The Development of the Spartacist League

by the Spartacist League of New Zealand, August 1972

Introductory Note

The New Zealand Spartacist League broke in March from a state of complete disorganisation, but until recently largely confined its activity to serious internal discussion. This document, “The Development of the Spartacist League”, is a summary of the conclusions of this discussion completed in early June. In it the Spartacist League looks at its own development in the light of the experience of international Bolshevism and thereby reaches a qualitatively higher level of revolutionary politics. The Spartacist League does not worship orthodoxy, but it does seek to benefit from the experience of the revolutionary past (hence the extensive use of the words of past revolutionaries here). Only in this way can the revolutionary party be built.

Since the completion of the document Owen Gager (who has a significant place in the history of the Spartacist League) seems to have moved towards organised international Pabloism. Some recent developments in his position are looked at in an article in New Zealand Spartacist, number 7.

15 August 1972

1. Development of the Fourth International

The Fourth International, led by Leon Trotsky and carrying on the struggle of Marx, Engels and Lenin for international socialist revolution, was founded in 1938. The loss of political leadership with Trotsky’s death in 1940, the organisational disruption of the Fourth International as a result of World War II, the failure of the war to lead directly into world proletarian revolution, and the expansion of the bloc of deformed workers’ states following the war brought about the profound disorientation of the Fourth International.

In this period the Socialist Workers Party of the United States of America (SWP), which was the strongest section and Trotsky’s closest political collaborator, abdicated its responsibility to play an international leadership role. This followed the advance of Pabloism, a revisionist current which renounces the need for a revolutionary party and adapts to reformist and Stalinist misleaderships. Pabloism denies that the proletariat is the only force capable of destroying capitalism internationally and the only force capable of laying the basis for socialism. A basic unhealthiness in the SWP is shown by the fact that only when its organisational autonomy was threatened in 1953 did it lead a fight against the growth of Pabloist leadership internationally.

Revisionism in the SWP came to a head in the early 1960s. In 1961 it publicly called Castro’s Cuba a healthy workers’ state and denied there was any need for a political revolution. And in 1963 it reunited with the mainstream Pabloites to form the “United Secretariat of the Fourth International”.

The Spartacist grouping developed in the United States out of the fight against revisionism in the SWP. Although differences were clear from the first, Spartacist strongly orientated towards Gerry Healy’s “International Committee” as an instrument for the rebuilding of the Fourth International until being kicked out on a manufactured pretext. This was done to prevent Spartacist criticisms in the International Committee directed at its leaders for their Pabloist method (shown in their positions on such matters as the Cuban revolution). Although the International Committee’s defence of its Pabloism was at this stage fought by anti-political diversionary means, its subsequent further degeneration proves beyond all doubt that it is basically Pabloist. For example it gave political support to the “Arab revolution” and to the Mao wing of the Chinese bureaucracy in the “Cultural Revolution”. This softness is “balanced” by an extreme sectarianism, use of physical violence against opponent groups inside the movement, threats to take opponent radical groups to the bourgeois courts, etc.

So, by its founding conference in late 1966, the Spartacist League of the United States (SLUS), having sharpened its position in struggle first within the SWP and then the International Committee, was internationally in isolation. The conference issued a brief and definitive “Declaration of Principles of the Spartacist League”, which has become the basic document of our tendency internationally. This statement aroused great international interest in the months after the recent split in the International Committee.

2. Trotskyism in New Zealand

The Socialist Labour Movement, a small loose organisation of Pabloists and others influenced by Trotskyism, existed in New Zealand at the time of the founding conference of the SLUS and the “Declaration of Principles” had immediate and considerable impact on this grouping. Owen Gager, the editor of the left-wing journal Dispute and a member of the Socialist Labour Movement, wrote to the SLUS describing the “Declaration of Principles” as “a statement of Trotskyist principle which I myself have always believed in but despaired of ever seeing clearly and unadulteratedly stated by the revisionist Pabloite ‘Fourth International’.”1 Gager tried to lead the Socialist Labour Movement to acceptance of the “Declaration of Principles” but was fought by Keith Locke, a member studying in Canada and under the influence of the League for Socialist Action (which is closely aligned to the SWP in the United States). The Gager-Locke polemic was associated with a de facto split in the Socialist Labour Movement and the emergence of the New Zealand Spartacist League in 1967, and the Pabloist Socialist Action League in late 1968. (The NZSL had close fraternal ties, though no organisational links, with the SLUS.)

Except for a few months at the end of 1970 and the beginning of 1971, the NZSL has never had any organisational definition, but has been a very small “diffuse group of co-thinkers”.2 Discussion within the group was that of friends and without the dimension of political struggle or Bolshevik theoretical training. The NZSL was defined by its political basis, the “Declaration of Principles”, on which it was founded, and which it republished in New Zealand in December 1970 as one of its basic documents.

