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The Poisoned Well

The discussion document drafted and adopted by the Workers Socialist League for submission to the discussion prior to the XIth World Congress of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.

Written: 1978.
First Published: July 1978.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Sean Robertson for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

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This discussion document, as amended and endorsed by the Second Annual Conference of the Workers Socialist League, was drafted as a response to the invitation from the United Secretariat of the Fourth International for the WSL – as a non-member of the USFI – to submit material as part of the discussion prior to the USFI XIth World Congress, now scheduled for 1979.

It examines the merger of the two main political tendencies within the USFI – the current in solidarity with the US Socialist Workers Party, and the majority current grouped around the European secretariat, headed by Ernest Mandel. And it examines the motives for this change in the light of the post war crisis within the Fourth International.

“The history of a revolutionary organisation must be an active history. Lessons from the past must be absorbed for use in the future, otherwise each generation has to drink from a poisoned well”.
Jack Barnes, International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol. XIV No.5 p.11.

Even while he made this generally correct statement about history, Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Barnes was launching within the SWP a new policy which can only be designed to lead in the opposite direction – away from a serious study of historical problems; away from the lessons they hold for us today; and away from the new problems that such a reckoning would bring to the leadership of each faction within the United Secretariat of the Fourth International in particular and the world Trotskyist movement in general.

Seven months later the 29th Annual Convention of the SWP unanimously passed a resolution calling for the dissolving of the two main factions within the USFI – the International Majority Tendency and the Leninist Trotskyist Faction (whose line mainly followed that of the SWP though the SWP itself is prevented by reactionary US legislation from international affiliation).

At the end of that convention a meeting of LTF leaders voted by a large majority to dissolve the faction.

What has been the source of this dramatic internal change within the SWP camp of the USFI? It is openly stated that the impetus for the change came from a ‘Self Criticism’ document by the IMT leaders which in the view of both LTF and IMT leaders largely heals the political divisions that have marked the life of the USFI since the ‘Ninth World Congress’ in 1969. But a closer examination of that document and of the reply to it by Barnes shows at once that the most important questions are in no way tackled by either faction: indeed they are not even raised.

However the discussion on the ‘Self Criticism’ issue does have an important positive role in the fight for clarity within the Trotskyist movement: it enables the questions of method and historical problems of the movement to be raised and to find a response since these issues now affect every member of the USFI internationally. This was certainly not the objective of the document’s authors or of the SWP leaders, but its importance remains.

It is from this standpoint that we wish to develop the discussion and to draw out the points which we would consider vital in any serious reassessment of 1969. Indeed today’s IMT clearly regard it as impossible to attempt to view the wrong positions adopted by the majority in 1969 in isolation. Their document includes references back to the Cuban revolution some ten years beforehand. In our view it is necessary to turn to history – though the IMT does so in an inadequate and largely involuntary way, and does not go far enough back in time. We would see the false method embodied in the 1969 resolution on Latin America tracing its roots back to the still unresolved political problems that formed the basis of the split in the Fourth International in 1953. And we will argue that only when these problems have been grasped and confronted can a genuine fight to prevent any repetition of the 1969 errors be carried through.

In this respect we see the hasty moves by the SWP to liquidate the LTF (which was ostensibly set up to fight the false method of the IMT leadership) as an attempt to avoid facing these issues. We will show that in our view this is because a similar method of analysis is shared by the SWP, and the SWP for various unclear reasons has a stronger reluctance to re-examine its own history and that of the post-war Trotskyist movement as a whole than even the IMT.

A pointer to this can be found in some of the questions that Jack Barnes conspicuously fails to raise in his response to the IMT ‘Self Criticism’. He describes the document itself as:

“ . . . a progressive and even historical document, whose publication serves the interests of the Fourth International”.

The reservations that Barnes sets against this glowing recommendation are all but insignificant: the SWP leaders are hurt and offended by some harsh descriptions of them by the IMT and some inaccurate polemical points raised against them; there are niggling doubts in the SWP as to the latest IMT conception of the ‘new mass vanguard’; and Barnes urges the IMT to go the whole hog and rescind the disastrously (and confessedly) wrong resolutions on Latin America. In exchange for this he offers to call for the winding up of the LTF.

But the most elementary questions are not asked. For instance the Self Criticism in its very first paragraph says in offhand fashion that a correction of the line ‘has long been necessary’. Barnes himself says later that the USFI has had the wrong line ‘for ten years’. But he does not ask the IMT how long they have insisted on maintaining a line they knew was wrong. How many years have USFI militants in Latin America and elsewhere laboured under a totally discredited policy, while factional considerations within the USFI prevented the leadership from correcting it?

Is the Trotskyist movement in being to provide a worldwide debating society for its ‘leading members’ or to give programme and perspective to the working class in its daily and deadly serious struggles with the bourgeoisie in each country?

What kind of leadership places its factional interests before the class struggle? Barnes – with good reason, as we will show later – fails to ask these elementary questions.

And he also avoids asking the related question: why did the IMT suddenly decide now that a Self Criticism should be produced? Why did they not do so three years ago, or in three years’ time? What events or experiences have shaped their decision? There is no clue in the Self Criticism itself. But Barnes dodges the issue, because it raises the problem that must haunt the SWP leadership: if factional considerations prompted the IMT to remain silent on its errors for a “long” time, could their ritual breast beating about them today not also be a factional manoeuvre?

More seriously, Barnes fails to ask another question of more lasting importance. What reason have we to believe that the IMT leaders will not repeat the blunders of 1969 or exactly similar errors at any point in the future? The Self Criticism catalogues and categorises the ‘mistakes’ that led it to adopt the guerrillaist line of 1969. But it fails to account for why those mistakes were made. Indeed the whole affair is alarmingly ascribed to a series of unfortunate quantitative errors, and the dashing of subjective “hopes”. Nowhere is there even a hint that this series of apparently isolated errors bear any relationship to one another, or to anything else. And certainly there is no hint that there might have been any qualitative break from the Marxist method. The list of evasions on this is revealing:

“We exaggerated the degree of instability” . . . “lacked a complete and correct view” . . . “we did not adequately combat the idea” . . . “we overestimated” . . . “we thought” . . . “our hopes were very much exaggerated” . . . “led to an evolution opposite to the one we hoped for” . . . “our estimation was false” . . . “whose importance we had already under-estimated” . . . “another error of analysis, this time in regard to the real state of our forces in Latin America” . . . “presupposed as solved a number of problems that had not been solved and were even far from solved” . . . “errors of appreciation of reality”.

In our view this depressing list amounts a piecemeal admission that in 1969 the IMT leadership was completely disoriented, to the extent of not knowing the state of their own forces in Latin America, basing perspectives on ‘hopes’ and now the astounding confession of “errors of appreciation of reality”. These are not single errors. A method of analysis is involved, which the IMT document does not even begin to confront. It is a method alien to Marxism; and it is a method not challenged by Barnes in his reply. Unless this is recognised, and the alien method fought, then the USec will remain in the grip of leaders who will in the future regard it as sufficient once a policy has proven itself empirically to be an unmitigated disaster, simply to apologise and to list a series of instances in which the false method manifested itself, while discarding the embarrassing old policy.

In our view such attempts – which the Self Criticism is the latest in a line going back through Argentina to the Ceylon debacle – to retrospectively patch over the symptoms of the disease while the disease itself is left to flourish – carries with it grave dangers, and stands as the number one obstacle to a fight to reconstruct a united Fourth International. Learning from history does not mean simply and belatedly throwing aside policies long ago proven bankrupt. It means taking steps to analyse the source of these false policies; the class content of the method that produces them; the unsolved problems around which they revolve; and the reasons such policies were not fought adequately at the time they first emerged. And it means arming a reconstructed Fourth International not only with a new leadership but also with the Marxist method of dialectical materialism.

We have often been told that the USec is opposed to any notion of deciding on history by ‘voting’. Yet in the Self Criticism and in the SWP reply we see instead an attempt to deal with history by a mutual hiding of sins – an agreed silence on the fundamental question. We are convinced that now is the time to draw the lessons of the past as a basis for a reaffirmation of the method and principles of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme – both in theory and in practice – which is for us the only principled basis for the reconstruction of the world Trotskyist movement as a democratic centralist International.


Since it is a term commonly abused and wilfully misinterpreted, we should begin our analysis of the problem of method within today’s Trotskyist movement by outlining in general terms our understanding of the term ‘Pabloism’ – its content and its material basis as an alien liquidationist method that emerged within the Trotskyist movement.

