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Historical Roots of the Degeneration of the Fourth International and the Centrism of the SWP: For a return to the Proletarian Road of Trotskyism.

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We reproduce this 1972-73 critique of the degeneration of the Fourth International after the death of Trotsky. It argues that the FI succumbed to national chauvinism during the war and failed to correct that deviation from revolutionary Marxism after the war.  It blames the increasingly petty bourgeois leadership and not the hostile conditions of the time, and calls for the founding a a ‘new’ International based on the FI program of 1938.

[reprinted from Vanguard Newsletter, Vol 4, nos 7-10 and Vol 5, nos 1-3]

 Introduction by David Fender

The following is the first part of the historical section of the Communist Tendency’s (CT) counter-resolution, Historical Roots of the Degeneration of the Fourth International and the Centrism of the SWP-For a Return to the Proletarian Road of Trotskyism.

This first section of the resolution sketches the history of the Fourth International to 1953 with particular regard to the role of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The history goes only to 1953 not by design, but because time did not permit us to finish it –hence the short document “The International Situation –An Initial Assessment” published in a previous issue. Nevertheless, the period to 1953 was sufficient for our purposes during the struggle inside the SWP, since it adequately explained the roots of the SWP’s degeneration and of its present day centrist politics.

Today, however, a more complete historical sketch is necessary, especially in light of those groups like the Workers League which dissect history to fit the needs of their own Procrustean organizations.

Ever since the appearance of the CT’s document, the “Wohlforth” League has outdone itself in apologizing for those very things with which they rationalize their own existence. Suddenly the long overdue project of writing the “history” of the Fourth International before 1953 was taken up. Schools were held across the country to deal with this topic, and these were addressed by no less than Lucy St. John and Tim Wohlforth, whose speeches were subsequently printed in the Bulletin. And now the readers of the Bulletin are treated to a new series of four-page center-spreads against those who would “vilify” Wohlforth’s (and Healy’s) history. Being one of the principle targets of these excursions into fantasy by Wohlforth and his camarilla, I claim no intention to or plaudit for “vilifying” anyone. If Healy or Wohlforth feel vilified then they must take all the credit.

Why all the commotion by Wohlforth and Co.? The answer is clear. They are feeling the heat of the revolutionary “idea”, which Trotsky discussed in his letter to the French youth in 1937. The idea, said he, which “corresponds to the exigencies of historical development, is more powerful than the most powerful organization.” Face to face with the revolutionary idea Wohlforth takes refuge in a pseudo- methodological argument, accusing its proponents of idealism, vilification and distortion and –with the clear intention of erecting an impenetrable shield of hostility to safeguard his “flock” –attacks them as a “vicious anti-Marxist tendency hostile to the Workers movement.” Using a similar phraseology, the Stalinists of the 1930’s prepared the physical attacks on and the murders of the “Trotskyites.”

In future introductions to this series and in the series on the history after 1953 which will follow, we will show concretely that it is comrade Wohlforth who has done the vilifying, the distorting and, worst of all, made a mockery of dialectics. We will do this because we believe “with the help of pitiless criticism, of constant propaganda, and bold agitation” that we “will destroy the old organizations, internally rotten, which have become the principle obstacles on the road of the revolutionary movement.”


The major contradiction expressing itself inside the party today is the discrepancy between the party’s claim to represent the heritage of Lenin and Trotsky, i. e., Marxism on the one hand, and the crass opportunism represented in its day to day political program on the other.

While the party still dresses itself in orthodoxy on some questions, it has openly discarded –especially in those areas in which the party has been most active –whole portions of the transitional program. Garments have been hastily torn off at the seams, laying bare the party’s revisionism, justified by simplistic observations –in lieu of analysis –such as “times have changed.” In their stead the party has substituted a reformist and pacifist garb decorated with radical sounding phrases and trimmed in a call to action for action’s sake.

The ever increasing rapidity with which the party impatiently tears itself away from even any formal adherence to its traditional proletarian program is an admission of the party’s writing off of the American proletariat as the fundamental force for a socialist change, and is an attempt by those thoroughly imbued with such scepticism toward the proletariat to completely immerse the party in the petty bourgeois milieu. The fundamental task of assuring the proletarian character of the party has long ago been discarded for the tasks of “building” the party of poly-vanguardism. Politics and building the party today are judged in terms of numbers devoid of any class analysis, class basis, or class perspective.

Every political activity the party enters into is done on a multi-class basis, be it the women’s liberation movement under the guise of “sisterhood”, the Black liberation movement under the guise of “nationalism”, the antiwar movement under the guise of “non-exclusion”, the struggle of the Chicanos and other minorities under the guise of “third-worldism”, etc. These non-class categories have nothing in common with Marxism. When the party does turn to the, proletariat –and eventually it will to round out its poly-vanguard perspective –the multi-class approach will be no different, as has so clearly been indicated from our past activity and from, what is outlined in the present NC political resolution. We will be blocking from the inside or from the outside with capital’s lieutenants in the labor movement under the guise of fighting the bosses “first” in the “objective” struggle against capitalism.

The present day politics of the SWP have nothing in common with the revolutionary heritage of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. The heritage of the party’s theoretical analysis and political activity is Social Democracy, Stalinism and Centrism of all varieties, and the party can only be characterized as being right-centrist quickly on its way to outright reformism. The burden of preventing this eventuality rests on the cadres of the party.

The present party crisis is not the result of an overnight occurrence which has just popped up like a mushroom after a warm spring rain, nor can it be resolved by merely doing work among the proletariat. The party crisis, on the contrary, is the result of a combination of factors: the party’s historical weaknesses, the historical weakness of the Left Opposition and the Fourth International and external circumstances.

Up to the present the generally accepted reason for the weakness and isolation of the Trotskyist movement has been the exceptionally hard conditions under which we were forced to work owing to unfavourable circumstances beyond our control. There can be no doubt as to the great amount of truth contained in the above reasoning, and that even the best organization cannot keep from becoming isolated to one degree or another during periods of reaction. But to continually blame the unfavorable external conditions without any critical evaluation of our own conscious intervention is to only beg the question and adopt a fatalistic attitude.

In the first place we cannot expect that someday the turbulent waters will separate and we will be able to walk freely and unmolested into the promised land of socialism –neither the bourgeoisie nor the Stalinist bureaucracies are going to roll over and play dead. In one very important sense, it is the revolutionary party itself which creates its own favorable circumstances as well as unfavorable ones.

Furthermore, it is just not true that we have had to continually operate under unfavorable circumstances. During and after World War II there was a revolutionary upsurge of the working class, peasants and oppressed nationalities on a world scale. How is it that the world Trotskyist movement wasn’t able to take advantage of such favorable circumstances? It was during this very same period that the French and Italian Communist parties became mass parties leading behind them not only the mass of working class, but also some of its most conscious layers. But even more revealing are those instances where the Trotskyist movement has verged on becoming the mass party of the proletariat, specifically in Bolivia where the question of power was actually posed. In Vietnam the Trotskyist movement had gained a certain hegemony in the Saigon proletariat before and after World War II, only to be wiped out almost overnight by the Stalinist henchmen of Ho Chi Minh.

In Ceylon the Lanka Sama Samaja Party emerged as the leadership in crucial areas of the proletariat with as many as 14 MPs in 1956, only to be blocked today with the bourgeois Sri Lanka Freedom Party in a coalition government which is now slaughtering the revolutionary youth in the country. In Bolivia, the Partido Obrero Revolutionario was founded long before the Communist Party and firmly established its leadership position among the important sections of the Bolivian proletariat with as many as 8 MPs in 1949, only in the 1952 revolution –under conditions almost identical to those in Russia in 1917 –to end up supporting the Bolivian Kerensky, Pas Estenssoro. This plus many other opportunities, such as in France and Algeria during the struggle in Algeria, the Belgian general strike, etc., have given the Fourth International numerous opportunities.

No, the opportunities for the Trotskyists have not been lacking. The Fourth International must now take full responsibility for its own failures to provide a valid alternative to the crisis in leadership which was the basis for the founding of the organization. The crisis in leadership of the proletariat during the past 30 years since the founding of the international has ultimately been the crisis of leadership of the Fourth International itself.

