ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialist Review, Fall 1964


Peng Shu-tse

The Man on the Flying Trapeze

Open Letter to Gerry Healy


From International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.4, Fall 1964, pp.118-120.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Peng Shu-tse was one of the founding members of the Chinese Communist Party. Breaking with Stalinism after the 1927 debacle, he helped to found a Chinese Trotskyist movement. Since 1951 he has been living in Europe. Interviewed by Ross Dowson in 1963, Peng gave an interesting account of his life which was published in the Summer 1963 ISR under the title Chinese Revolutionists in Exile.

* * *

Dear Comrade Healy,

In June 1963 the majority of the sections of the International Committee met with the sections of the International Secretariat in a Reunification Congress. In this Congress, the world Trotskyist movement reached agreement on basic principles, ending the split that had existed since 1953-54, and established the United Secretariat as the leadership of the Fourth International.

Since that time, the Socialist Labour League, which you head, and the La Verité group (France) led by Lambert, utilizing the name of the International Committee, have repeatedly denounced the reunification, attacking and slandering the united Fourth International and its new leadership, the United Secretariat, without restraint. You have especially singled out the Socialist Workers Party for your diatribes because of the support it has given the united movement.

It has been my intention for some time to express my views on this in order to help clarify the situation. Due to other work, this had to be postponed. On reading the June 20 and June 27 issues of the Newsletter, in which you carry reports about the special conference on the LSSP [Lanka Sama Samaja Party] the Ceylonese section of the Fourth International, I felt it necessary to put everything else aside. These issues of the Newsletter, particularly an editorial and the reports you sent from Colombo are so malicious, contain so many falsifications and slanderous arguments attacking the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, that it is necessary to speak in behalf of the truth.

First of all, let me point out that when you use the name “International Committee,” you hope by this fraud to create a false impression. Since the Reunification Congress last year, the overwhelming majority of the sections and supporters of the International Committee have either openly ratified the Congress or in other ways indicated their backing. In Japan, for instance, one of the last areas to take action, a major effort is now underway to achieve reunification on a national scale under the banner of the Fourth International. Of all the sections originally adhering to the International Committee, a minority of only two decided to break with the majority view and remain outside the united world Trotskyist movement – your SLL and Lambert’s group. With the Reunification Congress the International Committee came to an end. For two groups to represent themselves as the former International Committee is a patent fraud!

Last September, you and Lambert held a conference upon which you chose to place the label “International Committee.” You announced that a delegate from a “Hungarian section” attended this so-called conference. But this “Hungarian section” did not exist at the last meeting of the International Committee in March 1963. Between March and September what happened? Did you find a Hungarian emigré in England whom you decided to call a “section” in order to decorate your “IC conference?” You are reduced to such paltry methods to maintain the pretense of the continued existence of the International Committee and the construction of new “sections!”

Impressionism and Subjectivism

You advance certain political conceptions to justify calling your group “the only” Trotskyists and to describe others, including whole sectors of the reunited Fourth International, especially its leadership the United Secretariat, as “Pabloite revisionists” who are allegedly “betraying Trotskyism.” On this ground you repeat your call for “reorganization” of the Fourth International in order to build “revolutionary proletarian parties in every country.” Let me call your attention to an article I wrote – Where Is Healy Taking the Socialist Labour League? – in which I took up your method of impressionism and subjectivism. In this article, I considered your revision of theory, your opportunism, your sectarianism and your bureaucratic practices, including a series of absurd mistakes of yours on the most important issue, especially problems concerning the Cuban Revolution. Since you chose to ignore or forget this article, I am obliged once again to call your attention to some of your major errors:

