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.


Cannon: “At War with Pabloism”

Having finally decided it was war, Cannon declared, “We are finished and done with Pablo and Pabloism forever, not only here but on the international field.”[141] A “Letter to Trotskyists Throughout the World,” issued by the SWP’s November 1953 NC plenum, restated basic principles of Trotskyism, including that Stalinism was the main obstacle to resolving the crisis of proletarian leadership, and attacked Pablo’s revisionism as looking “to the Stalinist bureaucracy, or a decisive section of it, to so change itself under mass pressure as to accept the ‘ideas’ and ‘program’ of Trotskyism.” The letter admitted that “the French comrades of the majority saw what was happening more clearly than we did,” and declared: “The lines of cleavage between Pablo’s revisionism and orthodox Trotskyism are so deep that no compromise is possible either politically or organizationally.”[142]

The lengthy document, “Against Pabloist Revisionism,” which accompanied the SWP letter noted:

By dumping the orthodox Trotskyist concept of the [Stalinist bureaucratic] caste as in essence representative of the tendency toward capitalist restoration...the Pabloites open the road to the completely revisionist concept that the bureaucracy can right itself....

This shifts the axis of the development of the political revolution away from the self-action of the masses and focuses it upon the rifts inside the bureaucracy....

The working class is transformed into a pressure group, and the Trotskyists into a pressure grouping along with it which pushes a section of the bureaucracy leftward toward the revolution. In this way, the bureaucracy is transformed from a block and a betrayer of the revolution into an auxiliary motor force of it.[143]

At the same time, the French PCI prepared a document which noted that “The principal theoretical ideas of Pabloism were formulated by Pablo as a personal contribution during the course of the discussion on the buffer zone (1949-50).” Declaring that “with the Third World Congress the Fourth International entered upon a crisis which has steadily worsened and today threatens its very existence,” it concluded:

For Pablo the historical mission of the Fourth International has lost all meaning. The “objective revolutionary process,” under the aegis of the Kremlin, allied with the masses, is taking its place very well indeed. That is why he is mercilessly bent upon liquidating the Trotskyist forces, under the pretext of integrating them into the “movement of the masses as it exists.”

The salvation of the Fourth International imperatively demands the immediate eviction of the liquidationist leadership.[144]

With all the weaknesses of the anti-Pabloites’ fight, this stand constituted a fundamental platform for struggle for the Trotskyist program and party that must be defended. Those who turn their backs on this, refusing to take sides in the 1953 fight, are liquidators no less than Pablo. At stake was the very existence of our world party!

In the aftermath, the Pabloites generalized their liquidationist program, codifying it at their 1954 “Fourth World Congress,” in a resolution on “The Rise and Decline of Stalinism”—a draft of which had already been circulated before the split and was the object of the SWP’s critique published as “Against Pabloist Revisionism.” The Pabloists’ resolution included a “programme of political revolution” that did not call for the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy or for the formation and leadership of a Trotskyist party, but again spoke rather of the “democratization of the workers’ parties.” Referring to “the impossibility for the Fourth International to become a leading force of this upsurge” after WWII, it now claimed openly that the CPs could “be led to project a revolutionary orientation...without abandoning the political and theoretical baggage inherited from Stalinism.” And therefore the Pabloites sought not the “organizational disintegration” of Stalinism but rather its “gradual internal transformation.”[145]

This was also expressed in practice. Thus when the East German workers uprising occurred in 1953, the I.S. issued a statement calling for “real democratization of the Communist parties”—but not for a Trotskyist party—and asserting of the Stalinists: “They have been obliged to continue along the road of still more ample and genuine concessions to avoid risking alienating themselves forever from support by the masses and from provoking still stronger explosions. From now on they will not be able to stop halfway”![146] The extreme Pabloites, like Michèle Mestre in France and George Clarke in the U.S., carried out the entrist program and did indeed liquidate into the respective CPs. (The Cochranite trade unionists in the U.S., as Cannon predicted, disappeared from the left scene.) Pablo himself pulled back when it became clear that there was no mileage in CP entrism, since Khrushchevite “peaceful coexistence” soon supplanted the immediate threat of World War III.

A week after the SWP’s “Letter to Trotskyists Throughout the World” was published, and based on it, representatives of the American, British, French and Swiss sections formed the “International Committee of the Fourth International.” The SWP was recognized as “the leading section of the world Trotskyist movement” by the Chinese Trotskyists, who also adhered to the IC, which consisted of the largest sections of the FI.[147] We have elsewhere dealt with the fate of the IC, which existed mostly as a paper organization:

[It] never met as a real international body, nor was a centralized leadership ever elected....Thus the anti-revisionist fight was deliberately not carried to the world movement, the IC consisting mainly of those groups which had already had their splits over the application of Pabloist policies in their own countries, and the struggle to defeat revisionism and reconstruct the Fourth International on the basis of authentic Trotskyism was aborted.[148]

Nor did the IC come to grips with the theoretical issues which gave rise to Pabloism. So when the SWP, its revolutionary fiber weakened by years of McCarthyite repression and national isolation, finally succumbed and joined with the I.S. to found the “United” Secretariat in 1963, their arguments for political support of Castro’s Cuba could have been lifted word for word from Pablo’s writings on Yugoslavia over a decade earlier.