The crisis in leadership has resulted in the complete fragmentation of the world Trotskyist movement. After the death of Trotsky the international Trotskyist movement failed to develop a competent leadership which could command the confidence and respect of the international cadres. The inability of the different Trotskyist leaderships, especially the international leadership, to provide a consistent Trotskyist analysis and program, resulted in a good many zigs and zags as events took them by surprise. In certain countries where the Trotskyist parties did manage to accumulate a certain number of cadres, in spite of their program –a natural occurrence under favorable objective conditions –these parties were ruined beyond recognition or washed away completely like sandcastles after the first (adverse) wave. Such circumstances could not help but disorient even the best of comrades and raise protests from others. Alien class pressures ran rampant and each sharp turn produced both reaction and galloping runaways.

Some comrades identified the disastrous politics with that of Trotskyism and began to question the whole validity of Marxism itself. While other comrades were able to make telling criticisms of their political opponents, most of the time they too proved incapable of providing a Trotskyist analysis and program. In this whirlwind of mad hatter politics, cliques and counter-cliques were common, and the heated internal debates ended almost invariably with organizational means being resorted to by one side or another. Bureaucratic expulsions and Simon-pure splits became the norm; until today the world “Trotskyist” movement looks like an American junkyard containing every make and model of the last thirty years.

Today there are four international groupings claiming to be, or to represent, the true heritage of the Fourth International. In some countries there are as many as ten or more groups which claim some allegiance or other to Trotsky. In those countries where you find only one, the reason is simple: the Trotskyist movement has been crushed or there is just no history of Trotskyism. Instead of embodying the development of Marxism, and providing a competent, reliable and representative leadership for the different sections of the International, the International leadership, has on the contrary, proved to be the kiss of death for almost every section. As we shall try to show in a brief sketch, this legacy still lives in the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.

Part Two:  Introduction by David Fender

In Wohlforth’s series erroneously entitled In Defense of Trotskyism: an Answer to those who Vilify our History, he displays his dubious talents of attributing to his opponents anything that suits his needs and then railing against them. This series like much of Wohlforth’s writings displays quite a forensic dexterity of shadow boxing, windmill charging and tearing up of his own straw men.

Wohlforth began the series with an attack against “an untitled anonymous document.” We will not attempt to defend explicitly this document, but suffice it to say that we find ourselves in general political solidarity with it as opposed to Wohlforth’s hysterics and that in defending ourselves we defend a common political line.

In the Bulletin of July 2nd 1972, comrade Wohlforth attempts to “deal with David Fender who has clearly had his influence on” the “anonymous author.” Wohlforth begins his task with a few inaccurate statements of my history sliced with personal barbs, all designed to cast a shadow on my character. Political hack writers can’t resist making their unsavoury brew more tantalizing with bits of gossip, hearsay and character assassination devoid of any real political content.

After a lengthy quote from the section that appeared last time, Wohlforth states that:

 “We do not view the question this way. We agree that the assessment made in the Transitional Program that the crisis of leadership has been brought about primarily by the degeneration of the Communist International.”

Our most subtle comrade Wohlforth tries here to make us out as being opposed to the Transitional Program and himself in perfect consonance with it. We must inform comrade Wohlforth that the Transitional Program was adopted in 1938 and was an assessment made on the revolutionary experience up to that time and that we too are in perfect agreement with that assessment. The assessment we made, however, was of “the last 30 years since the founding of the Fourth International,” which is stated more than once in the very quote that Wohlforth uses. Our assessment was that the opportunities have not been lacking during that period and that the Fourth International had failed “to provide a valid alternative to the crisis in leadership,” and therefore “the crisis in leadership has ultimately been the crisis of the leadership of the Fourth International itself.”

Wohlforth, in his typical evasive manner, tries to worm his way around this assessment by stating that:

“The question of the crisis of leadership is not a matter of opportunities here or there but of the fundamental task of actually breaking millions of workers from the leadership of Stalinist and social democratic parties.”

Unless comrade Wohlforth wishes to claim that this task can be done at any moment he chooses, then it is “a matter of opportunities here and there” such as in Vietnam, Bolivia, Algeria, Ceylon, etc., where instead of “breaking millions of workers from the leadership of Stalinist and social democratic parties,” the Fourth International capitulated to these parties preparing the defeat and not the victory of the proletariat. The history of the International Committee (IC) is likewise.

Wohlforth continues, “The Fourth International is to be judged not by its progress or lack thereof in a numerical sense in this period or that but by what it does to resolve this crisis politically and theoretically in each country.” The phrase “numerical sense” is Wohlforth’s own straw man. Far be it from us to gauge our success in numerical terms or dollars and cents as it seems Wohlforth and Co. actually do. No, we have found that the Fourth International, and IC for that matter, have been lacking at those particular historical junctures where organization are put to the supreme test –where the question of taking power is posed.

The metal of both the Fourth International and the IC has on many an occasion been malleable enough to alloy themselves with the parties of “Stalinism and social democracy” instead of resolving the “crisis politically and theoretically” and “breaking millions of workers from the leadership” of these parties. But the political bankruptcy of these organizations at the crucial junctures in history is not incongruent with their day to day politics. It is for this reason that we say a new Trotskyist International must be built basing itself on the founding documents of the Fourth International in 1938 and on an objective assessment of the historical period since and not on the phantasmagoria of the likes of Wohlforth.


Most of the young Communist parties of the Third International had yet to completely break with ideologies of their origins, such as social democracy and syndicalism, or to substantially root themselves in the working class when the Stalinist bureaucracy began to manipulate these parties for its own ends.

In fact, the bureaucracy used these very weaknesses to drive out the strongest, most knowledgeable and serious cadres who quite naturally tended to side with the Left Opposition. The names of Victor Serge, Rosmer, Nin, Sneevliet, Vereecken, Cannon, Shachtman, Pang Shu-tse, Chen Tu-hsiu and many others testify to the quality of the cadres which comprised the International Left Opposition.

The International Left Opposition while containing communists with outstanding revolutionary credentials and abilities was, nevertheless, in most countries –especially in Europe, and in particular France, the center of the Left Opposition –primarily petty bourgeois in composition. The lack of any working class base combined with the increasing political confusion and isolation from the working class, led to constant infighting with many of the outstanding militants deserting the Opposition for “greener pastures”. Much of the in-fighting was over organizational and tactical questions carried on by personal cliques. Trotsky fought hard to straighten out the disputes, especially in France, although without much success. But Trotsky’s major thrust was to integrate the comrades into the living politics of the proletariat, and it was for this reason that Trotsky supported the French comrades who proposed an entry tactic into the SFIO in 1933. The results of the “French Turn” were more positive in the United States and Belgium than elsewhere. In France things looked very encouraging at first, but soon deteriorated as the bourgeois pressure from the impending crisis made itself felt.

After a fight with a minority similar to the Oehlerites in the USA, the Communist League voted at a national conference the 29th of August, 1934, to enter the SFIO “with their program and their ideas.” Once in, however, a dangerous tendency began to express itself among many comrades. Many comrades began to adapt to centrist tendencies and to compromise the program to make blocs with them. A similar phenomenon took place in the Bolshevik-Leninist faction of the Socialist Party in the USA as Trotsky pointed out in a letter dated May 25, 1937.

In From a Scratch to the Danger of Gangrene, Trotsky quotes his letter and says:

“In both of the documents (a) the private letter of Max about the convention, and (b) Shachtman’s article, Towards a Revolutionary Socialist Party mentioned in the above letter, Shachtman revealed excessive adaptability toward the left wing of the petty bourgeois democrats –political mimicry –a very dangerous symptom in a revolutionary politician!” (In Defense of Marxism, p10). Cannon himself stated:

“There is no doubt at all that the leaders of our movement adapted themselves a little    too much to the centrist officialdom of the Socialist Party”. (Cannon, History of American Trotskyism, p. 238)

The adaptation of the French comrades was more serious, however, and its consequences were more immediate. In less than a year Trotsky began demanding that the comrades prepare to leave the SFIO, but he met with considerable resistance. The tendency led by Raymond Molinier and Pierre Frank refused to leave, and Trotsky denounced them along with the centrists as having “capitulated before the social-patriotic wave.” This was only to be a harbinger of the nationalism that was to manifest itself in the Fourth International through its predominantly petty-bourgeois composition and leadership –the traditional transmission belt of bourgeois ideology in the working-class movement.