Catalogue of Errors

  1. From the beginning of the Algerian struggle for liberation, you wholeheartedly supported the nationalistic MNA (Algerian National Movement), headed by Messali Hadj against the FLN (National Liberation Front). You even praised Messali Hadj as “a living symbol of this struggle.” The MNA, you said,”wages an intransigeant fight against imperialism under the leadership of the working masses.” And how did things turn out? Just the opposite of what you wrote! Messali, with his MNA, capitulated to French imperialism. With regard to the shameful capitulation of Messali Hadj and his party, you never said anything that might have drawn attention to your position. When, after seven and half years of the most difficult struggle, the FLN was obliged to sign the Evian agreement with the French government, granting temporary economic concessions to the French and letting them retain certain military interests in return for political independence, you called it a “sell out.”
  2. In your own country, England, for a long time you praised Bevan, placing almost all your hopes in him. In adaptation to Bevan’s politics and sowing illusions about his role, you went beyond even your efforts with regard to Messali Hadj. In spite of your praise and adaptation to his politics, Bevan followed the logic of his own opportunist course and went over to Hugh Gait-skell. When your attitude of adaptation toward Bevan proved bankrupt, you immediately jumped from right opportunism to ultraleft sectarianism. As to whether or not your attitude toward Bevan was right or wrong, you never offered any explanations either to the working class or to the members of your own group!
  3. When the Castro regime expropriated and nationalized American imperialist and Cuban capitalist holdings beginning in the fall of 1959, a workers state was established in Cuba. This was the appraisal of virtually the entire world Trotskyist movement. But you have categorically rejected this Marxist appraisal. In your opinion no “dictatorship of the proletariat” exists in Cuba. In determining the nature of a workers state you substitute a purely political criterion for the economic one. At this point, you depart from Marxism, taking the road to revisionism already blazed by Bruno R., Burnham, Shachtman and the state capitalists!
  4. After denying the character of the workers state in Cuba you further declare: “The [Castro] regime is a variety of capitalist state power. The Castro regime did not create a qualitatively new and different type of state power from the Batista regime.” That is to say, the Castro regime is not qualitatively different from the Batista regime. Such an absurd appraisal of the nature of the Castro regime, as I pointed out in my article, reveals absolute blindness to the facts and the worst impressionism in theory. (See Where Is Healy Taking the SLL?, International Information Bulletin, pp.6-7.)

    The most outrageous is the following statement: “Here we have Kemal Ataturk, Chiang Kai-shek, Cardenas, Peron, Ben Bella, and Castro ...” You put the counterrevolutionary Chiang Kai-shek and revolutionary Castro on the same level, treating both as enemies. This is to go beyond sectarianism and slip into the camp of reaction!
  5. Using the same method, the political criterion, change of “the state power from the hands of one class to another,” you insist that the Cuban Revolution is not “a social” but “a political revolution.” In this way you seek to deny that the Cuban Revolution has developed uninterruptedly from the stage of democratic revolution to socialist revolution. Here you again abandon or forget the ABC’s of Marxism concerning the meaning of a social revolution; i.e., a change of property relations or the transfer of property from the hands of one class to another. From this point of view the Cuban Revolution obviously entered the stage of socialist revolution; bourgeois private property ownership has been definitively transformed into workers state ownership. It is an irrefutable fact. But with your revisionist, anti-Marxist method, you refuse to recognize this fact!

These grave theoretical and political mistakes committed by you, as indicated above, demonstrate that you have departed from the method of Marxism and the politics of Trotskyism. In face of this, you have no right to call yourselves Trotskyists and to attack the Fourth International and its leadership, the United Secretariat. If you were really convinced of the correctness of your method and your political position, and also had the courage, you would publish my article, “Where Is Healy Taking the SLL? and open a public discussion about this, permitting the members of the SLL to participate. As yet, you have preferred to say nothing about the criticism I levelled against your mistakes.