It is out of the fight against a new edition of Pabloism in the early 1960s that our Spartacist tendency took form. At that time, the French section of the International Committee under Pierre Lambert and the British Socialist Labour League under Gerry Healy simply repeated the errors of Pablo’s opponents over Yugoslavia and East Europe. Thus Healy declared that “the Castro regime is and remains a bonapartist regime resting on capitalist state foundations.”[149] This could have been lifted straight from Germain’s analysis ca. 1949 of East Europe (which he described as “an entirely special type of capitalism” ruled by “Bonapartist governments of a new type”).[150] In turn, the Lambertistes’ description of Cuba as a “workers and peasants government” of a “broken-down, decomposed, phantom bourgeois state”[151] could have been Germain on Yugoslavia 1944-48.

In contrast, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) of the SWP analyzed the birth of a bureaucratically deformed workers state in Cuba, while pointing out that the petty-bourgeois Castro regime was not and could not become a revolutionary leadership (as the SWP and I.S. and subsequently the USec claimed). We warned that peasant-based guerrillaism was no road forward to socialist revolution. Looking backward, the RT’s analysis of Cuba also provides the key to understanding Yugoslavia and China, and to understanding what was wrong with the Fourth International’s analysis at the time. The issue was summed up in two counterposed documents at the time of the formation of the United Secretariat. The SWP Political Committee wrote in its March 1963 statement:

Along the road of a revolution beginning with simple democratic demands and ending in the rupture of capitalist property relations, guerilla warfare conducted by landless peasant and semi-proletarian forces, under a leadership that becomes committed to carrying the revolution through to a conclusion, can play a decisive role in undermining and precipitating the downfall of a colonial and semi-colonial power. This is one of the main lessons to be drawn from experience since the Second World War. It must be consciously incorporated into the strategy of building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.[152]

In direct opposition to this, the resolution submitted by the RT to the 1963 SWP convention, which became one of the basic documents of the Spartacist tendency, stated:

Experience since the Second World War has demonstrated that peasant-based guerilla warfare under petit-bourgeois leadership can in itself lead to nothing more than an anti-working-class bureaucratic regime. The creation of such regimes has come about under the conditions of decay of imperialism, the demoralization and disorientation caused by Stalinist betrayals, and the absence of revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class. Colonial revolution can have an unequivocally progressive revolutionary significance only under such leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. For Trotskyists to incorporate into their strategy revisionism on the proletarian leadership in the revolution is a profound negation of Marxism-Leninism no matter what pious wish may be concurrently expressed for “building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.”[153]

The understanding of the postwar formation of the deformed workers states achieved by the RT over Cuba was very late. And the situation of the Trotskyist forces was very different: where in the late 1940s there was a seemingly united Fourth International, in the early ’60s the RT confronted a visibly fragmented Trotskyist movement. One can only speculate what it would have meant if Marxist clarity had been achieved on East Europe and Yugoslavia almost a decade and a half earlier. In addition to countering Pablo’s destructive work, there were the situations where sections of the Fourth International were locked in battle with Stalinism in the heat of revolutions: China and Vietnam. The Chinese comrades, faced with Pablo’s enthusing for Mao while they were being jailed and murdered by the Maoist regime, clung to the false orthodoxy of continuing to label China a capitalist country. At a time of great turmoil, in the midst of the Korean War and the nationalization campaigns in China, this was politically disorienting to the point of absolute paralysis. (Meanwhile, Pablo and Germain were viciously slandering the Chinese Trotskyists as “refugees from a revolution” and refusing to publicize their imprisoned comrades’ appeals for support.)

The situation of the Vietnamese Trotskyists was no less excruciating. After playing a leading role in the 1945 Saigon insurrection against the returning French imperialist troops, they were subjected to murderous repression at the hands of the Stalinist party led by Ho Chi Minh.[154] Although many of them were forced into exile, they sought to fight for orthodox Trotskyism. At the Third World Congress of the Fourth International in 1951, a Vietnamese anti-Pablo delegate declared dramatically:

The minority of the Vietnamese group is voting against all the political resolutions of the I.S. due to their confused and contradictory character and their tendency to subordinate Trotskyism to Stalinism.[155]

In Latin America, the damage wrought by Pabloism was enormous. Pablo advocated, and the Third World Congress endorsed, entrism in bourgeois nationalist movements like Argentine Peronism and the Bolivian Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR). This laid the basis for the capitulation by Guillermo Lora’s Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) in 1952, when the MNR staged an insurrection and the POR gave it “critical” support; a section of the POR eventually entered the MNR. In Argentina, because of the lack of a real international fight by the International Committee, the “anti-Pablo” forces led by Nahuel Moreno carried out a classic Pabloite “deep entry” into the Peronist movement.

Throughout the world, the ravages caused by Pabloism are still being felt. It is to overcome this crisis of revolutionary leadership that the ICL fights to reforge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International.