Firstly we must stress that in our view Pabloism cannot be understood as either a fixed set of ideas, or as a developed ‘theory’. Nor was it the invention of Pablo as such. Rather we should see its origins as analogous to the material origins of Stalin’s “theory” of socialism in one country – which at first was far from a theory but rather a reflection of the material situation in the isolated backward workers’ state in which a parasitic bureaucracy was in the process of consolidating an unstable base of support while resting on the most conservative and nationalist elements of the population, and thriving on the international defeats inflicted on the working class.

In the case of Pabloism we would assess it as a method which has also had an objective material source. It reflects the ideological approach of the petty bourgeoisie. Pabloism in its initial stages drew its strength from the material and political weakness of leadership in the post war Fourth International (after the destructive impact of Nazi, Stalinist and bourgeois repression) and the isolation of most Trotskyist forces from the mass organisations and daily struggles of the working class. It was under these conditions that until 1951-53 Pablo’s method was almost unquestioningly adopted by the majority of the post-war leadership of the Fourth International. 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 with little experience and few links to the working class – forced to contemplate the class struggle from the outside, and more than ever dependent upon an analysis which finds it difficult to penetrate beneath the surface of events.

And while the empirical theories, concepts and rationalisations that jeopardise the programme may be devised in the first instance by petty bourgeois intellectuals, as they are taken up in the movement they find corresponding echoes in very different quarters. Workers seeking an opportunist retreat from the fight for principle in the unions and a shortcut around the isolation of Trotskyist forces can easily succumb to pressure from the Stalinist or reformist bureaucracy, or to the superficial plausibility of the empirical schemas created elsewhere. This took place among certain worker cadres within the SWP and later in the Ceylonese LSSP. But the fact remains that the Transitional Programme’s demands and principles have only been thrown aside by those elements that have already for one reason or another begun to stand aloof from the fight for revolutionary leadership within the day to day struggles of the working class.

From this weakness flows the objective possibility of an opportunist pull-back from the central political thrust of the Transitional Programme – the fight for the complete political independence of the working class through the building of independent revolutionary parties based on an active programme of intervention into daily struggles in conflict with existing mass leaderships. Only when an isolated Trotskyist group begins to stand in a certain respect aloof from the day-to-day political problems and struggles of the working class can these questions be seen as anything other than fundamental and the very starting point of any policy adopted.

Even if objective factors such as the decimation of Trotskyist forces in World War II, isolated Trotskyists from the working class, it is essential that the leadership of a national section orientate the forces available continuously into the working class if the movements, strengths and weaknesses of that class are to be properly understood, and a correct estimation made of the overall balance of class forces. If this is not done then additional traps open, and the way is cleared for the emergence of empirical and impressionist methods of analysis.

“One of the psychological sources of opportunism is superficial impatience, the lack of confidence, in the gradual growth of the party’s influence, the desire to win the masses with the aid of an organisational manoeuvre or personal diplomacy. Out of this springs the policy of combinations behind the scenes, the policy of silence, of hushing up, of self-renunciation, of adaptation to the ideas and slogans of others; and finally the complete passage to the positions of opportunism.”
(Trotsky: Marxism and the Trade Unions, “Communism and Syndicalism”, New Park, 1972, p. 4).

Impatience at the small, inadequate forces of Trotskyism contrasted with the scale of the tasks posed can spur on particularly middle class elements to a readiness to abandon long-held and hard-defended principles in a frantic search for apparently ready-made “mass” leaderships spontaneously emerging. Without the immediate test of experience in struggles within the working class to refute such notions, the very worst and most dilettante traits of the petty bourgeoisie will receive full rein and can swing the movement from one direction to another with great rapidity.

Another side of the same coin is shown by those who from the sidelines draw pessimistic conclusions as to the revolutionary strength of the working class, and who look instead for bureaucratic or other non-proletarian forces that seem to offer a “revolutionary” substitute for the seemingly unwinnable working class. Either way the outcome is to direct even further away from the necessary training of cadres in the working class and to isolate the movement still further from the mass movement. This in turn can only result in the leadership becoming still more dependent upon surface impressions as the basis for analysis.

At the same time we must stress that the abandonment of the Transitional Programme and the method embodied in the transitional demands does not necessarily take place in an openly right wing direction – though this is the most common approach of the Pabloites. It is equally possible – if surface appearances seem to indicate a heightening of the struggle – for the transitional demands to be discarded in the course of an impressionistic ultra-left turn and a sectarian standpoint – in which the situation is seen as having “gone beyond” that as sketched by Trotsky in the Transitional Programme and in which only maximum measures (maximum demands or armed struggle) have any relevance. And in either case the wrong conclusions draw strength by being separated from any thorough going and scientifically analysed work in the working class. Neither the ‘left’ nor the ‘right’ variants of Pabloism (which can of course be combined in a single movement or impressionist leader) offer any possibility of training serious forces in the working class or even of maintaining a principled political line in situations of rapid change. The impact of this method on the practice of those that succumb to it is in effect to liquidate the political independence and programme of the Trotskyist vanguard into the latest spontaneously-emerging “revolutionary current” from the petty bourgeoisie or the bureaucracy. It attacks the principled foundations and threatens the very organisational existence of Trotskyist forces, and abandons the central concept of the Transitional Programme that “the world political situation is chiefly characterised by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat”. The forces that have espoused such a method of analysis have therefore acted continuously as a liquidationist current within the world Trotskyist movement, and remain so to this day.

In all these respects Pabloism as a method can be seen as the ideological reflection of material problems and pressures upon post-war Trotskyism. We do not forget that not only were Trotskyist forces broken up in the war period, but also that the very contradictory and long drawn out process of the post-war expansion of Stalinism into Eastern Europe and the apparent strength conferred on Stalinism during this period-contributed to the problems faced by an inexperienced FI leadership.

In our view Pabloism can only be fought by those who combine a continuous fight to orientate the Trotskyist movement towards intervention and the fight to give leadership in the actual daily struggles of the working class with a serious, open and honest struggle to grasp both theoretically and in practice the context in which that fight takes place both internationally and nationally. This means a fight to probe to the roots of the complex process of change within which Trotskyists are forced to fight for programme. The method of Marxism is a scientific method, and has to be fought for in conflict with spontaneity and surface impressions. As soon as this combined struggle slackens, it is inevitable that forms of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois method of analysis must begin to appear within the movement.

Philosophically, Pabloism is a form of empiricism. Its abrupt and complete lurches from one tack to another are based on the apparent changes which take place on the surface – not on the deeper-going processes which produce these changes. As an empirical method, Pabloism deals with phenomena at random. In general, a Pabloite views events singly and a-historically; he splits up processes that must be viewed as a whole; but at the same time he lumps together aspects of reality that need to be distinguished as opposites. The refusal of Pabloites to analyse their own history honestly and their continuous attempts to shape the facts to fit their pre-formulated theories are both clear symptoms indicating that here is a completely idealist method which founders as soon as it is brought into contact with material reality. The Pabloites exemplify all of the weaknesses of empiricism spelled out by Engels:

“In the contemplation of individual things it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence it forgets the beginning and end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees”.
(Engels, Socialism Utopian and Scientific, Pathfinder, p. 41).

Lenin, in dealing with departures from the dialectical method, also anticipated the methodological mutations of the Pabloites when he described the relationship of idealism to the development of the objective world itself:

“Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral. Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete, straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes).” (CW, Vol. 38, p.363.)

It is in this respect – the latching on to one aspect of a contradictory whole – that Pabloism shows most clearly that it is the twin brother of that other perversion of Marxism which has beset the post-war Trotskyist movement, state capitalism. Neither the state-capitalist nor the Pabloite is able to grapple with living contradiction. While the state capitalist latches as a result onto the reactionary, bourgeois aspects of the bureaucracy in the Kremlin and in Eastern Europe, and christens it one-sidedly a “ruling class”, the Pabloite on the other hand seizes on the ‘left’ cosmetic appearance of statements by this or that wing of the Stalinist bureaucracy or even petty bourgeois nationalists, seeing only their apparent strength, and holding out deluded hopes for the self-reform of the bureaucracy or for the spontaneous emergence of political revolution or a Marxist leadership. As a result neither Pabloism nor state capitalism offers any means of understanding Stalinism and in practice both find themselves unable to fight it.

In the course of examining the emergence of the Pabloite method within the FI and the forms it takes today, we are not attempting in any way to divert attention from the fundamental political and theoretical problems for which Pabloism claimed (falsely) to have found the answer. In particular, while we will show how Pablo devised a completely false schema to explain the post-war overturn of capitalism under Stalinist leadership in Yugoslavia, we will not in this document elaborate in full an alternative analysis. This task remains one to be undertaken in the course of the fight to reconstruct the FI. But it seems unlikely that any serious progress towards it can be achieved while the various groupings today professing adherence to Trotskyism at the same time cling avidly and with factional motives to inadequate and superficial notions as to the processes involved in the post-war evolution of Stalinism. The WSL, for its part, has published a series of articles examining the post-war development of Stalinism, and will shortly be publishing the Theory of Structural Assimilation with a critical introduction, as the basis of further detailed work.

