Slaughter Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Cliff Slaughter

Opportunism And Empiricism

From Trotskyism versus Revisionism: A Documentary History, London: New Park Publications, 1974, Vol. 4: The International Committee against liquidationism, pp. 76-105.
Annotated by Alex Steiner
Transcribed, Edited &formatted by Harrison Fluss, Alex Steiner and David Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘Only by learning to assimilate the results of the development of philosophy during the past two and a half thousand years will it be able to rid itself on the one hand of any isolated natural philosophy standing apart. from it, outside and above it, and on the other hand also of its own limited method of thought, which was its inheritance from English empiricism.’

It is clear from this passage that Engels considers empiricism to be a barrier to the dialectical conception of the world. Hansen’s talk about ‘consistent empiri-cism’ is sheer nonsense. The point about empiricism, a reliance on ‘the facts as they are perceived’, is that it cannot be consistent.

Empiricism, and its transatlantic younger brother, pragmatism, refuse to admit the possibility of answer-ing the question: ‘What is the nature of the objectively existing external world?’ They thus leave the way open to subjective idealism which explains the world in terms of mind alone. Empiricism, ignoring the history of philosophy, rejects the dialectical theory of know-ledge as ‘metaphysics’. Only the dialectical materialist view can explain the world, because it includes a materialist explanation of the development of our concepts as well as of the material world which they reflect. Empiricism must be rejected, not made ‘con-sistent’. There are many sides to this methodological error of Hansen’s.

Trotsky warned the SWP leadership in his last writings that they must encourage a determined struggle on the theoretical front against the ‘American’ philosophy of pragmatism, a more recent development of empiricism; unless this was done, then there would be no real Marxist development in the U.S. Today Hansen and Cannon are ‘confirming’ Trotsky’s warning in a negative fashion. In the discussion concerning the future of the Fourth International, Hansen leads the tendency which calls for ‘unification’ with a revisionist tendency on the basis of purely practical political agreement on immediate tasks. From this point of view he rejects an examination of the history of the split and of the differences between the tendencies. This is only part of his substitution of impressionism for scientific analysis (see Trotskyism Betrayed [1] and C.S.’s reply to J.H.’s Report to the Plenum, [2] International Bulletin No. 11). What is the methodological basis of Hansen’s approach here? The dominant question for him is always ‘what will work best?’- asked always from the narrow perspective of immediate political appearances. This is the starting point of pragmatism, the ‘American’ development of empiricism by Pierce, James and Dewey. It leads Hansen to advocate unity with the Pablo group because that will ‘work’ better as an attraction for people pushed in a ‘leftward’ direction, even if the causes of the split are never clarified. Such an approach, as we have explained in earlier documents, destroys the theoretical basis of the movement . The incorrect concepts and methods of our political work can only be overcome through conscious theoretical and practical struggle, not by sweeping them under the carpet.

Pragmatism and the Cuban Crisis

Cannon’s letter to Dobbs, [3] summing up the Cuban crisis, could similarly serve as a model of the prag-matist method. After a lifetime of struggle for revolu-tionary Marxism, particularly against Stalinism, he denies that whole career in two pages with the kind of politics which Hansen’s pathetic essay in ‘theory’ is meant to justify: ‘What else could he have done under the given circumstances?’ asks Cannon. What were these ‘given circumstances’?

‘1. The U.S. naval blockade was set for a clash with Soviet ships which would escalate into nuclear war. Kennedy gave clear notice that the U.S. would not stop. at the use of the most forceful measures.

‘2. The Pentagon was ready to bomb and invade Cuba and crush its revolution. Newspaper accounts report that this was one of the alternative moves considered even for (from?) the start, and it was to be put into effect if Moscow did not yield on the missile bases.’

Cannon replaces class analysis of social forces and political tendencies with pragmatic prescriptions. The so-called ‘given circumstances’ (equivalent of Hansen’s ‘the facts’) are the product of a policy of class- collaboration by Khrushchev and the Stalinist bureau-cracy in relation to U.S. imperialism. We must evaluate Khrushchev’s conduct as part of the process which produced these circumstances. Only in that way can Marxists work out their political programme in relation to other class tendencies.

Empiricism versus Revolutionary Politics

Indeed Cannon’s letter on Cuba illustrates the class role of empiricism and pragmatism, those tendencies in philosophy which accept ‘the given fact’, etc. Inevit-ably this acceptance becomes what Trotsky once called a ‘worshipping of the accomplished fact’. In effect this means accepting the forms of consciousness proper to those who are adapted to the existing structure, such as the bureaucracy in the USSR and in the labour movement. They develop their ideas as ways of rationalising and justifying their own position between capitalism and the working class. Cannon’s justification of Khrushchev, like the recent contributions of Murry Weiss in justification of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and the constant avoidance of the questions of political revolution and construction of revolutionary parties in the workers’ states by SWP spokesmen and the Pabloites, are an abandonment of principled revolutionary politics, flowing from the abandonment of dialectical materialism in favour of empiricism. Dialectical analysis insists on seeing facts in the context of a whole series of interrelated pro-cesses, not as finished, independent entities about which ‘practical’ decisions have to be made. In the sphere of politics, that means to see each situation in terms of the development of the international class struggle, to evaluate the policies of the various poli-tical forces towards this situation in terms of their relation to these class forces and to their whole previous course. This is why it is nonsense to pose the Cuban problem as Cannon poses it-’What else could he have done under the given circumstances?’ Taken to its logical conclusion, this type of argument can be used to justify anything. It is not even sur-prising, once the extent of this theoretical departure from Marxism is grasped, that Cannon utters an absurdity like ‘ ... people unaffected by imperialist propaganda have, I believe, breathed relief over the settlement and thanked Khrushchev for his sanity. Bertrand Russell and Nehru expressed themselves along this line.’ Who would have thought that at the same time, Nehru was head of a government engaged in armed conflict, with imperialist support, against the Republic of China? In the course of that conflict mass arrests of Indian Communists were carried out. At the same time, Soviet fighter planes were being supplied to the Indian government by Khrushchev. No doubt Nehru praised Khrushchev (as well as Kennedy and Macmillan) for this piece of practical ‘wisdom’. Perhaps Cannon will say ‘What else could he have done under the given circumstances?’ Cannon’s method leads to this end not by a trick of logical development, but because the forces for whom he becomes the apologist are tied in reality to imperialism and its present needs. Trotskyism is no more an exception to the laws of history than any other phase in the development of Marxism and the labour movement. Once theoretical development stops, then the movement is subject to the dominant ideo-logies of the time, however gradual and subtle the process of adaptation-and however venerable the ‘cadre’.

Hansen’s Method

Hansen’s document ‘Cuba—The Acid Test’ [4] is there-fore an important contribution to the international discussion. It states explicitly the empiricist and anti--dialectical basis in method for the opportunist ten-dencies in the SWP’s politics as well as for their unprincipled and un-historical approach to the problem of unity and development of the world Trotskyist movement. From the beginning of the discussion, the SLL, described by Hansen as ‘the ultra-left sectarians’, have insisted that basic differences of method underlay the different political lines and attitudes to organisation. Hansen now confirms this. His insistence on ‘the facts’, as being the same for empiricism as for Marxism is effectively answered by Lukacs:

‘These facts are indeed not only involved in constant change, but also they are-precisely in the structure of their objectivity-the products of a historically determined epoch: that of capitalism. Consequently this “science” which recognises as fundamental to their value for science the immediately given form of phenomena, and takes as a correct point of departure for scientific conceptualisation their form of objectivity, this science finds itself planted simply and definitely in the ground of capitalist society, accepting uncritically its essence, its “objective” structure, its laws, as an unalterable foundation of “science”. In order to progress from these “facts” to facts in the real sense of the word, one must penetrate to their historical conditioning as such and abandon the point of view which starts from them as immediately given: they must undergo historical-dialectical analysis ...’ (History and Class Consciousness)

In support of his capitulation to empiricism, Hansen quotes the verdict of Hegel.

‘Generally speaking, Empiricism finds the truth in the outward world; and even if it allows a super-sensible world, it holds knowledge of that world to be impossible, and would restrict us to the province of sense-perception. This doctrine when systema-tically carried out produces what has been latterly termed Materialism. Materialism of this stamp looks upon matter, qua matter, as the genuine objective world.’ (The Logic of Hegel, translated from the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, p. 80).