Pseudo-Trotskyist Uses and Abuses of Yugoslavia

In later years, the Yugoslavia question has had a curious history among ostensibly Trotskyist currents. For the Healyites, claiming to be the direct continuity of the Fourth International in an organizational battle with Mandel’s United Secretariat, the Yugoslav affair represented something of a problem. Since Healy was up to his neck in supporting Tito, organizing a “John MacLean Youth Work Brigade” from the Labour League of Youth to go to Yugoslavia,[156] it was imperative to assert that Pabloism only began with 1951, after the enthusiasm for Tito had passed. Healy solved this by hardly mentioning Yugoslavia at all.

Healy’s one-time flunky Tim Wohlforth, however, tried to make a virtue of the FI’s contortions over East Europe, providing a doctrinal precedent for the Healyite position that Castro’s Cuba remained a bourgeois state by resuscitating 1948-49 vintage Germain to proclaim the “theory of structural assimilation.” (Germain, at least, had had a sense of irony: he referred to the “metaphysics of structural assimilation.”)[157] If one had truly “assimilated” the Wohlforthian construct, then one could “explain” the formation of a Yugoslav deformed workers state and the Tito-Stalin split by simply asserting that “Yugoslavia never fundamentally left the Soviet camp.”[158]

David North, Wohlforth’s replacement as Healy’s American satrap, eventually turned on his master Healy and proclaimed himself heir to the mantle of the FI. He then published a giant tome, The Heritage We Defend, purporting to be “A Contribution to the History of the Fourth International,” in which he takes as his own the multiple contradictory positions of the Fourth International on Yugoslavia from July 1948 on. To cover this up, he repeatedly lies about the content of the FI statements by leaving out their most embarrassing parts. Thus he extensively quotes (for several pages) the 13 July 1948 I.S. letter to the Yugoslav CP without mentioning its call at the end for a common “Leninist International” with Tito. He favorably cites the Seventh Plenum (April 1949) IEC document on East Europe without mentioning that it described the “buffer zone” as still capitalist! Healy/Wohlforth/North give new meaning to the word “charlatan.”[159]

On the other hand, during the 1970s and early ’80s, a host of centrist groups split off from both the USec and the IC, as well as from the Shachtman currents. Among these split-offs, quite a few suddenly “discovered” that the Fourth International as a whole supposedly went revisionist over Yugoslavia in 1948, and therefore the 1951-53 split which destroyed the FI was not so important after all, since both Pabloites and anti-Pabloites were supposedly rotten centrists. This list includes, at least:

—the Class Struggle League (CSL), U.S., of the professional ex- and anti-Spartacist Harry Turner;

—the “Chartist” group, Britain;

—the Spartacus-BL, West Germany, split from the Internationale Kommunisten Deutschlands, a split-off from the German USec group;

—the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL), U.S., split from the Shachtmanite International Socialists;

—the Frazzione Marxista Rivoluzionaria (FMR), Italy, of Roberto Massari, a split from the Italian USec;

—the Workers Socialist League (WSL), Britain, led by Alan Thornett, which split from Healy’s SLL;

—the Gruppo Bolscevico-Leninista (GBL), Italy, of Franco Grisolia, which split from the Italian Lambertistes;

—the Revolutionary Communist League-Internationalist (RCLI), U.S., a New Haven-based split from Sam Marcy’s Workers World Party;

—the Workers International League (WIL), Britain, which split from the ex-Healyite Workers Revolutionary Party of Sheila Torrance; and

Workers Power (WP), Britain, which split from Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party.

In addition there are their various international lashups, such as the 1976-77 “Necessary International Initiative” (FMR, Spartacus-BL), the “Trotskyist International Liaison Committee” (WSL, GBL, LOB), the “League for a Revolutionary Communist International” (WP) and the “Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency” (WIL).

What’s noteworthy about this list, aside from the short lifespan of most of the groups, is their common hatred of the Spartacist League. This is not accidental. A main reason for their neutralist stance on the 1951-53 fight is to deny the revolutionary political continuity of Trotskyism represented by the Spartacist tendency. If the Fourth International had already “degenerated” (WP) over Yugoslavia, or if this was the starting point for the FI’s “complete abandonment of Trotskyism” (CSL), they assert, then the fight against Pablo’s liquidationism in the ’50s did not defend Trotskyism. Hence the RT’s fight in the American SWP against the party’s Pabloist adaptation to Fidel Castro was of no particular consequence. What this disavowal of the importance of the 1953 split reveals is the utter lack of seriousness of these dilettantes, for whom the destruction of the Fourth International as the centralized world party of socialist revolution means nothing. Most of these self-styled “theoreticians” fancy themselves as the first Trotskyists since Trotsky (or, in the case of the RSL, the first Trotskyists ever). At least the CSL had the “consistency” to call for a “Fifth International.”