While the Molinier-Frank faction capitulated outright, the other leaders of the Bolshevik-Leninists had paved the way for their capitulation. The latter had not wanted to criticise the centrists openly and had been tolerant of the politics of the Molinier-Frank faction. In spite of the fact that the French section was able to increase its numbers, the petty-bourgeois leadership had proved that it was unable to root itself in the working class and to the real advantage of the opportunities that were open to it. “We possess at present 1n our own history an important example of a missed opportunity or rather a spoiled one,” was Trotsky’s comment. (Trotsky, After the Crisis of the Bolshevik Leninists)

The petty-bourgeois composition of the International Left Opposition was no accident, but rather the result of the historical period which in itself left its imprint on the cadres. Until 1933 the Opposition was forced to concentrate its efforts in and around the Communist parties, cutting it off from the majority of the working class which in most countries still remained under the influence of Social Democracy. The gangsterism of the Stalinist CPs on the ether hand not only made it difficult for us to reach what working class base the CPs had, but also cost us the lives of many of our outstanding cadres. On top of this the historical international defeat of the proletariat culminating with the rise of Hitler in 1933 left its mark on the already too struggling comrades of the Opposition.

As Trotsky pointed out earlier in regard to China:

“The strangulation of the Chinese revolution is a thousand times more important for the masses than our predictions. Our predictions can win some few intellectuals who take an interest in such things, but not the masses.”

So it was with the International Left Opposition. The ebb of the working class movement internationally served only to isolate the cadres even further. It was the result of the pressure generated by these defeats as well as future ones that laid the basis for the desertion of whole groups back to Stalinism, syndicalism, Social Democracy, and the endless swamp of Centrism –such as the SAP (Socialist Workers Party) of Germany which, soon after having signed in 1934 the “declaration of the four” calling for the formation of the Fourth International, rapidly degenerated to supporting popular frontism and becoming an outspoken enemy of Trotskyism.

The Communist Left in Spain, led by Andre Nin and Juan Andrade, in 1934 broke with Trotsky over the question of entry into the Socialist Party. Instead they made a fusion with the Spanish Bukharinists, the “Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc”, led by “the nationalist Catalonian philistine” Joaquin Maurin, to form the POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification). The POUM criticized the politics of the Popular Front as class collaboration, only to do an about face in February, 1936, and enter into an electoral coalition, finally entering the Catalonian Popular Front government itself.

Two of the organizations which signed the “declaration of the four” were from Holland (the RSP and the OSP). They then fused to form the RSAP (Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party) led by H. Sneevliet. Sneevliet also baulked on the question of entry, supported the POUM, and flirted with the London Bureau. Vereecken in Belgium split over the question of entry, and the Polish section as a whole opposed the attempt to found the Fourth International and showed great hesitation on the entry question.

Sectarianism abounded. From everywhere came criticism from the “left” against Trotsky. But it was these very same “leftists” who refused to soil themselves by carrying out the entry tactic into Social Democracy that ended up being the merry bed-fellows of the hopeless centrists of the London Bureau variety. For Trotsky the entry question was very important. It was the difference between complete stagnation and degeneration into a self-amusing discussion group of intellectuals on the one hand; and, on the other, the active participation in the life and struggles of the proletariat as a foundation upon which to build new parties equal to the historic tasks that they faced.

After the defeat in Germany with the rise of Hitler, the International Left Opposition became the Movement for the Fourth International, and its main center quite naturally became France. With the debacle of the “third period” 1929-1933, the Stalinists turned to the Popular Front tactic to deal with the new upturn in the workers movement and the threatening new world conflagration which threatened them. From 1933 to 1938 there was a slight recovery from the economic crisis which had shaken the world –due in part to the preparations for WW II –which produced in its turn a new rise in the class struggle. In the USA there were the two successive waves in the rise of the CIO, in Spain the revolution broke out in full thunder, and France witnessed the great strike wave of 1936.

Although world events dictated it, the French comrades were little prepared to become the center of the struggle for the Fourth International. “Before its entry the French Section was in a state of complete stagnation.” Such was Trotsky’s opinion. The section did, however, “In spite of the two splits, both at the time of the entry and the time of the exit, as well as big mistakes and hesitations…conclude the SFIO chapter with a large and incontestable gain.” (Trotsky, Writings 1935, p. 31)

But gains weren’t to last.

 “In France the regeneration began with the entry into the Socialist Party. The policy of the Socialist Party was not clear, but it won many new members. These new members were accustomed to a large milieu. After the split they became a little discouraged. They were not so steeled. Then they lost their not-so-steeled interest and were regained by the current of the People’s Front. It is regrettable, but explainable.” (Bulletin, December, 1969, p. 26)

The French section was neither capable of keeping the gains it made during its experience in the SFIO nor of making any significant gains during the mass strikes of 1936. The “general historical current” proved to be too strong.” Nor was the section able to improve its social composition during this period.

“A new radical tendency directed against the general current of history in this period crystallizes around the elements more or less separated from the national life of any country and for them it is more difficult to penetrate into the masses. We are all very critical toward the social composition of our organization and we must change, but we must understand that this social composition does not fall from heaven, but was determined by the objective situation and by our historic mission in this period.” (Ibid., p. 25)

Trotsky went on to caution that the above did “not signify that we must be satisfied with the situation,” and that he “did not wish to say that we must reconcile ourselves with the impotence of our French organization. On the contrary Trotsky was proposing at that very moment that the French section enter the PSOP (Workers and Peasants Socialist Party). But the short-lived entry into the PSOP also did not produce anything because of the state of disintegration of the Trotskyist movement in France during this period.” (Quatriem International, Pierre Frank, P.39). The expulsion of the Trotskyists in November of 1939 from the PSOP followed Daladier’s interdiction of all communist organizations in September.

When the French section officially re-established itself in June of 1940, they called themselves the “French committees for a Fourth International”, and adopted a nationalist political position. Almost every section at one time or another during the war, including the International itself, was to concede the “profound revolutionary implications” of the “masses” struggle for “national liberation” in “France and the other occupied countries.” The nationalism expressed by the Fourth International and its sections may not have been done in the same blatant manner of the Second International during World War I, but regardless of how subtly the nationalist position was expressed, the consequences were no less disastrous for the Fourth International than they were for the Second International.

The necessity of war that forces itself upon the bourgeoisie, demands that all its forces be mobilized to their utmost, that society itself be regimented and disciplined and that any and all areas of possible dissent be ferreted out and suppressed. The whip must be applied by the bourgeoisie in accordance with the gravity of the crisis and the seriousness of the actual threat. The crack of this chauvinist whip is reflected first and foremost through the petty-bourgeoisie into the workers’ movement. The experience of the Second International in the First World War was conclusive proof of this fact. Unfortunately the newly founded Fourth International was to undergo a similar experience with the arrival of the Second World War.

Part 3: Introduction by David Fender

Wohlforth tries to apologize for the failures of the Fourth International of the last 30 years with the same old and time worn theme used by Healy, Mandel, Frank, Hansen, etc., that: “The Fourth International has had to carry out this work under generally unfavorable objective historical circumstances.” Here in a nut shell Wohlforth exposes himself and his non-Marxist methodology in spite of his constant ritualistic incantations to dialectical materialism. All the old political skeletons of the Fourth International and International Committee’s (IC) misleaderships are neatly tucked away in the closet marked historical determinism.

The condition of the Fourth International today, it seems according to Wohlforth, has nothing to do with its leadership, “the consistency of analysis and program,” that in spite of what mistakes were made, things could not have been qualitatively different than they are today. Such a fatalistic position is adopted by Wohlforth, Healy and Co. in order to rationalize the miserable history of the IC which they claim is the real Fourth International –a subject we will take up at some length in the latter part of the history.


