Workers Power & the Fourth International

Workers Power & the Fourth International

[Extract from Letter to Workers Power from the International Bolshevik Tendency, May 5 1988. Copied from ]

Spartacist and Revolutionary Continuity

Your “overall view” of our politics is that they “are based on a sectarian method inherited from the Spartacist League.” Our group was founded by cadres from the Spartacist tendency and we regard the Spartacist League (SL) and its progenitor, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP), as an important link in the chain of Trotskyist continuity. The Spartacist tendency, virtually alone among ostensibly Trotskyist organizations, correctly analyzed the perplexing phenomenon of the Cuban Revolution at the time. It recognized that while Castro’s 26 July Movement did preside over the destruction of capitalism in Cuba, it would be incapable of establishing anything other than a deformed workers state on that island.

As we noted in our document, “We stand on the Trotskyist positions defended and elaborated by the revolutionary Spartacist League” of the 1960’s and 1970’s. We are proud of that record. The SL fought for a revolutionary perspective on all of the significant international questions which it addressed in that period. Today, however, the international Spartacist tendency (iSt) is today no longer a revolutionary organization, but a cynical political bandit cult (see “The Road to Jimstown,” Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt No. 4).

We reject your notion that the degeneration of the iSt is traceable to its fundamental programmatic positions. Applying this formula to the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party, one arrives at the familiar conclusion, “Leninism leads to Stalinism.” Surely you would agree that the bureaucratic strangulation of the CPSU was already far advanced when Stalin first enunciated his theory of “Socialism in One Country.” To understand the degeneration of the Spartacist group, it is necessary to comprehend the dialectical relation between the formal programmatic positions of an ostensibly Leninist formation and its actual activity in the world–including the condition of its internal regime (which is in turn conditioned by a number of objective factors). Over time the two must inevitably converge, but this is not to say that there is a direct one-to-one correspondence at every step of an organization’s development (or degeneration).

Your one-sided assertion that, “regimes are the product of definite politics, definite programmes” is an argument which Robertson and his cronies clung to for years. They claimed that their brutal, dishonest and cynical behavior internally could only be taken as evidence of a bad regime if, in the pages of the group’s public press, there was evidence of overt revisionism on the Russian question, the national question, etc. In the case of the Spartacist group, the cultist and highly bureaucratized evolution of the internal regime–in itself a programmatic departure from Trotskyism–prepared the way for a series of other programmatic departures from the organization’s own revolutionary tradition. We have documented a good many of the more consequential revisionist positions adopted by the Robertson leadership–from social-patriotic defense of the U.S. Marines in Lebanon to hailing Yuri Andropov, the Stalinist butcher of the Hungarian Revolution.

The 1951-53 Split

Our differences on the question of revolutionary continuity do not simply involve an assessment of the Spartacist tendency. You assert that there was no significant issue of principle involved in the 1951-53 split in the Fourth International. As we noted in “For Trotskyism” we stand on the fight of the organizations which formed the International Committee (IC), while recognizing that this fight was “profoundly flawed both in terms of political framework and execution.”

Each of the components of what was to become the IC exhibited distinctive political impulses alien to Trotskyism. Cannon’s arguments in favor of a federated international were completely erroneous, and the activity of the Healy group in the Labour Party was both unprincipled and in no important way different from what Pablo proposed for the rest of the international. The IC groups had also shared the earlier disorientation of the movement over Yugoslavia and China.

However, despite these problems, the bottom line is that in the 1951-53 fight, the main sections of the IC opposed Pablo’s project of liquidating the Trotskyist cadres into Stalinism and social democracy. For revolutionists this is a question of principle. The sections which constituted themselves as the IC rejected the pessimistic conclusions which Pablo’s faction drew from the phenomenon of the post-war expansion of Stalinism: that in the “New World Reality” Trotskyism had no necessary historic role. Pablo’s objectivist conceptions, and his concomitant negation of the subjective factor in history, was captured in “Where Are We Going?” where he asserted that, “the objective process is in the final analysis the sole determining factor, overriding all obstacles of a subjective order.”

The SWP mistakenly endorsed this and other revisionist documents produced by the Pablo leadership of the international–while seeking to avoid the practical consequences by arguing for a form of “American exceptionalism” and a federated international. This was evidence that the revolutionary edge of the SWP leadership was dulling under the tremendous anti-communist pressures of McCarthyism. Yet when faced with the practical requirements of the liquidationist course demanded by Pablo on their own national terrain, the American Trotskyists asserted the historic necessity of a conscious Trotskyist leadership in the struggle for socialist revolution.

By contrast, the American Pabloists, led by Bert Cochran, called for “junking the old Trotskyism,” and, after leaving the SWP, rapidly dissolved into a social-democratic literary circle. The SWP in the 1950’s was isolated and besieged, with an aging cadre and no prospects of significant growth in the foreseeable future. It was visibly drifting rightward. Yet, despite its growing political disorientation, it clung to formally orthodox positions on most important programmatic questions. It was therefore, unlike the Cochranite formation, an organization which possessed the capacity for its own political regeneration.

The SWP’s “Open Letter”

We find your attitude toward the formation of the IC to be light-minded. Your assertion that “in all essentials they [the IC] agreed with him [Pablo]” is followed by the glib comment that, “the criticisms of the IS’s positions on the French general strike and the East German events made by the SWP in its open letter of 1953 were correct.” But comrades, this was the founding document of the IC. The French general strike and the East German revolt were the two critical political events in Europe that year, which, as the SWP correctly asserted, demonstrated the irreversibly revisionist and anti-Trotskyist character of the Pablo current.