Hegel’s opposition to empiricism is correct in one sense. If ‘empiricism systematically carried out’ led to dialectical materialism, then why would Hegel, the Absolute Idealist, figure so decisively in the develop-ment of Marxism? The ‘materialism’ to which empiri-cism leads, according to Hegel, is of course mechanical materialism, which remains unable to explain the role of consciousness and the material unity of the world, including human action and thought. This ‘defect of all hitherto existing materialism’, as Marx called it, meant that ‘it could not be consistently carried out, and it left the door open to dualism and subjective ideal-ism. Hegel overcame the dichotomy of subject and object, introducing a unified conception of a dialec-tically interconnected whole, by making spirit the content of all reality. Marx had only to ‘stand him on his head’ to arrive at dialectical materialism. This is in fact how dialectical materialism developed, through contradiction, and not through Hansen’s businesslike logical formula of ‘empiricism systematically carried out’. The relation between empiricism and dialectical materialism has a history, which shows a struggle of dialectical materialism against the empiricists and their development in positivism and pragmatism. It is contrary to the method of Marxism to examine empiricism for its ‘strong points’ and its ‘weak points’. As a trend in philosophy it has formed the soundest basis for pseudo-scientific attacks on materialism ever since Marx, and in politics it has always formed the philosophical basis for opportunism.

Hansen avoids this type of discussion by quoting Hegel and then introducing his own paraphrase of Hegel. Hegel said that empiricism systematically carried out issued in ‘materialism’, by which he naturally meant the materialism of his own day. We must surely appreciate historically what Hegel meant when he said that empiricism ‘systematically carried out’ led to materialism, which ‘looks upon matter, qua matter, as the genuine objective world’. The vulgar materialism of that time had a metaphysical view of the world, seeing the given facts of experience as fixed, dead, finished products interacting according to mechanical principles, with mind reflecting this reality in a dead, mechanical fashion. Hansen must surely agree that it was this kind of materialism which Hegel attacks here. He could hardly have had in his head the theory of dialectical materialism as the product of ‘empiricism systematically carried out’. The dialectical materialist method of thought was born only after Hegel, through the struggle against Hegel’s dialectical idealism. And yet Hansen, with a very clumsy sleight of hand, uses his quotation from Hegel to identify ‘empiricism systematically carried out’ with dialectical materialism:

‘I would submit that “Lenin and others” did not bring from Hegel his opposition to empiricism on idealistic or religious grounds. On the other hand Marxism does share Hegel’s position that vulgar empiricism is arbitrary, one-sided and undialectical. But ‘empiricism “systematically carried out”? This is the view that the “genuine objective world”, the material world, takes primacy over thought and that a dialectical relationship exists between them. What is this if not dialectical materialism?’

‘Facts’ are Abstractions

The vital phrase ‘a dialectical relationship exists between them’ (matter and thought) is introduced from the outside by Hansen. It leaps over the whole development to dialectical materialism through the Hegelian school and ‘standing Hegel on his head, or rather, on his feet’! All Hansen’s respect for ‘the facts’ does not seem to have helped him to proceed from the simple ‘fact’ that ideas have a history as part of the social-historical process, and that the vulgar materialism of the bourgeoisie cannot be systematically developed into dialectical materialism by a mere stroke of the pen. It took some years of very hard struggle, of determined theoretical and practical grappling with the objective development of bourgeois society in the first half of the 19th century, to achieve that result.

When we attack empiricism we attack that method of approach which says all statements, to be meaning-ful, must refer to observable or measurable data in their immediately given form. This method insists that any ‘abstract’ concepts, reflecting the general and historical implications of these ‘facts’, are meaningless. It neglects entirely that our general concepts reflect the laws of development and interconnection of the process which these ‘facts’ help to constitute. Indeed the so-called hard facts of concrete experience are themselves abstractions from this process. They are the result of the first approximation of our brains to the essential interrelations, laws of motion, contra-dictions of the eternally changing and complex world of matter ... of which they form part. Only higher abstractions, in advanced theory, can guide us to the meaning of these facts. What Lenin called ‘the concrete analysis of concrete conditions’ is the opposite of a descent into empiricism. In order to be concrete, the analysis must see the given facts in their historical interconnection and must begin with the discoveries of theory in the study of society, the necessity to make a class evaluation of every event, every phenomenon. The empiricist, who pretends to restrict himself to the bedrock of ‘facts’ alone, in fact imposes on the ‘facts’ an unstated series of connections whose foundations are unstated. With Hansen and the Pabloites, their new reality is actually a list of abstractions like ‘the colonial revolution’, ‘the process of de-Stalinisation’, ‘irreversible trends’, ‘leftward-moving forces’, ‘mass pressure’, etc. Like all statements about social phenomena, these are meaningless unless they are demonstrated to have specific class content, for class struggle and exploitation are the content of all social phenomena. This discovery of Marx is the theoretical cornerstone which Hansen has lost, with all his talk about ‘the facts’.

Empiricism: a Bourgeois Method

All this argument that ‘the facts’ are the objective reality and that we must ‘start from there’ is a preparation to justify policies of adaptation to non--working-class leaderships.

Empiricism, since it ‘starts with the facts’, can never get beyond them and must accept the world as it is. This bourgeois method of thought views the world from the standpoint of ‘the isolated individual in civil society.’

Instead of taking the objective situation as a problem to be solved in the light of the historical experience of the working class, generalised in the theory and practice of Marxism, it must take ‘the facts’ as they come. They are produced by circumstances beyond our control.

Marxism arms the working class vanguard in its fight for the independent action of the Labour move-ment; empiricism adapts it to the existing set-up, to capitalism and its agencies in the working-class organisations.

‘In the beginning was the deed,’ quotes Hansen. But for Marxists, action is not blind adaptation to ‘facts’, but theoretically guided work to break the working class from petty-bourgeois leaderships. To ‘join in the action’ led by such trends, merely seeking ‘to help to build a revolutionary-socialist party in the very process of the revolution itself’ is a renunciation of Marxism and an abdication of responsibility in favour of the petty-bourgeoisie.

Hansen says:

‘If we may express the opinion, it is an over-statement to say that anyone finds himself “prostrate before the petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders in Cuba and Algeria” because he refuses to follow the SLL National Committee in thinking that a Trotsky-ist can clear himself of any further responsibility by putting the label “betrayed” on everything these leaders do. It is an error of the first order to believe that petty-bourgeois nationalism – petty--bourgeois nationalism, has no internal differentia-tions or contradictions and cannot possibly be affected by the mass forces that have thrust it forward.’

In the first place, no one has said that there cannot be differentiation within the petty-bourgeois national movement or that they remain unaffected by mass pressure. Who has denied that? What is at stake is the method by which this ‘fact’ is analysed and what consequence it has for the construction of independent revolutionary parties to lead the struggle of the work-ing class. Hansen and the Pabloites, on the other hand, use this ‘fact’ of ‘left’ swings of some petty--bourgeois nationalists to justify capitulation to those forces. Is this point separate from the differences over method and philosophy? Certainly not: Marxist analysis of the whole modern epoch has established that the political leaderships representing non-working--class social strata can go only to a certain point in the struggle against imperialism. The objective limits to their revolution lead them eventually to turn against the working class, with its independent demands which correspond to the international socialist revolution. Only a course of the construction of independent working-class parties aiming at workers’ power, based on the programme of Permanent Revolution, can pre-vent each national revolution from turning into a new stabilisation for world imperialism. The struggle to create such parties has been shown to involve a necessary fight against opportunists and counter-revolutionary trends within the movement, in par-ticular against Stalinism which subordinates the work-ing class to the nationalists, bourgeois and petty--bourgeois, on the grounds of the theory of ‘two stages’, which conforms best to the Stalinist bureaucracy’s line of an international understanding with imperialism. It is in line with these ‘facts’, facts established through the struggles and theoretical work of Lenin, Trotsky and others, that we evaluate the posturings and the actions of present-day political tendencies, and not by regarding the latter as facts ‘in themselves’ or as ‘given circumstances’ à la Hansen and J. P. Cannon.