The SWP was, perhaps, in the best position of all the sections of the Fourth International to deal with the national chauvinist pressure. The original founders of the Left Opposition in the USA contained a good number of comrades who had come from and had their roots in the working class movement. With the first wave in the rise of the CIO, these comrades were able to take advantage of the situation and lead a very important class-struggle fight in Minneapolis deepening their roots in the proletariat. The fusion with the American Workers Party also brought in fresh cadres, and then the entry into the Socialist Party under “the advice and guidance of Trotsky –a decisive factor in all this work” (Cannon) was a success, with the party again increasing its ranks and learning precious lessons. The valuable work done by the cadres of the early Trotskyist movement was reflected in the more favorable social composition of the Socialist Workers Party compared to that of the other sections in the Fourth International. The SWP could claim a membership consisting of at least 50% working class, many of them with valuable practical experience.

The fact that the SWP was in the USA and not in Europe is another important factor that should not be under-emphasized. The impending and immediate crisis in Europe demanded that the respective bourgeoisie use the chauvinist whip much more severely. Unlike Europe the USA was in no danger of becoming a battleground and even its entry was not an immediate question. The economic crisis in the USA was not so aggravated as to necessitate a Fascist dictatorship such as in Italy, Germany, and Spain, or a Popular Front solution as in France, which only laid the basis for the reactionary governments that followed. Whereas the government of France outlawed all communist organizations, Roosevelt prosecuted the leadership of only the SWP.

In spite of the SWP’s more favorable position –compared to the other sections –it by no means escaped the nationalist chauvinist pressure. The first real blow came with the Burnham-Abern-Shachtman fight. The party split almost down the middle on a class basis. The petty bourgeoisie deserted to higher ground to avoid the sting of the chauvinist whip.

“The split in the SWP was followed by a split, although a very small one, in the International, where a series of elements like Lebrun, Johnson, Trent, and Anton, who had seats on the International Executive Committee, had in reality adopted the political and organizational positions of Shachtman.”     (Pablo, “Twenty years of the Fourth International,” Fourth International, No.3, Summer, 1968).

The capitulation before the social-patriotic wave” occurred as early as 1935 in France, as we pointed out, in relation to the Molinier-Frank tendency inside the SFIO. In 1940, only a few months after Shachtman split from the SWP, the French section as a whole openly capitulated, lock-stock-and-barrel, to nationalism. In the Bulletin of the Committee for the Fourth International (No. 2, Sept. 20, 1940) we can find a report adopted unanimously by the “Central Committee of the Committee the Fourth International” (ex-POI) from which the following is excerpted:

“The French bourgeoisie has rushed into a blind alley to save itself from revolution, it threw itself into Hitler’s arms; to save itself from this hold, it has only to throw itself into the arms of the Revolution. We are not saying that it will do so cheerfully; nor that the fraction of the bourgeoisie capable of playing this game is the most important; the majority of the bourgeoisie secretly awaits its salvation from England, a large minority awaits it from Hitler. It is to the ‘French’ fraction of the bourgeoisie that we hold out our hand… We must be the defenders of the wealth that the generations of             French peasants and workers have accumulated. We must also be the defenders of the splendid contribution of the French writers and scientists to the intellectual patrimony of humanity, the defenders of the great revolutionary and socialist tradition of France …”

Among the many quotes to choose from we will satisfy ourselves with only one more. On the occasion of the anniversary of the Paris Commune, the April 1, 1941, issue of La Verite (No.11) had the following to say:

“We know like our predecessors of 1871 that we will have to take in hand the struggle for national independence, betrayed by the bourgeoisie…”

The above should be sufficient to show that the political line of the French section had nothing in common with internationalism. The Leninist concept of revolutionary defeatism –the defeat of one’s own country being the “lesser evil” –is diametrically opposed to the “struggle for national independence” so clearly stated above.

In 1944 three ‘Trotskyist’ groupings (POI, CCI and Groupe Octobre) unified to form the PCI (Parti Communiste Internationaliste). From a bulletin put out jointly in July, 1943, by the POI and CCI, one learns that although the POI used some “dangerous expressions” (or formulations), the fundamental political position was correct and even farsighted in that the POI saw as early as 1940 the transformation of the national movement into the class struggle. In the unity declaration which appeared in the March 25, 1944, issue of La Verite, one discovers that the unifying organizations had, since the beginning of the war, maintained an “internationalist position politically and in action.” In “correcting their errors, by means of a Bolshevik self-criticism” they noted “some episodic errors of this or that group.” The truth of the matter is probably that it was not so much a question of refusing to make a self-criticism, but rather a simple inability to do so. The comrades were hopelessly caught up in the national chauvinist politics of the petty bourgeoisie of which they were only a part.

In August, 1945, the French section published a pamphlet entitled La-Lutte des Trotskyistes sous 1a Terreur Nazie (The Trotskyists’ Struggle under the Nazi Terror), the main theme of which is to document the “Trotskyist” struggle against German Fascism. The pamphlet contains an open letter to the president of the Press Federation reprinted from the Sept. 30, 1944 La Verite (No. 74). The letter is written in defense of the PCI’s demand that La Verite be allowed to appear legally inasmuch as La Verite was the first resistance organ” against the Nazis.

“During four years, in 19 mimeoed editions and 54 printed, La Verite led the campaign against fascism and the occupying imperialism. These campaigns  were oriented in the following direction:”

Point #3 reads: “3rd, Struggle for the Right of Peoples to Self Determination. This right being valid for all peoples, including those of the colonies.”

One would search in vain to find anything that even resembled a revolutionary defeatist position in this pamphlet, the 73 editions of La Verite, or the politics of the French section in general during or even after the war. Even the demand for fraternization was not based on the concept of turning the war into a civil war on both sides but rather of both sides joining together in a “determined struggle against Hitler”. As we shall see, the French section’s complete capitulation to nationalism was only one of the extreme manifestations of what took place in the International as a whole.

Comrades of the German section, the IKD (International Communists of Germany) also adopted a straight nationalist line. They wrote in their infamous “Three Theses” document dated Oct. 19, 1941:

“There is no more burning problem in Europe than the national freedom of nations enslaved by Germany, and its solution with the help and through international socialism is important and indispensable for three reasons”… “However one views it, the transition from fascism to socialism remains a utopia without a stopping place, which is by its contents equivalent to a democratic revolution.”

In the December, 1945-Jan, 1946 issue of Quatrieme Internationale in their article “On the European Revolution” the German comrades state:

“The retrogressive development of capitalism leads to the destroying of national independence and of democratic rights in the main European countries. Under these circumstances, class struggle must exchange its old     traditions for new methods. Instead of the more or less free play of the different social and political forces of the old democracies, instead of the existence of political parties and trade unions, what we are dealing with now is a national democratic movement of liberation including the whole population in its struggle against national and political oppression…”

For the German comrades the countries of Europe again had to undergo bourgeois democratic revolutions. The national revolution was “the order of the day.” Even within their nationalist theoretical wanderings the German comrades did not remain ‘Trotskyist.’ They did not even retain the theory of the permanent revolution to deal with the national question –unlike the International –but rather opted for the Menshevik theory of stages with the democratic revolution being “a stopping place”. The “important and indispensable” forces of “international socialism” were to “help, and through” them was to be accomplished the “national and democratic” stag which would then, and only then, open the door to the “socialist and proletarian” stage.

Part 4

In February, 1944, a six day European conference was held in France. One of the points on the agenda of this conference was the unification of three Trotskyist groups in France, to which we referred earlier. This conference attempted to make some criticisms of both the POI and the CCI’s positions on the national question. In the Theses on the Situation of the Workers Movement and the Perspectives for the Development of the Fourth International we find point 29 which states:

“29. It was, above all, during the present war that the movement of the Fourth International underwent the most difficult and decisive test. On the basis of internationalist principles, it had to defend on the one hand, against the infection of the nationalist and patriotic epidemic, which in the beginning seized the masses, and on the other hand against the terror of the bourgeoisie.

Under the pressure of the conditions created after the defeat of French             imperialism in France and elsewhere, one can notice a certain weakening in the internationalist behaviour of certain sections, especially the French section, which often expressed in its day to day politics the nationalist influence of the petty-bourgeois masses exasperated by the defeat of their imperialist masters.

The position taken by the French section on the national question, the theses put out in the name of the European Secretariat of the Fourth International, controlled exclusively during this period by the French comrades, represents a social-patriotic deviation which must be once and for all openly condemned and rejected as incompatible with the program and general ideology of the Fourth International.