Ceylonese Crisis

Let us turn to the crisis of the LSSP, which you seek to turn to factional advantage. At the special conference of the LSSP on June 6-7, an open split took place. The right wing of the party headed by N.M. Perera accepted posts in a bourgeois coalition government. The left wing, led by Edmund Samarakkody, walked out. The centrist tendency represented by Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene, went waveringly toward the right. This important and tragic event in our movement deserves special attention and the most serious examination so that the necessary lessons can be drawn in order to help the left wing rebuild the Trotskyist movement in Ceylon. But your aims are different. You seek to utilize this event as a good opportunity for attacking and slandering the whole unified Trotskyist movement, particularly the United Secretariat. Baiting your hook with distortions, falsifications and even lies, you try fishing in these troubled waters.

Quite typically, writing from Colombo in the June 20 Newsletter, you say:

“Their desertion (N.M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, and Leslie Goonewardene) is a continuation of the policies of the so-called Unified Secretariat.”

With these words, you place the whole responsibility for the capitulation of the right wing and the wavering of the centrist tendency on the United Secretriat. You say nothing about the following fact in relation to a meeting of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International, reported in World Outlook June 5:

“A report was made on the coalition overtures advanced by the government party, the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) to the LSSP, Ceylonese section of the Fourth International. The members of the International Executive Committee expressed unanimous opposition to any coalition in which the LSSP would serve in the role of captive to the bourgeoisie ... The IEC called on the LSSP to counterpose to these proposals a vigorous campaign for a United Left Front government on the basis of a socialist program that would signify a break with imperialism and capitalism in Ceylon.”

It is very clear that the policy adopted by the IEC plenum was strongly against the tendency toward capitulation represented by the right wing of N.M. Perera and the centrist tendency prepresented by Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene. This single reference from World Outlook exposes your condemnation of the policy of the United Secretariat as a complete falsification, a lie! You also say: “A government of the ULF would have been no different from the present coalition.” This demonstrates that you cannot even distinguish “a United Left Front government on the basis of a socialist program that would signify a break with imperialism and capitalism in Ceylon” from “the present coalition” controlled by the capitalist party, the SLFP!

You further assert:

“This tendency (the left tendency led by Edmund Samarakkody) which received no support from the Pabloite Secretariat prior to or during the conference ...”

This assertion proves that if you are acquainted with the facts, you prefer to report something different. The fact is that the tendency led by Edmund Samarakkody was in close touch with the United Secretariat. The two Ceylonese delegates at the Reunification Congress last year were both leaders of the left wing in the LSSP. One of them has directly participated in the United Secretariat for the past year. At the Reunification Congress the problem of the rightist tendency in the Ceylonese party and how to conduct an effective principled struggle against it was discussed at some length. The various groupings present at the Congress were unanimously behind the left wing. At the IEC plenum held last May this position was reaffirmed. After the plenum the United Secretariat passed a resolution again stating its support of the left wing. All this took place “prior to the conference.” As to “during the conference,” as you happen to know, Pierre Frank represented the United Secretariat in Ceylon. He stated the opinion of the world Trotskyist movement in favor of the left wing as against both the right wing and the centrist grouping.

The LSSP (Revolutionary Section)

Finally, you make the boast: “The only tendency to fully support its [the left tendency] struggle has been the International Committee of the Fourth International.” The purpose of this bait is perfectly obvious. But let me ask, just where and when have you ever “fully” supported the left wing “prior to and during the conference?” Please give us an itemized list of your declarations “prior” to the conference. Or do you prefer to maintain silence about this? “During the conference,” of course, you might have sought to make up for your previous neglect. However, the Presidium – on which the left wing was represented – voted unanimously not to admit you even as an observer, in view of your dubious credentials, and you were reported to have spent your time on the street outside the hall.

Thus, it was not until after the conference, when the left tendency had issued a statement publicly denouncing the capitulation of Perera’s group and had declared that they were organizing themselves as the “revolutionary section” of the LSSP, that you courageously and sagely stood up to cry that “we,” the “International Committee of the Fourth International,” were the “only” tendency to fully support you! And you add, for the benefit of the readers of the Newsletter, that “members of the revolutionary wing have the most fraternal feelings for the work of the Socialist Labour League.” A beautiful pudding!