Class Analysis is Needed

Hansen and the SWP leadership approach the whole international situation in this non-Marxist, empiricist manner. Hansen complains about the SLL ignoring facts, refusing to analyse ‘new reality’, since they don’t seem to fit the prescriptions of Lenin and Trotsky. On the contrary, comrades in the SLL have made a small beginning in analysing the real class basis of the surface ‘facts’ of the present situation. Hansen is satisfied to list the ‘mighty forces of the colonial revolution and the interrelated process of de--Stalinisation’. We have published several articles (see Labour Review 1961 and 1962, articles by Baker, Kemp, Jeffries, and the resolution ‘World Prospect for Socialism’) beginning a class analysis of the relation of these two processes (struggles in the colonial coun-tries and crisis in Stalinism) to the international revolution of the working class against imperialism. We have yet to find any such attempt in the publica-tions of the SWP or the Pabloites. What we do find is a search for the most positive or progressive trends within the Stalinist and nationalist movements. This means taking surface ‘facts’, like the pronouncements of the Chinese or Russian Stalinist leaders, and abscribing to them positive or negative values. Germain [5], for example, arrived at the conclusion that apart from the idea of the revolutionary International, there existed ‘bits’ of the Trotskyist programme in a ‘broken’ way in the various Communist parties of the wor1d, from Jugoslavia with its factory committees, through Italy, Russia and China, to Albania with its insistence on the rights of small parties! No doubt this is a good example of empiricism systematically carried out. It would be interesting to ask minorities within, say, the Albanian Communist Party what the ‘pragmatic’ consequences of this ‘systematic empiri-cism’ have been for them! (See also the ‘critical support’ for various wings of Stalinism in the IS Resolution on the 22nd Congress.)

Was Evian a Victory?

But to return to Hansen’s reply. It is of the greatest interest that Algeria is almost completely dropped from the argument. This is because the SLL’s accu-sation about ‘prostration’ before nationalist leaders is best exemplified there.

In earlier documents Hansen made great play of the SLL’s condemnation of the Evian agreement between the Algerian government and French imperialism. We said that this was a ‘sell-out’. Hansen said that here was an ultra-left mistake, showing failure to recognise that at least Evian included national independence and should be welcomed as a victory. We proceeded from an analysis of the class tendency which has asserted itself through the FLN leadership in arriving at a compromise with French imperialism, preventing the Algerian people from going on to win their own revolutionary demands. Those who concentrated on the ‘victory’ and speculated about Ben Bella develop-ing in the direction of Castro only helped Ben Bella to deceive the masses, and turned the energies of Socialists towards alliances with the bourgeoisie rather than the construction of an independent revolutionary party. We characterised this as a well-known form of opportunism, and we say now that by this kind of approach the Pabloites and the SWP are sharing in the preparation of defeats for the working class of Algeria instead of carrying out the responsibilities of revolutionary Marxists in constructing working-class parties. Pablo himself works as a functionary of the Algerian government in some technical capacity. By itself, this fact could mean anything or nothing. The important question is his political line and that of his organisation. There is not the slightest doubt that Pablo’s position in the administration will not be endangered by this political line (which does not at all mean to say that he may not be removed). Hansen’s articles in The Militant and the campaign of the Pabloites on ‘aid to the Algerian Revolution’ are confined to an appeal to aid the poverty-stricken victims of the legacy of French imperialism. Instead of a campaign in the labour movement, we have a humanitarian appeal. Pablo and his friends even press for the organisation of volunteer technicians and administrators to go to Algeria, take their place as servants of the Ben Bella government, and thus counteract the possibly reactionary influence of French and American aid and personnel. In this way the ‘objective’ conditions will be created for a move to the left rather than to the right on the part of Ben Bella. In the course of all this, the Algerian Communist Party was banned, a new French aid programme was announced, and the direct control of Ben Bella’s clique established over the Algerian trade unions. Meanwhile Ben Bella makes great play of tidying up the ‘bootblack’ racket and takes a ‘firm stand’ in telling the French to explode their bombs farther South in the Sahara. Are not these ‘Trotskyists’ conniving at the suppression of any democratic rights for the working class while the nationalist leaders carry out ‘left’ measures ‘on behalf’ of the masses? If this is not prostration before the national bour-geoisie, what in the world constitutes such prostration? Hansen claims that ‘everybody knows’ we need revolu-tionary parties, the only difference is on how to construct them. But in practice the Pabloites are not for the construction of such parties, they avoid the necessity of such construction. If objective develop-ments in the ‘new’ reality will inevitably push petty--bourgeois nationalists towards revolutionary Marxism, perhaps the role of Trotskyists is only to encourage these background ‘objective forces’.

Pierre Frank, prominent leader of the Pablo group, recently visited Algeria and reported his findings in The Internationalist, supplement to Quatrieme Interna-tionale, No. 17, 13.2.63). There is hardly need to comment on the meaning of the following passages;

‘If the government is composed of variegated social and political elements, one must say never-theless that the central nucleus, the decisive nucleus found at present in the Political Bureau of the FLN (National Liberation Front) is based on the poorest masses of the cities and above all the countryside. This is its main strength. But it cannot automatic-ally head toward extensive nationalization of the economic structure without running the risk of catastrophic consequences. For some years, it will have to permit a development of bourgeois forces, to compromise in certain spheres with foreign capital and to create bastions in the countryside and the towns in order to pass later to the construction of a socialist society. This will not be done without crises or without international and domestic deve-lopments that will run counter to this difficult orientation.

‘To conclude: Everything is in movement. It is an experiment, a struggle that must be supported throughout the world, but which demands constant determination of bearings so that the development of the various forces operating on the terrain can be gauged. In this way we can contribute to this new revolutionary experience with its altogether specific traits, its difficulties and its potentialities, and help it move toward the socialist outcome.’

At the level of methodology, this illustrates the extreme consequences of a ‘contemplative’ rather than a ‘revolutionary-practical’ attitude. To the former, empiricist recognition of the ‘given circumstances’, ‘the facts’ is a natural starting point (and finishing post). At the political level, it illustrates the capitu-lation to existing forces, existing forms of conscious-ness in the political movement, amounting in the end to support for the servants of imperialism, which flows from the abandonment of the dialectical method.

Who has Corrected Whose Errors?

Hansen says that we are harking back to the original differences of 1953 instead of demonstrating that the Pabloite revisions of that year have resulted in an opportunist course by the Pabloite ‘International’. Because Hansen accepts the present position of the Pabloites on Algeria does not alter the fact that this course is an opportunist one. In any case, Hansen must still answer our question (See reply of C.S. to Hansen’s Report to the Plenum. International Bulletin No. 11) in connection with this matter of ‘correcting errors’. He advocates unification on the grounds that the Pabloites have corrected their course of 1953. But the Pabloite Executive Committee insists that unification is possible for the opposite reason-the SWP has overcome its failure at that time to ‘understand’ the programme of Pablo (Declaration on Reunification of the World Trotskyist Movement, June 23/24, 1962).

In the advanced countries too, we have drawn attention to the current policies of the Pabloites. Hansen pretends that our criticisms have amounted only to seizing on isolated statements of Pabloite sections; ‘Not even leaflets put out by this group of comrades (the Pablo group) in this or that local situation escape the sleuths. A phrase torn from a leaflet distributed at the Renault plant in Paris in defence of Cuba against U.S. imperialism serves for elevation to front-page attention in The Newsletter in London, so hard-pressed are the leaders of the SLL to find evidence of the revisionism of the IS.’ (Cuba- The Acid Test , p. 30).

In the first place, our reply to Hansen’s last Plenum report on unification (International Bulletin No. 11) goes through Pabloite material on the main political questions of today, and it is nonsense to say the SLL has made no general criticism. If Hansen wrote ‘Cuba – The Acid Test ’ before reading this reply, perhaps he will now defend the Pabloites against what we wrote in it. Secondly, what is wrong with examining the leaflets put out by Pabloite sections? It is precisely the way policies work out in the work of sections which illustrates most clearly our differences of method. Surely the section in Paris is a fair example of a Pabloite section-the nerve centre of the Pablo International is there. And is the Renault factory just ‘this or that local situation’? It is a vital con-centration of French workers. In 1953 was it not a leaflet put out in the Renault factory which came under the scrutiny and attack of the SWP when it made the public break from Pablo? Thirdly, if Hansen claims that the passage criticised by The Newsletter was torn from its context, why does he not produce the context and demonstrate our methods of distortion? He cannot do this; the phrase concerned put interna-tional working-class solidarity action on the same level as ‘aid’ given by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Hansen prefers to quote not a single word either from the leaflet or from The Newsletter’s criticism!