Instead of distinguishing between the nationalism of the conquered bourgeoisie which remains an expression of its imperialist preoccupations and the ‘nationalism’ of the masses which is only a reactionary expression of their resistance against the exploitation of the occupying imperialism, the leadership of the POI considered the struggle of its own bourgeoisie as progressive, did not at first separate itself from Gaullism and was content with giving it a more ‘revolutionary’ terminological form.

In putting the conquered and imperialist French bourgeoisie on the same plane as the bourgeoisie of the colonial countries, the leadership of the POI took on a completely erroneous conception of the national question and spread dangerous illusions as to the character of the nationalist organizations which, far from constituting potential ‘allies’ for the revolutionary proletariat, reveal themselves as the counter-revolutionary avant-  garde of imperialism.

In the same way, in starting from the entirely correct point of view of the necessity of the revolutionary party to take part in the struggle of the masses and to tear away large segments of the working class from the bad influence of nationalism, the leadership of the POI allowed themselves to get carried away with dangerous ideological and tactical concessions, and did not understand that the first condition for conquering the masses consisted in the clear revolutionary language of the internationalist class struggle, in opposition to the confused and treacherous language of social-patriotism.

It is necessary to add, nevertheless, that, if this condemnation of a right-centrist deviation is forced upon us, the Fourth International must equally condemn with all its energy the ‘leftist’-sectarian deviation that manifested itself , for example in the politics of the CCI in France on the national question, which under the pretext of keeping intact the patrimony of Marxism-Leninism, stubbornly refused to distinguish the nationalism of the bourgeoisie from the resistance movement of the masses.

In condemning the struggle of the proletarian and petty-bourgeois masses for their day to day interests as ‘reactionary and nationalist’ from the moment that this struggle directed itself against the occupying imperialism and under the cover of petty- bourgeois slogans, sectarianism paralyzes precisely those revolutionary efforts for combating the nationalist ideology and automatically cuts itself off from the real struggle of the large masses.

Nevertheless, the social-patriotic deviation was, from the beginning, energetically thwarted by the healthy resistance of the revolutionary base of the French section as well as by the rest of the international organization.” (Quatrieme Internationale, No. 6-7, April-May, 1944, p. 8-9)

If we have taken the time for such a long quote, it is for definite reasons. One is that such criticism emanating from official bodies and leaderships of the Fourth International are quite unique on any question. Second is that while ostensibly criticizing the “social patriotic deviation” of the French section, the European Secretariat’s criticism showed its inability to deal with the origin of the French section’s deviation, and lays bare the basis of the Secretariat’s own capitulation to nationalism. The criticism does not in any way attempt to investigate or explain why it was that the French section was so influenced by “the petty bourgeois masses exasperated by the defeat of their imperialist masters.”

It, on the contrary, makes believe that it was only a deviation of the French leadership while “the revolutionary base” remained healthy and “thwarted” the deviation. Just how this healthy “revolutionary base”, “thwarted” the social-patriotic deviation” of the French section is not explained. That it did not thwart the “social-patriotic deviation” of the French section can be seen from two sources already mentioned above, both of which appeared after the above criticism was made. The first was the “Open Letter to the President of the Press Federation” printed in issue No. 74 of La Verite, Sept.30, 1944, and the second is the pamphlet, The Struggle of the Trotskyists under the Nazi Terror, published August, 1945, which also contained a a reprint of the “Open Letter”. But these are not the only items that can be used to show that the nationalist infection of the French section went deeper than its leadership, as we shall see later on.

The inability of the European Secretariat to make an incisive criticism of the French section is in itself an indication of “the infection of the nationalist and patriotic epidemic which” “seized” almost the whole of the International. The Secretariat criticizes the French section for not distinguishing between the nationalism of the conquered bourgeoisie…and the ‘nationalism’ of the masses… It is true that one must differentiate between the nationalism of the oppressed and that of the “capitalist and his journalist,” lawyer, etc. But is this the real content of the Secretariat’s differentiation? The Secretariat also criticised the POI for “putting the conquered and imperialist bourgeoisie on the same plane as the bourgeoisie of the Colonial countries…”

Here we can see the real content of the Secretariat’s differentiation. The Secretariat is not criticizing the POI for taking up the struggle for national liberation, but merely for assigning a progressive role to the French bourgeoisie. You see, according to the Secretariat, the national liberation struggle of the French bourgeoisie “remains an expression of its imperialist preoccupations,” and therefore, is barred from playing a progressive role, while on the other “plane”, “the bourgeoisie of the colonial countries” can and do play a progressive role in the struggle for national liberation. Here is clearly the theory of the permanent revolution, in essence, applied to the imperialist country of France which smacks of the more subtle chauvinist positions in the 2nd International during WW 1 –while the essence of the Menshevik line (Stalinist) is adopted by the Secretariat for the “colonial countries.”

The Leninist theory of revolutionary defeatism in the imperialist countries, and the theory of the permanent revolution which states that the bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped countries cannot play a progressive role in the epoch of imperialist decay, are both thrown out the window for an almost pure classical social-democratic position on nationalism.

Elsewhere in the Secretariats’ Theses one can corroborate this analysis of their above criticism. The Theses as a whole undoubtedly reflected the growing militancy of the masses, the growth of the partisan movement, and some growth in our own ranks as well. While stating several correct things, such as the task of projecting a “policy to transform the imperialist war into civil war” and condemning the “slogan of ‘national insurrection’,” the idea of national liberation is, nevertheless, smuggled in;

“While the proletariat must reject any alliance with its own bourgeoisie, it cannot remain disinterested in the struggle of the masses against the oppression of German imperialism. The proletariat supports this struggle in order to facilitate and hasten its transformation into a general struggle against capitalism.”

And the Theses go on to project entrism into the partisan movements.

Part 5

By supporting the struggle for national liberation as the first step to “a general struggle against capitalism” the Secretariat ends up tail ending the nationalist and partisan movements in that the Secretariat projects “democratic demands” as “the most effective instrument for the mobilization of broad masses of the people against, the bourgeoisie… (which in turn) opens the road to power for the workers and peasants.”

As the Theses prepares for the revolutionary crises, everything is stood on its head. Instead of the position that transitional demand become all the more necessary and decisive as the old and partial or democratic demands come more and more into conflict with “destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism”, the Secretariat projects democratic demands as taking on a revolutionary quality in-and-of-themselves:

“Precisely because it (the Fourth International) knows that in the epoch of imperialism there is no room left for bourgeois democracy, the revolutionary vanguard transforms the struggle for democratic demands on the part of the masses into a powerful instrument against the bourgeois state.”

The Theses even goes so far as to say that:

“In certain countries and under certain circumstances … extreme democratic demands, such as the demand for immediate elections or for the convocation of a constituent assembly, can become powerful means of mobilizing great masses of people around the proletariat.”

As history has shown, democratic demands in imperialist countries in crisis have “become powerful means of mobilizing great masses of people around” not, “the proletariat” but rather the bourgeoisie. History proved this very fact to the so-called “revolutionary base of the French section.” As we stated above, the French section continued to follow a national-democratic position clearly using the political position outlined in the 1944 Theses. Tail-ending the CP and under the cover of fighting for democratic demands, the PCI called for a “yes” vote on making National Assembly into a Constituent Assembly in the referendum of October 21,1945. The PCI demanded all candidates for office be qualified and immediately recalled at any moment. It launched an appeal to form Defense Committees of the Constituent Assembly. And in the referendum of May 5, 1946, it again appealed to the masses to vote “yes” for a bourgeois constitution. To defend bourgeois democratic demands was to block the reaction. The capitulation of the French section was only a more gross expression of the capitulation of the European Secretariat as well as of the International.

The Fourth International was founded in 1938. Trotsky had wanted the International founded in 1936, but for many reasons, some mentioned above, it had been impossible to do so. The new International was small, isolated, mainly petty-bourgeois in composition and beset with many problems. Nevertheless, the strength of the International was to be found in its theoretical and political clarity on the historical and current questions of the day which was summed up in its founding document The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International drafted by Comrade Trotsky.