In our view the poisonous method of Pabloism has spread widely throughout the world Trotskyist movement. In purging it we must ensure that we do not seize merely upon its individual advocates or the symptoms it has produced. It is not enough to seek an organisational ‘break’ with Pabloism. And in prescribing the antidote we must seek a reaffirmation above all in the practice of the parties adhering to a reconstructed FI of the analytical method and the political principles of the Transitional Programme.


On November 16, 1953 the US Socialist Workers Party suddenly published the ‘Open Letter’ which split the Fourth International into public factions. One week later, representatives of Trotskyist groups in Britain, France, New Zealand and Switzerland signed a resolution forming the International Committee (IC) in solidarity with the line of the SWP’s appeal.

In 1954, the remaining sections under the leadership of Michel Pablo and Ernest Germain held what they termed the ‘Fourth World Congress’, which excluded the IC faction and effectively expelled it from the International.

The political basis for this split 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 had been endorsed at the 1951 Third World Congress.

The political line was first formulated by Pablo at the end of 1949, when he began to draw a number of conclusions based on the surface appearances of events in Yugoslavia since the Stalin-Tito split of 1948. Where Pablo found real events inadequate to support his line on the ‘centrist’ evolution of the Yugoslav CP, he did not hesitate to go back and rewrite the FI’s version of these events. The result was a theory that Stalinist parties like the YCP could be forced by ‘mass pressure’ in ‘exceptional circumstances’ to play a revolutionary role. And as the notion gathered strength, so the events in China were also rewritten to provide a further instance of this ‘process’.

The Fl’s analysis of the complex and contradictory transformation process taking place in Eastern Europe certainly left much to be desired. The general consensus to begin with was that the Buffer Zone was undergoing a state capitalist stage of development. But Pablo had to ride roughshod over such theoretical work as had been done, using the obvious inconsistencies and inadequacies of the state capitalist analysis as further justification for his own line. In particular Pablo had to discard the careful analysis made of Russia and the Buffer Zone in 1947 by Germain. Germain pointed out that in Yugoslavia:

“ . . . the relations of forces are such that the bourgeoisie finds itself for the moment at the mercy of an action by the proletariat. It is only the bureaucracy’s fear both of the proletariat and of imperialism which restrains it from dealing the native capitalists a death blow”.

Pablo also had to jettison the April 1949 IEC resolution which stated that there was “an undeniable existence of a police regime in Yugoslavia”.

That this was a conscious change was shown most clearly in the 1951 Third World Congress resolution which explicitly rewrote the previously adopted positions of the FI starting from the appearance of events after 1958:

“It is the duty of the FI to critically re-examine in the light of events which have occurred since 1948, its past analysis of the Yugoslav revolution and the dynamics of this revolution which events have placed in a new light”.

Perhaps most important of all, Pablo had to get around the fact that at the height of the mass movement in Yugoslavia and at the point where the native capitalist class was in full-scale retreat, Tito’s Stalinist-led partisan forces had set out not to consolidate workers’ power, but to set up a coalition with imported remnants of a terrified and pro-Nazi national bourgeoisie. This was the 1944-5 Tito-Subasich agreement. In this, as in every respect up to the point of the 1948 split with Stalin, Stalinist policy in Yugoslavia was identical in content, though slightly different in tempo, with the policy throughout the Buffer states. Indeed the first priority of Stalinist parties internationally in the post-war period was the suppression of possible upsurges – most notably in France and Italy, where Stalinist parties had also entered bourgeois coalition governments while the armed masses looked to struggle for power. As ‘evidence’ for ignoring this development in Yugoslavia, Pablo accepted and used the contemptible arguments of the Titoites themselves!

“They (the Titoites) insist that none of the political and social conquests of their struggle was endangered by the coalition for the simple reason that reaction had no real base among the masses and that the coalition was reached at the top between representatives of the masses and the impotent shadows of the bourgeoisie”.

Pablo claimed that the masses were ‘continuously active’ from 1941 to 1948, and that ‘a revolution of a special development had actually taken place’ leading ‘up to a seizure of power, to a radical transformation of capitalist property relations and to the destruction of the old capitalist state and the reconstruction of a new state apparatus’. “The transformation of property relations” and the “construction of a new state apparatus” were both in fact already taking place throughout the whole of the Buffer Zone in anything but a revolutionary way in the years 1944-50, under the watchful eyes and guns of the Soviet Red Army. What attracted Pablo’s attention in Yugoslavia was Tito’s demagogic ‘left’ speeches and bureaucratic establishment of ‘workers’ councils’ as part of his bid to solidify a popular base of support while carrying through his inter-bureaucratic dispute with Stalin. Pablo saw the whole process of transformation (largely complete by 1948) as condensed into a short period, which then became confused with the Titoites’ own propaganda and ‘mass mobilisation’ manoeuvres. Under these conditions Pablo undertook the revision of the Trotskyist programme.

Tito’s leadership, correctly characterised by the FI in 1947 as a bureaucracy afraid of both working class and imperialism, and in 1948 as running a ‘police regime’, was suddenly described by Pablo as ‘partly bureaucratic’ while he claimed that the Yugoslav revolution “raises itself to new heights, becomes constantly more democratic, etc., etc.”, and from the very outset these illusions in Yugoslavia were linked to a general revision of the Trotskyist stand on Stalinism:

“Certain Communist Parties in a favourable conjuncture, when they are linked to the real revolutionary movement of the masses, can detach themselves from the yoke of the Kremlin and begin to act on their own”.

This concept of course challenges the very foundation of the FI – the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism and the impossibility of reforming Stalinist parties. While Pablo began to do this by way of ‘exceptional’ cases, the method involved left the door wide open to further similar blunders.

These lines of 1950 were developed much further in the pre-conference material for the Third World Congress. Pablo, with the full backing of Cannon and Healy led the way with his notorious document “Where Are We Going?”

In this document Pablo completely excluded from his analysis any conception of the political independence of the working class in its struggles against imperialism or the Stalinist bureaucracies. This, taken together with the surface appearances of the Cold War period, combined to create the basis for the Pabloite concept of a Third World War between the ‘two camps’ – ‘imperialism’ and ‘Stalinism’ which would, he claimed, amount to a “War-Revolution”.

This provided a global ‘exceptional circumstance’ which Pablo claimed would have the effect of forcing the Stalinist bureaucracies to drop their counter-revolutionary role and to mobilise the working class in a revolutionary way. In other words, here, it was claimed, was a period so new that the most basic tenets of the Transitional Programme could no longer be applied, and all the evidence of the thoroughly counter-revolutionary behaviour of the Stalinist parties, before, during and after the war, could be abandoned.

“The Communist Parties retain the possibility in certain circumstances of roughly outlining a revolutionary orientation, that is to say of finding themselves compelled to engage in a struggle for power”.

The Yugoslav events had thus been transformed from an ‘exception’ into a general rule. And at the same time Pablo drew a generalisation which extended to the bureaucratised, monolithic, power-wielding CP’s of Eastern Europe, claiming that there was:

“ . . . the possibility, and in the long run the inevitability of an opposition arising to the Soviet bureaucracy to the degree that these CP’s have a mass base of their own which has enabled them to conquer power by and large through their own means”.

Pablo was not here brilliantly anticipating the current splits in Stalinism, but clearly looking for a section of the bureaucracy to break from Stalinism and move leftwards!

In the event, the Third World Congress adopted a document on Orientation and Perspectives which included a number of distortions of the Transitional Programme:

“It would be anti-Marxist . . . to affirm that the weight of the bureaucratic apparatus will prove more decisive under all conditions than the pressure of the movement of the masses”.

In this way the formulation of the Transitional Programme on the ‘laws of history’ which will bring the masses to recognise that the crisis of leadership “can be resolved only by the Fourth International” is stripped of its political content – the struggle for independent revolutionary leadership. The result of omitting any reference to the Trotskyist movement in this half-quote is a complete capitulation to spontaneity, leaving it to the masses to resolve their crisis of leadership and brings, inevitably, a simultaneous capitulation to the bureaucracy.

