MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 4

Yugoslavia, East Europe and the Fourth International:
The Evolution of Pabloist Liquidationism

by Jan Norden

August 1992 (revised March 1993)

Written: 1993
Source: Prometheus Research Library, Prometheus Research Series No. 4, New York, 1993
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2007/Prometheus Research Library. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive & Prometheus Research Library as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.


Discussion on Yugoslavia: Round One with Pablo

At its Seventh Plenum in April 1949, the IEC decided to open a discussion in the International on Yugoslavia. This discussion was marked by rampant confusion, as could be imagined from the FI’s shifting programmatic statements. Over the course of three years, a number of individuals changed position: Pablo was initially the most enthusiastically pro-Tito, but after the outbreak of the Korean War he most strongly emphasized the deformed character of the Yugoslav regime; in the French section, Lambert was initially critical of the I.S.’ capitulatory policy toward Tito, but by 1951 was criticizing Pablo for being too harsh on Yugoslavia; Bleibtreu was consistently soft on the Yugoslavs, first supporting Pablo, then Lambert; Mestre in turn was consistently harder on Yugoslavia, initially aligned with Lambert, later with Pablo; and Germain was consistently confusionist. Yet amid the confusion, one can discern the early stages of a battle which by 1951-53 was to put into question the very existence of the Fourth International.

At the heart of the internal struggle over Yugoslavia was a drive by Pablo to deny the need for an independent Trotskyist vanguard. He generalized his liquidationist program of chasing after Stalinist forces from initially tailing Tito to seeing revolutionary possibilities in the Kremlin itself and the European CPs which followed its orders. On the other hand, the response of those who opposed Pablo was marked by a formalistic pseudo-orthodoxy that was unable to explain events in East Europe when reality didn’t square with their undialectical categories. Reasoning that Stalinism, as a counterrevolutionary force, could never carry out a social revolution, however bureaucratically deformed, they first denied that Yugoslavia had overthrown capitalist rule, only to then claim that there had been an authentic proletarian revolution and Tito’s YCP had been able to establish a workers state because it was not Stalinist. The theoretical confusion that resulted from such contortions seriously undermined the struggle against Pabloist liquidationism, and eventually fed into the American SWP’s embrace of the same revisionist program a decade later over Cuba.

As head of the International Secretariat, Pablo was responsible for the initial “Open Letters” which embraced the Tito regime. In his first signed article on the Tito-Stalin split, “The Yugoslav Affair,” written in August 1948, Pablo argued that the Yugoslav CP during the war “led a real mass movement with distinct revolutionary tendencies which brought it to power.”[85] A year later, Pablo was already raising many of the themes which he later elaborated into a wholesale attack on Trotskyism. In September 1949 he wrote:

Thus, in the historic period of the transition from capitalism to socialism we shall witness the rise not of normal workers’ states, but of more or less degenerated workers’ states, that is, states with strong bureaucratic deformations which can reach the point of complete political expropriation of the proletariat.[86]

Asserting that “in our epoch, the proletarian power established in a single country will inevitably and rapidly become bureaucratized,” Pablo argued that “there is no other remedy than to bring to bear the weight of the world organization of the proletariat,” which “alone is capable of counterbalancing the corrupting influence of national isolation upon the party in power.”[87]

Thus Pablo declared that Stalinist degeneration was no longer an exceptional situation but rather constitutedmodifications in the norm of proletarian power”! In asserting that bureaucratization was “inevitable,” he simply wrote off the Trotskyist program of proletarian political revolution to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy. Moreover, these “modified norms” were destined to last for a considerable time:

...in the whole historic period of the transition from capitalism to socialism, a period which can extend for centuries, we shall encounter a much more tortuous and complicated development of the revolution than our teachers foresaw—and workers’ states that are not normal but necessarily quite deformed.[88]

This is the revisionist perspective that came to be characterized by Pablo’s opponents as “centuries of deformed workers states.” It liquidates the need for the Fourth International as an independent revolutionary leadership, at best reducing it to the role of opposition after the necessary/ inevitable bureaucratization of the revolution, or, more likely given Pablo’s later evolution, to the role of “Marxist” braintrusters to the Stalinist regimes—or even to left-talking rulers of capitalist states. (In the early 1960s Pablo (Raptis) acted as a government adviser to Ben Bella’s Algeria, and in the early 1970s to a lesser extent to Allende’s Chile, peddling “self-management” schemes borrowed from Tito’s Yugoslavia.)

Already in 1949, Pablo referred to Yugoslavia as “a workers’ state deformed from its birth,” which was “led and controlled by a caste forming into a bureaucracy.”[89] But he pointedly did not call for a workers political revolution to oust this bureaucracy. (Logical enough, since according to him bureaucratization was “inevitable.”) Unfortunately, however, the far-reaching liquidationist implications of his analysis were largely ignored at the time, since his opponents were arguing that Yugoslavia along with the rest of East Europe remained capitalist. Thus most of his initial document was taken up with long quotes from Yugoslav officials demonstrating that the bourgeoisie had indeed been liquidated. Pablo again took up this same theme in February 1950, arguing against Germain’s construct of the East European states as capitalist states on the road to structural assimilation into the USSR.[90]

The main response to Pablo was given by Germain.[91] In his opus, Germain adduced all manner of arguments to show that the states of the “buffer zone” remained capitalist. But how did he square this with the Marxist definition of the state, since the armed force was entirely in the hands of the Stalinists (local and Soviet), and the economies had by this time been essentially collectivized except for agriculture? Referring to Engels’ “jewel-like formula” of the state as a body of armed men, he waved this aside, averring that it “suffices to explain to novices the Marxist theory of the state and to find one’s way in cases which are comparatively simple,” but was of no use at all in this complicated situation. Likewise he rejected the criterion of what class interests the state serves and dismissed the evidence of the expropriation of the bourgeoisie throughout East Europe, claiming that Mussolini did the same in his 1943-44 “Salò Republic” (in German-occupied northern Italy)!