Trotsky was the all important figure in the founding of the International. It was the probity of Trotsky’s theoretical work, and, based on this, his incisive political analysis, that put the International on a solid Marxist basis. Trotsky’s theoretical analysis of the Soviet state, Stalinism, and Fascism, laid the basis for principled class-struggle politics, without which there would have been no Fourth International. Trotsky was the new International’s theoretical and historical link to the Bolshevik Revolution which embodied Marxism’s richest traditions.

On the eve of the war the International (with certain exceptions) found itself even more isolated than before. The cruel defeats of the French and Spanish proletariat set the stage for the imperialist war and our even greater isolation from the working class. The declarations of war were almost everywhere accompanied by crackdowns on the Trotskyist movement. Several militants in France where picked up, and in September, 1939, Walter Dauge, secretary of the Belgian section, the PSR, was arrested by the Belgian police. The organizations of the Fourth International were for the most part forced underground.

The Stalinists before the war had been able to murder some of the most capable young Trotskyist cadres, but after the war had broken out, the bourgeoisie, under cover of war, carried out with the Stalinist’s consent, a wholesale slaughter by comparison. Hundreds of Trotskyists lost their lives by outright murder, firing squads, or from internment in prison. Whole leaderships were destroyed and among them the young international’s most capable and promising figures.

“We lost during the war a large number of the leading cadres of our movement, long-time revolutionaries, such as Comrade Marcel Hic, general secretary of our French organization, dead in a concentration camp in Germany; the Belgian comrades Lesoil and Leon, who suffered the same fate; the Italian comrade Blasco, victim of Stalinist repression at the moment of the “Liberation”; the Greek comrade Poulioplos, executed by the fascists in Greece in 1943, the German comrade Widelin; and so many others.” (Michel Pablo, The Fourth International, ‘What It Is, What It Aims At’, 1958, p.18)

“The only public trials attempted during the war and the only condemnations to death or to prison of revolutionary leaders and militants accused of opposition to the imperialist war, in both camps, had Trotskyists as their victims. It was thus that in Holland the Gestapo assassinated after a public trial on April 12, 1942, nine well known leaders the RSAP, Trotskyists and pro-Trotskyists, among them Comrades Sneevliet and Dollerman. In Vienna, Trotskyist militants were executed after a public trial, as well as in Germany.” (Michel Pablo, “Twenty Years of the Fourth International” part 3, Fourth International, Autumn 1958, No.4, p.61.)

“In the United States, Britain, Ceylon, and India, countries on the ‘democratic’ side only Trotskyist leaders were imprisoned for their consistent struggle against the war and against imperialism.” (Ibid, Fourth International)

The resounding blow, however, which shook the newly founded International, the hardest, was the assassination of Trotsky, August 20, 1940, by an agent of Stalin’s GPU. The International undoubtedly would have been able to weather the storm with Trotsky at the helm, in spite of the tremendous losses and theoretical and political confusion resulting from the war. Without Trotsky, the theoretical and political helm of the badly battered, storm-tossed International naturally fell to the historically strong section of the International, the SWP.

The SWP had worked closely with Trotsky during the last four years of his life. There were frequent meetings and discussions with the leaders of the SWP. Many of Trotsky’s body guards and secretaries were provided by the SWP. Because of his closeness to the SWP and the potential it offered, Trotsky took a keen interest in the affairs of the party and gave it his theoretical and political guidance even to the point that a sort of division of labor was created. This, we can be sure, was not Trotsky’s intention, but rather to teach and educate the party so that it could better stand on its own two feet as it grew older.

Nevertheless, the division of labor existed –Trotsky provided the theory and politics; the SWP leadership the machine to put them into practice. That this was the case can be seen in the fight with Burnham-Abern-Shachtman –Trotsky provided the theory and Cannon the organization. This division of labor is admirably reflected in the two books issuing from this struggle: In Defense of Marxism by Trotsky which deals mainly with the theoretical and political problems in dispute, and The Struggle for a Proletarian Party by Cannon which concentrates on the organizational problems raised.

In spite of all its shortcomings, the SWP remained the Trotskyist organization with a promise of great potential. Unlike most other Trotskyist groups the SWP had kept its leadership intact during the war. It was essentially a proletarian party with a proletarian leadership. It was a party that had gone through an important struggle at the beginning of the war with its petty-bourgeois layer which reflected the chauvinist whip. With the split of the petty bourgeois Burnham-Abern-Shachtman opposition, which took about 45% of the ranks, the party became even more homogenous, proletarian in composition, and experienced in serious political struggle. Trotsky himself expressed great hope in the American section when he complimented Cannon by saying that he was the only man outside of Lenin to have built a proletarian party. The years after international contact was restored (beginning in 1944) were to be crucial and were to prove whether Trotsky’s hopes for the SWP had been well founded or not.

While the SWP did not break with revolutionary defeatism in the USA during World War II, it did bend somewhat to social patriotism. For example the slogan “Turn the imperialist war into a war against fascism” which began to appear in the March, 1941 Militant, lends itself to some confusion at best. There is obviously a distinction being made in this slogan between fascism and bourgeois democracy. Otherwise the authors of the slogan would have stated: “Turn the imperialist war into a war against imperialism”. But this slogan is at best, vague and nonsensical. Each imperialist power claims it is fighting imperialism, just as the allies claim to be fighting fascism.

“Turn the imperialist war into a war against fascism” is not the same at all as the Leninist slogan “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war!” In the latter there is no room for doubt as to who or where the enemy is, while the former gives some credence to bourgeois democracy’s struggle against fascism. The slogan might have been acceptable for out German comrades in Germany, but coming from the USA where there existed a bourgeois-democratic government, it meant to reflect in our program the strong social patriotic atmosphere created by the bourgeoisie under the guise of fighting fascism.

It is one thing to have a revolutionary defeatist program against imperialist war and yet quite another to be critical of the war. But at times our propaganda came closer to the latter than the former. The party sometimes criticized American capitalism for holding back and sabotaging the war effort. There is nothing wrong with this per se, if it is done in the right context of not criticizing but opposing the imperialist war by exposing capitalism and the imperialist nature of the war. But if it is not done specifically in the context of opposing the war such an approach becomes, in essence, a formula for supporting the war because it only criticized the capitalist government for not pursuing the war more efficiently. Even a teamster strike, for example, could be considered as holding back and even sabotaging the war effort, if not put in the proper context of a program in opposition to imperialist war. No one can deny that the party generally stood in opposition to the imperialist war. But so did Shachtman’s Workers Party. The important thing is the nature of this opposition, that is, what political content filled this abstract slogan.

Part 6

The real position of the SWP during the war cannot be gauged just by its political line in relation to the USA. What is just as important is the position the SWP took in relation to the national question posed by the European sections and European Secretariat.

The national problem was not posed in the United States since the US was never in danger of being occupied. The war was a ‘foreign’ war, and we had entered it to help the “good”, guys against the “bad” guys. It is, therefore, instructive to look at the SWP’s position on the European situation and what our position might have been if occupation had been a question.

Point, 13 of the section on Europe from the Political Resolution of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party begins:

“The aspiration of the masses of France and the other occupied countries for national liberation has profound revolutionary implications. But, like the sentiment of antifascism, it can be perverted to the uses of imperialism. Such a perversion of the movement is inevitable if it proceeds under the slogans and leadership of bourgeois nationalism.” (Fourth International, Oct., 1942. P. 319)

In other words, the struggle for national liberation by the French masses was a progressive struggle as long as it was not perverted by the slogans and leadership of the bourgeoisie. The idea that the struggle for national liberation in imperialist France was in-and-of-itself a bourgeois slogan was not even considered. The struggle for national liberation at the time of war could ultimately only tail end the national liberation struggle being led by the national bourgeoisie. The problem of national liberation in the imperialist countries could not have been posed by Marxists until one imperialist power or another had won a definitive victory resulting in the political subjugation of all of Europe, thus imposing a de facto empire. After a certain period then, and only then, could Marxists have even considered, as Lenin pointed out, the possibility of the struggle for national liberation be considered as part and parcel of the struggle for socialism. But the SWP saw it differently.

Continuing from the above quote:

“The task of the workers of the occupied countries is to put themselves at the head of the insurgent movement of the people and direct it toward the struggle for the socialist reorganization of Europe.”