Not Born Yesterday!

This empty talk will not delude many in the left wing, now the LSSP (Revolutionary Section). They were not born yesterday. They have learned certain lessons from the struggles in their own country – within their own party as well as within the International. They are familiar with your attitude toward Messali Hadj and Bevan in the past and your present position on the Cuban state, Castro’s regime and the development of the Cuban Revolution in general. They are familiar with your absolute opposition to the reunification of the world Trotskyist movement and to your previous hostile attitude toward the left wing of the LSSP (marked by your absolute rejection last year of the offer to unite with them and the similar tendencies that make up the majority of the Fourth International). In light of this, it is rather illusory on your part to think that you can win the adherence of the LSSP (Revolutionary Section) to your policies. If I may venture a prediction, when your illusion is punctured by the facts, you will turn rabidly against these comrades.

If you really wished to collaborate with the LSSP (Revolutionary Section) you wouM first of all change your position on some important Questions, especially your position on the reunification of the world Trotskyist movement. This in turn would open the posibility for the Socialist Labour League to genuinely help the Trotskyists in Ceylon to forge ahead.

In my opinion the lessons of the crisis suffered by the LSSP can be drawn along the following broad lines:

  1. Objectively: the functioning of a bourgeois parliament, after British imperialism granted political independence, created illusions in parliamentarism and the possibility of democratic reforms among petty-bourgeois political circles.
  2. Subjectively: most of the top leaders of the LSSP came from the middle class, some even from bourgeois families. They were revolutionists in the beginning and played a big role in building the Trotskyist movement in Ceylon against the domination of British imperialism. After political independence was won and a bourgeois democratic system developed, certain leaders of petty-bourgeois or bourgeois background won seats in parliament and stayed there for many years. They gradually became imbued with parliamentary illusions. This was pre-eminently reflected by the Perera tendency.
  3. If the Fourth International had not split, or had reunification been realized earlier, the reformist and parliamentary tendency among the leaders could possibly have been corrected under the united influence of the International. At least the strength of this tendency could have been considerably reduced. Unfortunately the split in the International was prolonged for almost ten years (from the end of 1953 to June 1963).

You are perfectly aware that you bear a big responsibility for prolonging this split. The reformist tendency was thus able to develop more freely. It finally exploded at the special conference of the LSSP.

From this analysis, the most important lesson to be drawn from the crisis of the LSSP is clear. All organizations or groups that consider themseves to be Trotskyist are duty bound to join or to support the united Fourth International. Only in this way can the influence of the world Trotskyist movement be mobilized effectively and in time to correct dangerous errors in certain sections when they occur. In addition, it is much easier to construct a capable leadership team in the International based on the collaboration of all the sections.

Unfortunately, up to now you have not understood this. On the contrary, in the case of the Cevlonese party, where this lesson is glaringly clear, you have chosen to launch a new factional struggle against the Fourth International, using means that have nothing in common with our movement, including distortions, falsifications, slanders and outright lies. By this you harm the whole movement, especially in Britain. This is a road that leads to disaster.

Dear Comrade Healy, it is high time that you stop and reconsider. In particular it is time for you to re-examine your attitude toward the reunification of the world Trotskyist movement. Correct your errors and begin helping the Fourth International instead of trying to injure its cause.

You have boasted many times that the Socialist Labour League contains young comrades who are just becoming acquainted with Trotskyism. If these young comrades become integrated and receive a Marxist education, enabling them to become seasoned cadres, this will prove to be a fresh source of strength to our world movement. But if they are simply indoctrinated into a narrow factional view, this will only injure our world movement; and, may I point out, the primary injury will be to the British Trotskyist movement. I fear that the latter alternative represents what is actually happening in the Socialist Labour League under your leadership.

S.T. Peng

July 9, 1964

Top of page

ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 3 June 2009