The document went on to spell out even more clearly the abandonment of the very starting point of the struggles of Lenin and Trotsky – the paramount importance of revolutionary leadership, the subjective factor:

“In the long run, objective conditions determine the character and dynamics of the movement of the masses which, raised to a certain level, can overcome all subjective obstacles on the road to revolution. . . . It is not excluded that certain Communist Parties with the bulk of their forces can be pushed out of the strict orbit of the Soviet bureaucracy and can project a revolutionary orientation . . . The developments in Yugoslavia and China are only a pre-figuration of the events to come”.

Here was nothing more than a recipe for winding up the struggle for independent Trotskyist parties. Indeed in Eastern Europe Trotskyist forces were actually called upon to do so, and to:

“ . . . try to integrate themselves into the CP’s and remain there, in order to take advantage of the revolutionary possibilities which will develop”.

For all we know, they may still be there, still waiting.

Two distinct resolutions on Eastern Europe were passed – one on Yugoslavia and one on the Buffer Zone excluding Yugoslavia.

The opposition to Pablo was muted and confused; Germain in a document entitled Ten Theses took issue with some of Pablo’s positions, but left intact the central assertion that the Yugoslav and Chinese CP’s had broken from Stalinism. Mandel actually named the European CP’s he thought likely to break from Stalinism under mass pressure:

“In the coming revolutionary upsurge in Western Europe during the period of preparation and unleashing of war, the growing pressure of the masses is liable to force the French and Italian CP’s to modify their pacifist course of ‘neutralising’ the bourgeoisie. These parties could then . . . project a revolutionary orientation and see themselves forced to undertake a struggle for power . . . ”

Germain in other words attempted to straddle an imaginary fence between ‘orthodox’ Trotskyism and Pablo’s revisionism. In reality he came down firmly on the side of Pablo.

Cannon and Healy also were firmly behind Pablo during and after the Third World Congress, and both lent their support – (Healy being actively involved) to Pablo’s moves to expel the majority of the French section who in 1952 refused to carry out Pablo’s directive that entry work in the French CP can be made the main axis of their work, with independent work subordinate to it.

But even the French leadership that did fight Pablo failed to challenge his views on Yugoslavia and China. The well of Trotskyism had been thoroughly poisoned by Pabloite revisionism.

It is of course easy for us and for even the Pabloites of 1977 to reject the revisionist policies of 1951. We can see quite easily from experience that they were based on false premises and that they proved wrong in almost every respect. In just the same way it is easy for the IMT and LTF to agree today that the 1969 policies were wrong. What is harder however is to analyse why they were wrong and to draw from those errors lessons that can strengthen our analysis today.

In doing so it is important to see what formed the driving force behind the 1953 split. It was in fact a sharpening of the class struggle internationally, which produced a crisis for Stalinism and led to a rapid and thorough exposure of the impotence of Pablo’s policies in fighting Stalinism.

In March 1953, the death of Stalin created an immediate problem for the Kremlin bureaucracy. In the manoeuvres to decide Stalin’s successor, various minimal concessions were made to head off any possible forward movement of the Soviet working class, while the bureaucracy was careful to hold on to all the reins of real political power.

In June of 1953, the workers of East Berlin rose in revolt against increased production targets and demanding democratic rights in the first onset of political revolution in Eastern Europe. The Pabloites who had looked simply to the bureaucratised Eastern European CP’s to throw up leftward-moving ‘leaders’ for such uprisings were left with no independent policy, and abandoned the 1947 call of the FI for the withdrawal of the Red Army which was savagely repressing the rising.

In September 1953 a general strike broke out in France only to be derailed and betrayed by the Communist Party – precisely that Stalinist party which was supposedly about to ‘project a revolutionary orientation’ according to Pablo and Germain.

Under these conditions Pablo’s line became increasingly hard to defend. At the same time experiences of cadre-building in the working class prompted Healy in particular to highlight the fact that the Pabloites always ignored the question of building Trotskyist parties:

“Take this talk about Stalinism. Impatient comrades, thinking in terms of China, East Europe and now even the USSR, see the impact of the post-war revolutionary forces upon these countries, but fail to recognise one vital thing, that, as far as we know, we have not one single organised cadre group in those areas”.

But it was when Pablo-sponsored factions began to work away within the parties existing in the USA and Britain that the abrupt turn took place. Between May and September 1953, Healy swung from sympathetic defence of Pablo to bitter hostility and in the same short space of time the SWP leaders switched from virtual indifference to the point of publishing the Open Letter.

The Workers Socialist League has always defended the actions of the signatories of the Open Letter, while pointing out the inadequacies of the political fight they carried out against Pabloism. The very history of the IC has proved that it is not sufficient to present a formal defence of the Transitional Programme if there is no corresponding development of a method through which that Programme can be translated into the practice of Trotskyist parties in the rapidly-changing class struggle both in their own countries and internationally. The danger of adaptation under pressure of events must remain, and can only be combated by a living, dialectical method of analysis and a rigorous development and testing of the programme in the practice of the fight against reformist and Stalinist bureaucracies.

There was a need to break from Pablo’s line-but it took place only on an empirical level and without political clarity. They recognised that their party-building work was politically threatened by Pablo’s line. But even as they carried through the break from Pablo, both Healy and Cannon clung tenaciously to the false positions adopted at the Third World Congress. The Open Letter itself conspicuously only challenges Pablo in issues that had arisen after the 1951 Congress:
(1) Pablo’s failure to call for political revolution and his concessions to the ‘liberalisation’ measures in the USSR after Stalin’s death.
(2) A similar failure to present independent programme in East Germany.
(3) The failure to oppose the Stalinist sell-out of the French general strike.
(4) ‘Stalinist’ organisational methods and the promotion of secret factions to enforce Pablo’s line.

All of these charges were well-founded. But none penetrated to the essence of the problem or attempted to correct the FI analysis of the evolution of post-war Stalinism. As a result we find that the 1954 so-called ‘Fourth World Congress’ held by the Pabloite faction felt able to trace (correctly) a clear continuity of line back to the common decisions of the Third World Congress – just as Mandel to this very day traces the ancestry of his latest World Perspectives document back to that same Third World Congress.

The IC grouping, however, was an uneasy coalition which did not press for clarity on these questions – as the WRP itself admits today:

“The coalition of groups opposing Pablo was not politically and doctrinally homogeneous. They were united by a common desire to prevent the bureaucratic strangulation of the FI by the creation of a Byzantine cult of infallibility around Pablo and – most importantly – to prevent the liquidation of the FI into a Stalinist milieu. Behind this conditional and transitory unity there remained a disparateness of method . . . ”

Indeed it was not until 1957 that very much in the way of clarification on the question of the Third World Congress took place. In that year the SWP began to show signs of moving back towards an accommodation with Pabloism, and were challenged by the leadership of the British group.

The SWP had expressed some agreement with the document at the Pabloite “Fifth World Congress”. Entitled ‘The Decline and Fall of Stalinism’, the document clung on to all the old eulogies of the Yugoslav CP (which had since reunited with the Kremlin and backed the Hungarian invasion) and gave a favourable view of the ‘left’ leadership of the Polish CP (which had been restored to office by Moscow in exchange for their tacit support for the crushing of the Hungarian workers). The document drew no serious political lessons from the Hungarian events and issued no call anywhere for the building of Trotskyist parties in Eastern Europe if political revolution was to be carried through.

However the SWP response to this appalling document was summed up by Cannon:

“The political pronouncements of the two sides (IC and IS) appear to come closer together than was the case in the period prior to the formal split . . . If the thinking of the two sides should continue to evolve in the same way, then they would both have to consider the question of unity . . . ”

In this statement by Cannon in 1957 we can see the ancestral link to the latest stampede by the SWP some 20 years later to wind up any fight against the IMT.

From 1957 onwards, the SWP leadership began increasingly to draw political conclusions close to those of the Pabloite International Secretariat. The upheaval of the Cuban revolution, combined with the unresolved problem of method in the SWP leadership to produce impressionist confusion every bit as bad as that of the Pabloites – while from the ‘orthodox’ Socialist Labour League in Britain came a stubborn refusal to grapple with the real events taking place in Cuba itself.


There are distinct political and methodological similarities between the 1969 guerrilla line and the line of Pablo from 1950 on. We will examine them in order to show why in our view the method in each case involves a definite break from Marxism and from the principles of the Transitional Programme.

