MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: FI: 1938-1949: World War II declarations, discussions, articles and documents

Where Trotskyism Got Lost:

World War Two and the Prospect for Revolution in Europe

Written: 1977
First Published: 1977
Source: Jenkins, Peter, Where Trotskyism got lost: The restoration of European democracy after the Second World War, Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 1977. 23 p. (‘Spokesman’ pamphlet; no.59).
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido and David Walters, March, 2006
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskism On-Line, 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the address of this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

For socialists, the relationship of democracy to revolution is increasingly assuming a critical importance. In the West, the ‘Eurocommunist’ policies of the mass communist Parties represent an attempt to match marxism to the established democratic structures of advanced capitalism. In Southern Europe, the collapse of fascist rule in Portugal, Greece (and the continuing rearguard action of the Spanish ‘bunker’) attest to the mounting popular pressure for a return to the exercise of minimal democratic rights. In Eastern Europe, the Stalinist regimes seek to crush those who voice the widelyfelt demand for political freedom within the workers’ states.

The paradox is that, in the East, socialism is widely and popularly identified with state planning and police rule, and not with active, democratic control by the working class over all facets of life. In the West, however, the flexible structures of bourgeois democracy have proved to be a formidable barrier to the establishment of socialism. The project of social democracy has foundered on the role of the state in capitalist society, ever responsive to the needs of the ruling class. The revolutionary left, nevertheless, has failed to present a credible alternative acceptable to the mass of the working class, despite the failings of the reformist road.

On the marxist left, the attitude of the Trotskyist movement in particular towards democracy has frequently been an ambiguous one. While democratic rights , for example for the trade unions, for national minorities, etc., are vigorously defended, democratic institutions are equally vigorously denounced. This outlook is possible since in the ‘epoch of capitalist decline’, Trotsky argued, the very material basis of bourgeois democracy has been eroded. "Naturally there exists a difference between the political regimes in bourgeois society just as there is a difference in comfort between various cars in a railway carriage. But when the whole train is plunging into an abyss the distinction between decaying democracy and murderous fascism disappears in the face of the collapse of the entire capitalist system.”[1]

For Trotsky and his followers in the newly founded Fourth International (FH, the Second World War represented such an ‘abyss’. His catastrophist perspective was held by this organisation to provide a literal prediction of the actual course of events. It counterposed to the decaying and stricken democracy of the bourgeoisie the tradition of direct soviet democracy, which alone could provide the basis for overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist society.

This outlook has contributed to the current impasse of Trotskyism, and its relative weakness in the labour movement. This perspective of capitalist ‘decline’ has focused its attention away from the central problems of the strength of bourgeois democratic institutions and the lasting hegemony of reformist ideas amongst the working class. The question of precisely how this will be changed is too often left to the operation of ‘objective factors’, such as economic collapse, or betrayal by Labour or trade union leaderships.

The cursory dismissal of established democratic institutions by the Trotskyist movement provides the focus of criticisms often voiced by its opponents within the labour movement.[2] However, to identify these criticisms exclusively with the right wing of social democracy (and therefore to dismiss them) would be mistaken. During the Second World War, a coherent criticism of the Fourth International’s attitude towards democracy and revolution was developed within its own ranks. The main theorist of this reassessment was Felix Morrow, an American Trotskyist, who struggled to replace the revolutionary fatalism of the Fl with a political practice adequate to the problems posed by the survival, and strengthening, of reformism following the war. He argued, in brief, that the revival of the stalinist and social democratic parties in wartime Europe made the expected revolutionary outcome of the war unlikely. Faced with the fact of reestablished bourgeois democratic regimes in Europe, the Trotskyist movement would have to adjust its programme and activity accordingly.

Morrow’s position demonstrated that a critique of the Trotskyist movement on the question of its attitude towards democracy was necessary and possible within a Marxist framework. Given the urgent and contemporary need for a debate about the relationship of democracy and revolution, his arguments have more than a purely historic interest for those attempting to develop a socialist strategy adequate to the conditions of Western Europe.

It should be said that this is not an attempt at a historical account of the FI in this period, so much as an account of an important, but littleknown debate within the Trotskyist movement, and of the terms within it was argued by the respective sides. This account describes the orthodox analyses made by the FI leaderships in the difficult conditions of wartime, and contrasts it with the critique made by Morrow and his supporters. The focus is deliberately restricted to the debate on political developments in Western Europe between 1943 and 1946.[3] No recent analysis of Trotskyism makes other than the briefest of references to Morrow’s arguments, except perhaps to record that he “reacted in a centrist direction”,[4] or, like Isaac Deutscher and Yvan Craipeau, Felix Morrow must be dismissed as a Trotskyist “renegade”[5]—from whom, presumably, contemporary marxists have absolutely nothing to learn. A more sober estimate might be that the issues raised by Morrow in the course of the debate still retain their importance, and in that sense the debate continues today.

Trotskyism and the Second World War : At the time of the founding of the Fourth International at Lausanne, in September 1938, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the USA constituted its strongest section, containing nearly half the International’s total strength. It claimed 2,500 members, and had a history of direct involvement in, and even leadership of, such important working class struggles as the Toledo AutoLite and Minneapolis Teamsters strikes of 1934. Via its leading cadre, such as James P. Cannon, it could claim direct continuity with the militant traditions of the Industrial Workers of the World, and the early Communist Party of the USA. Leon Trotsky, up to the time of his assassination in 1940, took an unparalleled interest in the SWP’s activity and internal affairs, and played a key role in defeating the BurnhamShachtman opposition tendency in 1940, which disputed the need to defend the USSR in time of war as a ‘workers’ state’.

Felix Morrow was a leading member of the SWP, successively editor of both its paper, The Militant, and its theoretical journal, Fourth International . His account of the failure of the Spanish revolution during the Civil War of 19361939, is still considered to be a classic Trotskyist analysis, impeccably orthodox in many respects.[6] In 1941, a number of the leaders of the SWP were jailed, along with union militants prominent in the Minneapolis Strike, for sedition against the US government.[7] Among the 17 who were jailed were Cannon, Morrow, and Albert Goldman, defence solicitor for the SWP during the trial, who was later to take Morrow’s part in the debate over European perspectives from 1943 to 1946.

The European sections of the Fourth International possessed neither the material nor the human resources of the SWP. In England, the various competing sects finally agreed on fusion in 1944, to form the Revolutionary Communist Party, the only unified Trotskyist organisation to function in this country. At the time of its foundation, it claimed 260 members.

In France, the existing Trotskyist groups went underground to prepare for revolutionary defeatist activity on Leninist lines. The German section, in reality an emigré group, claimed 200 members in 1938, the majority of them in prison. The hammer blows of the war dispersed the weak Trotskyist organisations that existed in Europe, and broke off their international links as the International Secretariat was transferred to the safe keeping of the SWP in New York. The war exerted a heavy toll on Trotskyist militants, both in terms of repression by their ‘own’ governments (such as that of Petain in France), and by the German forces of occupation. The effects of the war, and the rise of the mass resistance movements after the German invasion of Russia in 1941, also produced marked swings in their theoretical assessment of the nature of the class struggle in the conditions of a war which possessed both interimperialist and antifascist aspects. The German emigré section, the IKD, for example, argued that the rise of fascism relegated class struggle to the goals of wars of “national liberation and of democratic revolutions of the 1848 type".[8] A similar concession to the growth of French nationalist feeling amongst the masses against the German occupation took root in the French section, the Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste (POI). Its leaders were to argue that this was corrected in the documents adopted by the clandestine fusion conference of the French Trotskyist groups in 1944.[9]

Clearly, the need for a clear and accurate analysis of the likely outcome of the war was crucial to the ability of the FI to intervene in events, and realise its historic potential as the ‘World Party of Socialist Revolution’. Trotsky had predicted that the Second World War, an extension and continuation of the First in 191418, would lead to massive revolutionary struggles, in which the FI would play a leading role.[10] The war, and the revolution which followed, would even put in question the continued existence of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste which ruled Russia.[11] The disparity between the historic responsibilities of the Trotskyist movement and its limited resources was placed in stark relief. The Fourth International was about to undergo a period of trial by fire.