Instead the erudite Marxist savant discerned “an entirely special type of capitalism.” He discovered an entirely new category, a “bastard” bourgeois state, or, “if one wishes,” “a degenerated bourgeois state on the road to structural assimilation with the USSR”![92] It is easy to poke holes in this contorted concoction. Germain in fact threw the Marxist theory of the state out the window in his desperate attempt to maintain the classification of the East European states as capitalist. To get around the problem of defending Belgrade against Moscow while arguing that capitalism hadn’t yet been destroyed in Yugoslavia, he labeled it a “workers and peasants government”—essentially giving Tito & Co. a certificate of revolutionary good conduct. His invention of a “bastard/degenerated bourgeois state” was simply playing with words, allowing him to keep on calling the buffer zone capitalist while emptying this term of all verifiable content. But why did he go to such absurd lengths?

Following Trotsky’s observation that “every sociological definition is at bottom an historical prognosis,” Germain warned that those who defined East Europe as workers states were adopting “a perspective of the possibility of a growth and increasing development of Stalinism on an international scale in the years and decades to come!” That “would oblige us to revise from top to bottom our historical appraisal of Stalinism....We would then have to repudiate the entire Trotskyist argument against Stalinism since 1924, a line of argument based on the inevitable destruction of the USSR by imperialism in the event of an extremely prolonged postponement of the world revolution.”[93] Germain was quite wrong to insist that recognizing East Europe as deformed workers states would mean abandoning Trotsky’s analysis and revolutionary program against Stalinism. But he did accurately discern that this is what Pablo & Co. were driving at. The same concern was voiced by various leaders of the SWP who were clearly driven by fear of the potential implications of recognizing the East European regimes as deformed workers states. Morris Stein, in a February 1950 report to the SWP National Committee plenum, noted: “their ‘workers states’ have come into existence not by means of proletarian revolution but through bureaucratic counterrevolution. How square this with our Marxist concepts of the proletarian revolution?”[94] John G. Wright, who called Germain’s tortured document “brilliant,” wrote:

Finally, to call the regimes in Eastern Europe “workers states” is to say that the Stalinists have been and are carrying out revolutionary tasks there, in a bureaucratic way, in a “deformed” way, qualify it how you may, revolutionary nonetheless. We must challenge that. We must say that just the contrary is true. It is the counterrevolutionary essence of Stalinism that has come to the fore in Eastern Europe, and not the reverse.[95]

This wooden orthodoxy of the SWP was based not on a dialectical and materialist analysis of the situation, but on fear that if it were admitted that capitalist rule was destroyed in the states of the Soviet-dominated “buffer zone,” then all of Marxism would collapse along with the justification for the very existence of the revolutionary party. The bankruptcy of this “method” was shown by what happened when the fact of the expropriation of the bourgeoisie in East Europe could no longer be denied. Only five months after writing his treatise, Germain flipflopped and at the Eighth Plenum of the IEC (April 1950) suddenly declared that Yugoslavia was now “a non-degenerated workers’ state”![96] And when they had to face the truth on the buffer zone, Germain’s supporters simply pretended that his criteria for “structural assimilation” into the Soviet Union had been accomplished. Thus Murry Weiss, reporting for the National Committee to the SWP’s November 1950 convention, declared: “The salient characteristic of the whole process has been the destruction of these states as separate states, and their incorporation, in one form or another, into the USSR.”[97]

This is not successive approximations, but rather repeated obfuscation. In fact, Trotsky had laid the theoretical basis for recognizing that the Stalinists could, under unusual conditions, overthrow bourgeois rule. The Transitional Program states: “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.”[98] But where Trotsky wrote of this as a “highly improbable variant,” the Pabloist revisionists seized upon this phrase and turned it into the norm. The anti-Pablo forces denied reality as long as they could and then capitulated, rather than insisting that even in those exceptional conditions where revolutions led by Stalinist and other petty-bourgeois forces overthrow capitalism, this is accomplished against their own program, and the resulting bonapartist regimes remain a roadblock to international socialist revolution.

In the fight over Yugoslavia in the Fourth International, one can see the origins and early stages of Pabloism. Yet it was not yet the full-blown liquidationist program. One indication of this is that the lineup over Yugoslavia was not identical to that in 1953, when the battle came to a head. In the former case, not only those who later stood with Pablo, such as Bert Cochran (who used the name E.R. Frank) and Michèle Mestre, called for recognition that Yugoslavia and the rest of East Europe were workers states, but also Joseph Hansen, who was one of the leaders of the fight against the pro-Pablo Cochran-Clarke faction in the SWP. In a December 1949 document, Hansen noted: “Labelling such a country in Eastern Europe as Yugoslavia a ‘workers state’ concedes nothing to Stalinism and does not involve a revision of the Marxist theory of the state.” He stressed that events in Eastern Europe were merely “the positive side of a development that was a major blow to the socialist movement. While the borderlands experienced an upset in property relations, Stalin’s henchmen in France and Italy were knifing workers’ uprisings in the back. All Europe, including Germany, might have been socialist today were it not for the crimes of Stalinism at the close of the war.”[99]

Yet Hansen didn’t recognize that Tito, too, was a Stalinist, and the SWP went along with the FI’s capitulatory line on Yugoslavia. Once again, in this discussion the only treatment of Yugoslavia and East Europe that followed the lines of Trotsky’s own writings on Soviet Stalinism came from the British RCP. A May 1949 document by Bill Hunter, “The I.S. and Eastern Europe,” pointed out anew how events had confirmed the RCP’s amendments at the Second World Congress a year earlier. Hunter noted that the position that Yugoslavia was a workers state, but the rest of East Europe wasn’t, amounted to a “halfway house,” insisting that comrades who took that line couldn’t hold to it for long. Hunter went back to Trotsky’s 1940 work, In Defense of Marxism,[100] for some guidelines:

Trotsky said of Poland in 1939, “This overturn was forced upon the Kremlin oligarchy through its struggle for self preservation under specific conditions.”