The 1969 “turn” by the Pabloite forces was demonstrably a turn away from the central question of the building of revolutionary parties based on the proletariat in each country. In the wake of the momentous class battles of the 10 million strong General Strike of May-June 1968 in France, the 1968-69 battles in Italy and the escalation of workers’ struggles in Mexico, the Pabloite “Ninth World Congress” adopted a resolution on Latin America which drew heavily on the appearances of events in Cuba. While Pablo had taken his impressions from the apparent ‘centrist’ evolution of the Yugoslav CP and based on spontaneously outlining a “revolutionary orientation”, the USFI majority in 1969 started instead from their impressions of events in Cuba, expecting a natural evolution of the Castroite forces towards ‘revolutionary Marxism’. The USFI majority nurtured the highest of hopes for the future political development of the petty bourgeois and peasant-based guerrilla movements then active in Latin America in the wake of the Cuban struggles. Tito’s place as the hoped-for centre of a new, mass, spontaneously emerging ‘revolutionary international’ was taken by the Stalinist-backed petty bourgeois Fidel Castro.

It is important to note that both in 1953 and 1969 it was a non-proletarian even anti-proletarian force that was seen as leading future social revolutions.

The IMT now admits that their document of 1969 was wrong to characterise the situation in every Latin American country from the overall continental assessment that:

“ . . . not only in a historical sense but in a more direct and immediate one, Latin America has entered a period of revolutionary explosions and conflicts of armed struggle on different levels against the native ruling classes and imperialism and of prolonged civil war on a continental scale”.

Such a view of course excludes from the very outset the approach of the Transitional Programme, which starts from the contradiction between the undoubted ripeness of the objective conditions for revolution and the crisis of working class leadership:

“The strategic task of the next period – a pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda and organisation – consists in overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard . . . ” (p.8)

Trotsky’s characterisation of the period as “pre-revolutionary” is not tied purely to the specific period of 1938. As is the case consistently in his writings, Trotsky is characterising the period from a political standpoint. The “pre-revolutionary” period is one in which the essential prerequisite for revolution – a revolutionary leadership – is absent:

“The chief obstacle in the path of transforming the pre-revolutionary into a revolutionary state is the opportunist character of proletarian leadership . . . ” (p.6).

The Transitional Programme goes on to deal with the application of this analysis to a wide range of situations of struggle – up to and including armed struggle and the fight for soviets. Each of these situations, if there is not a broadly-based revolutionary leadership (Trotskyist Party) developed, remains in Trotsky’s assessment pre-revolutionary.

The USFI majority by adopting the Latin American document threw this once more out of the window in 1969. Pablo had been the first to do so, claiming that an impending ‘Third World War’ meant that there was a world-wide revolutionary situation in which Stalinist parties could become revolutionary and none of the fundamentals of the Transitional Programme would apply. The USFI devised a new and global “exceptional circumstance” based on their assessment that the situation throughout the whole of Latin America was one of immediate civil war, in which petty bourgeois guerrilla forces could be regarded as revolutionary and the central tenets of the Transitional Programme were irrelevant:

“ . . . it is necessary to reject the schematic and paralysing conception according to which everything hinges on the preliminary existence of a genuine party with all its traditional structures (and the Cuban experience has unquestionably shown that under certain conditions it is possible for the political organisation to develop and reinforce itself as the armed struggle unfolds) . . . ”

The transitional demands are referred to solely as a device to mobilise the working class in a few decoy actions designed to divert the armed forces and the state apparatus away from the areas of guerrilla struggle. In this way they advocate the use of:

“ . . . transitional demands able to mobilise and raise the political consciousness of the worker, petty bourgeois and plebeian masses as well as the student masses and thus create growing tensions threatening the system (this would also make it more difficult for the government to concentrate their repressive forces exclusively in the zones of armed struggle).”

In the main the document is pessimistic as to the potential of the working class, the broadest layers of which are described as “still immobilised or neutralised, and subject to momentary prostration”. The petty bourgeoisie, however, is seen as offering a rapid means of substituting for the working class, since they are “not tied by any umbilical cord to the traditions of the workers’ movement or the traditional national-revolutionary movement”. The document spells out the majority’s reliance on the petty bourgeoisie:

“In fact, in most of the countries the most probable variant is that for a rather long period the peasants will have to bear the main weight of the struggle and the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie in considerable measure will provide the cadres of the movement”.

In 1950 Pablo had begun to advocate a turn towards ‘left’ currents in Stalinist parties and splits in the Eastern European Stalinist bureaucracies as the source of future revolutionary developments. The independent work of Trotskyist parties was subordinated to entry work in mass CPs. The 1969 USFI document spelled out a turn instead into the Castroite forces and the “integration” of USFI cadres into the Castroite ranks:

“Integration into the historic revolutionary current represented by the Cuban revolution and the OLAS, which involves, regardless of the forms, working as an integral part of OLAS.”

Because the 1969 document saw only a subordinate role for the proletariat in Latin American struggles, it could see only a subordinate role for the party whose task it is to fight for the political independence of that class. This notion was not restricted to Latin America. It was taken up and applied energetically in Europe and elsewhere, where the petty bourgeoisie, and students in particular, were seen as the new “vanguard”, and the USFI worked away at adapting themselves completely to those middle class forces that responded to the Cuban revolution. The result could only be to deepen the isolation of the already largely petty bourgeois ranks of the USFI from the organised working class. As this increased, so did the rationalisations for their isolation. Theories were elaborated spelling out exactly why the working class was apparently no more than an inert mass in contrast with the vigorous ‘revolutionary’ zeal of the student vanguard.

And of course just as in 1953 the line of Pablo had crippled the FI sections by denying them a political stand independent of Stalinism, so the 1969 guerrilla line of the USFI liquidated the independent voice of their sections in Latin America which began or completed wholesale adaptation to the Castroite forces.

A contrast emerges however between the kind of fight waged by the IC forces against Pablo in 1953 and the argument against guerrillaism by the Pabloite Minority in 1969. For all the weaknesses and inadequacies and despite the fact that all the signatories of the Open Letter had been compromised by the decisions of the Third World Congress, a significant fight had taken place in 1953 in defence of the central core of the Transitional Programme against Pablo’s liquidationism. The SWP had not hesitated to carry this fight through to an open split-even though that split can be seen in retrospect to have been ill-prepared.

But in 1969 when Hansen spoke on behalf of the SWP in denouncing the guerrilla strategy – of which the SWP had been among the keenest advocates in 1963 – he did so with no intention of taking the fight to a principled conclusion. While the arguments Hansen advanced were in most cases “orthodox” points related to party-building, they concealed the fact that the SWP had reversed course in the USA itself and turned from adaptation to guerrillaism towards an equally Pabloite adaptation to pacifist anti-war and civil rights movements. Because of this so many topics became untouchable that Hansen’s ‘polemic’ was reduced to the most superficial level, criticising a policy that he knew full well flowed directly from the reunification platform jointly agreed in 1963.

In this sense neither side in the 1969 polemic could be right. And neither side was prepared to take the polemic sufficiently seriously to probe into its historical context. Diplomacy ruled even at the most apparently heated points of the debate, and nobody raised the question of method with any enthusiasm.

Jack Barnes today must know how ludicrous it is for him to compare the partial and largely dishonest ‘debate’ on the Latin American document to the struggle against the Burnham-Shachtman opposition in 1939-40. In that struggle Trotsky took up the struggle for dialectical materialism on the side of the SWP majority, and set out constantly to deepen the discussion precisely on the question of method so studiously avoided by the SWP from 1969 to today.

In contrast let us look at Barnes’ response to the current IMT Self Criticism. He accepts the critique almost entirely at face value. As we have shown he fails to ask the most obvious questions which the Self Criticism fails to answer.

This cannot be because the questions have not occurred to Barnes, or because he believes them answered. On the contrary, Barnes and the SWP leadership are worried that the discussion might actually get started, and having started might go too far. In doing so it might disturb the skeleton of 1963 jammed in a now dusty cupboard. Should the IMT actually pursue their Self Criticism further, and seek to re-examine the analysis of the Cuban revolution that brought the SWP back into the fold, then this could make life very uncomfortable for the SWP leaders.

“Once you begin revising a correct theory, then you have to revise an accurate account of events, because correspondence with reality is demanded of theory” . . . “I sat here yesterday and the Fourth International has apparently revised, in their own minds, the common programmatic understanding of the Cuban revolution that constituted part of the principled basis on which the Fourth International was reunited in 1963”.

Thus, Barnes in his conclusion warns the IMT to approach history cautiously, slowly – if at all. This method is the very opposite of Trotsky’s searching, probing, testing method of polemic against Burnham and Shachtman in In Defence of Marxism.

We need to look at the 1963 deal in order to see why this is the case.


The 1963 ‘Reunification’ and its political documents formed the bridge between 1953 and the 1969 guerrilla turn. In the resolution Dynamics of World Revolution Today can be found elements of both the original Pablo revisions of 1950-53 (in particular the failure to call for the building of Trotskyist parties in Eastern Europe) and the ‘new’ Pabloite revisions on the post-Cuba era (most notably the failure to call for a Trotskyist party to be built in Cuba). But it would be wrong to blame the Pabloites for all of these points.

