporters understood it. There were two related problems; the survival of Stalinism in the USSR itself and the existence, now, of other Stalinist states of essentially the same type. The first problem could be met by dogmatic assertion. The end of Stalinism, the destruction of the bureaucracy, is at hand. The war, the Secretariat reiterated in 1946, “marks the beginning of the period in which the fate of the regime established by the October revolution will be definitely and finally decided ... only the intervention of the proletarian revolution can save the Soviet Union from an early and fatal end”. (26)
The second problem could be approached in a number of ways. The facts about the “people’s democracies” were denied or minimised – actually there is still a lot of private industry, agriculture hasn’t been collectivised and so on (all of which was equally true of the Russia of the mid-twenties). Then, ignoring altogether the qualitative differences between the events of 1939–40 and those of 1944–45, there was much pseudo-learned argument about the degree of “structural assimilation” of the “people’s democracies” with the USSR. The point here was that Trotsky himself had noted that when the Western Ukraine was forcibly incorporated into the USSR, its economy had been transformed to conform to the Russian model. The various arguments were juggled with great sophistical skill, but always to lead to the required conclusion – the East European states are capitalist, the USSR is a degenerated workers’ state; the apparent identity of their social structures is a snare and a delusion.
The “orthodox” position was formulated yet again at the 1948 World Congress. “The capitalist nature of the economy of the ‘buffer zone’ is apparent ... In the ‘buffer’ countries the state remains bourgeois ... the state of the ‘buffer’ countries represents at the same time an extreme form of Bonapartism.” (27) And then came the conflict between Stalin and Tito. Within weeks of the congress the Pablo-Mandel Secretariat issued a declaration of support for the “capitalist” regime of Tito in its struggle against Stalin’s “workers’ state”! Their position was the more awkward because Tito soon began to receive substantial US aid! How to justify this complete reversal of position? By swallowing all the words that had been written against “revisionism” and proclaiming that what had occurred in Yugoslavia four years earlier was “the Yugoslav socialist revolution”. (28) Stalin’s Comintern never made a more abrupt abandonment of a previous line. It took some time longer for the SWP to eat its words (it did so in a formal statement, The Tito-Stalin Conflict, in 1949). This was the first time that Pablo-Mandel had acted independently.
Frankenstein was no longer fully in control of his creation. The monster had developed a mind and a will of its own. And having taken the first step it soon went all the way to that “complete petty-bourgeois revision of the Marxist-Leninist concept both of the state and of the proletarian revolution” it had so vehemently denounced. It had been preceded by the RCP leadership.
Haston and Grant of the British RCP had recognised much earlier that the “orthodox” position was untenable. In 1947 they had flirted with the idea that the USSR was state-capitalist but had failed to carry it through and then, before Pablo and Mandel, had collapsed into the Pabloite position. There had indeed been a “revolution from above” in most of Eastern Europe and in Yugoslavia and Albania there had been a revolution from below, led by Stalinist parties and not based on the working class, which had nevertheless led to the creation of “workers’ states” in which, from the beginning, the workers were excluded from all trace of power. Pablo himself took a little longer to swallow the poison, Mandel and Cannon longer still. But swallow it they did and having done so found that they could not stop. The drug was addictive. By 1951 it was accepted that the new Stalinist states were “deformed workers’ states”, deformed rather than degenerated because, so to say, they had never been undegenerated, the workers had never held power. Thus “orthodoxy” had led to the most profound revisionism. The FI had itself abandoned “the historical mission of the proletariat as formulated by Marx”. But what, then, remained of the historical justification for the FI?
An epoch of transition between capitalism and socialism, an epoch that has already begun and is quite advanced ... This transformation will probably take an entire period of several centuries, and will, in the meantime, be filled with forms and regimes transitional between capitalism and socialism, and necessarily deviating from “pure” forms and norms. (Pablo, Where Are We Going, 1951).
When Arne Swabeck came to the plenum a few days later he said “What is this – centuries of degenerated workers’ states?” And he told us that a girl comrade got up in the Chicago branch and asked ... “If there are going to be centuries of Stalinism, what’s the sense of my going out and selling 10 papers on the street corner?” A very good question. (Cannon, Internationalism and the SWP)
The FI’s flirtation with Tito was short lived. For this was the era of the cold war which erupted into a limited hot war in Korea in 1950. Kim Il-Sung of North Korea, although he was probably not aware of the fact, was transformed along with his east European analogues from the Bonaparist dictator of a capitalist police state into the leader of a “workers’ state”, albeit a deformed one. The “award” was made retrospective, so to say, to the time he was installed by the Russian army in 1945. But Kim Il-Sung, at that time, was a Russian puppet pure and simple. Tito was not; and being well aware that his survival depended in the last resort on US support, he flatly refused to support the Russian bloc against the US and its satellites in the Korean war. The FI, on the other hand, swung behind Stalin.