It was that same struggle for self preservation which was the determining factor of the Kremlin’s post war policy in Eastern Europe....The fact [that] Stalinism under certain specific circumstances carries out revolutionary measures does not cancel out its past, its origins, its conservative and counter-revolutionary aspects, its bureaucratic base and the effect of its methods on the world working class movement. On the other hand we cannot be blinded to the particular progressive measures Stalinism is forced to carry out because of the viability of the property form on which it rests. The Fourth International is not to be justified by ignoring facts, or attempting to pour them into preconceived theoretical vessels. In that way lies a fog of mysticism.

To declare that under every and all particular conditions the Stalinist bureaucracy must compromise with the bourgeoisie means never to understand the events in Eastern Europe....However, this does not mean that the bureaucracy has taken up the banner of world revolution. Its struggle still remains a defensive one within the framework of gaining the best possible compromise with world imperialism.[101]

Unfortunately, even though Hunter’s document was promised in the introduction to the first SWP International Information Bulletin announcing the start of discussion on Yugoslavia in the FI, it never appeared.[102] For that matter, as far as we could discover, none of the RCP’s letters and statements against the I.S./IEC line(s) on Yugoslavia and East Europe were ever widely circulated, or published in the SWP’s internal bulletins. Instead, Morris Stein, in opening the discussion on East Europe in the SWP Political Committee, simply dismissed them with a wave of the hand, remarking, “I am not dealing with the position of the British RCP,” since it “represents no new factor” and its views were already “overwhelmingly rejected” by the 1948 World Congress.[103]

Round Two: Pabloite Liquidationism Takes Shape

The discussion inside the Fourth International over Yugoslavia and the class character of the East European states was the first stage in the appearance of Pabloism as a full-fledged liquidationist current. But it was only the first stage. That it didn’t represent the “degeneration” of the FI is indicated by the fact that both sides pulled back. In fact, the earlier alignment over Yugoslavia had been largely reversed, with the initially strongly pro-Tito Pablo now attacking his detractors in the FI for capitulating to the Yugoslavs. Mainly the change of position over Yugoslavia was due to Belgrade’s capitulation before imperialism over the Korean War.

But by this point, the attack on Trotskyism had gone beyond the issue of Yugoslavia. As a result of the East Europe discussion, Pablo & Co. generalized an initial opportunist position into a full-blown revisionist program, while major sections of the Fourth International one by one drew back and went into opposition as the liquidationist implications of this program became clear to them, above all when it hit them on the national terrain. Pablo’s line on Yugoslavia certainly gave a foretaste of what was to come. Thus in his January 1951 revisionist manifesto “Where Are We Going?” Pablo points back to his December 1949 document “On the Class Nature of Yugoslavia”:

As for us, we reaffirm what we wrote in the first article devoted to the Yugoslav affair: this transformation will probably take an entire historical 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.

We are aware that this statement has shocked certain comrades and served others as a springboard to attack our “revisionism.”

But we do not disarm.[104]

Taking Trotsky’s negative observation in the Transitional Program that “one cannot categorically deny” that under certain “completely exceptional” circumstances the petty-bourgeois parties “may go further than they themselves wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie,” Pablo turned this into a positive program, declaring: “The Yugoslav affair as well as the march and the victory of the Chinese revolution...have demonstrated that the Communist Parties retain the possibility, in certain circumstances, of roughly outlining a revolutionary orientation.”[105] When these statements provoked a storm of protest in the International, Pablo and his followers declared that “centuries” referred to the whole transitional period before full socialism and not just the degenerated/deformed workers states, and that “outlining a revolutionary orientation” only meant that the Stalinists could go so far as to take power. But this was only to throw sand in the eyes of those who didn’t want to see.

For Pablo went further. In the same article he declared that since World War II the world has entered “a period essentially different from everything we have known in the past.” And what was this “new reality”? “For our movement objective social reality consists essentially of the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world. Furthermore, whether we like it or not, these two elements by and large constitute objective social reality....” So where the “old reality” consisted of the two fundamental classes of capitalist society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and intermediate forces such as the peasantry and more broadly the petty bourgeoisie, this new world reality consists of “the capitalist regime” and the “Stalinist world.” And where does the working class fit in this schema? According to Pablo, “the revolutionary spirit of the masses directed against imperialism acts as an additional force, supplementing the material and technical forces raised against imperialism.”[106] So in effect the world working class becomes an auxiliary to the Soviet Army, a kind of “National Guard,” as Bleibtreu put it.

What lay behind this “new reality” was the spectre of an impending third world war. Earlier Pablo had argued that this general war was “many years” away, but in “Where Are We Going?” he wrote that “capitalism is now rapidly heading toward war, for it has no other short or long-term way out.” “It is with the Korean war,” he added, “that our movement for the first time realized the important factor that the relationship of forces on the international chess-board is now evolving to the disadvantage of imperialism.” The coming war would “take on, from the very beginning, the character of an international civil war”; the continents of Europe and Asia “would rapidly pass over under the control of the Soviet bureaucracy, of the Communist Parties, or of the revolutionary masses.” In sum: “War under these conditions, with the existing relationship of forces on the international arena, would essentially be Revolution.” To the “new reality” corresponded a new programmatic conception, “the conception of Revolution-War, of War-Revolution which is emerging and upon which the perspectives and orientation of revolutionary Marxists in our epoch should rest.”[107]

In part, Pabloism consists of Cold War impressionism. Under the impact of imperialism’s “Cold War” against the Soviet Union, Stalin is obliged to expropriate the bourgeoisie in the “buffer zone” of East Europe; a maverick “national Stalinist” regime in Yugoslavia breaks with Stalin to seize power—and Pablo concludes that the CPs can sometimes “roughly outline a revolutionary orientation.” The North Koreans take Seoul, drive the puppet capitalist regime into the Pusan pocket; U.S. imperialism counterattacks with the Inchon landing, crosses the 38th parallel; China enters the war, Truman hints at using the A-bomb—and Pablo concludes that the third world war is around the corner, with imperialism holding the short end of the stick.