(We omit here a short reference to the Italian section of the IS, as it was based on a faulty translation of an article in their journal.)

Cuba and Spain

The major part of Hansen’s attack on the ‘ultra-left sectarians’ is concerned with the attitude of the SLL towards Cuba. Hansen begins his document by trying to make an amalgam of the SLL and its IC supporters on the one hand, and the Posadas group which recently broke from the IS on the other. Hansen knows these are absolutely separate and dis-tinct tendencies. He makes literally no evaluation whatsoever of their political content or the evolution of their present position. They are both opposed to ‘unification’, therefore, he implies, they must be responding to the same social forces and must be essentially similar. Here again we have an excellent illustration of the pragmatist method. The objective relations between these tendencies, their history, and their response to the major political problems, are ignored. It is useful, it ‘works’, to identify them with each other as saboteurs of unification-they are ‘ultra--left currents’. Hansen reports that the Posadas group includes in its programme the prospect of a nuclear war against capitalism. This is thrown together with the SLL’s opposition to characterizing Cuba as a workers’ state. Posadas, says Hansen, must agree that Cuba is a workers’ state, because it would be ‘political death’ to think otherwise in Latin America. The differences are thus to be explained geographically. Politically the Posadas group and the SLL are the same—ultra-left sectarians, driven to this by their fear of unification. How is this cussedness to be explained? Hansen is unclear: the heading of the Trotskyist ‘mainstream’ (the SWP leadership and the Pabloite IS) towards unification comes from the ‘mighty forces of the colonial revolution and the inter-related process of de-Stalinisation’.

‘The Trotskyist movement has not escaped the general shake-up either. The Chinese victory, de--Stalinization, the Hungarian uprising were reflected in both capitulatory and ultra-left moods as well as strengthening of the main stream of Trotskyism. What we have really been witnessing in our move-ment is the outcome of a number of tests—how well the various Trotskyist groupings and shadings have responded to the series of revolutionary events culminating in the greatest occurrence in the Western Hemisphere since the American Civil War. The move for unification and the symmetrical resistance to it are no more than logical con-sequences to be drawn from reading the results, especially those supplied by the acid test of the mighty Cuban action.’

Where is the explanation? Two opposite viewpoints are here ‘explained’ by the same thing. They were just different ‘logical’ results of approaching the same events. Could anything illustrate more clearly the barren consequences of refusing to deal with the history of the controversies and splits, and to probe to their basis in theory and method? Hansen found it more ‘practical’ to produce, by sleight of hand, an identification of his opponent, the SLL, with the views of the Posadas group.

The note by the French comrades, appended to this reply, raises similar points about the demagogic results of these methods of controversy. As they point out, their own document on Cuba comes under fire from Hansen but has not been issued to the members of Hansen’s party. They also correctly indicate the un-principled character of the argument which runs: nobody who counts in Latin America agrees with the SLL characterisation of Cuba; therefore it is suspect and shows how stupid and sectarian they are. As the French comrades remark, the ‘opinions’ of the Soviet and Spanish people were often quoted in a similar way against Trotsky’s characterisation of the state and the ruling cliques in both countries. In addition, they take up Hansen’s laboured jokes about their reference in an earlier document to a ‘phantom’ bourgeois state in Cuba. What Hansen must do is explain why such a concept is a matter for joking, and in what way he thinks it departs from the kind of analysis made by Trotsky of the class forces in Spain in 1936-37. Either Hansen has forgotten, or he chooses not to remind his readers, of the concept advanced by Trotsky at that time of an ‘alliance’ with the ‘shadow of the bour-geoisie’. Perhaps he knows some good jokes about that too.

It would be pointless to take up every step in Hansen’s documents in a similar way. His whole method is to argue from incidents and impressions, combined with the vaguest generalisations like ‘the might of the colonial revolution’ and the ‘interrelated process of de-Stalinisation’.

Our Record on Cuba

On the question of Cuba itself, Hansen raises no new arguments in the discussion and no new facts on the regime there. We see no need to reply in detail to Hansen’s caricature of the record of The Newsletter in defending Cuba before and during the blockade of October-November 1962. Hansen concerns himself entirely with the pages of The Newsletter: we take every responsibility for everything written in our journal, but we would also point out that Hansen was in Europe during the crisis. He, and The Militant correspondent in London, made not the slightest effort to acquaint themselves with the campaigning activity of the SLL during the crisis. Hansen correctly says that there were many demonstrations against the blockade—and he contrasts this with the ‘insular’ Newsletter! This is nothing but a slander. SLL members were right in the forefront of everyone of those demonstrations. They instigated and led a great many of them. The first mass meetings and demon-strations in Britain were led and addressed by our members. No one except the SLL organised a single factory-gate meeting against the blockade. Our comrades also fought tooth and nail to turn the protests especially into the Labour movement and to the factories. They had to fight resolutely against the right wing and the Stalinists in order to do so. They led these demonstrations against imperialism, and in defence of the Cuban Revolution, at the same time educating the workers and students in the role of the Soviet bureuacracy. They explained the causes of Khrushchev’s contradictory policies, instead of joining Russell and the pacifists in praising his ‘brilliant’ diplomacy. In order to do this they had to fight the Stalinists, a fight which won the support of many Communist Party members for Marxism. That could not have been done without training the SLL in the spirit of revolutionary Communist methods of work and a struggle against revisionism. How well would our comrades have performed had they been armed with the heritage of Pabloism—‘the new situation restricts more and more the capacity of counter--revolutionary measures by the bureaucracy’—or with Cannon’s apologia: ‘What else could he have done under the given circumstances?’; and calling up of Nehru and Russell, ‘unaffected by imperialist propa-ganda’, in his support? We are proud of our record in the Cuban events of last autumn, and we are ashamed of the identification of ‘Trotskyism’ with the capitulation to the Soviet bureaucracy of Cannon and the Pabloites. Hansen’s long list of quotations from The Newsletter is really only a mask for that capi-tulation.

Abstract Norms

Hansen’s case is basically the same as Pablo’s in 1953. ‘Objective’ forces pressing towards Socialism make it impossible for the Soviet bureaucracy to betray, and press even petty-bourgeois groupings to adopt a revolutionary path. We have seen above how in Algeria this means calling on Marxists to simply help along the ‘objective’ forces that will favour a course to the left by Ben Bella and his nationalist government. For all the talk of firmness against imperialism which is supposed to be involved in calling Cuba a ‘workers’ state’, the actual ‘defence’ of the Cuban Revolution by the SWP and the Pabloites was unable to even separate itself from the counter--revolutionary bureaucracy of Khrushchev! This is one of the things we mean when we say that Hansen is not analysing Cuba from the point of view of the development of the international class struggle, but by the application of abstract norms to isolated cases.

Hansen approaches the question of definition of the Cuban state by trying to relate it to the history of such discussions in the Trotskyist movement. The analysis of that discussion is certainly a vital part of the Marxist answer to the problems posed by Cuba today, but it will have to be along a different line to that taken by Hansen. He takes the SLL National Committee to task for ridiculing the imposition of abstract norms from Trotsky’s definition of the USSR to the economy and political system of Cuba today. He says that we thus ‘sever the connection’ between the present and the past discussion.

Hansen even says we have cut out Trotsky’s defi-nition of the USSR ‘by declaring it has no relevance to the Cuban discussion’. Is that the same thing as saying that the question of the Cuban state cannot be resolved abstractly by ‘criteria’ from this earlier discussion? It is always easier to demolish your opponent if you write his case afresh in your own terms. The real point of a historical analysis of the development of our concepts is to establish the way in which they scientifically develop by reflecting the objective world. Just as Trotsky’s definitions of the USSR were hammered out on the basis of changing conditions in the USSR and in the world, of struggles against revisionist trends, and of the struggle to build a new International, so the historical threads of the discussion today must be seen as part of the struggle to build a revolutionary International able to lead the working class to power. The whole political line of the different tendencies in the Trotskyist movement must be the content of an analysis of their discussion on these questions. What looks like ‘historical’ analysis turns out in Hansen’s hands to be the most rigid and unhistorical treatment.

