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Ken Tarbuck

I.S. Writes Its Own History

(February 1972)

From Workers Fight, No. 3, February 1972, pp. 10–11.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Fourth International, Stalinism and the Origins of the International Socialism Group – Some Documents
Pluto Press, £1.00

Reviewed by KEN TARBUCK, who was during the period covered by these documents the Secretary of the Socialist Review Group.

WHAT, ONE MAY ASK, is the purpose this small selection of Some Documents relating to the history of IS?

To the uninformed it may appear to be an exercise in educating the present membership, to help round out their picture of how the organisation came into being.

Unfortunately Pluto Press have engaged the services of a person to introduce the documents whose only gifts seem to be an ability to falsify and to develop a defective memory when convenient.

All the tortuous political arguments on Trotsky’s views on the nature of the Soviet Union – as seen by Hallas – are, in fact, merely a preamble to some rather clumsy falsifications.

East Europe

In the late 1940s a vital discussion took place in the Fourth International on the class nature of the East European states.

Hallas attempts to distort the developing position of the F.I. in order to claim that there had been a somersault from regarding the East European states as capitalist, to regarding them as workers’ states. Thus he alleges that as well as the FI characterising the state capitalist analysis of these states as revisionism, it also characterised as revisionist the view that they were workers’ states.

The document to which Hallas refers, using a single phrase torn out of context, is a lengthy resolution passed by the 2nd World Congress in 1948. As to the actual position taken in this document, we find the following:

“The peculiarity of the buffer-zone countries consists in this, that the Soviet bureaucracy has succeeded, for the time being, in orienting the capitalist economy in a sense corresponding, in the first instance, to its own interests. This situation can only be transitional. It must end either in the bureaucracy’s withdrawal from its position, under the pressure of imperialism, or in the real destruction of capitalism ... The Stalinist state apparatus has acquired a great deal of independence in relation to the bourgeoisie and proletariat, not alone owing to the balance between and the growing prostration of both these classes; but above all to its intimate ties with the Soviet state apparatus and the overwhelming weight of the latter in Eastern Europe, amid the existing world relations.” (p. 119, Fourth International, June 1948)

It is certainly true that there was some initial confusion, and the resolution quoted above reflected this ambiguity. But what does this prove? Merely, that when faced with an unprecedented situation the F.I. refused to rush in with ready made answers.

In this connection it is pertinent to point out that Cliff did rush in, as his document on the Class Nature of the Peoples Democracies (included in this selection) shows.

Any examination of this and the current reality in Eastern Europe will show that what Cliff described (largely correct factually at the time) no longer obtains. All of the special companies and other economic forms which he attributes to “Soviet Imperialism” have long since disappeared.

The 1948 resolution of the Fourth International has been vindicated in this respect, since it emphasised the transitional nature of the regimes at the time.

Finally, what of the “workers’ statist Revisionism”? A reading of the actual resolution makes clear that it refers to ... pro-Stalinists outside the Fourth International!


Given that it was the issue of the Korean war that was the catalyst which broke a number of members away from the Healy group (the forerunner of the present Socialist Labour League), the bulk of whom went on to form the SOCIALIST REVIEW GROUP – parent of today’s I.S. – it strikes one as odd, to say the least, that the article chosen to represent this group’s point of view on the war is one taken from the second issue of the journal, one, moreover, which originated in India.

(Incidentally Hallas’ claim that it was Cliff’s document on the”Peoples Democracies” that rallied people is just not true – see Some Notes on the History of British Trotskyism, in Marxist Studies, Vol. 2 no. 1, Winter 1969–70.)

Didn’t the group have anything to say on such an important issue in the first number of Socialist Review? After all any journal worth its salt must say something on such a burning current issue in its first number.

In fact TWO articles appeared on this question in the first issue of Socialist Review. The very first article in the journal was The Struggle of the Powers by R. Tennant (Tony Cliff). This devoted two pages to criticising American imperialism – and nearly five pages to attacking “Russian imperialism”.

The other article on this question was entitled Whither Socialist Outlook? (the Healy group’s paper in the Labour Party). This is a scathing attack on the “pro-Stalinist” policy being pursued by Socialist Outlook (which supported North Korea against US imperialism). It very clearly parted Socialist Review from such policies, and took an uncompromising ‘third camp’ position.

Why then select an article written in India to represent the Socialist Review group policy on this key issue?

Quite correctly Hallas repudiates the slander that the SR group in any way supported American imperialism. Yet there is no doubt that, given the support for the Vietnamese revolution by IS today, Hallas and the other leaders of today’s IS feel very uncomfortable about the Korean war and the stand taken on it. Yet they dared not leave it out of this collection.

Therefore the choice was made to republish an article that is short and comparatively mild in tone compared with the articles in the first issue of Socialist Review, which were a real reflection of the feelings on the Group.

And of course so anxious are the present leaders of IS to put distance between themselves and Shachtman – given his present support for US imperialism in Vietnam – that they fail to mention that Labor Action (the paper which the article came from) was Shachtman’s paper!

China & Yugoslavia

A claim is made that “Cliff’s forecast of the political development of the FI was rapidly confirmed. The majority adopted Michael Pablo’s notorious (sic) document The Rise and Decline of Stalinism ... which represented a return to the reformist Trotskyism of the twenties with respect to Stalinist states where these happened to be in actual or potential conflict with Russia”.

We are served up a short paragraph which does NOT talk about reforming the Chinese and Yugoslav parties or states, but says Trotskyists should strive to create revolutionary currents within these parties.

However, this point of view was not predicated upon the view that these states were in conflict with Russia, but on the fact that they were the two Communist Parties that had carried through an overturn in property relations within their respective countries, independent of, and against the advice of, Stalin.