The leadership of the comrades working together in solidarity with these politics was in the hands of Owen Gager. But unfortunately, his statements of political solidarity notwithstanding, Gager’s acceptance of the “Declaration of Principles” was never more than superficial. Weakness of method (specifically an inability to appreciate the contradictory nature of social phenomena) laid him open under conditions of virtual isolation to programmatic errors: at some times capitulation to right-wing pressure; at other times a tendency towards sectarianism.

3. Deformed Workers States

The “Declaration of Principles” holds that Russia, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, North Vietnam and Cuba are deformed workers’ states which on the one hand have made advances based on the “nationalisation of the means of production, establishment of economic planning, and the state monopoly of foreign trade”, and on the other hand have seen the “formation of bureaucratic ruling castes which exclude the working class from political power.”3 A deformed workers’ state is a form of dictatorship of the proletariat parallel to a bonapartist military dictatorship as a form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. In Russia it was formed by the degeneration of a state which had formerly been under the political control of the working class, whereas in the other countries political control was in the hands of a bureaucratic ruling caste from the very beginning.

“The Spartacist League stands for the unconditional defence of these countries against all attempts of imperialism to re-establish its control.

“At the same time we assert the necessity for the working class to take direct control and defence of these states into their own hands through political revolution and thus sweep away the internal barrier to the advance towards socialism. Only the spread of revolution internally and internationally can successfully maintain these partial conquests of the workers.”4

This has always been the position of the Fourth International. To quote from the documents of the 1936 conference preparing for the Fourth International:

“The Soviet Union can be called a workers’ state in approximately the same sense—despite the vast difference in scale—in which a trade union, led and betrayed by opportunists, that is, agents of capital, can be called a workers’ organisation. Just as revolutionists defend every trade union, even the most thoroughly reformist, from the class enemy, combating intransigently the treacherous leaders at the same time, so the parties of the Fourth International defend the USSR against the blows of imperialism without for a single moment giving up the struggle against the reactionary Stalinist apparatus.”5

And for the manifesto adopted by the Emergency Conference of the Fourth International in 1940:

“While waging tireless struggle against the Moscow oligarchy, the Fourth International decisively rejects any policy which would aid imperialism against the USSR.”6

Gager departed from this principle when, under the pressures of the Ban-The-Bomb milieu in which he was working, he developed a position which would deprive the deformed workers’ states of nuclear weapons. Prior to the “Declaration of Principles” the November-December 1964 and March-April 1966 issues of Dispute editorialised against the testing or possession of nuclear weapons, specifically including the deformed workers’ states. After his “acceptance” of the “Declaration of Principles” these editorial statements were defended by Gager in his polemic with Keith Locke. His argument involves the view that “socialism” (!) cannot “be defended by the same means as capitalism”7 and that the only defence of the deformed workers’ states is to “organise political struggle against capitalism, organising for revolution.”8 By so narrowly circumscribing the defence of the deformed workers states, by emphasising indeed, only the importance of the necessary struggle for world revolution, Gager manages to escape responsibility for any real measures in defending the existing gains of the working class against imperialism prior to world socialist revolution. As the Bolsheviks knew when they set Trotsky to organising the Red Army, and as is implicit in the “Declaration of Principles”, brute military power is sometimes the only immediately available weapon to use in defence against imperialism. The Fourth Internationalist defence of the deformed workers’ states is unconditional, and while the working class internationally is led by various counter-revolutionaries the military power of the vacillating and anti-working class Stalinist bureaucracies is the only immediate available—if poor, unreliable, and ultimately wholly inadequate—defence. Those “Trotskyist” groupings internationally with positions similar to Gager’s justify them on the basis of un-Marxist theories which in the end all turn out to deny that the countries in question are any form of the dictatorship of the proletariat at all—theories such as Tony Cliff’s “state capitalism” and Max Shachtman’s “bureaucratic collectivism” which comrade Trotsky refuted in In Defence of Marxism. Gager denies his kinship with such theories. “There is no validity in your claim that we are drifting to a state-capitalist position on China etc—my view is that the dictatorship of the proletariat has never been achieved” but that it is “only half developed”9. A dictatorship of the proletariat grossly deformed by bourgeois pressures (that is, a deformed workers’ state) is quite clearly not perfectly developed—but this is secondary. The Chinese state protects nationalised property as the dominant form of ownership of the means of production and is thus, without qualification, a dictatorship of the proletariat. Gager’s undialectical Theory of Half a Workers’ State is clearly incompatible with the Trotskyist analysis of deformed workers’ states. The most charitable interpretation of Gager’s muddled discussion of his clearly un-Marxist position is that it is still incompletely formed.