The 1943 Plenum: The Debate Opens

Felix Morrow’s critique of the international perspectives of the SWP leadership took shape during 19431944, in the course of a series of increasingly bitter skirmishes and political exchanges with his opponents. Up until late 1943, he had explicitly endorsed the then currentlyheld theme of postwar revolutionary upsurges occurring in Europe along the lines of those in the period of 1917-1923.[12] At the 15th Anniversary Plenum of the SWP, however, Morrow and Morrison had attempted to introduce a series of amendments to the International Resolution which stressed the role of democratic demands in the European class struggle, and warned of the Stalinist danger to the development of the revolution. Whereas the main resolution foresaw only the imposition of militarypolice dictatorships in Europe by the Allies, Morrow argued that US imperialism could easily accommodate the postliberation struggle within the framework of bourgeois democratic regimes. Some of these amendments were then incorporated, somewhat unsuccessfully, into the main body of the resolution, which finally read as a hybrid and rather contradictory document.

The main errors of the majority’s international perspectives, slightly modified, were again extant the following year, at the November 1944 Convention of the SWP. This resolution, European Revolution and the Tasks of the Revolutionary Party, passed by a vote of 51 to 5, refers to many of the issues which were to sustain a violent and farranging debate within the Fourth International over the following years.

It is worth looking at some of the main points of the 1944 resolution in more detail, as a convenient point of entry onto the ensuing discussion. Its approach was locked into a thematic of the inevitable revolutionary upsurge in Europe and the consequent crisis of political leadership, which only the Trotskyist movement was capable of resolving. Its economic perspectives saw only evidence of the continued and irrevocable decline of the world capitalist system. Thus American capitalism which had begun its “absolute decline” in 1929, “today has no programme for Europe other than its further dismemberment and degradation, and the propping up of the capitalist system with American bayonets".[13]

The underlying remorseless logic of a capitalist system in its deathagony meant that Allied occupation could only deepen the crisis of wartorn Europe, and ruled out the faint possibility of the latter’s industrial revival. These bleak economic conditions precluded the regeneration of bourgeois democracy in Europe as anything other than a shortlived and exceptional occurrence. On this latter point, the resolution was quite specific: "Bourgeois democracy, which flowered with the rise and expansion of capitalism and with the moderation of class conflicts that furnished a basis for collaboration between the classes in the advanced capitalist countries, is outlived in Europe today. European capitalism, in death agony, is torn by irreconcilable and sanguinary class struggles.

“The AngloAmerican imperialists understand that democracy is today incompatible with the continued existence of capitalist exploitation. Economic and political conditions forbid the restoration of bourgeois democracy for any extended period, even to the extent that it existed after the last war. Bourgeois democratic governments can appear in Europe only as interim regimes, intended to stave off the conquest of power by the proletariat. When the sweep of the revolution threatens to wipe out capitalist rule, the imperialists and their native accomplices may attempt, as a last resort, to push forward their Social Democratic and Stalinist agents and set up a democratic capitalist regime for the purpose of disarming and strangling the workers’ revolution.

“Such regimes, however, can only be very unstable, shortlived and transitional in character. They will constitute a brief episode in the unfoldment of the revolutionary struggle. Inevitably, they will be displaced either by the dictatorship of the proletariat emerging out of triumphant workers’ revolution or the savage dictatorship of the capitalists consequent upon the victory of the counterrevolution.”[14]

These shortterm perspectives were justified, since “the proletariat, not of this or that country, but of the entire continent is in a revolutionary mood". The failed attempt of a section of the German ruling class to remove Hitler with the July 20th assassination plot provided “an unmistakeable indication that the pressure of the masses is reaching the bursting point and that the revolutionary explosion is near". [15] This was all the more significant, given that the German proletariat was afforded a decisive role in the imminent revolutionary denouement to the Second World War. “There is absolutely no foundation for pessimistic conclusions”, recorded the resolution. “The Fourth International stands today on the eve of its greatest struggles and triumphs. Europe is on the verge of stupendous revolutionary developments".

Morrow’s critique of these rhetorical excesses, and the faulty analysis on which they were based, was not well received since it cut against the grain of revolutionary catastrophism that had quickly become the hallmark of the FI between 193840. Morrow focused on the following main issues relating to Europe:

1. the methods of US Imperialism
2. the prospects for bourgeois democracy
3. the tempo of revolutionary developments
4. the outbreak of revolution in Germany
5. the role of Stalinism and Social Democracy
6. revolutionary policy and the use of democratic demands.

US. Imperialism

The issue of the role of US Imperialism was clearly of key importance in determining the evolution of class politics in Europe. If western capitalism had indeed entered its “absolute decline” with the Depression of the 1930s, and the US economy was only marginally less affected than its European counterparts, then there would be no room for luxuries such as parliamentary democracy in postwar Europe. Yet Trotsky’s catastrophist perspective, conditioned by the overwhelming successive defeats of the 1930s, had prevented him from grasping the possibilities of industrial regeneration inherent in the US government’s ‘New Deal’, and other Keynesian policies designed to reflate the depressed economies of the time. His followers similarly foresaw the postwar period in terms of the continued economic decline of the 1930s interrupted briefly by the carnage of the Second World War. The 1943 Plenum resolution could thus claim that no significant differences existed between the AngloAmerican and Nazi imperialist systems: both were “equally predatory” a phrase often later repeated by defenders of the SWP majority’s position. The US’s programme of ‘dismembering’ the European economy, once having driven out their Nazi competitors, would then become the focus of revolutionary struggle by the European working class, who would have merely exchanged one oppressor in uniform for another.

Morrow offered a pertinent critique of this blinkered position, arguing that the methods of US imperialism were not comparable to those of the Nazi occupation. Both systems were equally imperialist but could hardly be described as equally predatory . . . it is already clear that the European bourgeoisie cannot even hope to survive the coming revolutionary wave without the most direct backing from American imperialism. Already in Italy one can see that the Italian bourgeoisie can rule only as junior partners of American imperialism.

“But the Italian experience has also taught us that the US imperialist support of the Italian bourgeoisie is not merely a matter of supporting Italian capitalism on American bayonets. The bayonets are there, of course, but at least equally important are American food and the illusion that the United States will solve Italy’s economic problems. We must give due weight to the undeniable fact that considerable sections of the Italian masses enthusiastically welcomed the American troops. The illusions of the masses will, of course, collide with reality more and more in the coming period, but we must recognise that for a time the covert blackmail of food and the promises of American economic aid will play a major role in shaping the Italian events. And this process will be repeated elsewhere in Europe.

“In the long run, of course, US imperialism can solve none of Europe’s economic problems and will inevitably reveal itself as the ruthless exploiter which prevents European recovery. It is not enough, however, to state this longterm perspective. We must also estimate accurately the shortterm perspective.

“The shortterm perspective is that American imperialism will provide food and economic aid to Europe and will thus for a time appear before the European masses in a very different guise than German imperialism. This difference between the two great imperialisms aspiring to subjugate Europe is based on the difference in the economic resources of the two. The Nazis had nothing to offer to Europe; they had to subjugate Europe purely by means of military force, and after conquering each country, they had to plunder it of its food and other materials. The United States, on the other hand, will in the first instance enter the occupied countries of Europe ostensibly not as their conqueror but in the course of driving out the Nazis. Unlike Nazi occupation, American occupation will be followed by improvement in food supplies and in the economic situation generally. Where the Nazis removed factory machinery and transportation equipment the Americans will bring them in. These economic contrasts, which of course flow entirely from the contrast between the limited resources of German capitalism and the far more ample resources still possessed by American capitalism, cannot fail for a time to have political consequences.” [16]

Prospects for Bourgeois Democracy

This counterassessment of the role of the US in Europe held, it was clear, important political implications.