Petty-Bourgeois Leaderships and the Working Class

For example, he criticises Trotskyism Betrayed for failing to characterise the Soviet bureaucracy as a petty-bourgeois bureaucracy. Hansen’s insistence on this point has a specific purpose: ‘What was new in this situation-and this is the heart of Trotsky’s position on the question—was that a reactionary petty--bourgeois formation of this kind could, after a poli-tical counter-revolution, wield power in a workers’ state and even defend the foundations of that state while being primarily concerned about their own special interests.’ It follows therefore that under certain circumstances petty-bourgeois formations will be forced to lead the revolutions of workers and peasants and abolish the capitalist state. Says Hansen: the SLL leaders accepted this for Eastern Europe and China, why not for Cuba? (They should even be more willing, he suggests, since ‘the Cuban leadership is in every respect superior to the Chinese’.) We now see what Hansen means by ‘continuity’ in the discussion. Trotsky saw that a petty-bourgeois bureaucracy could lead and even ‘defend’ a workers’ state. After the Second World War this petty-bourgeois formation could even take the leadership in the extension of the revolution and the establishment of new, ‘deformed workers’ states’. So why should the SLL strain at the notion that petty-bourgeois leadership can lead the establishment of workers’ states in countries like Cuba? There you have the whole of Hansen’s playing with ‘the history of the controversy’. He picks out from the history one aspect, the characterisation as petty-bourgeois of certain social groups. This aspect is selected because it is the one essential to the justification of his present political course. Now it is, of course, absolutely essential that the characterisation ‘petty-bourgeois’ be very precise. This class is con-tinually being differentiated into the main classes of society, bourgeois and proletarian. Its various poli-tical representatives reflect this intermediate, depen-dent and shifting position. They are capable of no independent, consistent political line of action, Only if a petty-bourgeois intellectual joins the proletariat, in Marx’s terms, can he achieve that independence and consistency of theory and action. The bureaucracy in the labour movement was often characterised by Lenin and Trotsky as petty-bourgeois in terms of its way of life, its approximation to the standards and acceptance of the ideology of the middle classes, its going over, in the special conditions of rich im-perialist countries, to the way of life and social functions of the middle classes. They formed part of the ‘new middle caste’ of society in the imperialist countries, In the USSR the bureaucratic ruling group consisted of the elements listed by Hansen – ‘a reflection of the peasantry, the remnants of the old classes, the elements who switched allegiance from Czar to the new regime—all these and the political--military administrative levels of the new government who, under pressure from the Capitalist West, drifted from the outlook of revolutionary socialism or came to prominence without ever having understood it’.

The term petty-bourgeois is not at all sufficient to characterise this bureaucracy for the purpose of the present (or any other) discussion. A decisive sector of the Soviet bureaucracy was Stalin’s faction in control of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet state. The historical relation between this party, this state, and the Soviet working class gave a specific character to the bureaucracy. It was not at all simply a question of relation between old, middle classes and a new governing elite. The existence of nationalized property relations established by a Soviet revolution, with the Bolshevik Party in power, gave us a historically -produced petty-bourgeois stratum at the head of the first workers’ state, a group which represented, as Trotsky so painstakingly insisted, not the general laws of development of classes in the transition from capi-talism to socialism, but the particular and unique refraction of these laws in the conditions of a back-ward and isolated workers’ state. In extending this ‘capacity’ of the petty-bourgeois, as petty-bourgeois, to defend and even extend workers’ states, Hansen and Co. do precisely what Trotsky fought against in the discussion. Our French comrades are right to insist that the evaluation of the history of this discussion in the Trotskyist movement is more than a day’s work, and the pre-condition of any useful results will have to be a much more serious and scientific handling of Marxist concepts than is displayed by Hansen with his easy identification of a ‘petty-bourgeois formation’ like the unique bureaucracy of the first workers’ state with the petty-bourgeois leadership of the July 26th movement in Cuba.

Hansen on Permanent Revolution

In the coming months the French and British sections of the IC will publish contributions on the history of the discussion of ‘workers’ states’. Mean-while we confine ourselves to differences in method to which Hansen draws attention, particularly in relation to Cuba, Nothing that Hansen says in ‘Cuba—The Acid Test ’ answers the main argument in our section on Cuba in Trotskyism Betrayed. But before taking up particular points from Hansen’s document it might be useful to state the general position from which we think Marxists must begin. One reason for doing this is that Hansen accuses us of treating Cuba only as an ‘exception’, and of seeing no continuity between past and present discussions on the character of the state. Castro set out as the leader of a petty--bourgeois nationalist party. His party has led a revolution and been able to hold power in Cuba. How has this been possible? What is its significance?

In the Russian Revolution, the petty-bourgeois (the ‘democracy’) could not resolutely seize the power on its own account, let alone ‘retain’ power, because of the strength of the proletariat and its ally the peasantry at that period. Given resolute revolutionary leadership, the working class proved able to overthrow the ‘democracy’ and achieve power. This power, in the view of Lenin and Trotsky, was an international breakthrough. It was seen essentially, in this back-ward country, as a power to be defended ‘until the workers of Western Europe come to our aid’.

In this summary are contained the basic ideas of the ‘permanent revolution’. Those countries who arrive at the stage of bourgeois-democratic revolution late cannot achieve this revolution under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. The latter, and its spokesmen in the petty-bourgeois parties, are too incapable of an independent development. Their relation to inter-national capital and their fear of the proletariat make their task an impossible one, and they will run to the support of reaction. The proletariat is the only class which can carry through the tasks of the bourgeois--democratic revolution. But in the course of its revolutionary actions and the creation of its own organs of struggle, there arise independent class demands. From the first stage of the revolution there is a rapid transition to workers’ power. The condition for the maintenance and development of this power and its social base is the international socialist revolution.

Petty-Bourgeoisie in the Anti-Imperialist Struggle

The nations drawn into the struggle against im-perialism now cover the entire world. The class com-position of these nations varies enormously. In many of them, there is no industrial proletariat even to compare with the Russian proletariat of 1905, or the Chinese of 1919. In many of them, the development of industry has been forcibly restricted in the special interest of the ruling imperialist powers, so that the population consists almost entirely of a poverty--stricken peasantry. This peasantry is not at all identical with the ‘peasantry’ of Marxist writings in the 19th century. In many cases the majority of cultivators are landless sharecroppers and occasional wage-labourers. The special requirements of extractive and primary processing industries often create a special type of worker-migrant workers, spending half their time employed in mines or on plantations for low wages, the other half unemployed or back in small--scale cash-crop production or subsistence agriculture. The actual relationship of exploitation between inter-national capital, banks, native money-lenders and merchants, landlords, etc., on the one hand, and the direct producers, peasants and workers, on the other, presents new and original forms. These forms are often hideous combinations of the ruthless drive for profit of advanced finance-capital and the backward social relations of feudal sheikhdoms and chiefdoms. At the political level, the peoples of these countries suffer the same deadly combination. All the horrors of modern war are visited upon them, either in direct conflict between the imperialist powers or through the equally effective ‘pacifying’ activities of the United Nations. In each case, we must see a particular com-bination of the forces and the laws analysed by Trotsky and Lenin in their work on imperialism and the Permanent Revolution.

Cuba is one of those countries where capitalist development has been almost entirely a function of foreign investment and control. The dependence of the economies of Latin American countries upon a single crop or resource (for Cuba, sugar) has often been described. The national bourgeoisie could never be an independent social force in Cuba. It could function only as a political or commercial executive for U.S. investments. Under these conditions the petty-bourgeois democratic ideologists could not long play their classical role in the bourgeois revolution, that of providing a political leadership tying the workers and peasants first to the bourgeois struggle against absolutism or for independence, and then tying these lower classes to the new regime. In the Russian Revolution the Social Revolutionaries and the Men-sheviks attempted to do this. The leadership of the Bolsheviks over a proletariat concentrated in a few advanced centres, particularly Petrograd, in the vanguard of a peasant war, won Soviet power. The alternative would have been a repressive regime founded on the capitulation of the petty-bourgeois parties to the counter-revolution. Even in Germany and Italy, more advanced countries with much larger working classes, the failure of the proletarian revolu-tion was replaced within a short time, not by bourgeois democracy, but by the naked oppression of Fascist regimes. Mankind had entered an epoch where the alternatives were Socialism or Barbarism, in the shape of Fascist reaction.