Typically, these groups explain the demise of the Fourth International by a failure of analysis and creative thought, rather than seeing that there was a programmatic fight, and they offer a recipe reflecting their particular peculiar origins. Thus the ex-Healyite British WSL, in its document on the USec, declares Pabloism to be a “method” reflecting “the ideological approach of the petty bourgeoisie.” The political basis for the 1953 split, they write, “lay implicitly in the revisionist political line that had from early 1950 through to mid 1953 been commonly accepted by the FI leadership,” and which “was first formulated by Pablo at the end of 1949...based on the surface appearances of events in Yugoslavia since the Stalin-Tito split of 1948.” The WSL’s diagnosis is that “The danger of such a method emerging remains acute wherever (for whatever reasons) Trotskyism becomes dependent for its existence upon middle class and intellectual forces.”[160]

More recently, the WIL’s “Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency” analyzed the demise of the Fourth International as a straight line from Yugoslavia to the 1953 split, in which they take a “plague on both your centrist houses” line:

From denying the possibility of Stalinism overturning capitalist property relations, the great majority of the FI’s leading cadre moved over to an accommodation and finally a capitulation to Stalinism, from the adulation of Tito in 1948 to the Third World Congress in 1951....The outcome of the 1953 split between the IS of Pablo and Mandel and the IC of Cannon, Healy and Lambert was two centrist currents, neither of which was capable of honestly assessing—still less correcting—the post-war crisis of the FI, the abandonment of Trotsky’s programme and the failure to meet the political challenge of the world after 1945.[161]

By far the most elaborate of these schemas is that offered by Workers Power, which has published two books supposedly demonstrating the complete “degeneration” of the FI by 1951. In The Death Agony of the Fourth International and the Tasks of Trotskyists Today, Workers Power proclaimed that the Fourth International’s post-WWII perspectives were “a combination of dogmatism and blind optimism” which spawned errors that “oscillated between sectarianism and opportunism,” and that eventually “the political vibrations broke up the FI into two factions both equally tainted with these errors.” Issuing a death certificate, WP places the date of the FI’s demise at its 1951 Third World Congress: “The fact that no section voted against the Yugoslav resolution—the cornerstone of all the errors—is a fact of enormous significance. The FI as a whole had collapsed into centrism.” As for the International Committee, it “did not constitute a ‘left centrist’ alternative to the IS.”[162] Workers Power denies that “the continuity of Trotskyism had been safeguarded” by either side in the 1953 split, rejecting not only calls to “reconstruct” or “reunify” the FI, but any attempt to recreate Trotsky’s Fourth International:

Even the apparently more far-reaching call for “the rebirth of the FI” put forward by the Spartacist League (US), was an appeal for the reincarnation of an already degenerate (post-1951) FI.[163]

Workers Power’s method is profoundly idealist and anti-Marxist. There were far-reaching errors at the Second (1948) and Third (1951) Congresses of the Fourth International, and an escalating political degeneration as Pabloism took shape over the Yugoslav affair. Pablo certainly had a revisionist program by this time, but the liquidationist implications were in the process of being drawn out. It would be a mistake to equate the fully developed gangrene with the initial infection and its early stages. For one thing, the errors didn’t begin in 1948. The decimated European leadership of the Fourth International was badly disoriented on the direction of developments after 1945, continuing to insist on Trotsky’s perspective that the imperialist war would give rise to proletarian revolutions and bring about the demise of Stalinism. The defeat of the immediate postwar workers’ struggles, and the expansion of Stalin’s zone of domination as a result of the Red Army’s defeat of Hitler, confounded this prediction and confused the FI.

For that matter, we have long disagreed with the SWP’s usage of the slogan for a “Proletarian Military Policy” during World War II. And, of course, it was Trotsky himself who first raised the PMP, calling for trade-union control of military training, although he seemed to be thinking more of a situation of dual power, as in the Spanish Civil War, than of a consolidated bourgeois state.[164] The PMP was a serious deviation which undercut the SWP’s internationalist opposition to the imperialist war. Meanwhile, the French Trotskyists during World War II were split between two wings, one of which (the POI) subordinated its struggle to the Gaullist Resistance movement, while the other wing (the CCI) limited itself to factory work and largely ignored the struggle against the German occupier.

Does this mean that already by the end of the war the Fourth International had “degenerated”? Lutte Ouvrière would say so; we would not. For at the same time, 18 leaders of the American SWP and the Minneapolis Teamsters were jailed by Roosevelt for their opposition to the imperialist war. And the very same wing of the French Trotskyists that capitulated to the bourgeois-nationalist Resistance leadership also carried out the heroic internationalist underground work that produced the Arbeiter und Soldat newspaper which circulated clandestinely in German Wehrmacht units in France. Moreover, at the end of the war there was a political reckoning, in which the Fourth International, in founding a fused organization, the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, criticized the weaknesses of both the POI and CCI.

Or let us go back further in history: the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in 1922 passed the famous “Theses on the Eastern Question” containing the call for an “anti-imperialist united front.” These theses were revisionist, laying the basis for popular-front politics in the colonial and backward capitalist countries. This followed on the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East in 1920, which praised Kemal Pasha (Atatürk), at a time when he was repressing the Turkish Communists, and called for a “jihad” (Islamic holy war) against imperialism—also revisionist. The 1922 theses were a foretaste of advancing bureaucratic conservatism in the Comintern. And it was no abstract question: this was the theoretical basis that Stalin used to justify ordering the Chinese Communist Party to join and stay in the bourgeois-nationalist Kuomintang. That led of course to the Shanghai massacre of 1927.