Pabloism is also characterized by objectivism. In language that would be echoed years later by the Argentine pseudo-Trotskyist adventurer Nahuel Moreno, Pablo declared in his report to the February 1952 Tenth Plenum of the IEC: “The situation is prerevolutionary all over in various degrees and evolving toward the revolution in a relatively brief period. And this process from now on is in general irreversible.”[108] Pabloism also incorporates themes raised by the Zhdanov line, the Kremlin’s quarter-turn to the left in response to the Cold War Marshall Plan. At the founding meeting of the Cominform in 1947, Andrei Zhdanov in his theses declared: “The struggle between these two camps, between the imperialist and anti-imperialist camp, unfolds under conditions of a continued deepening of the overall crisis of capitalism, of a weakening of the forces of capitalism, and of the strengthening of the forces of socialism and democracy.”[109] The struggle between “camps” instead of classes, the international balance of forces unfavorable to capitalism: these premises were shared by Pablo and Zhdanov.

But most fundamentally the “program” of Pabloism was the denial of the need for a Trotskyist vanguard. Under the impact of the unexpected postwar surge of Stalinism and the weakness of the Trotskyist forces, with new questions posed by events in East Europe and China, a whole section of the leadership of the Fourth International, particularly centered in Europe where the pressures were strongest, not only rejected Trotsky’s prognosis about the outcome of the imperialist war, but threw out the Trotskyist program as well. Instead of an independent proletarian leadership, they saw “new vanguards,” first Tito’s Yugoslavia and Mao’s China, and then the whole “Stalinist world.” Pablo and his acolytes were increasingly explicit in their revisionism. Pablo’s main report to the Third World Congress was published under the title, “World Trotskyism Rearms.”[110] The English version of the theses of the Third World Congress included a subhead on the “New Course of Trotskyism,” and Germain (Mandel), who by this time had capitulated to Pablo, gave a report to the congress on the activity of the I.S. and IEC under the title, “Three Years of the New Course of Trotskyism.”[111] The most blatant expression was from Pablo’s American follower George Clarke, who made his battle cry “Junk the Old Trotskyism”![112]

As the developing Pabloite revisionist current passed from particular positions to a general program, it also began to draw organizational consequences. Thus in his report to the Third World Congress, Pablo declared: “What we have understood for the first time in the history of our movement and of the workers’ movement in general...is that we must be capable of finding our place in the mass movement as it is.” This is specified as understanding “the necessity of subordinating all organizational considerations, of formal independence or otherwise, to real integration into the mass movement.”[113] A few months later, at the Tenth Plenum of the IEC (February 1952), Pablo spelled out what came to be known as “deep entrism.” He cited as a precedent the British section’s entry into the Labour Party (under massive pressure from the I.S.). This was “almost qualitatively different” from the “entrism” advocated by Trotsky during 1934-38, for this was intended to be “long-term” in nature. Of the reformist parties, he stated:

We are not entering these parties in order to come out of them soon. We are entering them in order to remain there for a long time banking on the great possibility which exists of seeing these parties, placed under new conditions, develop centrist tendencies which will lead a whole stage of the radicalization of the masses and of the objective revolutionary processes in their respective countries.[114]

In fact, he stressed, the aim was “to help in the development of their centrist tendencies”!

As for the official Communist parties, since the Stalinist tops would prevent any internal factions and likely prevent many known Trotskyists from entering, Pablo advocated “entrism of a special kind, sui generis,” arguing that the Stalinist movement will produce “much greater and more important centrist tendencies” than the social-democratic reformists. To accomplish this task, a member should “not hesitate” to “conceal his Trotskyism”:[115] “In order to remain there and work, it will be necessary for a whole period, at first, that our militants completely conceal their Trotskyist identity” and they must “not undertake any political work based on our own ideas.” “Ruses’ and ‘capitulations’ are not only admissible but necessary,” in order to carry out this “entrism sui generis.”[116] As for those on the outside, their chief aim was to assist the entry work. So when the anti-Pabloites wrote of the “liquidation” of the Trotskyist program and party, this was no projection or exaggeration, but the explicit, immediate program of Pablo and his associates.

What, then, of the opposition to Pablo? As we remarked at the outset, it was partial, belated, largely on the national terrain, and did not come to grips theoretically with the new questions which gave rise to Pabloism. But they did fight, and we take sides with those who sought, in however flawed a manner, to combat the forces that were liquidating Trotskyism!

First came the British RCP majority. In his report to the Third World Congress, Germain noted the expulsion of Haston and Grant from the International Executive Committee after its Eighth Plenum in April 1951, describing them as “embodying the tendency of British Trotskyism which obstinately refused to integrate itself into the International, to assimilate the new course of Trotskyism.”[117] Indeed the Haston/Grant majority derived from the old British Workers International League (WIL), which for purely cliquist reasons placed itself outside the British section of the Fourth International from 1938 to 1944. But in 1951 Pablo and Germain were far more concerned by the fact that the RCP majority had refused for more than three years to liquidate into the Labour Party, despite the insistent attempts by the I.S. to force them to do so. In the end, Pablo engineered by remote control a split led by Gerry Healy, who took about a third of the organization into the Labour Party. Haston/Grant didn’t go along with the I.S./IEC fiction that East Europe was still capitalist in 1948-49, and partly because their vision wasn’t distorted by these pseudo-orthodox blinders, they saw Tito clearly for what he was: a nationally based Stalinist who wanted to build socialism in his one country. In a 1950 statement written shortly before he was expelled, Grant rightly listed as the first of three reasons for the collapse of the FI in Britain “capitulation to Tito-Stalinism internationally.”[118]

In order to destroy Haston and Grant, Pablo’s I.S. destroyed the RCP in the process. To do so, they resorted to organizational methods reminiscent of Zinoviev’s Comintern regime. So when Healy split the British section in 1947, the IEC granted his entry group independent status, reporting directly to the I.S. Later, in late 1948-early 1949, when first Haston and then Grant capitulated and came out for entry into the Labour Party, the I.S. turned on them and denounced them for...liquidationism! “Their proposal of entry looks like a desperate man drowning himself in deep water,” commented the I.S. “Entry on such a pessimistic and liquidationist line...would only accelerate the process of political disintegration and destroy all perspective for the Fourth International.”[119] When Healy demanded and got from the I.S. control of the section now reunited in the Labour Party, even though he and his supporters were in a minority, with a year’s leeway until elections were to be held, he proceeded to drive out and expel his opponents, some legitimately (like the Cliff group, whose supporters publicly denounced “Russian imperialism” and refused to support the North in the Korean War), most not.