Indeed the first plank in the bridge was laid by the SWP in its March 1963 resolution ‘For Early Reunification’ in which the SWP proposed to exclude any discussion of the ‘secondary’ matters involved in the 1953-54 split. This of course stands opposed to the verbal line adopted now by Barnes on the need for the history of revolutionary organisations to be a living history. The SWP in 1963 recognised that history was still very much alive – and attempted to seal it off from the movement. Hansen spelled out the thinking behind this in 1969:

“. . . at the Reunification Congress we reached an agreement to leave the assessment of the differences of 1953 to a time in the future when we could discuss them in an educational way without any heat . . . we thought it best to leave that discussion to a period when it could be viewed in the proper, historic perspective . . . All of us agreed on that.”

Hoping that in a few years the issues would be dead beyond recall, the SWP proposed to set them aside. Unfortunately for them the issues were far from dead. They sprang back to life most forcibly in 1969. How many of the Latin American comrades who had to implement the disastrous turn of 1969 can now agree with Hansen that it is easy to discuss these questions of method – a method that can actually mean life or death – “without any heat”? Hansen’s position reeks of a completely sectarian and cynical disregard for the living problems of the workers’ movement – which can only be tackled if there is a continuous struggle for the Marxist method and an honest appraisal of the experiences and lessons of the past.

At the same time as shelving the most important issues for discussion the SWP went enthusiastically along with the 1963 phase of the eternal Pabloite search for a non-proletarian “newly emerging vanguard”. This concept has been redefined from time to time and from country to country. Today it has been re-christened the “new mass vanguard” – a concept with which the SWP now profess to disagree. In 1963 however the theory was that the “newly emerging vanguard” was in fact the forces (almost exclusively petty bourgeois in composition) thrown forward spontaneously in various countries in response to the Cuban revolution.

It was also the old ‘anti-Pabloites’ of the SWP who proposed the formulation that Castro’s July 26 Movement in Cuba “set a pattern that now stands as an example for a number of other countries” – deceptively claiming that the Cuban revolution was carried out “under a leadership completely independent from the school of Stalinism”. Whereas the Castroites certainly did not emerge on the scene as Stalinists, it is dishonest to simply characterise them as progressive on that count alone – especially when their petty bourgeois and bureaucratic opposition to Trotskyism was by 1963 becoming clearly exposed.

Yet the reunification resolution goes even further and approvingly quotes “an astute American radical journalist” who apparently “observed” that the Cuban leadership were “unconscious” Trotskyists. The resolution did not attempt to elaborate on the advantages the USFI saw in an unconscious leadership. But at the same time an explicit parallel was drawn between Castro and Lenin and Trotsky in a manner echoing Pablo’s praises for Tito:

“The attack Fidel Castro launched against the Annibal Escalantes of Cuba sounded like a repetition of Leninist and Trotskyist speeches heard in the Soviet Union almost forty years ago”.

In a particularly clear parallel with Pablo’s orientation towards Stalinism in 1950-53 and a clear anticipation of the 1969 document, the resolution sees Trotskyism as a pressure grouping subordinate to the Castroite guerrillas:

“The infusion of Trotskyist concepts (!) in this new Castroite current will also influence the development of a conscious revolutionary leadership, particularly in the workers’ states, will help prevent ‘Titoist’ deviations and better assure the evolution of mass pressure and direct action into the cleansing force of political revolution.”

And in the clearest anticipation of 1969, we should note that it was the SWP’s call for reunification which proposed the incorporation of the policy of armed guerrilla warfare into the strategy of building revolutionary parties in colonial countries. The section of the document on ‘Political Revolution’ significantly failed to call for the building of Trotskyist parties to lead such a revolution, but instead looked for leftward moving splits in the bureaucratised East European CPs, describing:

“ . . . the possibility of real mass opposition tendencies developing within some of these parties, the increased possibility of mergers between the revolutionary Marxist vanguard and the leftward moving mass of militants in some of these parties, and the rapid disappearance of anti-Trotskyist prejudices inside many Communist Parties as a result of the decisions of the Twentieth and Twenty-Second Congresses.”

Pablo’s world schema of 1953 had divided up the class struggle into the ‘imperialist’ and ‘Stalinist’ camps without regard to the independent role of the working class. The 1963 document divided it into three component parts – the Colonial Revolution, the Political Revolution and the struggle in the Imperialist Countries. A pessimistic view was taken in 1963 of the prospect of the working class moving into action. Rather USFI declared that the “most probable variant” was:

“the colonial revolution will continue, involving new countries and deepening its social character as more workers’ states appear (!). It will not lead directly to the overthrow of capitalism in the imperialist centres but it will play a powerful role in building a new world revolutionary leadership as is already clear from the emergence of Castroite currents. The pressure of the masses in the workers’ states will continue with a tendency towards increasing mass action and the possible beginning of political revolution in several workers’ states. Both these developments will favourably influence the resurgence of mass militancy among the proletariat in the imperialist countries . . . ”

This spells out the way in which the Reunification resolution saw the organised proletariat as a largely passive force, requiring to be mobilised externally by national wars of independence and spontaneously emerging political revolutions. Under these conditions it was inevitable that the USFI saw only a secondary importance in the fight for independent political leadership in the working class.

But the 1963 deal went one step further than Pablo had been prepared to go openly by implicitly stating the view that it is better to be opportunist than sectarian:

“A revolutionist isolated by circumstances over which he has no control can fall into sectarianism quite unconsciously. It is therefore a more insidious danger for a small organisation than opportunism, which is generally easier to recognise.”

Following this extraordinary political line, the Ceylonese section of the USFI plumped for this “lesser evil” of opportunism only a year later when it signed up for the Bandaranaike coalition government. Only belatedly did the ‘United’ Secretariat step in to expel those responsible and in this way set an ad hoc limit beyond which opportunism was not to be tolerated.

So when for instance today’s IMT Self Criticism refers to the political errors made by the Majority in 1969 in making a complete compromise on programme in an effort to keep the Argentinian PRT in membership of the USFI, they are doing no more than detailing the way that the 1963 deal lived on in 1969. The IMT and SWP are both tactfully silent however about the opportunist practice of the much bigger Argentinian PST, which made wholesale adaptations to ‘left’ Peronist forces in Argentina prior to the Videla coup. The IMT remain silent hoping that the Bolshevik tendency led by the PST will swing in their support, while the SWP leaders are only too pleased to stay silent on the revisionist positions adopted by the party that until recently was the biggest single supporter of the LTF. The rotten “non-aggression pact” embodied in the reunification thus continues to act as a barrier to the slightest political clarification within the USFI. And while Barnes and the SWP hastily accept the Self Criticism as good coin while at the same time pursuing the SWP minimum programme of democratic and reformist demands in the USA they indicate that they too have implemented this aspect of the 1963 policy and that opportunism is far from the monopoly of the IMT.

It is hardly surprising that various shades of opportunism have been the only offspring of a “United Secretariat” which itself was born out of a compromise with the empirical waverings of Pabloism and nurtured on an agreement that either side would discuss the past. As a political method which directs Trotskyists to discard principles and programme and adapt, “fuse” and “integrate” themselves into the latest prevailing form of “newly emerging vanguard”, it must be said that Pabloism must inevitably drive its followers willy-nilly into the arms of opportunism.

But the flip side of opportunism is of course sectarianism. The method of Pabloism also ensures that a promiscuous longing for fusion with each and every spontaneous movement and acceptance of every ‘left’ posture by bureaucrats and petty bourgeois demagogues is combined with a sectarian disregard for the problems of the organised ranks of the working class itself – the workers that actually face the need to fight the bureaucrats; the workers who need to assert political independence from the petty bourgeois nationalists, and who need political leadership. Abandoning the fight for the Transitional Programme means abandoning those workers to existing political leaderships.

Perhaps the most cynical expression of such a sectarian abstention from the struggles of the working class ever documented appears in Jack Barnes’ response to the Self Criticism. Astonishingly he reveals that the SWP leadership see the resolving of their factional squabble with the IMT as more important and pressing than the problems of revolutionary programme in Spain:

“It seems to me that we need a little time in Spain. I hope that a crisis is not precipitated right away as the Francoist regime comes apart, that would deny the Fourth International time to sort out these political questions.”