So...at what point do you say that the Comintern and the Bolshevik Party degenerated? In 1922, or even in 1920, when there were revisionist responses on key questions? Or perhaps only in December 1924, when Stalin first formulated his revisionist “theory” of “socialism in one country”? No, it was in 1923-24, when there was a fight, and the Stalinist-led bureaucracy usurped power, defeating the Bolshevik internationalists. Likewise, when do you declare the Third International dead for the revolution and call for a new International? Trotsky insisted that only great events could decide such matters, and continued to fight as an expelled faction of the Comintern until 1933, when the CI let Hitler march unopposed to power (and then approved this criminal policy). Moreover, in the case of the Fourth International, it is not just the question of a date. The FI was destroyed as a world party, but it did not betray the revolutionary proletariat; and its leading section, the SWP led by James P. Cannon, despite its many weaknesses, did not succumb to Pabloist liquidationism until some years later.

Serious communists do not write off their international party until it has shown in deeds that it is dead for the revolution, that it has betrayed the cause of the proletariat and gone over to the side of the bourgeoisie. Lenin continued to fight within the framework of the Second International until the German Social Democrats’ vote for the Kaiser’s war credits on 4 August 1914.

The Fourth International was destroyed as the result of the deep inroads of revisionism, but when and where did it betray the proletariat in world-historic events like wars or revolutions? Over Yugoslavia? The FI indeed had faulty analyses of East Europe, and it took a capitulatory line toward the Yugoslav leadership in the Stalin-Tito split, yet later drew back empirically under the impact of Yugoslavia’s support for the imperialist “UN” intervention in the Korean War. But such an opportunist political course should lead revolutionaries to wage a faction fight to save the world party of socialist revolution or resuscitate it, rather than to write it off. In fighting to reforge the Fourth International, we are continuing Trotsky’s proletarian stand of never abandoning any position until it is definitively lost, just as we fought a last-ditch fight for political revolution against the capitalist-restorationist onslaught in the former Soviet Union. It is not surprising that those who so lightly turn their backs on the Fourth International end up on Yeltsin’s counterrevolutionary barricades.

Workers Power’s most elaborate work arguing the bankruptcy of the Fourth International is The Degenerated Revolution: The Origins and Nature of the Stalinist States. In this tome they ascribe the postwar “programmatic confusion amongst those claiming to uphold the banner of Trotskyism” to “an inability to creatively elaborate Trotsky’s own analysis of Stalinism.” More specifically, “no section of the Fourth International (FI), nor any tendencies within the sections, developed a correct appraisal of the role of world Stalinism in East Europe.”[165] That’s not quite true—the Haston/Grant RCP did pretty well, at least on paper. But what WP thinks is a correct analysis is revealed by their statement that they “stand by the programmatic declarations of the 1948 Congress”—including its resolution on world Stalinism proclaiming East European states to still be capitalist![166] But then we read WP’s supposedly creative and correct analysis which declares: “Wherever it occurs and whatever form it takes, Stalinist bureaucratic social revolutions are counter-revolutionary.”[167] So there you have it: “counterrevolutionary revolutions”! This isn’t dialectics but Stalinophobic flimflammery.

On the empirical level, it is simply false that such bureaucratic, top-down social revolutions are “carried through against the prevailing level of consciousness of the forces necessary for the proletarian revolution in the country—ie the working class,” as Workers Power asserts.[168] Look at Prague in 1948, which the bourgeoisie described as a “coup.” Here the workers responded enthusiastically when the Stalinist tops permitted a limited mobilization to sweep out the remaining bourgeois ministers: “On 21 February 1948 the Communists called on the population to form Committees of Revolutionary Action in the factories, in the local government offices, in towns and villages. Workers militias were quickly formed, to which arms were hastily distributed.”[169] These committees and mobilizations, used to carry out a revolutionary overturn of property forms, were bureaucratically controlled and manipulated, not smashed, as any real counterrevolutionary action would require. More generally, as we pointed out in an article on Workers Power:

What could a counterrevolutionary overturn of capitalism mean—except, perhaps, a return to feudalism? The closest thing to this in recent times was the “Islamic revolution” in Iran. But there WP backed the mullah-led “mass movement” unconditionally, just as they supported Polish Solidarność’ full-blown attempt at counterrevolution despite admitting the Solidarność leadership was committed to the restoration of capitalism.[170]