Healy, who had also been a leader of the old WIL, was implementing Pablo’s line in London. The “deep entrist” policy Healy carried out in Britain (which eventually resulted in the Socialist Labour League when he exited in the late ’50s) was certainly a precursor of the “entrism sui generis” which Pablo attempted to shove down the throats of the French PCI a few years later. The RCP had been set up only in 1944, as a forced (by the I.S.) fusion of the WIL and a disintegrated Revolutionary Socialist League (official FI section), and it was rent by inherited animosities at the top. Its principal leaders eventually abandoned Trotskyism, Haston openly, and Grant through carrying out an entry into the Labour Party so deep that his Militant group only exited in 1992 (and that over Grant’s opposition). But in the late ’40s the RCP, more than any other section of the International, tried rather successfully to grapple on the basis of Trotsky’s program with the issues that had been thrown up by history. And they were ground up by a leadership that subsequently sought to liquidate the Fourth International itself. In an interview on Healy’s history, Spartacist League Central Committee member James Robertson remarked:

Cannon and also Pablo were very much on the RCP’s case, and Healy was their local inside man. I don’t know all the rights and wrongs but I do believe that they did not try to reshape the RCP, but successfully destroyed it. And so far as I know that was the last Trotskyist organization in Britain, the SLL in the period from 1957-67 proving to be hollow.[120]

Pabloite Revisionism Ravages the Fourth International

The French PCI was the second section that Pablo targeted for destruction. As noted earlier, the then PCI majority opposed the I.S.’ 1948 letters to the Yugoslav CP for “idealizing Tito.” The PCI passed a motion demanding that the I.S. reject Pablo’s August 1948 article on “The Yugoslav Affair.” And while the composition of the PCI majority as well as its line on Yugoslavia changed, the French party was almost constantly in opposition to Pablo on East Europe and Stalinism. Working closely with the International Secretariat, which was then located in Paris, they smelled an anti-Trotskyist rat early on. The fight came to a head during 1950-52, in the period leading up to and following the Third World Congress. The first object of dispute was the “Theses on Perspectives and Orientation,” written by Pablo and submitted to the Ninth Plenum of the IEC at the end of November 1950, as part of the discussion for the upcoming Third World Congress.[121] The discussion was particularly colored by the appearance in January 1951 of Pablo’s revisionist treatise “Where Are We Going?” with its “new reality” and perspective of “centuries of deformed workers states.”

In the I.S. itself there was resistance to Pablo’s theses (from Germain, Frank and Privas). Immediately following the plenum, at the beginning of December 1950, the French CC met, criticizing revisionist elements in the Ninth Plenum theses and refusing to approve the document. It also approved a political report for the PCI’s upcoming Seventh Congress. There followed, in January and March 1951, CC meetings at which Pablo’s emissaries (initially Clarke from the U.S.) tried to browbeat the French majority into submission. Germain intimated to Bleibtreu his intention to write a document to counterbalance Pablo’s theses, and to submit it for a vote. Germain did eventually write his famous “Ten Theses” document, a veiled attack on Pablo’s “Where Are We Going?” But Pablo cracked the whip, ordering Germain to defend the Ninth Plenum theses or be expelled from the I.S., and sent a letter to the French CC demanding that they rewrite their perspectives document along the lines of his theses. At the March meeting Germain, Frank and Privas capitulated and spoke for Pablo’s theses. In April 1951, Pablo himself attended a French CC meeting to attack the leadership; the CC formally split into majority (anti-Pablo) and minority.[122]

Also in April the PCI’s principal leader, Marcel Bleibtreu, wrote a document “Where the Disagreements Lie,” which was later developed into his famous “Where Is Comrade Pablo Going?” (Neither of these, nor any of the other French documents, were ever translated and distributed internationally by the I.S.) When Germain’s “Ten Theses” was published in March (although dated 15 January 1951), the French PB adopted them as a resolution for the World Congress (minus the author’s preamble, which endorsed Pablo’s Ninth Plenum theses).[123] At the PCI’s Seventh Congress in July, there were counterposed majority and minority reports and resolutions on both international and national work, and the majority voted down the Ninth Plenum theses. At the World Congress of the FI in August 1951, Bleibtreu spoke against Pablo’s theses, and the PCI introduced a series of amendments. The French were isolated, a vote was not permitted on their amendments or on Germain’s “Ten Theses,” and the PCI delegates voted almost alone against the main resolution, which included Pablo’s “Theses on Perspectives and Orientation.” A French commission was set up to replace the PCI majority leadership. In the end Bleibtreu et al. were left in place, but with the proviso that if they didn’t carry out the line of the World Congress, “the IEC and I.S. will be charged with taking all organizational measures to rectify the situation in the PCI.”[124]

There was plenty of thunder and lightning. But did the French fight Pabloite liquidationism programmatically in all this, or was it simply an organizational power fight, as some (such as Workers Power) would have it? There were plenty of weaknesses and errors in the PCI majority’s documents. Bleibtreu declared that “the essential difference concerns the revisionist view of the nature of the bureaucracy of the USSR” in Pablo’s texts.[125] But Bleibtreu’s definition of Stalinism excluded any ideological/programmatic elements: “When you speak of the Stalinism of a Communist Party, you are not speaking of a theory, of an overall program, of definite and lasting concepts, but only of its leadership’s subordination to orders from the Kremlin bureaucracy.”[126] Bleibtreu mocked the very idea of “Stalinism without Stalin.” And the PCI did not object to the statement in the “Theses on Perspectives and Orientation” that under certain circumstances, “like those which occurred during the war in Yugoslavia, in China, and recently in Korea,” certain CPs “can project a revolutionary orientation,” and that “from that moment on, they would cease to be strictly Stalinist parties.”[127]