The sight of Barnes holding up his hand to delay the revolutionary process in Spain so that a backstairs deal can be struck with Mandel and the IMT must be a revolting one for the reported thousands of USFI militants even now engaged in struggles against the Francoist regime. And the request comes from the very same leadership that refused to carry out a political discussion at the time of the reunification in 1963. This in our view amply sums up the rotten nature of the compromises on which the whole edifice of the USFI has been so flimsily constructed. If any real strides forward are to be taken as a result of the Self Criticism discussion then the first step must be to reject Barnes’ response out of hand, and to reapproach the central questions of method which must arise.


While we have detailed the continuity of the Pabloite method through the post-1953 International Secretariat, the 1963 reunification and the 1969 guerrilla turn, up to the present, this does not mean to say that it has an organisational rather than a political continuity.

On the contrary, experience shows that it has often been those that have most vehemently denounced and organisationally ‘broken’ with Pabloism who have come to be its most crass exponents.

Cannon in Speeches to the Party in 1953 for instance correctly defined the way in which Pabloism strikes at the very heart of the revolutionary movement – at the Leninist concept of the party:

“That is written into the Transitional Programme, that Leninist concept of the decisive role of the revolutionary party. And it is what the Pabloites are throwing overboard in favour of the conception that the ideas will somehow filter into the treacherous bureaucracy, the Stalinists or reformists, and in some way or another “In the Day of the Comet” the socialist revolution will be realised and carried to conclusion without a revolutionary Marxist, that is, a Leninist-Trotskyist party. That is the essence of Pabloism. Pabloism is the substitution of a cult and a revelation for a party and a programme.” (p.182)

Yet from 1957 onwards it was Cannon who gave approval to the SWP drift back to Pabloism after the Hungary events, it was Cannon who in 1962 led the pack in justifying not only Castro and the Castroites, but also even the actions of the Kremlin in the Cuban missiles crisis.

“What else could he (Kruschev) have done under the given circumstances? . . . In our opinion Kruschev sensibly backed away from such a showdown, thus saving the world from war and the Cuban revolution from attack by overwhelming forces for a time . . . The retreat was unavoidable . . . ”
(Letter to Dobbs, Oct. 1962)

and it was Cannon who backed the unprincipled ‘reunification’ of which the Pabloites were already boasting that:

“Starting from the XXth Congress of the CPSU, some organisations affiliated with the International Committee or in sympathy with its political views as in the case of the SWP, corrected this evaluation of the world situation and of the evolution within the Soviet Union, and arrived at an estimation of events very close to that of the Fourth International. From that time on, reunification became not only desirable but possible.”
(Declaration of Reunification, 23rd plenum of IEC).

The fact that Healy and the British SLL, along with Lambert and the OCI, refused to go along with such an opportunist ‘reunification’ did not mean that they took completely correct positions. While straining to destroy the notion that the Castroites were ‘natural Marxists’ and to insist upon the continued need for independent revolutionary parties, neither SLL nor OCI themselves went any further than surface events.

There was no real difference in overall method of analysis of the Cuban question. The SWP and the Pabloites seized upon those aspects of surface events that ‘proved’ the spontaneous emergence of a revolutionary leadership and the undeformed nature of Cuba as a new workers’ state – and discarded or ignored any other evidence.

The SLL and the French on the other hand sifted through surface appearances for arguments to ‘prove’ that Cuba was still a capitalist state, and that Castro was no more than a ‘left’ petty bourgeois nationalist – while ignoring all contrary evidence.

Neither side penetrated to the processes that were taking place in Cuba – because neither side had grasped the real importance of the differences of 1953 or re-examined the method of analysis of the FI prior to that split.

But it must be said that in 1963, by defending, however inadequately, the Leninist concept of the party against the spontaneist concepts of the Pabloites and the SWP, and in maintaining an orientation into the main forces of the organised proletariat, the SLL in particular played an important role in the preservation of the Marxist method and the central feature of the Transitional Programme.

The positive role played by Healy and Lambert in 1963, like that of the IC forces in 1953 was largely reflexive and intermingled with damaging weaknesses. The failure of the remaining IC forces after 1963 to probe the real theoretical problems posed by Cuba, the resort instead to increasingly abstract ‘philosophical’ analysis, the failure either to press new initiatives for international discussion or to attempt any serious reorganisation of the International Committee along the lines of democratic centralism, meant that the way was open in 1966 for the International Committee itself to attempt permanently to shelve the questions of the past by retitling itself the IC of the FI and by adopting an ‘agree to disagree’ formula on whether or not Pabloism had destroyed the FI in 1953.

The question of method, however, would not lie down. In 1967 major differences erupted again between Healy and Lambert over conflicting analysis of the Middle East War – only to be opportunistically left aside. Meanwhile in Britain M. Banda stirred a hornet’s nest by publishing an article eulogising Mao and the Vietnam Stalinist leadership.

Also in Britain the SLL was becoming increasingly influenced by surface impressions of the developing situation and in particular by the conviction that workers had fully grasped the treachery of the Wilson government. This was combined with considerable organisational successes for the SLL itself – substantial interventions were led behind the banner of Lambeth Trades Council in the fight against Wilson’s first pay laws, and by 1969 an SLL initiated strike against anti-union laws on May Day mobilised 900,000 workers. Under these conditions and in the wake of the French events of May-June 1968 the Healy leadership began to hope that after years of isolation and propaganda work the hour had struck for the SLL to step into the leadership of the British working class. The agitational demands of the Transitional Programme were increasingly set aside in favour of a maximum programme and “the need to build the SLL”. By October 1969 a major PC statement by the SLL was issued containing no demands whatever other than the call to join the SLL.

The impressions from the spontaneous strike wave of last 1969 became the focus for an abstract call for “every worker” to join the SLL. And when working class hostility to Wilson brought mass abstentions and the election of a Tory government, the SLL’s maximum programme – though coupled to the correct slogan of ‘Bring down the Tory Government’ – remained, not to be put to the test until the re-election of the Labour government in February 1974. By this point the leadership’s inability to analyse the objective situation had reached crisis point.

An understanding of the SLL’s turn away from the Transitional Programme in this period is thus inseparable from an assessment of its growing inability to assess the fundamental process of political development in the British working class in the very late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The false method underlying this also served to exacerbate Healy’s Anglo-centric notion of internationalism, and was therefore reflected in the relations with the French OCI.

This developing inability correctly to assess and connect the movement to developments within the working class was not a constant factor, but overall it meant that though the WRP continued to expand numerically after 1971, its leadership never succeeded in developing new workers into national leadership. The only new forces brought into leadership were from the petty bourgeoisie – organisationally and technically capable people, but without the ability to orientate the movement within the working class. Precious worker cadres were lost and the movement began to lose its bearings – becoming increasingly dependent upon fixed schemas and surface impressions every bit as crude as those taken by the Pabloite forces.

This process of degeneration – which brought about the split from which the WSL traces its roots – has now reached the extent of the defence of flagrantly Pabloite positions by Healy in particular the WRP’s uncritical eulogies of the Vietnamese Stalinist Party, Gaddafi’s reactionary bonapartist dictatorship in Libya, and the PLO leadership. The most hysterical ‘anti-Pabloite’ of yesteryear has now become perhaps the most tenacious Pabloite of all.

Meanwhile the OCI’s international grouping, claiming to represent an internationalist alternative to Healy, has swung to political and organisational liquidation into social democracy.

The OCI itself, even while proclaiming venomous home truths about Pabloism has attempted over the last few years a series of backstage manoeuvres aimed at unprincipled reunification with the USFI avoiding fundamental discussion on the central problems of the world movement. And the USFI, the biggest international grouping claiming the name ‘Trotskyist’ remains, as we have shown, in the grip of a centrist leadership whose method and programme are not those of Trotskyism but that post-war perversion of Trotskyism that we have analysed as Pabloism. As a result the USFI as it stands today – for all its pretensions – represents in our view neither the political nor the organisational continuity of Trotskyism. Rather, through its obstruction of any serious international discussion on the historical problems of the Fourth International, it stands as a block to the reconstruction of the Fl.

In our view the time has come to take objective stock of the current state of the Trotskyist movement internationally and to confront the problems that must be resolved if the FI is to be reconstructed on a basis of principles.

No tendency internationally can claim to represent an organisational or political continuity of Trotsky’s method and principles. Every tendency has to begin from the standpoint that fundamental issues long ago dismissed or explained away must be re-examined: the evolution of post-war Stalinism; the role of petty-bourgeois forces; and the method of orientating Trotskyist forces to build cadres rooted in the working class all stand as questions to be answered in a discussion which must extend beyond statements to include a thorough examination of the practice of each national grouping in the class struggle of its own country.

Such a discussion in our view must include not simply our international tendency and the USFI and its sections but must begin by bringing every possible pressure to bear on the OCRFI and the IC to participate.