For now the “very powerful pressure of Stalinism” was being felt, not merely by the “French intelligentsia” but by Trotskyists themselves. The Cold War sharply polarised the European working-class movement with the Left (even in Britain) strongly under Stalinist influence. The Communist Parties were everywhere eliminated from government and adopted a “leftish” line – promoting strikes and demonstrations, etc. The right wing, including the leadership of the British Labour Party (and the Tribune ex-Lefts), became violently pro-American. There wasn’t much breathing space between the right and the Stalinists. There was immense pressure to “choose sides” – for Stalin or for Truman. The Secretariat chose Stalin, and in doing so precipitated the first and biggest of the international splits in the FI.
This capitulation was not simply a question of lack of moral fibre. The leaders of the FI had resisted infinitely greater pressure to “choose sides” in the Second World War. But then they had a clear, if false, perspective. Now, having swallowed the “bureaucratic revolution from above” thesis and Tito’s “proletarian revolution” from below carried out by a peasant army under Stalinist control, there was no firm ground under their feet. The effect of Mao Tse Tung’s conquest of China with another peasant army (1947-49), a “Yugoslav socialist revolution” on a vastly greater scale, completed their disorientation. Under the impact of events, Pablo had rediscovered a previously little-noted passage in the 1938 programme which stated: “One cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.) the petty-bourgeois parties, including the Stalinists, may go further than they themselves wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie.” But this “highly improbable variant”, as Trotsky had called it, now became the real perspective. At the same time the “transitional period”, which for Marx and Lenin, had been the period after the conquest of power by the working class until the final withering away of the state (i.e. the period of the proletarian dictatorship) was redefined by Pablo as the present (“an epoch that ... is quite advanced”). In plain words Stalinist dictatorships are the dictatorship of the proletariat! This, the notorious “centuries of deformed workers’ states” thesis, went hand in hand with the proposal for “entry sui generis” by the FI group into the Stalinist (and other “petty bourgeois“) parties.
In the autumn of 1950 an extended plenum of the FI executive adopted the perspectives that were to be endorsed by the Third World Congress (1951). These theses predicted “a new world war in the relatively near future”. They added that, by its nature, this war would be a “war-revolution”. (29) The two power blocs were now described as “imperialism and the anti-imperialist camp” – the same labels as those used by the Stalinists – and in the “war-revolution” the Stalinist states, the “colonial revolution” and the working class, led by Stalinist parties, would be the anti-imperialist side. From this, and the imminence of “war-revolution” flowed “entry sui generis”, an entry intended not to split but to influence the Stalinist parties. As Pablo explained it: “These organisations cannot be smashed and replaced by others in the relatively short time between now and the decisive conflict. All the more so since these organisations will be obliged, whether they wish it or not, to give a leftward turn to the whole or at least a part of the leadership”. (30) This was a return to the “reformist” Trotskyism (reformist with respect to Stalinism) of pre-1933. Though the need for the FI was still proclaimed, the political basis for it was completely abandoned.
But the revisionism of 1940 was by no means as deep and definitive as the revisionism that we have split with today. There is not a single member of this plenum who contemplates any later relations in the same party with the strike-breakers of the Pablo-Cochran gang ... the split of 1940 was by no means as definitive and final as is the split today. We are finished and done with Pablo and Pabloism forever, not only here but on the international field. (Cannon, Factional Struggle and Party Leadership, 1953)
By 1951 practically all the critical tendencies had been eliminated from the FI, or, like the RCP leadership, had eliminated themselves. The split was a split amongst the erstwhile “orthodox”, and it was a split between those who retained some attachment to the traditions of revolutionary Marxism, in however distorted a form, on the one hand, and those who followed Pablo, Mandel and Frank, on the other. At the beginning of 1952 the Secretariat “reconstructed” the PCI, deposing the then majority leadership (the followers of Pierre Lambert) and replacing them by a minority coalition of Frank and Mestre. The Lambertists, for all their defects, could not swallow pro-Stalinism. “If these ideas are correct”, they wrote of Pablo’s theses, “stop chattering about the tactic of entrism, even entrism sui generis, and pose clearly our new tasks: that of a more consistent tendency, not even a left opposition ... whose role is to aid Stalinism to overcome its hesitation ...” (31) After they had been deposed, Lambert and his followers, a considerable majority of the organisation, seceded.