“Nazi imperialism could give its domination of the occupied countries only the facade of native rule. That is why the term Quislings became so appropriate . . . But it should already be clear that US imperialist penetration of the occupied countries is not going to be limited to the use of Quisling regimes, i.e. regimes which rule entirely by means of force and terror and which have no support in the masses. It is true, of course, that a bourgeoisdemocratic regime in Italy, for example, would also be a Quisling regime in the sense that it would be dominated by American imperialism. But it may very well differ from the Nazidominated Quisling regimes in the sense that, through the medium of the Stalinist, SocialDemocratic and bourgeois democratic parties, it could muster a majority in an election as free as Italian elections prior to 1921.”[17]

The response of the majority to this was less than generous. An editorial in the SWP’s theoretical journal, Fourth International, previously edited by Morrow himself, referred caustically to “shallow observers and wouldbe Marxists”, who were predicting a rebirth of bourgeois democracy.[18] This position it linked to the Popular Front politics of the Stalinists, and, it was suggested, demonstrated a lack of faith on Morrow’s part in the revolutionary capacity of the working class. The implication of Morrow’s ‘bad faith’ in fostering illusions in the potential restabilisation of the western capitalist powers was a jibe that was to be taken up periodically by his opponents in the course of the debate.

The majority’s position, laid out in the 1943 and 1944 resolutions, was that bourgeoisdemocratic regimes in Europe were unlikely, or if they appeared at all, would be shortlived. The survival of capitalism precluded any lengthy development of democracy. The implicit analogy seemed to be with Russia in 1917, when the February revolution ushered in a brief democratic period, prior to the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power in November. Morrow’s case for a protracted ‘democratic interlude’ was based on a more concrete assessment of the relationship of forces in Europe than his opponents possessed, viewing reality as they did via the fractured prism of the 1938 Transitional Programme. He replied to critics in a further article developing his earlier positions.

“The majority originally based its denial of the possibility of bourgeois democracy primarily on the subjective aims (methods) of the Allies: ‘The Allies will not sanction the slightest democracy’ etc. Thus the majority failed to understand that the subjective aims (methods) of the ruling classes change under the impact of the class struggle. The minority, on the other hand, followed a different method. It saw an evolution toward bourgeois democracy in Europe as the objective resultant of the class struggle and of the struggle between the contending capitalist classes. The Allies may not desire this objective resultant, the working class may and in fact strives for something more, nevertheless this is the objective resultant of the conflict among the various forces at this stage.

“Factor No.1 for us was the struggle of the European proletariat and its objective effect on the state power. That was the factor we began with, and not the aims of US imperialism. With the collapse of fascism and the rise of the masses again to their feet, the question of what is to come can only be answered in terms of the situation of the revolutionary Marxist parties in the various European countries. Trotsky said more than once that the collapse of fascism could be followed by the socialist revolution only under the condition that great mass revolutionary parties had managed to form themselves under the extraordinarily difficult conditions of fascism; otherwise one would first have a period of bourgeois democracy. No such mass revolutionary parties exist yet. The struggle of the masses is limited by the fact that it still accepts the leadership of the reformist parties. The objective resultant is bourgeois democracy.

“Another factor making for bourgeois democracy is the resistance of a section of the French capitalist class, led by de Gaulle, to US domination. There was much indignation at the plenum, notably from Comrade Cannon, when I defined the Gaullists as a bourgeoisdemocratic tendency. The majority could not understand this quite simple phenomenon, that a section of the French capitalist class, first to resist German imperialism and then to resist US domination, was for a period basing itself on the masses through the mediation of the reformist parties. Even as late as the December Fourth International we have the speech of Comrade Frank which defines the present French government as a military dictatorship . . .

“In sum, the minority saw an evolution toward bourgeois democracy as the objective resultant of 1) the rising struggle of the proletariat; 2) the limitations of that struggle due to the present hegemony of the Stalinists and Social Democrats and the smallness of the Fourth International parties; 3) the resistance of French imperialism, supporting itself on the masses, to US domination; 4) the ability of US imperialism to shift from methods of military dictatorship to bourgeois democratic methods under the given conditions; 5) the pressure of the US and British masses in opposition to imposition of dictatorships.

“There were the factors we saw making for bourgeois democracy and not ‘illusions centering around the character and role of US imperialism’. Nevertheless such illusions do exist among the European masses, due precisely to the methods employed by US imperialism different from those of Nazi imperialism.”[19]

A rejoinder by William Simmons derided such “speculative estimates of the viability of bourgeois democracy".[20] This was followed by a more powerful polemical piece by William F. Warde, which defended the majority position, but conceded some ground. Owing to the depth of the crisis, and the response of the working class, the capitalist class was unable as yet to establish the desired militarymonarchist dictatorships, but were “forced to resort to democratic manoeuvres and play around with parliamentary forms in order to dupe the workers and obstruct independent working class action". Nevertheless, the position for the immediate future remained clear:

“... the acuteness of the social crisis and the sharpening of the class antagonisms ... forbid the restoration of durable bourgeoisdemocratic regimes based upon class collaboration.”[21]

Perspectives of the European Sections

On the outbreak of war, the European sections of the FI had gone underground to continue a hazardous struggle against the Nazis. The SWP had maintained a tenuous contact with them via its members in the US merchant navy, who passed material on to a Trotskyist group in Marseilles. This was broken up by the Vichy police in April 1942. These links, vital for an international movement, were not reestablished until after the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944. Working in conditions of complete illegality, the French Trotskyists published 73 issues of their central organ La Vérité, and fought for a class opposition to the Nazis, based both on the armed resistance movement, and subversion of German troops with marxist propaganda in the journal Arbeiter und Soldat . In February 1944, a European Conference of various sections was held in France, attended by groups active in France, Belgium, Greece and Spain.[22] The main document in the conference was taken by the SWP to confirm the correctness of its prognosis for European democracy. The European Conference document hailed the emergence of factory committees in northern Italy, in the resurgence of mass popular struggle against the Nazi occupation, as signifying “the first day of the proletarian revolution in Italy, the first day of the coming European revolution". Its enthusiasm for the massive upsurge of the working class in the north of Italy provided the basis of its premature assessment of the options open to the Italian bourgeoisie, and the Allied liberation forces:[23]

“No intermediary road is possible. The contradictions of the bourgeoisie are too acute, the threat of revolution is too pressing to expect a rebirth of bourgeois democracy. Either the ferocious and senile, reactionary state, supported by the army, the police and the church—or the workers’ state. That is the alternative before the Italian masses.”[24]

The European theses similarly underestimated the prestige of the Allied forces as “liberators” amongst the working class of Italy and elsewhere. They anticipated the latter “placing in the enemy camp not only the ‘enemy’ imperialists but also their own bourgeoisie and ‘Allied’ imperialism".[25] Greece was to prove the exception rather than the rule, where, in fact, the Greek resistance forces continued fighting the British Army after driving out the Germans. Elsewhere the Allies were welcomed with open arms as liberators.

Almost a year later, the European Executive Committee of the FI met, and declared that the 1944 perspectives had been largely confirmed by subsequent events. The perspective remained that of the war being transformed under the pressure of the masses into directly civil war. Given that the bourgeoisie was incapable of stabilising the situation without recourse to the use of Allied troops, then some form of “democratic manoeuvres” could not be ruled out. But, the EEC warned, “in no case will these possibilities transcend the framework of a factitious solution extremely limited in point of time.”[26] There was indeed a convergence of perspectives between the sections of the FI on both sides of the Atlantic, as their respective leaderships pointed out. Yet how far their estimates were accurate, was, as Morrow argued, another question.

Tempo of the revolution

What was of supreme importance in this debate, given that the FI, despite its limitations in size, and the repression it had undergone in occupied Europe, was a political organisation, capable to some extent of intervening in the unfolding struggle, was the need to accurately estimate the tempo of European developments. The SWP’s position seemed to be for a very rapid development of the struggle, which would permit revolutionaries to “telescope” their tasks of building the party and leading the movement towards proletarian power. To a large extent, the reasons for their expectations in this respect were false, for the reasons Morrow and others, like Albert Goldman, outlined. Advising caution, Morrow quoted Trotsky to the effect that the struggle could take decades before success was realised. A central factor in accounting for the delayed rhythm of the class struggle was the counterrevolutionary role of the Stalinist and SocialDemocratic parties.