It was precisely because these two parties had had to mobilise the masses in their struggles that led the FI to argue at that time that these parties were still capable of responding to mass pressure and actions. It was this aspect that led to the particular judgment being made at the time. One, incidentally, that I now feel was wrong, but has been corrected by the test of events.

But, on the main issue of the Stalinist states, the document in question is clear and unequivocal –

“Our sections ought to resolutely combat any tendency towards apology or justification for the present regime in the Soviet Union ... The smashing of the dictatorship and the privileges of the bureaucracy, the task of a new political revolution IN THE SOVIET UNION remains more burning than ever.” (p. 43, Fourth International (Paris), Winter 1958, emphasis in original, passed at World Congress, 1954.)

The so-called ‘notorious’ document of Pablo, if read as a whole, has in fact stood the test of time far better than Cliff’s liberal use of statistics as a substitute for analysis.

Western Europe

But where is the relapse into ‘reformist Trotskyism’ that Hallas writes about? It is another figment of his imagination.

He alleges that the Fourth International indulged in some “fantasy” of a perspective of reforming the mass Stalinist parties in Western Europe, and like the proverbial children’s party conjuror he pulls a quotation out of the hat.

“These organisations cannot be smashed and replaced by others in the relatively short time between now and the decisive conflict. All the more so since these organisations will be obliged, whether they wish it or not, to give a leftward turn to the whole or at least part of the leadership.”

The reference Hallas gives for this quotation is The Decline and Fall of Stalinism, a document adopted in 1954 by the world congress of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International and reproduced in 1970 by the Socialist Workers Party (USA).

Unfortunately for anyone wishing to check the validity of this quotation they will not find it anywhere in the 1970 edition, nor in the 1958 edition; the reason is quite simple. The quotation does not come from this document at all.

It seems to be one of the laws of politics that the worse the mistake or falsification the more likely it is to be repeated.

Hallas is no exception.

He had previously used exactly the same quote in his article Building the Leadership in I.S. journal No. 40, Unfortunately it is taken, at second hand, from a source other than that which he cites. [1]

If all that was at stake was some confusion over the correct source of a quotation, it would not merit such a lengthy explanation. But a proper reading of A Recall to Order (Hallas’ actual source) makes it quite clear that the quotation is not talking about the Communist Parties at all! The reference was in fact to the mass social democratic parties.

It must be recalled that at the time in question, i.e. 1952, nearly every tendency on the left thought that a third world war was not only possible but imminent.

If one reads the above In this contest one can see that the report was based upon the assumption of a quicker tempo of development than subsequently occurred and that it posed a very real and legitimate possibility of some social democratic leaderships or sections of them being forced in a revolutionary direction by the pressure and activity of the masses.

The report in fact says –

“In all these countries it is extremely probable, except for some new and at the moment unforeseeable developments, that the radicalisation of the masses and the first stages of the revolution, of the objective revolutionary situation, will manifest themselves within these organisations, The main forces of the revolutionary party of these countries will spring up by differentiation or disintegration of these organisations.”

Does Hallas actually think (even in these brave new days of the 12-page Socialist Worker ...) that there can be a complete by-passing of the existing organisations of the working class in the building of a revolutionary party, or that it is not reasonable to suppose that ferment within them and splits and disintegration will be a part of the process?

Finally, lest Hallas and his ilk think that only the “Pabloites” thought a third world war was imminent, let me quote from a Socialist Review Youth Supplement of the same period:

“The world today is divided by and large into two vast imperialist Power blocs, both striving for world supremacy. You may be quite ignorant of the coal and steel production figures of these countries but of one thing you can be certain. Both power blocs threaten world peace, and war between them is inevitable.”

How, then, does this fit in now with the picture of IS being right all the time and everyone else wrong? Perhaps readers will now understand why only “some documents” were republished, and others left to moulder in the archives.


The question that has to be asked now is why these particular documents were reproduced at this time, and why Hallas has to write such a falsified Introduction to them?

Certainly new members of IS will want to know about the origins of IS and its present leaders. In this respect both the selection and introduction serve as a smoke screen to cover up far more than was intended to reveal.

That Cliff was the main driving force of the organisation’s ideas and has remained with it all along cannot be doubted.

But the inclusion of Hallas’ document from 1951 (dressed up as the Group’s main policy document but in fact only a rehash – “for use on contacts” – of a Secretariat resolution endorsed two months previously) along with his introduction serve as camouflage to prevent new comrades wondering where Hallas was during the intervening years.

Certainly he cannot claim a continuous membership of the organisation since its inception. (Indeed even in the first two years of its existence his membership was put in question. There is a note in the Nov. 1952 minutes of the NC where it was moved that Hallas be dropped to the rank of sympathiser for non-payment of dues.)

It would be instructive for new members of IS to look through the issues of Socialist Review during the 1950s. They will be hard put to it to find any contribution by Hallas. The book A Socialist Review published in 1965, which was a selection from articles over the years from the paper, contains not one contribution from Hallas.

The whole of the present exercise is like someone trying to answer the question “what did you do in the war Daddy?”

In fact during those long hard cold years during the 1950s and early 1960s Hallas seemed to have dropped from sight. It must all be a bit embarrassing for someone who now has the temerity to describe Trotsky as a bigger revisionist than Bernstein.

If such antics were not despicable they would be funny. There are always those with a glib tongue and pen who come flocking into the revolutionary movement when it is expanding and winning some victories. Then the movement is a relatively warm and cheerful place to be.

Hallas is one of the clowns who has come from out of the cold.

* * *


1. The original being a report of the Xth plenum of the International Executive Committee of the FI, published in the Feb./April 1952 issue of Quatrième Internationale.

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Last updated: 27 February 2019