Bleibtreu did not give a Trotskyist definition of Stalinism, for he excluded the programmatic components of “socialism in one country” and “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, and ignored Stalinism’s material base, a nationally limited bureaucracy—both of which were common to Yugoslavia and China as well as the USSR. Bleibtreu wanted to limit Stalinism to only those parties directly under the Kremlin’s thumb, in order to exclude the Chinese and Yugoslavs. If anything, his texts were even more favorable to the Mao and Tito regimes than were Pablo’s (e.g., declaring that “it is absurd to speak of a Stalinist party in China, and still more absurd to foster belief in even the resemblance of a ‘victory of Stalinism in China’”).[128] But this was an attempt, if flawed, to fight against Pablo’s program, which ascribed revolutionary potential to Stalinism itself; Bleibtreu’s answer to the question of how CPs could take power and still be counterrevolutionary was to define the problem away, describing them as non-Stalinist. In rejecting Pablo’s assertion that “defense of the USSR constitutes the strategic line of the Fourth International,” Bleibtreu correctly stated that the strategic line of Trotskyism is world socialist revolution. But he did not emphasize, as Trotsky did, that Soviet defensism was also a strategic task of the FI.

Despite these errors, the French did attempt to fight the Pabloites’ policies of tailing after Stalinism. And thus they were an obstacle in the way of Pabloism’s revisionist course. Round Two of the showdown came as Pablo returned to the offensive, demanding that the PCI liquidate into the Stalinist movement under the rubric of “entrism sui generis.” Following his usual “salami tactics” Pablo had not called at the World Congress for entrism into the Stalinist parties, and in fact he had referred to the “necessarily independent” character of the Trotskyist organizations, as he admitted in his report to the February 1952 Tenth Plenum of the IEC. The policy of “entrism sui generis” was first raised in a January 1952 I.S. letter to the French leadership accusing the PCI of refusing to follow the line of the Third World Congress: “Let us define this policy once again clearly: what’s involved in a country like France is carrying out, more and more, a sort of sui generis entrist policy toward the organizations and workers influenced by the Stalinists.”[129]

When the January CC meeting of the PCI refused Pablo’s ultimatum to hand over control of the party to the Pabloite minority (via a “parity” Political Bureau with a double vote for a representative of the I.S.), Pablo decreed on the spot the suspension of the 16 majority members of the Central Committee! This bureaucratic atrocity was subsequently ratified by the I.S., reportedly with the votes of the British (Gerry Healy) and American (George Novack) representatives. At the Tenth Plenum (February 1952), the IEC revoked the suspensions, but decreed that the PCI CC could not meet unless the minority Political Bureau judged it necessary.[130]

But even when, in order to buy time, the French majority submitted to this grotesque measure, it wasn’t enough for Pablo, who demanded that discussion at the upcoming congress of the PCI be limited to implementing the entrist line of the Tenth Plenum, and that the CC elected at the previous congress not be allowed to present its political report.[131] Seeing an impending split, in late June the Pabloites removed typewriters and mimeograph machines from the PCI office. Two months earlier they had secretly filed a statement with the police registering a “PCI” with a completely pro-Pablo leadership. So on 14 July 1952, two PCI congresses were held in Paris, on different floors of the same building. In November the anti-Pablo PCI was formally expelled, again with the votes of the British and Americans. But this only whetted Pablo’s appetite. With the French out of the way, he then went after the big one, the Socialist Workers Party, led by James P. Cannon and conserving the largest group of Trotskyist cadres dating back to the time of Trotsky.

As in the case of the PCI, and even more so, the struggle against Pabloism in the SWP was fought out over the party question. The question of Yugoslavia seemed more remote on the American terrain, and an orientation of entrism into the discredited and relatively small American Stalinist party—which had gone semi-clandestine due to McCarthyite repression—was not only liquidationist but downright absurd for anyone with the slightest pretense of revolutionary politics. Cannon was able to easily demonstrate that the pro-Pablo minority was a rotten bloc consisting of New York petty bourgeois (led by George Clarke) who were looking to the popular-front milieu, and a layer of older Detroit trade unionists (led by Bert Cochran) who were looking for a way out of organized left politics altogether. But as we noted in “Genesis of Pabloism”: “The SWP only joined the fight against revisionism when a pro-Pabloism tendency, the Clarke wing of the Cochran-Clarke faction, manifested itself within the American party.” Moreover, when Cannon did finally take up the battle he did so in a way that “deepened [the SWP’s] isolationism into virulent anti-internationalism,” counterposed to international democratic centralism. In a review of Cannon’s Speeches to the Party, which covers this fight, we wrote of:

...the major weakness revealed during the struggle—Cannon’s failure to carry out an international faction fight against Pabloism. To avoid having to implement Pabloist policies, Cannon posited a federated International. (This deviation came home to roost in the later formation of the “United Secretariat” in which differences over the 1953 split, China and other questions were papered over as each national organization went its merry way.) Cannon’s federalist concept of internationalism was reflected in a polemic against (of all things) “Cominternism”![132]

The SWP leadership claimed to have disagreed with Pablo earlier, both politically and over some of his more blatant organizational atrocities. Thus for the Third World Congress, the SWP Political Committee sent off a “Contribution to the Discussion on International Perspectives” to “balance” Pablo’s “Theses on Perspectives and Orientation.” In particular, in this memo the SWP argued that “it is imperative to reaffirm our previous characterization of Stalinism as a counter-revolutionary force”; they opposed any recognition (“implicitly or explicitly”) of “the perspective of ‘deformed workers’ states’ as the line of historical development for an indefinite period”; they opined that it was “one-sided” to say that the CPs “may be compelled to outline a revolutionary orientation,” since the Stalinists could also work to strangle revolutions; and they argued for reaffirming the central importance of the crisis of proletarian leadership.[133] But the SWP’s “fraternal” delegate, Clarke, who happened to be one of Pablo’s chief hatchetmen, didn’t present this “contribution.” In fact, he later said, he was so “ashamed” of it that he burned the document!