“Among these factors which will slow the tempo of the European revolution are the revival of democratic illusions among considerable sections of the masses as a result of the fact that in Germany, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc., new generations have grown up without any experience of bourgeois democracy and without active participation in political life. After the collapse of fascism, these masses may well have to go through a certain body of experiences before they will understand that their needs cannot be satisfied within the framework of the democratic republic. Another factor making for revival of democratic illusions is the intensification of national feeling in Europe as a result of Nazi occupation; the masses in the ‘liberated’ countries may well feel for a time that such governments as that of de Gaulle are ‘our own’.

“Central to a proper estimate of the tempo of the revolution is a clear understanding of the fact that the principal parties which emerged in Italy after the fall of Mussolini, were the Communist, Socialist and Action (liberal) parties. This fact shows that the traditional workers’ parties and the party of the pettybourgeoisie were not held responsible by the masses for the decades of fascist rule. Nor could the masses test the programs of these parties under the conditions of totalitarian oppression, for programs can be tested only in the course of mass activity. We must conclude from the Italian experience that the traditional workers’ parties, as well as centrist and liberaldemocratic parties, will emerge throughout Europe as the principal parties of the first period after collapse of the Nazis and their collaborators.

“These factors slowing the tempo of the coming revolution can only be overcome by the growth of revolutionary Marxist parties; and such parties do not yet exist in Europe.”[27]

Morrow went on to outline the political implications arising from this.

“. . . if one recognises the probability of a slower tempo for the development of the European revolution, and in it a period of bourgeoisdemocratic regimes—unstable, shortlived, but existing nevertheless for a period—then the importance of the role of democratic and transitional demands becomes obvious. For the revolutionary answer to bourgeois democracy in the first instance is more democracy—the demand for real democracy as against the pseudodemocracy of the bourgeoisie. For bourgeoisdemocracy can exist only thanks to the democratic illusions of the masses; and those can be dispelled first of all only by mobilising the masses for the democracy they want and need.”[28]

The question of democratic demands is discussed more fully later. Suffice it to say at this point that Warde sharply attacked Morrow’s political method in prioritising democratic demands, and appearing to endorse the very theory of ‘revolution by stages’ that the Trotskyist movement ascribed to the Stalinist parties of the time.

“Morrow’s attempt to impose upon the unfolding class struggle the idea of two separate stages—the present when democratic demands are paramount and the future when the transitional program will be pushed to the fore—would be disastrous. It would in practice place the Trotskyist vanguard in the shameful position of trailing behind the reformist parties which are forced to pay lipservice to the masses’ desire for such thoroughgoing social demands as nationalisation. It would facilitate the schemes of the bourgeoisie and their agents to confine the struggle exclusively within the restricted parliamentary framework where they hope to strangle it.”[29]

The dispute assumed an international dimension with Morrow’s Letter to the European Secretariat of the Fourth International, which took issue with the analyses adopted by the European Conference in February 1944, and by the European Executive Committee in January 1945.[30] Morrow openly criticised the paradigm of 191723 which had, in fact, informed his own writing of 1943, and which his opponents continued to employ uncritically. He argued that the European sections should take the initiative in agitating for the demand for a republic in Italy, and for the abolition of the monarchy in Belgium.

The Secretariat’s reply did not give him much encouragement. Its text, unanimously adopted by its members in January 1946, alleged, correctly, that the policies of the SWP minority now hinged on a different conception, not merely of the tempo of events, but rather of the nature of the period that had been opened by the victory of the Allied powers. It noted that the SWP minority favoured unification with the Shachtmanites, who had split from the SWP in 1940, and adopted the resigned, schoolmasterly tone of one teaching the political alphabet to a wilfully backward learner. Its reply noted that the European Executive Committee (EEC) had indeed undergone some selfcriticism over its estimation of the tempo of the European revolution—due to the failure of the German revolution to materialise. Thus, the war “has ushered in a lengthy revolutionary period and a lengthy revolutionary perspective. We were mistaken about the tempo of events during the closing phases of the war; we overestimated the rapidity and scope of the reaction of the masses".[31] The inability of the German proletariat to regain its power, the effect of the military division of Europe by the Allies and the Red Army—“All these factors have introduced important corrections into our short term perspectives . . “. Yet, despite this concession, “the general perspective of `a whole revolutionary epoch’ (Manifesto of the 1940 Emergency Conference) emerging out of the imperialist war still remains valid.” The perspective afforded by the Secretariat, against the pessimism of such as Morrow was that of “the prelude to a lengthy revolutionary period in which the Fourth International will have the greatest possible chances to build its mass parties.”[32]

Morrow made a further effort to reply to these arguments, a note of desperate frustration now animating his work. He claimed that the political differences concerned the nature of the current ‘prelude’ rather than that of the ‘lengthy revolutionary period’ which still lay ahead, and that the basic difference concerned their assessment of the state of political consciousness of the proletariat. The hold of reformism and bourgeois democratic ideas over the western European working class was now an established fact, and not one that could be lightly discarded with a few polemical flourishes.

“For a whole period—the ‘prelude’—the struggle of the European proletariat is destined to remain within the framework of parliamentary democracy, even though the masses are already demanding of that parliament essentially socialist tasks such as nationalization of industry. Our task is to shorten that ‘prelude’ by arousing the masses to demand everything from the parliament.”[33]

Morrow here confuses his own line of argument to a certain extent, by making the same mistake as that which he had earlier charged the SWP majority with making, i.e. not sufficiently distinguishing between shortterm and lon gterm perspectives. While conceding that a revolutionary period lay ahead, he failed to specify what sort of time period he was talking about as the ‘prelude’, yet on the other hand, he had referred earlier, in quite definite terms, to a perspective of ‘decades of struggle’. This lack of precision about timescale clouded his argument unnecessarily, and effectively conceded ground to his adversaries.

The German Revolution

The perspectives of the SWP majority were solidly based on an analogy with the 1918 revolution in Germany, where the revolt by sailors at Kiel, and the formation of workers’ councils brought a rapid end to the First World War. This precedent was explicitly referred to in the SWP’s 1944 Convention resolution, which stressed “the decisive role which the German proletariat is destined to play in the coming revolution”[34]

This affirmation of socialist internationalism was remarkable at a time when the Allied powers sought to identify the German people as a whole with the crimes of Hitler and the German ruling class. It was paralleled by the European Conference theses of 1944, which outlined a class line for the continued prosecution of the war. The Fourth International, it proclaimed,

“constantly emphasises that the German revolution constitutes the essential base of the European revolution that it alone can provide the indispensable, genuinely harmonious political and economic organisation for the Socialist United States of Europe. "In the corning period”, it warned, “the fate which Fascism encountered in Italy awaits Hitlerism as well.”[35]

Morrow’s response to this optimistic appraisal was fierce and hard hitting. Referring to the theses on Germany, he charged that:

“You wrote all this without a single reference to the fact that the German proletariat would begin its life after Nazi defeat under military occupation and without a revolutionary party; and without the slightest attempt at appraising the state of classconsciousness of the German proletariat after eleven years of Nazism. Is this not a clear example of assuming a revolutionary development purely on the basis of objective factors without any regard for the subjective factors?”[36]

The method underlying the majority’s analysis, and that of the European sections, was clear: it hinged on an inability to relate to those developments which contradicted the perspectives contained in the Transitional Programme;

“To put it bluntly: all the phrases in its prediction about the German revolution—that the proletariat would from the first play a decisive role, soldiers’ committees, workers’ and peasants’ soviets, etc.—were copied down once again in January 1945 by the European Secretariat from the 1938 program of the Fourth International. Seven years, and such years, had passed by but the European Secretariat did not change a comma. Exactly the same piece of copying had been done by the SWP majority in its October 1943 Plenum resolution in spite of the criticisms of the minority.”[37]

The official “line” of the FI thus had more in common with canonical fidelity to Trotsky’s excathedra predictions on the outcome of World War II than to informed political analysis. It should be acknowledged however that the European sections did carry out some belated selfcriticsm, in the June 1945 session of the EEC, which was referred to earlier. Pablo, in a lengthy effort at rebuttal of Morrow’s criticisms, claimed that the latter had not differentiated himself from this “erroneous perspective on the German revolution” until very late in the day. “This was, we repeat, the perspective, up to the end of 1944, of the entire International including that of Morrow.[33] This may have been true, but did not elucidate the reasons why the perspective had been so drastically wrong.