Capitulation to Soviet Bureaucracy

In the world today, we have a more advanced stage of the same situation. Not only barbarism but com-plete annihilation presents itself as the alternative to Socia1ism. This fact on a world scale, together with the preservation of the workers’ state under bureaucratic domination in the USSR and the setting up of similar regimes in other backward countries (Eastern Europe and China), have led some ‘Marxists’ to view the present situation as qualitatively different. The Stalinists have concluded that the threat of war and the power of their own military forces make practic-able a strategy of peaceful competition with the leading imperialist powers, and peaceful and Parlia-mentary roads to Socialism within the individual nations. This is quite clearly not a theory but an ideological apology for the actual capitulation of the Soviet bureaucracy, determined above all to preserve its privileges by balancing between the working classes and imperialism. The current Sino-Soviet dispute raises these questions for discussion throughout the Communist Parries. Never was there greater need for theoretical clarity and decisiveness by the Trotskyist movement, for only the scientific development of the theory of Permanent Revolution can provide any answer to the problems raised. In our opinion the revisions of Trotskyism by Pablo, leading to the split in 1953, and now manifested in opportunist policies for the advanced countries, the workers’ states, and the colonial countries, were a political capitulation to the forces which stand between the working class and the overthrow of imperialism. The power of the Soviet bureaucracy, and the slowness of the European and U.S. labour movements to resolve the crisis of leadership in the 1930s and 1940s, had an impact on the ideas of Pablo and his group which was not interpreted scientifically, in a class way, but impressionistically. This abandonment of the dialectical method, of the class criterion in the analysis of society and politics, resulted in the conclusion that forces other than the proletariat organised behind revolu-tionary Marxist parties would lead the next historical stage of struggle against capitalism. We have seen how Hansen explains this for China and Eastern Europe. We remember Pablo’s insistence that the Stalinist parties in countries like France could lead the working class to power. We have seen since then the ‘rehabilitation of the revolutionary peasantry’ by Pablo and the current belief that petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders can lead the establishment and maintenance of workers’ states. In Cuba, even an ‘uncorrupted workers’ regime’ has been established, according to these ‘Marxists’. All this is possible because there is a ‘new reality’; as Hansen says: ‘To this we must add that the world setting today is completely different (?) from what it was in 1936-39. In place of (?) the entrenchment of European fascism, the Soviet Union has consolidated a position as one of the two primary world powers. The Soviet econo-mic structure has been extended deep into Europe. China has become a workers’ state. The colonial revolution has brought hundreds of millions to their feet. De-Stalinisation has altered the capacity of the bureaucracy to impose its will in flagrant fashion as in the thirties ...’

The similarity here to the analysis of the ‘new situation’ presented by the Stalinists is remarkable. They, too, discuss at the level of ‘the strength of the Socialist camp’, ‘the colonial revolution’, ‘the defeat of fascism’ and ‘the growth of the Soviet economy’. They, too, try to protect themselves from the forma-tion of new revolutionary parties by claiming that it is their defensive reaction of ‘de-Stalinisation’ which assures the future of the Communist movement. Those who refer to Lenin are ‘dogmatists’! Capitulation to the bureaucracy in political questions will eventually involve a descent into their methods of thinking, in narrow empiricism and pragmatism, combined with demagogic generalisations. This is the type of thinking which underlies the present revisionist barrier to the building of the Fourth International.

The SLL’s Position on Cuba

Let us briefly now summarise the ‘refutations’ made by Hansen of our position on Cuba as stated in the document Trotskyism Betrayed and see how they stand up.

1. We criticised the ‘normative’ method of applying separate ‘criteria’ abstractly and unhistorically with-out specific historical and class analysis. We de-manded instead a class analysis of the political forces and of the government and state in Cuba. Hansen replies by accusing us of ignoring the historical con-tinuity in the discussion on the class character of the USSR, China and Eastern Europe and Cuba. We have seen above the way in which he establishes this ‘continuity’—by finding in it justification for accept-ance of petty-bourgeois formations as leaders of the working class. We have tried, in anticipation of future analysis, to lay down the general Marxist frame-work for a discussion. We have suggested that the analysis carried out over the last two years in Labour Review form the basis for a class evaluation of the nationalist and Stalinist forces in Cuba and other countries.

2. We stated categorically that the new unified party (IRO) [6] of Castro and the Stalinists could not be a substitute for the construction of a revolutionary Marxist party in Cuba. Hansen does not take up this question at all. He presumably defends the position stated earlier by Cannon, that the Trotskyists should take a loyal place within the IRO. Hansen replies to the French comrades that in their writings, ‘The meaning of the attacks on the Cuban Trotskyists (by government officials and spokesmen) is exaggerated and placed at the wrong door besides not being properly balanced against the ideological influence which Trotskyism exercises in a significant sector among the Cuban revolutionary vanguard.’ [7]

He still must explain the clear statement of Guevara that no factions shall exist in the IRO, whose ‘democratic centralism’ will thus be of the Stalinist type. He must explain who is responsible for the attacks on Trotskyists. And he must not ask us to take seriously his gentle hint that the SWP or someone else has secret influential friends by Castro’s side. When did that become a Marxist argument, and what has it got to do with the question whether a Marxist party can be built? No doubt we will also be told that in Algeria there is ‘ideological influence’ by Trotskyists like Pablo in ‘a significant sector among the revolutionary vanguard’, but we find it difficult to get excited about that. Hansen had the opportunity in this part of the, argument to expand on his earlier theme: ‘We all know the ABC—we need revolutionary parties—but the question is how to go ahead and build them.’ But he has nothing to say except that it is ‘exaggerated’ to defend the Cuban Trotskyists from attack by the State apparatus and that it should be remembered we have some friends in there.

3. We stated our opinion that the dictatorship of the proletariat had not been established in Cuba, and that therefore the label workers’ state was wrong. Hansen does not take the question head-on—or perhaps this is one of those old ‘norms’ of Lenin which are too old fashioned to apply. To our argument that the state machine remained a bourgeois structure despite the absence of the bourgeoisie, Hansen replies only with attempted ridicule, despite the fact that, as the French comrades have pointed out, this involves him in the necessity of revising Trotsky’s conclusions about Republican Spain in the 30s (Spain-The Last Warning 1936). [8] The SLL, says Hansen, should revise their opinion because: the imperialists disagree about it being a bourgeois state; the ‘people’ of the USSR and the other workers’ states disagree(!); the Cuban people disagree; other Marxists disagree; and finally, the present SLL position was once stated by Pablo himse1f, before he learned better. All these arguments amount to precisely nothing (see the letter from F. Rodriguez, in this bulletin). [9]

Hansen does not take up at all the question of Soviets or workers’ councils as the form of State power, and the meaning of a ‘militia’ without such workers’ self-government. He does not say how this ‘militia’, controlled in fact through the army by the centralised state apparatus, differs from ‘the people in arms’. Is it not a fact that the arms supply is regulated through the army and not through the militias? Through the State apparatus and not through workers’ councils or committees? Why does not Hansen take up our argument that the old state machine was not smashed but was staffed with personnel from Castro’s own movement, later supple-mented by the Stalinist bureaucrats? Is it a ‘norm’ from Marx and Lenin which must now be dropped? We insist that so long as the petty-bourgeois leader-ship of Castro keeps hold of this state machine, bureaucratically independent of any organs of workers’ power, in control of force in Cuban society, then it will function as the main hope for the re-entry of the bourgeoisie into Cuba, nationalization notwithstanding.