Be that as it may, none of the changes the SWP advocated on paper were made, except for a ritual mention (in the “Theses on Perspectives and Orientation”) of “the selection of a new revolutionary leadership.” Nonetheless the SWP supported the Third World Congress documents. They also supported the Tenth Plenum documents ordering entrism. Questioned on this in a letter by French PCI leader Daniel Renard, a trade unionist who had been expelled by the Stalinist-led CGT, Cannon replied: “We do not see any revisionism there....We consider these documents to be completely Trotskyist.”[134] Cannon later claimed that the SWP leadership “hit the ceiling” and was “flabbergasted” when they heard about the International Secretariat diktat removing the elected Political Bureau of the French party and replacing it with a “parity committee” with an I.S. representative as arbiter.[135] But not only did the SWP do nothing about this travesty, its representative on the I.S. voted for the suspension of the French PB and then later for the expulsion of the PCI from the Fourth International.

Cannon admitted that the SWP consciously soft-pedaled and papered over differences with Pablo in order to boost the latter’s “authority.” A fellow party leader dissuaded Cannon from writing against the conception of “centuries of deformed workers states,” arguing that this would damage Pablo’s “prestige” and that “If it appears in the International that Cannon is attacking Pablo, the whole alliance will appear to be broken.” Cannon related that there were repercussions inside the American party as well, quoting SWP leader Arne Swabeck, who at a plenum “told us that a girl comrade got up in the Chicago branch and asked: ‘What is this? If there are going to be centuries of Stalinism, what’s the sense of my going out and selling ten papers on the street corner?’” “A very good question,” commented Cannon, adding, “But we kept quiet about all this in the party.”[136] After consulting with Cannon, Murry Weiss answered the Johnsonites in Los Angeles (who in 1950 were calling for “Cannonism against Pabloism”), saying: “You don’t need to fear about us rushing into Pablo’s arms; we’re already in his arms.”[137]

This false diplomacy and “prestige” building prevented the necessary fight for political clarity that perhaps could have headed Pablo off at the pass and prevented the destruction of the Fourth International. We have repeatedly and sharply criticized Cannon and the SWP’s conduct during the 1950-53 fight along the lines given above. But it is also necessary to stress that when the decisive hour came, Cannon fought and fought hard. “We are at war with this new revisionism,” he declared in his speech to the November 1953 SWP National Committee plenum. And he hammered away on the key question that had been given only secondary attention in the earlier battles with Pablo— the question of leadership, the party question: “The essence of Pabloist revisionism is the overthrow of that part of Trotskyism which is today its most vital part— the conception of the crisis of mankind as the crisis of the leadership of the labor movement summed up in the question of the party.”[138]

This has been denigrated, in particular by the British Workers Power group. Thus they publish a snotty article by Emile Gallet, declaring:

The problem with the SWP majority’s line on “Pabloism” was that they failed to get the true measure of the beast. They actually held to the fundamental tenets of the Pablo-Mandel method. However, like Bleibtreu, they balked at the logical conclusion of the third Congress view of Stalinist parties becoming transformed into centrist ones (e.g. Yugoslavia, China), that is, entry into the CPs. They therefore concentrated their fire on the most striking yet superficial aspect of “Pabloism,” which for them “boils down to one point and is concentrated in one point...the question of the party” [our emphasis].[139]

Later on, the author argues that “the SWP, like the rest of the FI, was unable to measure up to the problem of re-applying Trotsky’s method to the post-war world,” and thus “there are major centrist flaws which must lead us to reject any view which sees the SWP or Cannon as revolutionary communists in the post-war period.”[140] This puerile polemic shows just the opposite, that while the SWP had major flaws in its analysis, when it came down to the question of questions, that of the revolutionary leadership, for all their faults they fought liquidationism. And the fact that the party question is “superficial” for the likes of Workers Power shows that they can never measure up to the little finger of a Cannon.

Continue on...


85 Michel Pablo, “The Yugoslav Affair,” Fourth International, December 1948, 241. 

86 Michel Pablo, “On the Class Nature of Yugoslavia,” SWP International Information Bulletin, December 1949, 2. 

87 Ibid., 3. 

88 Ibid., 3. 

89 Ibid., 27. 

90 Michel Pablo, “Yugoslavia and the Rest of the Buffer Zone,” SWP International Information Bulletin, May 1950. 

91 Ernest Germain (Mandel), “The Yugoslav Question, the Question of the Soviet Buffer Zone, and Their Implications for Marxist Theory” (October 1949), SWP International Information Bulletin, January 1950. 

92 Ibid., 32. 

93 Ibid., 42. 

94 Morris Stein, “The Class Nature of the Buffer Countries in Eastern Europe,” SWP Discussion Bulletin No. 3, June 1950, 8. 

95 John G. Wright, “The Importance of Method in the Discussion on the Kremlin-Dominated Buffer Zone,” SWP Discussion Bulletin No. 2, April 1950, 5. 

96 Ernest Germain (Mandel), “Draft Resolution on the Development of the Yugoslav Revolution,” SWP International Information Bulletin, September 1950, 12. 

97 Murry Weiss, “Report on Yugoslavia and Related Questions,” SWP Discussion Bulletin No. 6, January 1951, 2. 

98 Leon Trotsky, Transitional Program, 135. 

99 Joseph Hansen, “The Problem of Eastern Europe,” SWP Internal Bulletin Vol. XII, No. 2, February 1950, reprinted in CPSEER, 33. 

100 Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism (New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1942). 

101 Bill Hunter, “The I.S. and Eastern Europe.” A photocopy of an original from the archives of Sam Bornstein is in the holdings of the Prometheus Research Library. 