In the following year there were fierce faction fights in the SWP and the reconstructed British section (now led by Healy and Lawrence). The pro-Pablo forces led by Cochran (US) and Lawrence (GB) took Pablo’s ideas to their logical conclusion as did Mestre and his followers in France; three pro-Stalinist splits resulted, the splitters going right over, in the cases of Lawrence and Mestre, to the Stalinists. Another split divided the Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) by this time a relatively big organisation, which the Pablo-Mandel secretariat was pressing to “enter” the bourgeois nationalist party, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR). The majority (Lora group) refused to accept this and were thrown out, recognition being transferred to the Pabloite splinter group of Moscoso. Cannon, Healy, Lambert and others set up a rival “International Committee of the FI”. The International Secretariat was left, as Pablo complacently put it “at the same time ideologically more homogenous and organisationally weaker”. In fact it dwindled into insignificance for many years, its remaining sections vanishing into the CP or Socialist Party organisations where they were to lose as many people as they gained. As to the International Committee, it was politically paralysed from birth because its leaders, whilst rejecting Pablo’s conclusions, accepted his basic political premises. Its major component (SWP) was to return, after ten years, to the original fold.
To return to the starting point. Unfavourable circumstances played a part in the decline of the Fourth Internationalist movement. More important were the fundamental weaknesses of the 1938 programme, especially its quite wrong analysis if Stalinism. In addition the very pretensions of an “international” without any real working class base were themselves an added handicap. The ludicrous notion that an “international leadership” could be constructed from people who had no serious practical experience of leadership in national organisations was another of Trotsky’s errors which had a most harmful effect on the movement. As long as Trotsky lived he could substitute for such a leadership. Without him, the “World Party of the Socialist Revolution” was even weaker in the head than it was in the arm.
1. Quoted by Morrow in Tactical Problems of the European Movem,ent, New International, January 1946, p.13. All emphases added.
2. Cannon, The Militant, 17 November 1945. Emphasis added.
3. The membership was variously reported in the internal literature of the period as 1,200 to 1,600.
4. Cannon, Fractional Struggle and Party Leadership, reproduced in Defending the Revolutionary Party etc., p.25.
5. Op. cit., p.25. Burnham, of course, was a renegade who later became an active supporter of US imperialism during the Cold War.
6. The Vietnamese Trotskyists were fairly numerous until Ho Chi Minh’s Stalinists liquidated them by physical violence in and after 1946. The Bolivian POR had a real base amongst the tin miners – demonstrated by the return of four POR deputies in the general election following the overthrow at the pro-Nazi dictator Villaroel (1945). The Ceylonese Lanka Sama Samaja Party, an established organisation which adhered to the FI in 1940, after expelling its Stalinist minority, emerged from illegality as the major opposition party in the immediate post-war period. None of these organisations, which clearly did enjoy serious support, had any real contact with, or influence on, the “international leadership” until the “Second World Congress” (1948).
7. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism (against the petty-bourgeois opposition), New York, 1970 (1941), p.205.
8. Formally speaking it was an “emergency conference” of the FI held in New York in May 1940 which did these things. In fact this quite unrepresentative gathering was no more than a rubber stamp for the SWP.
9. An important exception was Greece, where British military intervention, with Stalin’s tacit approval, smashed the Left and imposed a right-wing regime.
10. Gluckstein, Stalin’s Satellites in Europe, London 1952, p.133. The quotation is from The Economist, 7 October 1944.
11. Goldman joined Shachtman. Morrow left revolutionary politics in despair and, like many others in the same position. ended up supporting a reactionary cause – in his case, Zionism.
12. The European sections were desperately poor and the secretariat depended on SWP financial aid.
13. The New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the FI, printed in Workers’ International News, November–December 1946.
14. Economic Perspectives, Workers’ International News, November-December 1946.
15. Cannon, Letters from Prison, p.208.
16. Craipeau, Le Movement Trotskyste en France, p.201.
17. Op. cit., p.203. Craipeau and his associates left the party in the ensuing period, and many of them drifted into centrist politics. Craipeau now leads a tendency in the PSU. As usual this defection, in disgust, was used to “prove” that they had “always been centrists”! In fairness to Pierre Frank it should be said that he does not make this charge in his History. He simply fails to mention this decisive turning point in post-war French Trotskyism or his own role at the time.
18. International Information Bulletin (SWP), March 1947, p.1.
19. Mandel, The Soviet Union after the War, printed in IIB, March 1947. p.10.
20. The USSR and Stalinism, printed in Fourth International, June 1948.
21. Mandel, The Soviet Union after the War, p.12.
22. Op. cit., p.12.
23. Trotsky, Writings 1933–34, p.20.
24. Mandel, The Soviet Union after the War, p.13.
25. The USSR and Stalinism.
26. The New Imperialist Peace, etc.
27. The USSR and Stalinism.
28. Open Letter to CPY, quoted from Hal Draper, “Comrade” Tito and the 4th International, New International, September 1948.
29. Frank, The Fourth International, in Intercontinental Press, 14 April 1972.
30. Quoted from A Recall to Order, ISFI, 1959.
31. Quoted in Spartacist (New York), Number 21, p.10.
Last updated on 3.8.2012