Behind this concoction of Stalinist-led “counterrevolutionary revolutions” lies a fundamental rejection of Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism. While claiming to reject the characterization that Stalinism is “counterrevolutionary through and through,” WP declares that “Stalinism...is invariably a counterrevolutionary force.”[171] Moreover, Workers Power declares, “we reject the notion that Stalinism has a dual nature.”[172] One could cite Trotsky’s numerous references to the “dual” role/function/ position/character of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which are to be found in virtually every work where he analyzed the nature of this contradictory phenomenon. Trotsky emphasized that the bureaucracy is not a stable social formation, such as a class, but an intermediate layer, a parasitic outgrowth of the workers state that arose under certain conditions. Its contradictory (zigzag) policy is a reflection of its contradictory position. You cannot understand the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy by abstracting it from its parasitical relationship to the economic foundations of the workers state. In “The Class Nature of the Soviet State,” Trotsky wrote that the Stalinist apparatus “defends the proletarian dictatorship with its own methods; but these methods are such as facilitate the victory of the enemy tomorrow. Whoever fails to understand this dual role of Stalinism in the USSR has understood nothing.”[173] This dialectical understanding is basic to explaining how, under highly exceptional circumstances, the parasitic Stalinist caste could carry out bureaucratically deformed social revolutions such as in East Europe after World War II.

WP rejects the term “deformed workers state,” saying Pablo used it to imply that “the bureaucratic deformation of the Yugoslav workers’ state was only quantitative” and Yugoslavia was “not in need of political revolution.”[174] In any case Pablo’s use of the term doesn’t invalidate this scientific characterization. In fact, at the Third World Congress Pablo and the rest of the FI termed the East European “buffer zone” deformed workers states and did call for political revolution. “Bureaucratic deformations,” such as Soviet Russia had even under Lenin and Trotsky, are a matter of degree; a bureaucratically deformed workers state is something qualitatively different, separated from a revolutionary workers state by a political revolution. Workers Power’s preferred term—WP called Yugoslavia a “degenerate” workers state—is not a Marxist definition at all but a term of opprobrium. Tito’s Yugoslavia didn’t degenerate, never having been a workers state based on soviet democracy, guided by revolutionary internationalism. So Workers Power can only mean that Yugoslavia was “degenerate” in the sense of debased, decadent, depraved, dissolute.

The use of such Stalinophobic verbiage by Workers Power, and their proclamation of the “degeneration” of the Fourth International over Yugoslavia, point straight back to their origins in Tony Cliff’s International Socialists (now the British SWP). The Cliffites occasionally claim that they originated in a fight against “the shamelessly opportunist support for Tito’s Yugoslavia by the rest of the Trotskyist movement.”[175] This is a patent falsification. Cliff did not write his document criticizing the FI’s line on Eastern Europe until July 1950,[176] just at the moment when the Cliffites got themselves expelled from the Fourth International for publicly repudiating defense of the North Korean deformed workers state in the war with U.S. imperialism. In 1948 Tony Cliff was arguing that the Soviet Union (and Yugoslavia and the rest of East Europe) were “state capitalist”! For WP to locate the definitive “collapse” of the FI in 1948-51 is a way of alibiing their own past: it’s no big deal that Cliff was a “Third Campist” if Pablo and Cannon were both centrist revisionists as well. Workers Power’s line also facilitates international lashups: there being no revolutionary political continuity, everyone can wipe out their past and start with a clean slate. As we noted:

Seizing upon the disorientation that gripped the entire world Trotskyist movement in the face of the post-WWII Stalinist overturns of capitalism in East Europe, Workers Power contemptuously dismisses the Trotskyists who fought the liquidationism of Michel Pablo, albeit belatedly, partially and primarily on their own national terrain, and who reconstituted themselves as the IC. Cannon just isn’t up to snuff for Workers Power, because it took him a few years to catch on. But he led a fight to preserve Trotskyism against those who sought to destroy it.[177]

Workers Power (like WIL and the rest of the lot) argues that the Fourth International “degenerated” and “collapsed” because theoretically it just wasn’t “creative” enough to understand the postwar reality. This is the reasoning of self-satisfied petty-bourgeois academics—or, as gadfly gossips of the British Trotskyoid left characterize WP, “1970’s students, becoming Polytechnic lecturers.”[178] Following Trotsky’s principle in the 1939-40 fight against the Shachtman-Burnham opposition—“Any serious factional fight in a party is always in the final analysis a reflection of the class struggle”[179]—a Marxist would ask first what class forces were behind the split in 1953. WP portrays it more or less as Pablo’s Stalinophilia vs. SWP/PCI “Stalinophobia,” responding to the pressures of social democracy. But this ignores a key point: in 1948-51, both sides were complicit in tailing after the Stalinist Tito, and the supposed Stalinophobes of the SWP supported Pablo in ordering the French PCI to enter the Stalinist party. In supporting Pablo, Cannon argued that he suspected the French majority (Bleibtreu/Lambert) of... Stalinophobia.