This task was left to the able and energetic European FI leader, risen to prominence during the Second World War—Ernest Germaine (Mandel). In an article entitled “The First Phase of the European Revolution”, Mandel reviewed the failure of dual power to appear as more than an embryonic and fragmented phenomenon in Europe. It was the problem presented by the failure of the German revolution to materialise which took up a major part of his analysis. Given that the anticipated outbreak of a mass uprising in Germany itself had been the lynchpin of the FI’s analysis of the whole European revolution, he conceded that “the absence of the German revolution was the principal reason why the situation developed differently from our perspectives.”[39] At the bottom of the failure of the German masses to overthrow the Nazis lay “essentially objective factors”, i.e. “the objective effect of the prolongation of the war upon Germany. There was the massive destruction of the urban centres; the dispersion of the working population . “.[40] Again, a factor of determining significance was the ability of the repressive apparatus enforced by the Gestapo to hold firm, so that the masses’ resistance assumed the negative form of impotence and demoralisation. This was correct as far as it went, but Mandel’s qualified defence of these perspectives did not touch on how the hypothesis of a German revolution could have been maintained for such a period in the absence of hard information to confirm and val idate it.[41]

Stalinism and Social Democracy

An integral part of Morrow’s overall critique of the revolutionary optimism of the FI, in addition to the issue of the German revolution were his fears about the role of the Stalinist and Social Democratic parties in Europe. Having “betrayed” the European working class in failing to offer a united front against fascism in Germany prior to 1933, and in capitulating to the ruling class in the Popular Fronts of France and Spain in 1936, would they act once again as the “gravediggers of the revolution"? A strong and somewhat reckless feeling at the time was that the reformist parties would be discredited by their past betrayals, and the leading political role would pass to the scattered sections of the FI.[42]

Such was the theory. Morrow warned in 1943 that “the prestige of the Soviet victories has resulted in the fact that Stalinism is the principal organised force in the European working class today and that this situation will not disappear before the first stages of the European revolution.”[43]

The spokesman for the SWP majority reluctantly admitted the truth of this statement, but disputed its political significance. E.R. Frank, speaking in the name of the National Committee of the SWP in October 1944, argued that “The masses support the SocialDemocrats and Stalinists not because the SocialDemocrats and Stalinists are betrayers, but because the masses mistakenly believe that these parties will lead them forward in the struggle for socialism, for communism.”[44] William Warde confidently asserted that the revival of bourgeoisdemocratic illusions amongst the masses was “a minor and not a major factor".[45] During 194344, it became clear that the communist parties of Italy and France had won enormous political prestige through their role in the resistance movements. It also became clear that the communist parties had no intention of using their strength to block the reestablishment of bourgeois rule and of the shattered and discredited state machines. As Thorez, PCF leader, put it, the situation demanded “one state, one police force, one army”, i.e. that of the bourgeoisie.[46]

Given these conditions, Morrow pushed the debate onto a new tactical issue with his claim that the growth of the reformist parties dictated a change in policy by the sections of the FI.

.. the present situation is not to be compared with the aftermath of the last war. We are not repeating 1917-1923. We are in a far more backward situation. At that time the October revolution made all the difference. It was the inspiration for the German revolution. It meant that under the inspiration of the Russian Bolshevik Party, there could be established very quickly although starting from very little, mass revolutionary parties in Germany, France, etc.

“Now, however, we cannot expect such a process. Instead of mass revolutionary parties confronting reformist parties of relatively equal size, our tiny cadres confront two mass reformist parties. In France, our few hundreds confront a Stalinist party of nearly a million!

“Under these conditions, can we proceed directly to the building of a revolutionary party? Or must we enter one of the reformist parties, constitute a faction in it and work in the direction of a split out of which we will come with sufficient forces to begin seriously building the revolutionary party?

“It is, unfortunately, rather late to pose this question. It should have been posed two years ago, certainly a year ago. At the October 1943 plenum it was already clear to me that the Italian events demonstrated that throughout Europe the Communist and Socialist parties would emerge as the parties of the masses, but I failed to draw then the necessary conclusions from this fact concerning the question: party or faction?

“The question, of course, cannot be answered for all countries uniformly on the basis of the general situation. But I am positive that in Italy, where the Socialist party disposes of considerable masses, our comrades should never have formed a party but should have gone into (in the case of most of them it would have simply meant, I believe, to remain in) the Socialist party.”[47]

The case for a precedent for this tactical shift would not be lost on members of the FI, since in 1934, Trotsky had endorsed the socalled “French Turn”, when a French Trotskyist group had entered the Socialist Party (SFIO) to carry on political work and gain recruits. Its modest success had been the signal for an adoption of similar “entrist” tactics by other Trotskyist groups, e.g. in Belgium and the USA. Thus the European Secretariat was to reply to Morrow that the political situation in 194546 was in no way analogous with that of the mid1930s: entrism at this stage, with the promise of rapid revolutionary developments, would be tantamount to “political suicide". Admittedly, “the reformist parties have emerged from the war strengthened but this strengthening in reality reflects the first stage of the radicalisation of the masses".[48] The Secretariat did not clarify on what basis this could be asserted so confidently.

Morrow tried to grapple with some of the implications of his own positions. Pablo accused him of “unprincipled combinationism”, for seeking to weld together a bloc out of the minority tendencies in the SWP and the Parti Communiste Internationaliste in France (PCI) (with support claimed from the Belgian, Italian and British sections of the FI), against the SWP/PCI majorities and the European Secretariat. Pablo taunted him that the Shachtmanites, with whom the SWP minority favoured fusion, had “won him over ideologically before having won him also organisationally “.[49]

The logic of Morrow’s position contained an assessment of the strength and nature of bourgeois democracy that was evidently at odds with that held by the Trotskyist movement as such. It also contained a different evaluation of the approach and method revolutionaries should use towards parliamentary institutions, and the workers who had “illusions” in them. Again he attacked the SWP and European Secretariat:

“The masses want socialism, they say, pointing to the dominance of the Communist and Socialist parties. They leave out the detail that today, disoriented and worn out by the terrible ordeals since 1939, the masses hope to get their socialism through parliamentarisrn. . .. Once one understands the attitude of the West European masses toward parliamentarism, it becomes possible to understand the extraordinary importance today of democratic demands.”[50]

Democratic demands

The reluctance of the SWP majority, and later of the European Secretariat, to accept the likelihood of the development of stable bourgeoisdemocratic regimes in Europe was paralleled by an ambivalence about the value of democratic demands, which they felt, could act as a “brake” on the mass movement, or even, it was alleged, a noose (as in the case of Spain in the Civil War). Thus the original 1943 SWP Plenum resolution only partially accepted the value of Morrow’s amendments. Hence it suggested rather baldly that “democratic demands have revolutionary implications in Europe today, if seriously fought for, because the bourgeois governments cannot satisfy them”[51] Democratic slogans were to be an integral, but assuredly subordinate part of the Transitional Programme. For Morrow and his supporters, this backhanded recognition of the importance of such slogans missed the point:

“The fact that democratic slogans are ‘incidental’ and ‘episodic’ does not do away with the fact that more than one revolutionary party has broken its neck by its failure to understand the crucial role of democratic slogans—that before it could make the revolution it first had to win a majority of the proletariat, and that this majority could win in part only through a phase, ‘episodic’ but indispensable, of democratic demands. That was the terrible lesson we should have learned for all time from the abortive Spartacist uprising of January 1919.”[52]