In its November 1953 letter, the SWP noted:

“In East Germany in June the workers rose against the Stalinist-dominated government in one of the greatest demonstrations in the history of Germany. This was the first proletarian mass uprising against Stalinism since it usurped and consolidated power in the Soviet Union. How did Pablo respond to this epochal event?

“Instead of clearly voicing the revolutionary political aspirations of the insurgent East German workers, Pablo covered up the counter-revolutionary Stalinist satraps who mobilized Soviet troops to put down the uprising….”

A similar divergence was evident in the orientations of the two tendencies toward the French general strike:

 “In France in August the greatest general strike in the history of the country broke out. Put in motion by the workers themselves against the will of their official leadership, it presented one of the most favorable openings in working-class history for the development of a real struggle for power….

 “The official leadership, both Social Democrats and Stalinists, betrayed this movement, doing their utmost to restrain it and avert the danger to French capitalism. In the history of betrayals it would be difficult to find a more abominable one if it is measured against the opportunity that was present.

 “How did the Pablo faction respond to this colossal event?

“As for the Stalinists, the Pabloites covered up their betrayal. By that action they shared in the Stalinist betrayal.”

The Pabloists’ response to the East German uprising and the French general strike was not accidental. It reflected a profound political difference over the nature of Stalinism and the relevance of the “old Trotskyism” which the Pabloists were in such a hurry to “junk.” Pablo made this clear in a December 1953 reply to the SWP’s “Open Letter”:

“They [the Cannon grouping] still remain on the schema and the genuine `orthodox’ faith in the politics of 1938…They preserve the same attitude towards the Stalinist organizations and movement, and the Soviet Union, as in 1938…This whole assemblage of forecasts and correct politics is now turned upside down by an entirely different course of history.”

It was not by accident that, at the time of the split, the IC was right against the IS on every important contested question. The Pablo faction generalized from the phenomenon of the post-war expansion of Stalinism that Trotskyism had no necessary historic function. While the Pabloists have since periodically relocated the “epicenter” of world revolution (from the Stalinist CPs of Western Europe to the Algerian FLN, the Castroist July 26 Movement, the New Left “New Mass Vanguard,” Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, etc.) the fundamentally liquidationist impulse of their objectivist methodology has remained constant.

The IC was flawed by its hasty and superficial struggle against this liquidationist current, and its subsequent failure to attempt to reestablish a democratic-centralist Trotskyist international organization. But in politics, as in many other fields, it is vital to have a sense of proportion. Despite its flaws, the IC, at the time of the split, upheld the most fundamental proposition of Leninism–the necessity of a conscious Marxist vanguard at the head of the proletariat, as the only agency capable of leading successful socialist transformations. The SWP put it well in its “Open Letter”:

“the factor that sustains cadres under the most difficult circumstances is the burning conviction of the theoretical correctness of our movement, the knowledge that they are the living means for advancing the historic mission of the working class, the understanding that to one degree or another the fate of humanity depends on what they do, the firm belief that whatever the momentary circumstances may be, the main line of historic development demands the creation of Leninist combat parties that will resolve the crisis of humanity through a victorious socialist revolution.”

The respective responses to the events in France and East Germany in 1953 demonstrated in life the profound political distance which separated these two currents. This is why, despite our criticisms, we consider that the IC was qualitatively superior to the IS, and why we believe that authentic Trotskyists today have a side in that fight. Frankly, we find the idea that there were no Trotskyists on the planet for two and a half decades–from 1951 until your own immaculate conception in the womb of Tony Cliff’s anti-Soviet “Third Camp” swamp in the mid-1970’s–hard to take seriously.

The SLL and the 1963 Pabloite “Reunification”

We find your criticisms of the Socialist Labour League’s 1961 document “The World Prospect for Socialism” (a document which played an important part in the crystallization of the Revolutionary Tendency within the SWP) essentially trivial. The SLL, even in its best period, was imperfect and you are correct to criticize the characterization of Mao and Tito as “centrists.” A more consequential–but not unrelated–error was Healy’s insistence that Cuba remained capitalist even after the expropriations of 1960. Yet at a time when the SWP was rapidly moving rightward toward “reunification” with the Pabloists on the basis of a shared enthusiasm for Castro, this document unambiguously reasserted the role of the conscious factor in history–the necessity of the Trotskyist vanguard as the agency of proletarian revolution. This was illustrated in the critique of Mandel’s shameful role as left cover for the trade-union “lefts” in the 1961 Belgian general strike:

“On the most general level the Belgian events teach that the prime necessity is to build a revolutionary cadre. This task cannot be evaded by any consideration of immediate tactical success or to win approval from centrists or other tendencies. It cannot begin if major theoretical questions are not brought forward for discussion or if efforts are made to form combinations in which principled questions are put to one side. It cannot begin by support for centrist `personalities’ or the establishment of relationships which involve concessions on principle.”

The fact that the authors of this document subsequently degenerated into cheerleaders for the “Arab Revolution,” the Vietnamese Stalinists, Mao’s Red Guards and finally Qaddafi’s Green Revolution does not negate the positive role which they played in rearming Trotskyist cadres for political battle in the struggle against the revisionist “reunification” which created the United Secretariat in 1963. We stand on the record of the RT and the revolutionary SL and seek to carry forward this struggle, and by doing so to play our part in a regroupment of revolutionaries which can once more establish “orthodox” Trotskyism as an important current in the international working class.