What actually happened was described by the Revolutionary Tendency, precursor of the Spartacist League:

The emergence of Pabloite revisionism pointed to the underlying root of the crisis of our movement: abandonment of a working-class revolutionary perspective. Under the influence of the relative stabilization of capitalism in the industrial states of the West and of the partial success of petit-bourgeois movements in overthrowing imperialist rule in some of the backward countries, the revisionist tendency within the Trotskyist movement developed an orientation away from the proletariat and toward the petit-bourgeois leaderships.[180]

It is not just a matter of individuals and their thought processes. The person and personality of Stalin were not decisive in explaining the rise of Stalinism, which was the result of the cohering of a conservative bureaucratic layer in an isolated, beleaguered workers state in a backward country. So also, the key to Pabloism was not that individuals became wedded to their peculiar theories, but rather that a liquidationist program reflected the tremendous pressures bearing down on an International consisting of tiny groups of cadres faced with the unexpected expansion of Stalinism and the relative restabilization of imperialism after the first postwar years. Among some of them, this led to doubt in the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat and in their own ability to lead it. And it produced a sharp conflict in the revolutionary party, in which it was necessary to take sides.

This points to a more general question: the relationship of program to theory. Many leftists are wont to cite Lenin’s phrase, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” Quite true. As he emphasized, “the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.”[181] But over Yugoslavia the FI was faced with a theoretical failure. How do Marxists evaluate this and rectify it? We have synthesized this question in the aphorism, “program generates theory.” This arose in discussions with the Wohlforth group (predecessor of the Workers League) in the early 1960s, with particular reference to Pabloism. Wohlforth had split the Revolutionary Tendency on orders from Gerry Healy, and in acting as Healy’s man he also took on The Leader’s peculiar emphasis on disembodied “theory” as a club to beat opponents.

In discussions with Wohlforth, the Spartacist spokesman made the following point about Lenin’s pre-April 1917 call for the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”: “The Bolsheviks and Lenin had an incorrect theory, a sufficient but not a correct theory, but up to the supreme moment they had the correct political conclusion of not making alliances with the liberals. In 1917 Lenin became a Trotskyist.”[182] (Trotsky, of course, while he had early on worked out the theory of permanent revolution, calling for the proletariat to take power at the head of the peasantry, was wrong on the fundamental party question, and not until 1917 did he become a Leninist.)

This question derives from the basic Marxist understanding of knowledge, namely that we know a thing by acting upon it. And program is the means by which the revolutionary party acts upon objective reality. Those who explain the “degeneration” of the FI by its analytical failure on Yugoslavia, while dismissing the programmatic fight with Pabloism during 1951-53 over the need for an independent Trotskyist vanguard party, proceed in the opposite, idealist, manner, and produce some pretty vacuous theory as a result.

The inroads of Pabloist revisionism in the Fourth International did not lead to a gradual collapse but came to a head in a hard political fight, just as is characteristic of the class struggle generally. In that fight, serious Marxists had to take sides against the liquidationists. Subsequently, under similar pressures in the United States, after a decade of McCarthyism, in the early 1960s the SWP’s central leadership belatedly went down the same path Pablo and Germain had followed a decade earlier. And once again that revisionist-liquidationist turn was fought, by the RT which gave rise to the Spartacist tendency and the International Communist League. It is this political continuity of Trotskyism that the WP and other revisionists seek to deny.

For Workers Power, the destruction of the Fourth International and the liquidation of independent Trotskyist parties was “the most striking yet superficial aspect of ‘Pabloism’.”[183] Since the FI had already “degenerated” due to an “inability” to “creatively elaborate” Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism, Workers Power reasons, so what if it was then killed. This petty-bourgeois idealism and disdain for the centrality of the party question—that is, the crisis of revolutionary leadership—is typical for the British pseudo-Trotskyist left. Steeped in years of chummy hobnobbing in the Labour Party milieu—whether “deep entrism” like Grant’s Militant Tendency and a host of USec supporters over the years, or perpetual “critical support” to Labour in elections à la Workers Power —for them Trotskyism consists of erudite analyses rather than the fight to build an independent revolutionary vanguard. And as they belittle Pablo’s liquidation of the party, they liquidate the Trotskyist program.

Thus Workers Power has not only called for a “new” (un-numbered) International, it has also declared the Transitional Program superseded by events since World War II. The Trotskyist Manifesto, published by the WP’s League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI) in 1989, dismisses Trotsky’s statement that the productive forces have ceased to grow in the period of capitalism’s death agony, calling this a mere “conjunctural characterisation” which doesn’t take into account the postwar “long boom in the imperialist countries,” which laid the basis for a new surge of reformism. Consequently, rejecting Trotsky’s premise that the conditions for socialist revolution are not only ripe but overripe, these “Trotskyists” reject his central conclusion: “Today it would be wrong,” they assert, “simply to repeat that all contemporary crises are ‘reduced to a crisis of leadership’”[184] (see Appendix II).

The proletariat worldwide does indeed face the stark alternative of either socialism or descent into barbarism. And it is precisely the question of leadership that is key. The task that the International Communist League sets itself, in fighting to reforge a Fourth International that Trotsky would have recognized as his own, is to point the way and lead the fight to resolve that burning contradiction, so powerfully stated in the Transitional Program and no less valid today than when it was written: “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.” As Trotsky defined the central lesson in 1924: “Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer.”[185]


141 James P. Cannon, “Factional Struggle and Party Leadership,” op. cit., 176. 

142 “Letter to Trotskyists Throughout the World,” Militant, 16 November 1953, reprinted in IC Documents, Vol. 3, 133, 137. 