4. Essentially connected with the last point was our characterisation of Castro’s government as a Bonapartist regime resting on bourgeois state founda-tions (Trotskyism Betrayed, p. 14). Certainly Castro has leant heavily on the proletariat and the poor peasantry up to now, but he also is careful to preserve a relationship with the rich peasants, and the exigencies of the economy may force him to rely on them more and more. Hansen should think out how far he is prepared to go with Castro in such an eventuality. Already Pablo, with whom Hansen wants to unite, has been working out a theoretical line to justify Ben Bella’s insistence that in Algeria the peasants are more important than the workers. If Hansen is to answer the case far saying Castro is a left Bonaparte, balancing between imperialism and the working class, then he must give an alternative explanation for the absence of proletarian democracy in Cuba. If Cuba is an ‘uncorrupted workers’ regime’ how do we explain the absence of workers’ councils? What explanation is there other than the preservation of the independence of the State power by Castro and his movement, against the working class as well as against imperialism? Stalin’s regime was also charac-terised by Trotsky as a Bonapartist one. Does that mean that Cuba, like the USSR, is therefore a workers’ state? No: we say that Stalin’s was a bureaucratic regime resting on the proletarian state foundations conquered by the Soviet workers in 1917; Castro’s is a Bonapartist regime still resting an bourgeois state foundations. If the Cuban revolution can be success-fully defended from foreign invasion, then the next stage will be a short period of dual power, with the workers and peasants led in their Soviets by a new revolutionary party behind the programme of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

5. Hansen makes no reply to our statement: ‘The attack on Escalante was motivated by a desire to keep power centralised in his own hands and not by hostility to bureaucracy or any other such thing.’ (Trotskyism Betrayed, p. 14). Hansen still writes as if it does not need proving that Escalante was removed from office as a step against Stalinist bureaucratism. But we must repeat that he leaves several points unanswered. What is the significance of the fact that the majority leadership of the Cuban Stalinists also condemned Escalante, and that Pravda welcomed his removal as a blow against ‘sectarianism’? Does it mean that they are now taking their place in Castro’s crusade against Stalinism? But would not this imply that the Stalinist movement is reforming itself along the right lines? Or does it mean that the Cuban CP and Pravda decided to humour Castro for the time being, acknowledging his strong position in Cuba itself? In that case the nature of the relation between the July 26th movement and the Stalinists should be exposed by the SWP, and its implications for the nature of the new ‘united revolutionary party’ recognised.

The main basis for interpreting Escalante’s removal appears to be the speech of Castro ‘Against Sectarian-ism and Bureaucracy’. In this speech Castro gave many examples of favouritism and bureaucratic dis-crimination in the State administration. Escalante and his group, according to Castro, used their power to staff the state apparatus at all leve1s with their own (Communist Party) nominees. All this seems to be very fine, but if the speech is read carefully, and compared with earlier speeches and writings, it be-comes clear that there is more there than meets the eye.

In condemning Escalante’s appointments, Castro repeatedly remarks that the men appointed were not proved revolutionists but Party intellectuals, some of whom were under their beds while the revolutionaries were risking their lives against Batista’s regime. The clear implication of this part of the speech was to assert the leadership of the July 26th group over that of the Communist Party, and to threaten the Com-munist Party with calling up the sympathies of the people behind the ‘real revolutionaries’. It was prob-ably against this very real danger to their own bureau-cratic positions that the Stalinists decided to join in the attack on Escalante and cut their losses. It is very interesting to compare this speech with Castro’s equally well-known one, also published by the SWP, in which he claimed to have always been at least close to communism. In this latter speech, made at a stage when he was more dependent on the Communist Party for the staffing of the State bureaucracy, Castro almost apologised for whatever hostility he had shown to Stalinism in his earlier career. He explained that only his ‘lack of understanding’ prevented him from being a Communist; he thus glossed over the betrayals of Cuban Stalinism in the past. He called upon the militants of the July 26th Movement to learn Marxism from the old hands of the Communist Party. What else can we call these rapid changes in emphasis except the adaptation of a Bonaparte to the changing neces-sities of preserving his domination? Could anyone suggest that they bear any relation to a serious or revolutionary evaluation of Stalinism as a political trend?

In this matter, do Castro’s speeches to the populace bear any relation to the process of ‘educating the masses’ at which he is supposed to be so adept? An article from Hansen on this question would be in-teresting. In ‘Cuba—The Acid Test ’ he makes only the briefest references to the question: ‘the alleged take-over of Castro’s forces by the Cuban Communist Party has been sufficiently exploded by events’ (p. 28).

Hansen chooses here to ignore the point that even if he was right about the significance of Castro’s actions ‘against bureaucratism’ this would largely con-firm what had been said about the dangers to the Cuban revolution of Castro’s dependence on the Stalinists in staffing the State apparatus. He makes no analysis of the actual relations between the July 26th Movement and the Communist Party, and simply refers once again to ‘the measures taken by the Castro regime against Stalinist bureaucratism’ (Cuba—The Acid Test, p. 16) as if nobody could question their ‘revolutionary’ or progressive character. But a reading of Castro’s own speech makes the matter quite clear. In condemning the bureaucratic appointment to State positions of Communist Party members by Escalante, Castro is defending not workers’ rule, proletarian dictatorship, but the independence of the State machine. He insists in so many words that the state must have the right to place all personnel. These officials will be loyal to the State and not to any outside organisation. The assertion of the worth of the July 26th fighters against those who were ‘under their beds’ is a justification of this independent power of the centralised state apparatus itself, under the direct control of Castro’s government. Guevara’s speeches against workers’ control in industry, and the attacks on the Cuban Trotskyists, are in the same line.

6. Hansen repeats all the arguments about nationali-zation carried out by the Castro government, without introducing anything new to the discussion. We had indicated that nationalization today could mean many different things, and was often carried out on a large scale by bourgeois governments, particularly in back-ward countries. The longer capitalism continues in the absence of proletarian victory in the advanced coun-tries, the more capitalist economy will have to adopt measures which conform to the character of modern industry, division of labour and communication, yet still restricting the economy within the contradictions of capitalism. Hansen makes a terrible hash of the argument at that point. He says: if nationalizations like those in Cuba can be carried out by a bourgeois state, doesn’t this lead you to the conclusion that capitalism can still have a progressive role? This is only the argument of the revisionists (‘Capitalism can make itself work’) stood on its head. Hansen is taking at their face value the claims made by the governments and capitalist spokesmen for such changes. The fact is that the economy of Cuba, or Israel, or Egypt, or any other country, will be hampered by such a frame-work from becoming part of the rationally planned international economy of Socialism. Does the use of atomic fission prove that science and industry can still advance under capitalism, and that Marxism is wrong? Or doesn’t it demonstrate that every technological advance, so long as imperialism is not abolished, turns into its opposite, i.e., that all development involves greater economic and political contradictions?

Hansen does not take up the relevance of his criteria of ‘nationalization’ for say, Egypt or Burma, where a military-nationalist government recently nationalized the banks and many foreign holdings. Perhaps these will have to be called workers’ states, since if somebody else (bourgeois or petty-bourgeois governments) nationalized these enterprises, that might imply further progressive roles for the capitalist class and the capitalist system. We raised the question of the SWP’s evaluation of these states in our earlier document, but Hansen gives no reply. On the question of nationalization of the land, one small point will show the incompleteness of Hansen’s presentation. Hansen says that the alienability of land (whether it can be bought and sold) is ‘beside the point in this discussion’ but takes the opportunity to attack the SLL for its ‘ignorance of the facts on this question’. He goes on: ‘It so happens that the Agrarian Reform Law specifies that the “vital minimum” of land, to which a campesino gets a deed, “shall be inalienable”. Exempt from taxes, this land cannot be attached and is not subject to contract, lease, sharecrop or usufruct. It can be transferred only by sale to the state, or through inheritance by a single heir on the death of the owner, or, in the event there is no heir, by sale at a public auction to bidders who must be campesinos or agricultural workers: Now a very interesting omission from this passage (a passage whose only meaning is that the Castro government has tried to create a stable, small and middle peasant class in Cuba) is that besides the vital ‘minimum’ there is also the possibility of much larger holdings, up to a maximum of 1,000 acres. Between the minimum and the maximum, the land can be sold on the market. Hansen’s correction of our ‘ignorance’ here may perhaps serve as a model of how to start with ‘the facts’.

7. Finally, we raised the question of a new revolu-tionary party in Cuba. Hansen ignores this completely. He prefers the ‘facts’.