102 International Secretariat, Introduction (October 1949), SWP International Information Bulletin, December 1949. 

103 “Remarks by M. Stein Opening Political Committee Discussion on IEC Resolution on Eastern Europe” (12 July 1949), SWP Internal Bulletin, Vol. XI, No) 5, October 1949, reprinted in CPSEER, 17. 

104 Michel Pablo, “Where Are We Going?”, SWP International Information Bulletin, March 1951, reprinted in SWP Education for Socialists, “International Secretariat Documents 1951-1954” (March 1974) (hereafter referred to as I.S. Documents), Vol. 1, 10. 

105 Ibid., 8. 

106 Ibid., 4-6. 

107 Ibid., 6-7 (emphasis in original). 

108 Michel Pablo, “The Building of the Revolutionary Party” (excerpts of report to IEC Tenth Plenum), SWP International Information Bulletin, June 1952, reprinted in I.S. Documents, Vol. 1, 34. 

109 Quoted in Favre-Bleibtreu (Marcel Bleibtreu), “Where Is Comrade Pablo Going?”, IC Documents, Vol. 1, 18. 

110 Michel Pablo, “World Trotskyism Rearms,” Fourth International, November-December 1951, 168-76. 

111 The Third World Congress resolution, “Theses on Perspectives and Orientation,” is available in English in I.S. Documents, Vol. 1, 25-30, and in French in LCQI, Vol. 4, 147-60. Germain/Mandel’s report, “Trois années de cours nouveau du trotskysme,” appears in LCQI, Vol. 4, 303-26. 

112 Cited by James P. Cannon in a speech to the Los Angeles SWP branch, 5 December 1953, SWP Discussion Bulletin A-13 (January 1954), reprinted in IC Documents, Vol. 3, 159. 

113 Michel Pablo, “World Trotskyism Rearms,” op. cit., 172. 

114 Michel Pablo, “The Building of the Revolutionary Party,” op. cit., 35. 

115 Ibid., 37-39. 

116 Michel Pablo, “Rapport sur les applications tactiques de la ligne du IIIe Congrès mondial,” LCQI, Vol. 4, 355-56. These quoted passages were not included in the SWP’s “excerpted” version of Pablo’s report cited above, note 108. This appears to have been a political “edit” job in order to excise the most opportunist aspects, since almost the entire rest of his report is printed. At the time the SWP leadership was still backing Pablo against the French PCI majority. 

117 Ernest Mandel, “Trois années de cours nouveau du trotskysme,” op. cit., 305. 

118 Unsigned (Ted Grant), “Statement to the BSFI [British Section of the Fourth International]” (n.d., ca. summer 1950). A photocopy of this document is in the collection of the Prometheus Research Library. 

119 Cited in Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, op. cit., 225-26. 

120 “On the 1966 Split,” Spartacist (English edition) No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86 (a special issue titled “Healyism Implodes”). 

121 Pablo’s draft “Theses on Perspectives and Orientation” were adopted by the Ninth Plenum and published as “Thèse sur les perspectives internationales et l’orientation de la IVe Internationale,” Quatrième Internationale, January 1951. They were also published in English in SWP International Information Bulletin, January 1951. They were subsequently adopted with minor amendments by the Third World Congress. See note 111 for publication information on the theses adopted by the congress. 

122 “The Struggle of the French Trotskyists Against Pabloite Liquidationism,” SWP Discussion Bulletin A-17 (May 1954), reprinted in IC Documents, Vol. 1, 25-29. 

123 Ernest Germain (Mandel), “What Should Be Modified and What Should Be Maintained in the Theses of the Second World Congress of the Fourth International on the Question of Stalinism? (Ten Theses),” SWP International Information Bulletin, April 1951, reprinted in I.S. Documents, Vol. 1, 16-24. According to the SWP IIB, the “Ten Theses” first appeared in the March 1951 Bulletin of the International Secretariat. “Genesis of Pabloism” contains a discussion of Germain’s theses. 

124 “Résolution sur le PCI français,” LCQI, Vol. 4, 331. 

125 Favre-Bleibtreu (Marcel Bleibtreu), “Où résident les divergences,” La Vérité, June 1951, 2-11. 

126 Favre-Bleibtreu (Marcel Bleibtreu), “Where Is Comrade Pablo Going?”, IC Documents, Vol. 1, 12. 

127 “Theses on Perspectives and Orientation,” op. cit., 27. 

128 Favre-Bleibtreu (Marcel Bleibtreu), “Where Is Comrade Pablo Going?”, op. cit., 16. 

129 “Lettre adressée par le secrétariat international au comité central du PCI” (14 January 1952), LCQI, Vol. 4, 401. 

130 Rodolphe Prager, Introduction to “Dossier sur la crise et la scission du PCI,” LCQI, Vol. 4, 373. 

131 “The Struggle of the French Trotskyists Against Pabloite Liquidationism,” op. cit., 29. 

132 “Cannon Versus Pablo,” Workers Vanguard No. 28, 14 September 1973. 

133 “Contribution to the Discussion on International Perspectives” (5 June 1951), IC Documents, Vol. 1, 4-6. The SWP apparently never published this document until the Education for Socialists series came out in 1974. 

134 James P. Cannon, Letter to Daniel Renard (29 May 1952), reprinted in IC Documents, Vol. 1, 23-25. 

135 James P. Cannon, “Internationalism and the SWP” (18 May 1953 speech to majority caucus of the SWP), Speeches to the Party (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), 79; and letter to Sam Gordon (4 June 1953), IC Documents, Vol) 1, 54. 

136 James P. Cannon, “Internationalism and the SWP,” op. cit., 80-81. 

137 Cited by James P. Cannon, “Report to the May Plenum,” Speeches to the Party, 140. 

138 James P. Cannon, “Factional Struggle and Party Leadership” (speech to the November 1953 plenum of the SWP), Speeches to the Party, 181. 

139 Emile Gallet, “The SWP (US) in the ‘American Century’—A Case Study of ‘Orthodoxy’,” Permanent Revolution No. 7, Spring 1988, 120. 

140 Ibid., 122.