The SWP majority spokesmen were quick to spot (and counter) the subversive implications of Morrow’s position, displaying a surprisingly unrevolutionary conservatism. E.R. Frank laid down the party line in blunt terms:

“This false perspective of Morrow has a farther implication if it is really drawn to its logical end. If American imperialism has such inexhaustible powers that it can, as he thinks, improve the standard of living in Europe, then of course there exists a certain basis, on however low a foundation, for the establishment of bourgeoisdemocracy in the immediate period ahead. From that we must assume the softening of class conflicts for a period that the class struggle will be very largely refracted through the parliamentary struggle, that for a time the parliamentary arena will dominate the stage. If that were true, we would have to revise our conception of American imperialism. And of course the Trotskyist movement would have to attune its work to these new conditions—conditions for a while of slow painful growth, propaganda, election campaigns, etc., etc.”[53]

A change in policy, it seemed, was clearly too painful to contemplate at this stage. Another critic attacked Morrow on the rather sectarian grounds that “the mere advancing of democratic demands will not serve to distinguish the Fourth Internationalists from the position of these parties.”[54] (i.e. Stalinist and socialdemocratic parties—PJ). To emphasise and underline the role of democratic demands in this context would be “utterly inadequate”—what was required was the advancing of the Trotskyists’ revolutionary programme. Morrow’s reply made the obvious point that the purpose of the FI was to advance demands that furthered the class struggle and not just to distinguish itself from the reformist parties.

For Morrow, bourgeois democracy posed a different set of problems: "If the masses have democratic illusions, what follows? How shall we prove to the masses that their needs cannot be satisfied within the framework of the bourgeoisdemocratic state?

“This is of course not a new problem, and our answer is the Leninist answer: The more complete democracy we can win, the more it will become clear to the workers that it is not their lack of liberties but capitalism itself which is the cause of their suffering. In the fight for the most complete democracy, the Bolsheviks can demonstrate to the workers that it is the revolutionists and not the reformists who are the most devoted fighters for the needs of the people.”[55]

And again: “He who does not understand the necessity for this paradox of demanding socialism from a bourgeois body does not understand revolutionary tactics.”[56]

For Warde, one of the leading theoreticians of the SWP, Morrow’s approach reeked of “formalism of the worst kind”, and could only strengthen those revisionist tendencies outside the FI, who were arguing that the Trotskyists’ programme and method were out of date.[57]

Morrow noted that the European theses had rejected calls for ‘extreme democratic demands’, i.e. for a constituent assembly, for elections, in the midst of a revolutionary crisis with the appearance of elements of dual power, as “the most unpardonable of errors".[58] In this, he felt he detected a reticence on the part of the European sections to come out unequivocally in favour of democratic slogans. The French section, the PCI, should make every effort to achieve legal status for their paper, La Vérité, he urged. Two other key democratic demands he stressed for the PCI to take up, in the volatile postliberation period, were for democratisation of the army, and for the independence of Indochina from French colonial rule.

The distinctive methodology underpinning Morrow’s approach to democratic slogans began to emerge. The Leninist approach has always marked a strict (and mortal) distinction between bourgeois democracy (parliamentary elections, in short) and proletarian democracy (soviets or workers’ councils—representation direct from the workplace).[59] The FI maintains this perspective today, but in 194346, it seemed particularly anxious not to strengthen the already dominant illusions of the European proletariat about bourgeoisdemocracy by advancing slogans which could reinforce the stability of the parliamentary institutions they were trying to replace. Morrow, on the other hand, saw that no organs of dual power had established themselves as credible alternative loci of power in liberated western Europe. He argued that in this situation, it was necessary to relate to the existing class consciousness of European workers, including their bourgeois democratic illusions, if necessary. Thus “the primary approach to Communist and Socialist party members must be geared, not to our estimate of the situation but to their consciousness . . . The problem of problems is to tear the masses away from the SP and CP. The way to do this is on the vital political questions which actually arise and appear vital to the masses, and not on the questions we think vital.”[60] The way forward was to propagandise inside the mass organisations of the working class on the latter’s inability to achieve the crucial democratic tasks of ousting the monarchy in Belgium and Italy.

“The monarchical question would enable us to say to the SP and CP members: Your leaders promise to lead you eventually to socialism and meanwhile point to the difficulties which prevent going now to socialism; but those difficulties do not prevent us from finishing now with the monarchy; can leaders and a program which cannot even get rid of the monarchy, can they be trusted to lead us to socialism?”[61]

Morrow’s estimation of the role of democratic demands increasingly came to take on the character of affording them absolute, rather than, as in the case of the SWP and PCI leaderships, relative priority in the postwar period. Defending this apparent revision of Marxism, he claimed that

“The European Secretariat and the SWP majority do not understand that Marxism has always insisted that the struggle for socialism is the struggle for democracy. They do not understand a point especially emphasized by our Italian comrades—in the first program of the new party . . .—that we must never permit the reformists to appear as better defenders of democracy than we. This point is especially important today.

“In 1917-1923 the European proletariat had seen with its own eyes the way in which the proletarian revolution had been prevented by bourgeois democracy. But today nobody can seriously say that bourgeois democracy has prevented the imminent proletarian revolution in the sense of 1917-1923. On the contrary—as the Belgian party says very well whereas in 1917-1923 bourgeois democracy was imposed by the bourgeoisie on the proletariat which was fighting for sovietization, today bourgeois democracy has been imposed by the proletariat on the bourgeoisie which seeks dictatorship. Under these real, existing conditions, more than ever before the struggle for socialism must take the form of the struggle for more democracy, for real democracy.”[62]

Appearing to mirror his own critics, he argued that “Real democracy is unattainable under capitalism. Precisely for that reason we ask the workers to fight for it.” Drawing inspiration from Trotsky’s Program of Action for France, he pointed out the requirement “to teach reformist workers what they need so that, when they find it impossible to attain within bourgeois democracy, they will seek workers’ democracy.”[63]

Morrow was unable to advance his theory with precision or clarity, because the changed political features of western Europe were not comparable with those of the 1930s, that formative decade in the creation of the FI. The postwar period presented fresh problems in an unfamiliar context. Furthermore, the ingrained resistance of majority tendencies of the Fl to his proposals made it unlikely that a change of course would be adopted, despite the demise of those outmoded political perspectives that had been so reluctantly discarded as concessions to the arguments of the SWP minority under the undeniable pressure of actual events. The FI appeared to be increasingly incapable of responding to a change in the political arena, and of making best use of whatever limited resources it had at its disposal.

Morrow spoke out against the “Theses on the American Revolution”, at the 1946 convention of the SWP, which foresaw a “catastrophic explosion” for the US in the postwar period, given the inability of the US home market to sustain other than a short boom. Even if the revolution was delayed in Europe, this would not “save American imperialism from its proletarian nemesis at home".[64] The Convention voted to expel him from the party, since as Cannon put it, in characteristically homespun terms, he was guilty of “sidling up to the Shachtmanites, acting disloyally and carrying information to the Shachtmanites when we were in struggle with them.”[65]


Albert Goldman, Morrow’s leading supporter, joined the Shachtmanite group: the SWP’s fusion negotiations with the latter in 19467 did not come to fruition. Morrow himself ended up by drifting out of revolutionary politics. The rapid growth of the SWP at the close of the war, when it doubled its membership to around 2,000, ceased with the onset of the Cold War, and, no doubt, with the failure of its revolutionary perspectives to materialise.[66] The FI struggle desperately to assimilate developments in western Europe, and the absorption of Eastern Europe by the USSR within the confines of the political categories handed down by Trotsky.[67]

The task proved difficult; Mandel, in another sphere of debate, as the FI’s only economist of ability, denied the reality of the emerging postwar boom, arguing to the sceptical majority of the British section of the FI, the Revolutionary Communist Party, “it is necessary to abandon right now any juggling with a boom that has not existed and that British capitalism will never experience again.”[68] The RCP’s membership stagnated at the level of 360, then started to fall as demoralisation proceeded apace, the FI intervening in 1947 to split the organisation to facilitate the work of an entrist group inside the Labour Party.[69] As a later observer was to comment, the RCP “foundered on its irrelevance and inability to accept reality.”[70]

In France, the newly formed International Secretariat of the Fl intervened to block a move by the PCI which promised to widen the group’s influence through a fusion with the Socialist Party’s youth wing, allegedly because of the risk of “diluting” the party’s programme. Yvan Craipeau, an experienced leader of the PCI, agreed with Morrow’s perspectives, and left the FI in disgust at its inability to intervene in the real world of working class politics.[71] Clearly, Morrow was not alone in feeling that, for too long, the leaders of the FI had been content to copy down resolutions from the 1938 Transitional Programme, rather than base them on a concrete appraisal of class forces in Europe. They could maintain its political method and perspectives only at a crippling cost to their ability either to understand the world, or to change it.