That is, the struggle for socialism flowed from the struggle for national liberation led by the working class, in the advanced countries just as in the under-developed countries. Here again we see, as in the European Secretariat’s Theses, the theory of the permanent revolution being applied to the imperialist countries of Europe.

The SWP did criticize the “Three Theses” of the German comrades in somewhat the same fashion as the European Secretariat, but has to our knowledge never mentioned the “nationalist deviation” of the French section. On the contrary, the SWP glorified the French section’s role during the war as well as that of the European Secretariat. Point #29 of the European Secretariat’s Theses of the 1944 European Conference (quoted above) was not reproduced in the March or May (1945) issues of the Fourth International along with the other parts of the Theses. In the “Editor’s Note,” an introduction to the Theses, one reads the following:

“The record of Trotskyism in Europe is an inspiring record of relentless, unyielding, heroic struggle in the face of overwhelming odds. For years our co-thinkers in Europe had to conduct their struggle under the Hitler dictatorship. This struggle for socialism is exemplified by the French Trotskyists who published illegally 73 issues… of their critical organ La Verite in a period of 4 years beginning with August 1940.”

In spite of #29 of the Theses which criticized the French section for “a Social-patriotic Deviation”, the SWP’s Fourth International states that “the French Trotskyists” “exemplified…the struggle for socialism”. The lengthy introduction is, for the most part nothing more than a paraphrasing of a document we have already referred to several times above –the “Open Letter to the President of the Press Federation.” This, it will be recalled, was the letter “written in defense of the PCI’s demand that La Verite be allowed to appear legally” since it had been such a valiant campaigner “against fascism and the occupying imperialism.”

The “Editor’s Note” even repeats #3 which we ourselves quoted above:

“From the first the French Trotskyists fought deportations, racism and anti-Semitism. They advanced the slogan of the right of all peoples, including those in the colonies, to self-determination.”

For the French as well as for the SWP, the struggle for national liberation in the occupied imperialist countries was the first order of business. The idea that the French working class should be organized around a revolutionary defeatist position which should include as one of its major and most urgent tasks, the struggle for the right of the colonies to self-determination, is turned inside out. The struggle of the colonies for the right of self-determination is added as if it were only an afterthought, almost as if to say that the struggle of the colonies would be included once France had won her own right of self-determination.

That the SWP had essential agreement with the United Secretariat on the national question in Europe is seen in the last part of the “Editor’s Note”:

“Out of the European Conference come the theses, sections of which are published below for the information of our readers. It will be apparent to the readers of Fourth International that in the main essentials there is a solidarity of ideas between the theses of the European Conference and the programmatic documents adopted by the Socialist Workers Party at the November 1943 Plenum and November 1944 Convention (…)”

It should be obvious that the SWP as well as the European Secretariat was unwilling or unable to deal with the origins of the French Trotskyists deviations on the national question, let alone the national question in general. Not completely, but partly due to this failure to deal with the national question, there developed another petty-bourgeois opposition in the SWP which was only a reflection of similar tendencies in other sections not the least of which was the majority of the French section with its position of voting “yes!” for the bourgeois constitution. It was no accident that the Goldman-Morrow faction made its way to the Shachtmanites. The Goldman-Morrow tendency should have been an ominous warning of the dangers that still existed in the International from the petty bourgeoisie adapting to the prevalent pressures of the moment.

While the tendency represented by the Goldman-Morrow faction was due essentially to the pressure generated during the war, another petty-bourgeois tendency began to take form after the war. This tendency was ideologically akin to Shachtmanism and resulted from almost the very same pressures that had produced the original bureaucratic-collectivist ideology of Shachtman. The tail-ending of the Stalinists by our European sections, the growing prospects of WW III spurred on by the cold war and the rape as well as suppression of the working class of Eastern Europe by the Stalinists, created pressures similar to those that were present on the eve of WW11; all of which acted as midwives to the new outburst of petty-bourgeois despair in the International.

The state capitalists were represented in the SWP by the Johnson-Forest faction which after the war left Shachtman and re-entered the SWP bringing all their ideological baggage with them. This same tendency took form in France in August, 1946, during the preparation of the PCI’s third party congress. Tony Cliff was sent to England by the International Secretariat to straighten out the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) leadership who had been toying with the ideas of state capitalism. The RCP leadership, however, ended up rejecting state capitalism and Tony Cliff ended up becoming one of its foremost advocates and leader of the state-capitalist faction in Britain. The new Shachtmanite tendency was like adding fresh iridescent paint to the already obvious.

Part 7 (Final)

At the end and immediately after the war, there was an upsurge of the masses through the world which was reflected in the growth of the Trotskyist movement. The RCP in England, for example, had a sizeable proletarian base for its size. Out of roughly 500 members, the RCP was approximately 80% workers. After the reunification in France the PCI began to grow and was able to recruit a base –even though small –in the working class. Certain sources put the French section at 2,000 strong. In the United States the SWP too began to grow, and by 1946 the party reported a membership of 2,000.

Optimism abounded. Opportunities seemed to be opening up everywhere. Trotsky’s prediction about the war throwing capitalism and bourgeois democracy into a prolonged and aggravated crisis seemed to be coming true down to the last letter. The enthusiasm and confidence of the period was best summed up in Cannon’s speech to the 12th National Convention “The Coming American Revolution” in which he stated:

“Our economic analysis has shown that the present boom of American capitalism is heading directly at a rapid pace toward a crisis, and this will be a profound social crisis which can lead, in its further development to an objectively revolutionary situation.”

The crisis from which the revolution would leap was just around the corner, “Onward to a party of 10,000” was the slogan of the SWP convention. But the analysis of the SWP and the International proved to be wrong. Nevertheless, the SWP and the International dogmatically clung to what they thought Trotsky has predicted.

Long after it became abundantly clear that the capitalist crisis was not around the corner, they continued to argue that it was on its way. Ernest (Germain), the economic theoretician of the International, confidently defended the International’s position at the 2nd World Congress in 1948 against the RCP majority which as a minority of one maintained that the boom would not be so ephemeral. Such farsighted analysis by the British section was, however, branded as disillusioned petty-bourgeois scepticism.

Nobody could defend Trotsky’s anticipations of the events down to their last letter. Trotsky, like all the great Marxists, anticipated the future not with the intention of being history’s script writer, but of indicating the general development of events given certain preconditions. Sometimes even the general flow of historical development is interrupted by historical accidents. Nevertheless, Trotsky’s prediction of the crisis of capitalism and bourgeois democracy and the subsequent rise of the masses under the banner of the Fourth International was not without foundation.

The rise of the masses did occur. What was missing was a presupposition that was understood in Trotsky’s prediction that the Fourth International would be sufficiently prepared to provide the masses with a revolutionary alternative. In fact, in 1937 he clearly stated:

“If in the event of a new war, the masses are not headed by a revolutionary party…a new revolutionary situation would throw society back.”

But as we have seen, in the most important countries such as in France the sections of the International were incapable of taking advantage of the opportunities open to them.

The politically bankrupt sections were unable to provide any valid alternative to the treacherous leaderships of Social Democracy and Stalinism which allowed the breathing space capitalism needed to secure its wobbly legs. But according to the SWP and the International leadership, the Fourth International had not yet had its chance to lead the masses in the storming of the bourgeois bastions and, therefore, the crisis was still around the corner. A dogmatic interpretation of Trotsky –sterile orthodoxy –replaces a critical analysis of the objective situation and our own historical role.

To ignore the physical as well as political disintegration of the International during the war was to attempt to build upon a foundation of sand. The results could only be an ever continuing collapse of the structure, politically and organizationally, regardless of how impressive the facade appeared at anyone time. The Second World Congress in 1948, however, sanctified the role of the International to that time and posed with optimism about the “more or less rapid transformation”… “of our sections”… “into mass parties.”

In the activities report of the IS, “10 Years of Fighting,” adopted by the 2nd Congress, we find the following sanctimonious excerpts:

“c) In the face of the occupation of Europe by the Nazis and the reactions it provoked among the masses, the International defended the principle of the link between the struggle against national oppression and the struggle for the socialist revolution …d) Against the tide of chauvinist propaganda flooding the whole world, the Trotskyists held aloft the flag of revolutionary internationalism.”