Hansen’s Silence

In this reply to Cuba—The Acid Test we have restricted ourselves to the methodological principles raised by Hansen, and to a number of illustrations of the differences between us on these principles, par-ticularly on Cuba. Other questions which we took up in Trotskyism Betrayed are ignored by Hansen, and we await his reply. For example, we took several pages to answer the accusation of ‘subjectivism’ in our evaluation of the world situation. Taking up Trotsky’s Transitional Programme and the International Resolu-tion of the SLL (World Prospect for Socialism) we showed that our evaluation of the relation between leadership and the objective contradictions of capitalism was the same as Trotsky’s. Hansen makes no attempt to return to the attack an this point; perhaps he thinks it enough to say that ‘the world setting today is completely different from what it was in 1936-39’. (p. 28). We also made a detailed reply defending our characterisation of the Algerian leadership and the Evian sell-out. Once again, nothing from Hansen in reply (see above). What kind of discussion is Hansen going in for? We try to take up all the points raised, to carry them to the end, and Hansen simply drops them. Such discussion soon becomes profitless. Similar treatment is given to the question of the Leninist approach to party-building. We tried to establish, from the documentary evidence, the falseness of Hansen’s claim that Lenin and Trotsky had built the Party primarily through flexibility and unifications. We pointed out the essential theoretical firmness and the ability to insist on splits characteristic of Lenin, and Trotsky’s recognition of this essence. Hansen replies not a word.

Finally, we take up once again the relation between the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries and in the backward nations. We especially insisted an the political implications of the SWP’s statement that ‘the pronounced lag in the West, this negative feature (was) the most important element in the current reality.’ All the talk of the revisionists about ‘favourable objective forces’ amounts in fact to the opposite of what it appears. Times are good, and getting better, but for what? Far the construction of revolutionary parties around the programme of the Fourth International? No! For the emergence of Marxists from the petty-bourgeois political groupings, a development which Trotskyists should direct all their efforts to supporting! This is the most that can be gathered from Hansen and the Pabloites. Their ‘deep entry’ and their silence on the principled questions of new revolutionary parties, Soviet demo-cracy, and the political revolution, are designed to find ways of ‘getting in on the act’. Someone else is going to do the job, and at the moment the Stalinist bureau-cracy and the nationalist leaders are getting on with it. As for the advanced countries: ‘In fact experience would seem to indicate that the difficulty of coming to power in the imperialist countries has increased if anything since the time of the Bolsheviks.’ This is used to back up Hansen’s agreement that the construc-tion of revolutionary parties is an ‘absolute necessity in the advanced capitalist countries’. In the advanced countries it’s difficult: you need Marxist parties. But in any case the ‘epicentre’ of the revolution is elsewhere, and there it can be done by someone else. In effect the ‘parties’ of Hansen and the Pabloites in the advanced countries become cheer-leaders for the petty--bourgeois nationalists in Algeria, Cuba, etc. Hansen chooses to ignore the line of those Pabloites in Europe who ‘keep their heads dawn’ in the Social Democracy, hoping to be discovered as the core of some future centrist parties, rather than constructing independent parties in opposition to the reactionary leaderships.

Hansen’s document, Cuba—The Acid Test, is a serious warning to Marxists. It parades as a serious contribution to an international discussion, yet ignores a whole series of vital questions raised immediately before, questions concerning the whole record and orientation of Bolshevism.

In place of this, Hansen insists on ‘the facts’, and in particular, the fact of the Cuban Revolution. Into this part of the discussion he introduces nothing new except a demagogic distortion of the SLL’s position and a crude attempt to gain something from the different evaluations of the Cuban state by the French and British sections of the IC.

All this indicates that Hansen is running away from the fundamental political questions. His insistence on ‘The Acid Test’ of Cuba is a plea for ‘commonsense’ to override theory. It is this which underlies the wholly different concepts of building the International now dividing the SWP and the SLL. Without revolu-tionary theory, no revolutionary party.

The great benefit to be derived from Cuba—The Acid Test is that it makes explicit the foundations of this abandonment of revolutionary theory, of dialectical materialism. Hansen has now placed out in the open his defence of empiricism as a method, a method which has a natural expression in the politics of opportunism. It is to these politics that Hansen’s method now leads. It is for this reason that he and Cannon drive for unification with Pabloism, whose opportunist and liquidationist revisions 1953 have not been in any way corrected. All that has happened is that the theoretical stagnation of the American Trotskyists has led them inescapably to the same end.

Adapted unanimously by The National Committee of The Socialist Labour League on 23rd March, 1963.


It is characteristic of the Castro regime that not a single leading body of the ORI is elected. While Castro inveighs against sectarianism and dogmatism in the party, he is at the same time responsible for the installation of an autocratic and self-perpetuating bureaucracy.

For example, the ‘reorganising process’ in the ORI is carried out by the National Board—which is appointed. Who reorganises the National Board? Presumably Castro. There is no freedom for dissident tendencies and no provision for minority representa-tion.

All policy decisions are made behind closed doors by a small clique of Castro and his supporters. There is no democratic debate and little discussion. For instance, during the last missile crisis, it transpired that ‘some people’ in the ORI favoured UN inspection. Who these people were and what chance they had to express themselves we do not know. We had to wait until Castro spoke to get what facts we could.

Again recently the workers of Havana were treated to a piece of organisational skullduggery without pre-cedent in the revolution. This was the decision to dissolve the acting Provincial Committee (37) of Havana, its executive board and Secretariat. It was replaced with a small Provisional Executive Board (11) with ‘limited functions considered indispensable at this stage’.

The ostensible—and official—reason for this arbit-rary action was the failure of this important leading organ to carry out the ‘reorganising work’ but the real reason was probably a political one—the elimination of the remnants of Escalante’s forces in the ORI.

The Provincial Committee—one of the most im-portant in Cuba—has no right of appeal to any Congress of the ORI for the simple reason that there has been no democratically convened Congress, and there is little prospect of seeing one in the future.

At the same time, too, all the party organisations in the Province of Havana have been placed under the direction of eleven Regional Commissions which are not subject to election and renewal.

The bureaucratic centralisation going on in the ORI is the antithesis of working-class democracy and is the surest symptom of Bonapartism in the revolution.

We do not wish to make a fetish of democracy—nor do we wish to minimise the importance of the bullet vis-à-vis the ballot in a revolution. But dictatorship if it is to remain popular and viable must be tempered by the widest democracy. Comrade Cannon in his own inimitable style expressed this thought succinctly when he wrote:

‘When the founders of scientific socialism said the workers must emancipate themselves, they meant that nobody would do it for them, and nobody could. The same holds true for their organisations, the instruments of struggle for emancipation. If they are really to serve their purpose, these organisations must belong to the workers and be democratically operated and controlled by them. Nobody can do it for them. So thought the great democrats, Marx and Engels.’ (Notebook of an Agitator, p. 239, Pioneer Publishers 1958).

We cannot say more.

1. Reprinted in Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Volume Three , (New Park Publications, 1974) p. 235.

2. Reprinted in Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Volume Three , (New Park Publications, 1974) p. 292.

3. Published as an appendix to this document and originally appearing in the same issue of Fourth International .

4. Cuba —The Acid Test: A reply to the Ultra-left sectarians , by Joseph Hansen, Nov. 20. 1962, Reprinted in

Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Volume Four , (New Park Publications, 1974) p. 20. This document is also available online at,

5. ‘Germain’ was the pen name of Ernest Mandel.

6. In July 1961, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (IRO) was formed by the merger of Fidel Castro's 26th of July Revolutionary Movement , the People's Socialist Party (the old Communist Party) led by Blas Roca and the Revolutionary Directorate March 13th led by Faure Chomón. On March 26, 1962 the IRO became the United Party of the Cuban Socialist Revolution (PURSC) which, in turn, became the Communist Party of Cuba on October 3, 1965 with Castro as First Secretary.

7. The Socialist Workers Party, while initially defending the Cuban Trotskyists against the repression of the Castro regime, had within a few months, made an about face and supported the repression. This episode remains one of the seamier chapters in the history of opportunism. An excellent chronicle of the history of Cuban Trotskyism is available in the doctoral dissertation of Gary Andrew Tennant. An extensive discussion of the repression of the Cuban Trotskyists from this document is available online at,


9. Published separately in the same issue of Fourth International.

Slaughter Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 25 April 2008