In our view it is essential that the Trotskyist movement be reconstructed by a practical and a theoretical reaffirmation of the basic tenets on which the movement was founded. They can in our view be summarised in the following nine points:

1. Daily confirmation that this is the epoch of imperialist decay is to be found in the profound political and economic crises convulsing the capitalist states, the colonial and ex-colonial regimes, and the degenerate workers’ states of Europe and Asia. In this period the betrayal of both Stalinist and Social Democratic parties internationally – each finding new depths of class collaboration in the face of the growing movement of workers and peasants against imperialism – highlights the vital necessity for the reconstruction of the Fourth International as the organising centre of the world party of the socialist revolution.

2. Founded in 1938 on the inseparable principles of proletarian internationalism and the defence of the political independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie and all its agencies within the workers’ movement, the task of the Fourth International was and remains that of preparing the human, material and political resources necessary to resolve the crisis of proletarian leadership in the international struggle for socialism.

But the International was from the beginning faced by huge objective and internal difficulties. The Trotskyist movement today confronts a crisis in which its whole post-war history must be re-examined in order to probe the political reasons behind its prolonged disorientation. Only from such a basis can a principled way forward be found for its reconstruction.

3. Trotskyism, the present-day continuity of revolutionary Marxism, stands alone in seeing the need for the working class to take the lead in the struggle for social revolution. For this reason it is only Trotskyists who reject on principle political blocs or partnerships with other classes in which the revolutionary strength of the working class is subordinated to the interests of the peasantry, petty bourgeoisie, ‘progressive’ military juntas, or sections of the bureaucracy parasitic upon the workers movement itself.

Because of the fundamental importance of this principle, it is necessary to re-examine those episodes in the post-war history of Trotskyism in which that position was abandoned in practice, and the method on which it rests was thrown into question.

In particular, it is necessary to analyse anew and break from the method involved in the orientation of the movement towards Stalinism under the leadership of Michel Pablo – both prior to and after the 1953 split. It is essential to link this to an examination of the orientation of Trotskyist tendencies towards the Castroite leadership in Cuba and to petty bourgeois nationalist forces in Latin America and Algeria in the years following 1959, and to an analysis of present attitudes to the latest changes in post-war Stalinism – so called ‘Euro-Communism’ in the capitalist states, and the nature of the Vietnamese CP.

And such an analysis must also involve a searching examination of the attitude of the various tendencies of the world Trotskyist movement to ‘progressive’ military juntas such as the post 1974 AFM regime in Portugal, and ‘progressive’ bonapartist regimes such as that of Gaddafi in Libya.

Above all we must establish the basis to positively reaffirm both in our current programme and in the practice of each section, as well as by drawing the lessons of the past, the basic starting point of revolutionary Marxism: that the proletariat, the propertyless class exploited by the bourgeoisie as the living instrument of capitalist production and the source of value, is the only consistently revolutionary class in society.

4. Yet in capitalist or colonial countries where peasants and small farmers represent a sizeable section of the population – even its majority – it is necessary for the workers to be equipped with a programme around which an alliance can be made with those oppressed small property-holders against the bourgeoisie and big landowners. Such a programme, basing itself on the theoretical gains embodied in Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, must contain a system of transitional demands in combination where appropriate with democratic demands, capable of mobilising the broadest layers of mass support in struggle against feudal relations, national oppression, Bonapartist or fascist dictatorship and leading over to the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. Such a programme is the indispensible basis for common struggle, and the bridge between the democratic and the socialist revolution, ensuring that the reactionary separation of these struggles, advocated by the Mensheviks and now adopted by all sections of Stalinists, is opposed and defeated in practice.

5. In the struggle to mobilise the working class itself, the key is likewise a programme of transitional demands which can form a bridge between the daily spontaneous and trade union struggle carried on by the working class, and the necessary conscious struggle for the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The fight in practice for such a programme to form the basis of the actions of the working class is the material way in which Marxists must today undertake the task described by Lenin in What Is To Be Done?

“ . . . to combat spontaneity, to divert the working class movement from this spontaneous, trade unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy . . . all worship of the spontaneity of the working class movement, all belittling of the role of the Social Democracy, means, quite independently of whether he who belittles that role desires it or not, a strengthening of the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the workers”.

For this reason, also, therefore, any abstention from this fight for leadership within the working class movement is a retreat from the task of Marxists today. It is a matter of principle therefore for Trotskyists to undertake systematic and serious work, propagandising and agitating for the demands of the transitional programme, within the labour movement and the mass organisations of the working class as a whole. Without taking the fight into this arena the programme becomes simply words.

6. In the ideological arming of the working class and the intervention of Marxists into the labour movement is enshrined also the need for parties and a reconstructed international constructed on the Bolshevik pattern, based on the political and organisational principle of democratic centralism – complete democracy within the movement in arriving at decisions, combined with strict adherence by all members to centralised discipline in carrying out the decisions of the majority.

The fight for this internal regime brings to a high point the fight against the petty bourgeois tendencies to individualism, propagandism, opportunism and careerism which beset the bankrupt ranks and leading echelons of the reformist, Stalinist and centrist movements. At the same time it challenges syndicalist positions brought into the movement by trade union comrades.

And by bringing the practice of the movement into open discussion enabling the theoretically established perspectives and the daily developing practice of the party to be brought into sharp conflict, democratic centralism plays a crucial role in the fight against schematism and dogmatism, together with all forms of idealist retreat from the Marxist method of dialectical materialism.

Similarly on an international level democratic centralism must be upheld as the essential organisational principle of the reconstructed Fourth International. The Workers Socialist League will not be a party to any repetition of the “moratoria” and unspoken “non-aggression pacts” that have characterised the opportunist organisational relationships within the IS, the USFI, the IC and the OCRFI.

We are fundamentally opposed to the concept of an “international” in which the discipline is so loose and the programmatic agreement so weak that public warfare can take place between its factions in different countries around the world. We insist on the fullest internal discussion and examination of the practice of the sections, combined with a strict adherence by all sections to the line of the majority.

7. The Trotskyist Fourth International traces its independent origins and its reason for existence from the pronouncement by Trotsky and the Left Opposition in 1933 that the Comintern, totally dominated by the Stalinist bureaucracy, was dead for the purposes of revolution and a thoroughly counter-revolutionary force within the international workers’ movement. At the same time Stalinism was seen as a fundamentally unstable, bonapartist form of rule, balancing between the nationalised property relations established in the October Revolution and the international pressures of imperialism. Trotsky established a clear position of unconditional defence of the Soviet Union as a workers’ state against imperialism, coupled to the fight to prepare political revolution for the conscious overthrow of the bureaucracy and restoration of soviet power.

This analysis still has to be defended both against tendencies that have attempted to see the Stalinist bureaucracy as a permanent and progressive force in the workers’ movement (pre-war centrists, and Pablo in the post-war period) or as a permanent, reactionary force – a new ruling class in the Soviet Union (Schachtmanites and state capitalists today).

In defending the Trotskyist perspective, the most important starting point is the question of the political independence of the working class from the Stalinist bureaucracy in the struggle for state power. It is this, along with an analysis of the counter-revolutionary world strategy of Stalinism in the post-war period which most clearly refutes the Pabloite notion of a ‘left centrist’ evolution of Stalinism in the Eastern European buffer zone or in Asia, and which shows most clearly the reactionary nature of ‘Eurocommunist’ criticism, of the regimes in Eastern Europe. It is this position also that confirms the need for the building of Trotskyist parties for political revolution in Cuba, Vietnam, China and Yugoslavia as well as the USSR and Eastern Europe.

It is necessary for the world Trotskyist movement to re-examine these issues bearing on the post-war role of Stalinism in order to clarify and correct the wrong positions that have been adopted. For this purpose the USFI, the IC and OCRFI leadership and sections – for all their false positions – cannot be regarded in advance as having placed themselves outside the world Trotskyist movement.

8. It is impossible to reconstruct the Fourth International without a conscious break from the method of impressionism and empiricism to take up a struggle for the dialectical method as fought for by Trotsky in In Defence of Marxism. Such a break means also a break from attempts to substitute petty bourgeois propaganda groupings for serious Marxist cadres developed in the mass organisations of the working class. Only when such a change is made can the fight for the transitional programme on an international scale take on real meaning and life at the centre of the reconstruction of the Fourth International.

9. Should agreement be reached on these general political principles, the way would be opened up for steps to organisationally reconstruct the Fourth International.

The WSL, as part of an international tendency, is flexible in regard to the organisational aspects of discussions towards this reconstruction. We insist only that these must involve parity arrangements acceptable to all parties, and that both the history of the movement as a whole, and the present practice of each part of it must be open to examination.

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