Morrow’s Critique: a balance sheet

Morrow’s critique of the FI’s European perspectives was undoubtedly correct on a number of key issues, as this account has attempted to illustrate. The methods of US imperialism could and did permit the development of stable bourgeois democratic regimes in western Europe,[72] a project facilitated by the policies of the mass reformist parties. Morrow’s sober perspective of ‘decades of struggle’ was proved right; he was correct to predict that “for a whole period . . . the struggle of the European proletariat is destined to remain within the framework of parliamentary democracy".[73]

His importance therefore lay in that he posed the real problems facing the FI at the time. His answers for overcoming the bourgeois democratic illusions of the western working class are perhaps more open to criticism. Entrism was probably the only feasible tactic that the FI could adopt, given the postwar rise of the socialdemocratic and Stalinist parties in Europe.[74] His argument that it was necessary to demand socialist policies from bourgeois parliaments as a means of demonstrating their inadequacy could be criticised by contemporary marxists on certain points. This process of ‘demystifying’ parliament would not necessarily prepare the grounds for alternative forms of working class power, i.e. soviets, or workers’ councils. Nevertheless, this approach did represent a positive stance towards democratic institutions, which contrasted with the reluctance of his opponents to confront the practical political problems which such institutions presented to the working class movement.

Morrow’s criticisms of the FI’s European perspectives highlighted a number of weaknesses in its political method, which gives his work a certain relevance to a contemporary critique of Trotskyism. Firstly, he criticised the economic catastrophism of the FI, which precluded the prospect of European capitalism’s revival under the tutelage of the USA. Secondly, he analysed the prospects for the development of a prolonged period of bourgeois democratic rule. These weaknesses of analysis, i.e. regarding the dynamism of capitalism, and the hegemony of bourgeois democratic forms, are not confined to Trotskyist writing—it would be wrong to suggest that they are[75]—but what is important is to analyse the political effects of such weaknesses as part of an overall assessment of the Trotskyist tradition.

It should, of course, be acknowledged that the FI has played a unique role in preserving the organisational continuity of revolutionary marxism since the eclipse of the Bolshevik revolution. This is an achievement of some historical importance. At the same time, however, it is necessary to analyse critically such a tradition which is held unreservedly as being applicable to the changed conditions and circumstances of today. While recognising the undeniable importance of this ‘politicotheoretical heritage’, it is also necessary, as Perry Anderson argues, to “make a historical inventory of the achievements and failures of this experience".[76]

Producing such an ‘inventory’ is a necessary but difficult task. Critiques of Trotskyism made by theorists of the Communist Party are frequently limited in scope, since they rest on the premises arising from an implicit and arrested process of de Stalinisation going on within the Communist Party itself.[77] The ability of the Trotskyist movement to produce a sustained critique of its own tradition is in some doubt, given that it can prove difficult to shake off the old defensive habits of the past. The long years spent defending the ‘programme’ in a hostile political environment are not conducive for producing an autocritique by the FI. The need for such a balance sheet is underlined by the fact that no adequate historical account or analysis of European Trotskyism has yet been produced (though the work of Yvan Craipeau should be noted in passing), and consequently, this requisite historical understanding is not at its strongest even within the Trotskyist movement itself.

The fact that a debate is now under way in the journals Marxism Today and Int ernational is an encouraging sign.[78] One of the critical weaknesses of the Trotskyist tradition has been recently discussed by Geoff Hodgson in his analysis of Trotsky’s `conception of the epoch’, which has underpinned a definite tendency towards a perspective of economic collapse as the inevitable end of capitalist development.[79] This, he argues, is an integral part of Trotsky’s political method, inherited from the early Comintern, and continued by Trotskyist writers in the postwar period.

The second structural weakness of the Trotskyist tradition, illustrated by the Morrow debate, has been its attitude towards parliamentary democracy. There has been a consistent tendency on the part of the Trotskyist movement to underestimate the viability of bourgeois democracy in Europe, and the strength of reformist ideas amongst the working class. Their insistence on the need to build organs of dual power possesses a rather ritual character, without a parallel detailed examination of the political and ideological factors which prevent the emergence of such institutions. The key problem, inadequately faced to date, is how such organs could actually be established and maintained, given the prior and lasting loyalty of the western working class to parliamentary forms. Whatever the ambiguities of Morrow’s formulations on democratic demands and parliamentary institutions, he was surely correct to pose this as a problem of enduring importance, one which western marxists have yet to resolve.