143 “Against Pabloist Revisionism,” op. cit., 146, 152. 

144 “The Successive Stages of Pabloite Revisionism” (October 1953), SWP Discussion Bulletin A-17, May 1954, reprinted in IC Documents, Vol. 3, 153, 155. 

145 “The Rise and Decline of Stalinism” (resolution adopted at the 1954 congress of the International Secretariat), reprinted in SWP Education for Socialists, “Development and Disintegration of World Stalinism,” March 1970, 23, 25, 27. 

146 “International Secretariat Statement on East German Uprising” (June 1953), reprinted in I.S. Documents, Vol. 3, 124. 

147 Peng Shu-tse, “The Chinese Experience with Pabloite Revisionism and Bureaucratism (A Letter to James P. Cannon)” (30 December 1953), SWP Discussion Bulletin A-15, February 1954, reprinted in IC Documents, Vol. 3, 165. 

148 “Genesis of Pabloism.” 

149 National Committee of the Socialist Labour League, “Trotskyism Betrayed” (1962), reprinted in Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Vol. 3 (London: New Park Publications, 1974), 258. 

150 Ernest Germain (Mandel), “The Yugoslav Question, the Question of the Soviet Buffer Zone, and Their Implications for Marxist Theory,” op. cit., 29. 

151 “Projet de rapport sur la révolution cubaine” (n.d., ca. December 1961). It was published in English as “Position of the French Section of the International Committee on the Cuban Question,” SWP International Information Bulletin, April 1963, 10, where the translation reads, “a shoddy, decomposed and unreal bourgeois state.” 

152 “For Early Reunification of the World Trotskyist Movement,” SWP Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 9, April 1963, 39. 

153 “Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International” (12 June 1963), reprinted in Marxist Bulletin No. 9, “Basic Documents of the Spartacist League,” 3. 

154 See the Spartacist pamphlet, Stalinism and Trotskyism in Vietnam (1976). 

155 “Déclaration de la minorité vietnamienne,” LCQI, Vol. 4, 215. 

156 Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, op. cit., 212. 

157 Ernest Germain (Mandel), “The Yugoslav Question, the Question of the Soviet Buffer Zone, and Their Implications for Marxist Theory,” op. cit., 22. 

158 Tim Wohlforth, “The Theory of Structural Assimilation” (1961-63), in “Communists” Against Revolution: Two Essays on Post-War Stalinism (London: Folrose Books, 1978), 62. 

159 David North, The Heritage We Defend (Detroit: Labor Publications Inc., 1988), 147-59. 

160 Workers Socialist League, The Poisoned Well (discussion document for submission to Eleventh World Congress of United Secretariat) (Workers Socialist League, 1978), 3-4. 

161 “Rebuild the 4th International!” (LTT/WIL fusion document), Workers News, April 1991. 

162 Workers Power, Death Agony, 26, 35-36. 

163 Ibid., 60. 

164 We have laid out our view on this in Prometheus Research Series No. 2, February 1989, “Documents on the ‘Proletarian Military Policy’,” where we polemicized with Pierre Broué. 

165 Workers Power, The Degenerated Revolution: The Origins and Nature of the Stalinist States (London: Workers Power and Irish Workers Group, 1982) (hereafter referred to as Degenerated Revolution), 87. 

166 Workers Power, Death Agony, 28. 

167 Workers Power, Degenerated Revolution, 46. 

168 Ibid., 46. 

169 François Fejtö, Histoire des démocraties populaires, Vol) I, L’ère de Staline, 1945-1952 (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1952), 216. 

170 “Workers Power: The Baggage of State Capitalism,” Workers Vanguard No. 456, 1 July 1988. 

171 Workers Power, Death Agony, 29. 

172 Workers Power, Degenerated Revolution, 89. 

173 Leon Trotsky, “The Class Nature of the Soviet State” (October 1933), Writings of Leon Trotsky (1933-34), 2nd ed. (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), 116. 

174 Workers Power, Degenerated Revolution, 88. 

175 Ian H. Birchall, “History of the International Socialists, Part 1: From Theory into Practice,” International Socialism No. 76, March 1975, 17. 

176 Tony Cliff, “On the Class Nature of the ‘People’s Democracies’,” op. cit., 14-64. 

177 “Workers Power: The Baggage of State Capitalism,” op. cit. 

178 Chus Aguirre and Mo Klonsky, As Soon as This Pub Closes...: The British Left Explained (1986), 23. 

179 Leon Trotsky, “A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party,” In Defense of Marxism, 60. 

180 “Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International,” op. cit., 1. 

181 V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1902), Collected Works, Vol. 5 (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961), 369-70. 

182 Remark by James Robertson in “Conversations with Wohlforth,” Marxist Bulletin No. 3, Part 4 (1965), 4. 

183 Emile Gallet, op. cit., 120. 

184 LRCI, The Trotskyist Manifesto (London: League for a Revolutionary Communist International, 1989), 19. 

185 Leon Trotsky, “Lessons of October,” The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), 252.