While having stated the above the authors felt no compunction in stating further on:

“At first the pressure of the war and of the occupation of Europe by the Nazis completely bewildered the pre-war leadership of the French Trotskyist movement. A few of them deserted the organization and others abandoned all political activity. Among those who stayed, some leading comrades developed positions which essentially constituted a complete retreat from the revolutionary positions of the 4th International…”      

Under the heading “The National Question during the War”, the report continued, officially stamping as good coin the International’s own deviations on the national question:

“The question was to organically combine the masses’ national demands with the proletarian socialist program. The sections or tendencies which hesitated to audaciously take the initiative to write the struggle for national demands in their programs, or which showed their incapacity to do so, to organize this struggle or to participate in the ‘national’ movement of the masses (strikes, partisan armies, insurrections such as the Greek one of December 1944) made serious sectarian mistakes which weighed on their development.”

And we learn that, outside of possible tendencies here and there the Greek section seems to have been the only one to have raised objection to the International’s deviations on the national question and it was branded as sectarian. The Greek section, however, outside of having been small to begin with and losing its leadership during the war, found itself in three parts at the end of the war. To say the least, it was not able to have any preponderant influence in the International as a whole.

The 2nd World Congress held ten years after the founding of the 4th International maintained that the International was alive and well. The political documents issuing from the 2nd World Congress, however, proved that the International was not well, and even raised speculation as to its total demise. The young International was weak in cadres at its founding, but its strength was not in its numbers but in its unrelenting revolutionary program. The 2nd Congress of the International could brag of an increase in cadres, but the program had for all essential purposes become a religious relic. It had been replaced by a concoction born of social patriotism, enriched by pragmatism and impressionism and couched in sterile orthodoxy. Future events were to prove that the demise of the International ‘vas more than mere speculation.

The new leadership of the reorganized European Secretariat and subsequently, in 1945, of the International Secretariat, was personified by Michel Raptis (Pablo) who took over as general secretary of the European Secretariat after the arrest of Marcel Hic in 1943 and his murder in 1945. Leaving aside political considerations, one could not help but be suspicious of this new leadership from the organizational wheeling-and-dealing that was carried on under the guise of re-organization. Negotiations were opened up with the POUM. Negotiations with the Shachtmanites were placed on the agenda for the SWP. A phony Irish section was set up consisting of one individual who turned out to be sympathetic to Shachtman. An Italian section was concocted which proved to be largely Bordigists. But these and other organizational gymnastics were only a portent of the organizational and political acrobatics yet to come.

The 2nd World Congress began to take up the most important theoretical question of the nature of the Eastern European states occupied by the Soviet Union. The Congress documents held that these states remained capitalist, that “structural assimilation” by the bureaucracy was impossible except for, possibly, “one or another country”, and that the bureaucracy must withdraw under the pressure of imperialism, or “the real destruction of capitalism…take place only as a result of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses.” (Here it is impossible to take up the question of Eastern Europe and the many fallacious theories advanced, such as the theory of “structural assimilation”. To the present the Eastern European question has not been dealt with satisfactorily.)

One can see from the above how unprepared the International was for the actual events that took place in Eastern Europe. Outside of “one or another” exception, there could be no “structural assimilation” a thoroughly reformist concept in its own right –in Eastern Europe, and the Soviet bureaucracy remained “compelled to maintain the bourgeois function and structure of the state, not only because its destruction is impossible without a revolutionary mobilization of the masses, but also in order to defend its own particular exploitation (sic) of the workers in these countries.” The transformation of the Eastern European countries into deformed workers’ states –in process at the time the documents of the 2nd World Congress were being passed –took the International by surprise.

The underestimation of the capabilities of the world Stalinist bureaucracy in the general framework of the world situation –which itself had been misunderstood –laid one of the bases for the zig-zag which became known as “Pabloism.” When it finally decided that the Eastern European countries had been transformed into workers’ states –determined precipitously and empirically the International leadership, without retracting a single comma that appeared in the 2nd World Congress documents, now began over-estimating the potential of the same Stalinist bureaucracy. Both positions showed a lack of understanding of Stalinism and its bureaucratic rule.

The change in the International’s position followed the Second World Congress by a matter of weeks. Before the ink was dry on the Congress documents, the International Secretariat (IS) was writing open letters “To the Congress, the Central Committee and the Members of the Yugoslav Communist Party,” in which the IS was, according to the British section:

“forced by events to proceed from the standpoint of the British Party, that the productive and political relations in Yugoslavia are basically identical with those of the Soviet Union.”

The British comrades continued in the “Letter on Yugoslavia sent to the I.E.C.”:

“If indeed there exists in Yugoslavia a capitalist state, then the IS Letters can only be characterized as outright opportunist. For the IS does not pose the tasks in Yugoslavia which would follow if bourgeois relations existed there as the dominant form. The Letters are based on conclusions which can only flow from the premise that the basic overturn of capitalism and landlordism has taken place.

The second Open Letter gives several conditions necessary if Yugoslavia is to go forward with true revolutionary and communist progress. Yet nowhere does it call for the destruction of bourgeois relations in the economy and the overturn in the bourgeois system and regime.

The comrades will remember that the Congress document gives as its first reason why ‘the capitalist nature of the buffer zone is apparent’ that ‘nowhere has the bourgeoisie as such been destroyed or expropriated.’ Why no mention of this in the Open Letters? Of all the seven conditions given in the Congress document as making ‘apparent’ the capitalist nature of Yugoslavia and other buffer countries, the IS mentions only one –nationalization of the land. But even here, the question of the failure to nationalize the land is raised, not from the point of view of proving the capitalist nature of Yugoslavia. It is raised to point out, correctly, that the nationalization of the land is necessary in order to combat the concentration of income and of land in the hands of the kulaks. The question is raised in the general context of the Letter as an aid to the socialist development of agriculture in a country where capitalism and landlordism have been overthrown, but the danger of a new  exploitation is still present in the countryside.

Not only are main tasks posed in the Open Letter identical to those to be carried out to cleanse a state similar in productive and political relations in the Soviet Union; but, Russia.

The articles appearing in our international press revealed one thing the thesis adopted by the World Congress failed to provide a clear guide to the problems that arose from the Cominform-Yugoslavia split, and the tasks of the revolutionaries in connection with the regime and its economic base.”

It is evident from the quote that the comrades of the British section, along with their other disagreements, disputed the position of the International on the nature of the Eastern European states. While we cannot agree with the British section’s alternative political analysis on the question, (an analysis similar to the Vern-Ryan tendency of the SWP that red army equals workers state) the letter of the British comrades, nevertheless, exposes the International’s total disregard, without even the slightest compunction, for their own political evaluation. The letter exposes as well the Secretariat’s crass opportunism and is a premonition of the adaptation the IS was going to make, not only in relation to Yugoslavia, but to Stalinism in general.

The attitude that the YCP was on its way to reforming itself, under the leadership of Tito, flowed from what seems to have been the assumption that any opposition to the Kremlin by another CP had, of necessity, to be from the left. The ideas of the British comrades that the Yugoslav “bureaucratic regime, resting as it does mainly on the peasantry, can have no independent perspective between the Soviet Union and American imperialism,” and that the struggle of the YCP was a “desire of the Yugoslav leaders to maintain an independent bureaucratic position and further aspirations of its own” were completely dismissed by the International leadership.

The IS leadership behind Pablo and Healy as well as the French section behind Bleibtreu and Lambert, threw themselves into the word of establishing contacts with Yugoslav government officials, organizing work brigades to go to Yugoslavia, and sycophantically praising in their press the “courageous” position taken by the YCP and its leader Tito. Tito’s portrait even decorated the walls of the offices of the IS and the French section. The attitude to Yugoslavia was only a precursor to positions that the IS would take in relation to China, Bolivia, Cuba, Algeria, Vietnam, etc.


[A note was included here: “As our Readers are aware this is the last issue of Vanguard Newsletter. Those readers who wish to continue following this series may request a photocopy of the remainder of the document free of charge, by writing to our address on the masthead.”]

Written by raved

January 2, 2015 at 9:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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