1. “Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution”, (Manifesto of the 1940 Emergency Conference of the Fourth International), in Documents of the Fourth International: The Formative Years 193340, Pathfinder, 1973, p.349.
2. Shirley Williams, “Trotskyism and Democracy”, Guardian, 22.1.77.
3. No attempt is made to cover the parallel debate over the class nature of Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia in the postwar period.
4. Martin Cook, The Myth of Orthodox Trotskyism, Chartist pubn., 1975, p.9.
5. The ICL and the Fourth International, International Communist League pamphlet, nd., p.4. Isaac Deutscher, eminent marxist historian and biographer of Trotsky, opposed the founding of the Fourth International in 1938 as premature, as did Yvan Craipeau, who was active in the French Trotskyist movement from before the war until 1946. He is currently a leading member of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) in France. See the “Minutes of the Founding Conference of the Fourth International”, in Documents of the Fourth International, op.cit., pp.296299.
6. Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counter Revolution in Spain, New Park, 1963.
7. See Art Preis, Labor’s Giant Step, ch.14, “The Minneapolis Labor Case”, Pioneer, 1964.
8. Pierre Frank, The Fourth International, London, nd., p.372. (Serialised in InterContinental Press, March 10 to June 5, 1972.)
9. Frank, op.cit., p.373.
10. See “Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution”, op.cit.
11. Leon Trotsky, “The USSR in War”, In Defence of Marxism, Merit, 1965, pp.89.
12. Felix Morrow, “The Italian Revolution: 1. The AngloUS Policy of CounterRevolution”, Fourth International, Sept. 1943, p.263.
13. “European Revolution and the Tasks of the Revolutionary Party”, Fourth International, Dec. 1944, p.368.
14. Ibid., pp.368369.
15. This feeling was shared by other marxists who were not formally members of the FI. See Isaac Deutscher’s comments in his interview, “Germany and Marxism”, New Left Review, 47, Jan.Feb. 1968, p.63. Georges Vereeken, leader of a Belgian Trotskyist tendency, had similar expectations of the outbreak of revolution in Germany. See his book, The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement, New Park, 1976, pp.348349.
16. Felix Morrow, “The First Phase of the Coming European Revolution". Fourth International, December 1944, p.374.
17. Ibid.
18. The Editors, “The 1 1 th Convention of the American Trotskyist Movement”, Fourth International, December 1944, p.358.
19. Felix Morrow, “The Political Position of the Minority in the SWP”, Fourth International, May 1945, p.148.
20. William Simmons, “Trotskyist Tasks in Europe”, Fourth International, July 1945, p.216.
21. William F. Warde, “Revolutionary Policy in Western Europe". Fourth International, January 1946, p.23. Warde was the pseudonym of George Novack, one of the SWP’s chief theoreticians.
22. On the European conference, and the underground work of the French Trotskyists, see Yvan Craipeau, ContreVents et Marées. Les revolutionnaires pendant la deuxieme guerre mondiale, Savelli, France 1977. A further volume on the liberation period is in preparation by the same author: La Liberation Confisquée .
23. See Fernando Claudin, The Communist Movement.. From Comintern to Cominform, Peregrine, 1975, p.3467.
24. “Theses on Liquidation of World War II and the Revolutionary Upsurge". Fourth International, March 1945, p.79.
25. Ibid., p.81.
26. “The Maturing Revolutionary Situation in Europe and the Immediate Tasks of the IV International.” (Political Resolution Adopted by the European Executive Committee Fourth International, January 1945.) Fourth International, June 1945, p.172.
27. Felix Morrow, “The First Phase of the Coming European Revolution”, op.cit., p.372.
28. Ibid., p.373.
29. Warde, op.cit., p.26.
30. Felix Morrow, “Letter to the European Secretariat of the Fourth International”, Fourth International, March, 1946.
31. “A Reply to Comrade Morrow by the Secretariat of the Fourth International”, Fourth International, March 1946, p.88.
32. Ibid., p.89.
33. Felix Morrow, “It is Time to Grow Up: The Infantile Sickness of the European Secretariat”, Fourth International, July 1946, p.214.
34. “European Revolution and the Tasks of the Revolutionary Party”, op.cit., p.368.
35. “Theses on Liquidation of World War II and the Revolutionary Upsurge”, op.cit., p.32.
36. Felix Morrow, “Letter to the European Secretariat”, op.cit., p.83.
37. Felix Morrow, “It is Time to Grow Up”, op.cit., p.217.
38. Pablo, “On Comrade Morrow’s Reply”, Fourth International, July 1946, p.220. Pablo was the pseudonym of Michel Raptis, Greek Trotskyist, a leading figure in the FI until the 1964 split.
39. Ernest Germaine, “The First Phase of the European Revolution”, Fourth International, August 1946, p.223.
40. Ibid., p.234.
41. Mandel does not afford a similar importance to the failure of the German revolution in relation to the Liberation period in his recent interview in New Left Review . He states: “I do not think that an immediate struggle for power was possible in countries like France as soon as the Nazi front collapsed. Nor do I think that we can treat as insignificant the presence of American Troops, which has been held up as the sole, irrefutable argument by the Stalinists and which revolutionaries have tended to dismiss a little too lightly.” What was required at the time was “to generalise situations of dual power and open up the possibilities of a later seizure of power.” “Ernest Mandel—A Political Interview”, New Left Review 100, November 1976January 1977, p.103.
42. “Review of the Month: ‘Role of Stalinism’". “In no sense do the reformist parties appear now in Europe with their past prestige intact, but rather with the onus of past defeats. In reality both parties (i.e. social democratic and Stalinist—PJ) declined and decayed with the capitalist system.” Fourth International, April 1945, p.105.
43. Felix Morrow, “The First Phase of the Coming European Revolution”, op.cit., p.376.
44. E.R. Frank, “The European Revolution—Its Prospects and Tasks”, Fourth International, December 1944, p.378.
45. Warde, op.cit., p.24.
46. See Claudin, op.cit., pp.316370 on the role of the Communist Parties in France and Italy in this period.
47. Felix Morrow, “Letter to the European Secretariat”, op.cit., p.83.
48. “A Reply to Comrade Morrow by the Secretariat”, op.cit., p.88.
49. Pablo, op.cit., p.219.
50. Felix Morrow, “It is Time to Grow Up”, op.cit., pp.2145.
51. “Perspectives and Tasks of the Coming European Revolution”, Fourth International, December 1943, p.331.
52. Felix Morrow, “The First Phase of the European Revolution”, op.cit., p.371. For a brief discussion of the Spartacists’ attitude towards bourgeois democracy, see Geoff Hodgson, Socialism and Parliamentary Democracy, Spokesman, 1977.
53. Frank, op.cit., p.380.
54. Simmons, op.cit., p.216.
55. Felix Morrow, “Tactical Problems of the European Movement”, Fourth International, January 1946, p.19.
56. Ibid., p.22.
57. Warde, op.cit., p.26.
58. “Theses on Liquidation of World War II”, op.cit., p.85.
59. The key texts are V.I. Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”, in his Selected Works in Three Volumes, Lawrence and Wishart, 1967, Vol.2., and “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”, ibid., Vol.3.
60. Felix Morrow, “Letter to the Secretariat”, op.cit., p.84.
61. Ibid.
62. Felix Morrow, “It is Time to Grow Up”, op.cit., p.216.
63. Ibid. Trotsky’s “Program of Action for France”, is published in Writings of Leon Trotsky 193435, Pathfinder, 1971, pp.2132.
64. “Theses on the American Revolution”, (Resolution adopted by the SWP’s 12th National Convention, November 1946, sections VII and X). Printed as an appendix to James P. Cannon, Speeches to the Party, Pathfinder, 1973, pp.3301.
65. James P. Cannon, “Internationalism and the SWP”, in Cannon, op.cit., p.76.
66. Ian H. Birchall, Workers Against the Monolith, Pluto, 1974, p.232.
67. On the debate on the class nature of the noncapitalist regimes of Eastern Europe, see Duncan Hallas, “The Fourth International in Decline: From Trotskyism to Pabloism”, International Socialism, 60, July 1973, pp.1923. (Reprinted in Politics as Religion, International Socialists, USA, nd., by the same author.)
68. Ernest Germaine, “From the ABC to current reading; boom, revival or crisis?” RCP Internal Bulletin, Sept., 1947, p.9.
69. For an account of the debate in the RCP on economic perspectives, and their political
implications, see Geoff Hodgson, “Trotskyism and the ‘Conception of the Epoch’”, in
his book, Trotsky and Fatalistic Marxism, Spokesman, 1975, pp.3843, and John Walters,
"Some Notes on British Trotskyist History”, Marxist Studies, Winter 196970, pp.4548.
70. Jim Higgins, “Ten Years for the Locust: British Trotskyism 19381948”, International Socialism , 14, p.31.
71. See Hallas, op.cit., p.19, and Jacques Roussel, Les Enfants du Prophete, Spartacus, France 1972, p.39. Yvan Craipeau has written an account of this period in Le Mouvement Trotskyste en France, Syros France 1971.
72. Spain, Portugal, and Greece were significant exceptions to this.
73. Felix Morrow, “It is Time to Grow Up”, op.cit., p.214.
74. The FI undertook substantial entrist work in the period 1953 to 1968, without, however, producing a qualitative improvement in its size or effectiveness.
75. Rosa Luxembourg similarly underestimated the longterm viability of bourgeois democracy, according to Norman Geras, in The Legacy of Rosa Luxembourg, New Left Books, 1976, pp.5663. His defence of Trotsky’s position on the same score is somewhat slight.
76. Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism, New Left Books, 1976, p.101.
77. See Monty Johnstone, “Trotsky and World Revolution”, Cogito, 1976, and David Purdy, The Soviet Union: State Capitalist or Socialist? Communist Party, 1976.
78. See also Paul Thompson and Guy Lewis, The Revolution Unfinished? A Critique of Trotskyism, Big Flame pamphlet, 1977.
79. Geoff Hodgson, “Trotskyism and the ‘Conception of the Epoch’”, op.cit.
80. Since the time of writing (September 1977), a collection of writings and documents on the postwar debate in the SWP has appeared: James P. Cannon, The Struggle for Socialism in the ‘American Century’: Writings and Speeches 194547, Pathfinder, 1977. This deals mainly with the internal aspects of the majority/minority dispute in the SWP and the question of relations with the Shactmanite Workers’ Party. It refers only briefly and indirectly to the debate on European perspectives and appears to make no substantial reply to the arguments by Morrow described in this pamphlet.


Last updated on 02.01.2006