4. The Labour Party

Another example of Gager’s deviation from the general line of the “Declaration of Principles” involves his sectarian attitude towards the Labour Party. He finds it impossible to understand that the Labour Party embodies a profound contradiction between a petty-bourgeois programme and leadership, and a working class following. The “Declaration” is fully aware of such contradictions:

“The ideas of the bourgeoisie penetrate into the very movements and organisation of the workers through the agency of the petty-bourgeois labour lieutenants—particularly the parasitic trade-union, social-democratic, and Stalinist bureaucracies which are based on the “aristocratic” upper strata of the working class. Enjoying privileges not accorded to the vast majority of workers, these misleaders betray the masses of working people through class-collaboration, social-patriotism, and chauvinist-racist policies which sabotage proletarian understanding and solidarity. If not replaced by revolutionary leaderships, they will allow the organisation of the workers to become impotent in the fight for the economic needs of the workers under conditions of bourgeois democracy or will allow these organisations to be destroyed by victorious fascism.”10

The first issue of Dispute promised “a very definite commitment to work for a Labour Party victory in the 1966 election”11 and Gager was active in the Labour Party until 1968, but some time in that year he apparently changed his mind, adopting the position that revolutionaries should abstain entirely from struggle directed at the Labour Party. As Trotsky said of one sectarian group:

“From the initial thesis that the proletarian party must be independent at all costs our English comrades concluded that it would be impossible to go into the ILP12. Alas! They only forgot that they were far from being a party, but were only a propaganda circle, that a party does not fall from heaven, that a propaganda circle must pass through a period of embryonic existence before it can become a party.”13

Gager believes that the NZLP is petty-bourgeois through and through. He recently wrote:

“Social democracy offers nothing political to the working class and excludes workers increasingly from party membership and counters working-class politics by bureaucratic, police and military repression; it meets as few of the economic trade-union demands of a portion, though a large portion, of the working class as almost direct bribery; faced with the growth of productive resources it makes every effort to hold back their development for ‘human’ and ‘social’ reasons; it gives economic gains to white workers only by denying them to two thirds of the world. It is a petty-bourgeois party in composition and programme with reactionary and utopian policies.”14

But what Gager fails to recognise is that the NZLP at one time led the working class in struggles which brought real material gain to the class, despite the reformist limitations of these struggles within the structure of the bourgeois state. Despite its subsequent degeneration, recognition of the Labour Party as it political leadership remains one of the most ingrained and central aspects of working-class culture. The Labour Party thus is a major problem for a revolutionary grouping aspiring to lead the working class. Although the masses of the working class have been profoundly disillusioned (substantially as a result of the degeneration of social democracy) and although few workers are active in any political organisation, in a hopeless position they still retain a sort of religious faith in the party which their parents supported on the basis of their real (if reformist) interests. Peter Frazer and Michael Joseph Savage15 get far more votes for today’s Labour Party than Norman Kirk. Using its historically developed relationship with the working class the NZLP is an extremely effective propagator of counter-revolutionary ideology in the working class.

Gager’s sectarianism is linked to a misunderstanding of Marx and Engels’ Address to the Communist League (1850) on the experience of the revolutionary activity of 1848 and 1849. However, the Labour Party is not the same as the petty-bourgeois/democratic parties dealt with by Marx. The difference lies in the relationship of the party to the working class. In Marx’s time the various petty-bourgeois parties sought the support of the workers, and received it in some measure, but were not seen as the leadership of the working class by the working class.

“The chief obstacle in the path of transforming the prerevolutionary into a revolutionary state is the opportunist character of the proletarian leadership: its petty-bourgeois cowardice before the big bourgeoisie and its perfidious connection with it even in its own death agony.”16

Thus the revolutionary nucleus must, if it is to become the vanguard of the working class, have a strategy of political struggle with the bureaucracy for the leadership of its working-class followers. It is a fundamental strategic necessity that the Labour Party be broken asunder. The New Zealand revolution cannot go around the New Zealand Labour Party. We must “set the base against the top”.

One tactic which may at some time be demanded by the historic situation to this end is shallow entrism—always a dangerous tactic, but successfully practised by the early Third International, and by the Fourth Internationalists of the 1930s. The tactic requires first a tightly organised grouping of revolutionary cadres solidly based in the working class, who join for a limited period of time a non-revolutionary party to build an alternative and revolutionary leadership by fighting for principled politics within the arena looked to by the working class for leadership. When these cadres are the recognised leadership of the working-class base of the Labour Party, it will wrench itself apart from the reactionary leadership. This is not Socialist Action League’s policy of trying to pressure the Labour Party to the left, but a strategy for tearing it apart.

“But isn’t it a fact that a Marxist faction would not succeed in changing the structure and policy of the Labour Party? With this we are entirely in accord: the bureaucracy will not surrender. But the revolutionists functioning outside and inside can and must succeed in winning over tens and hundreds of thousands of workers.”17

In Gager’s sectarian mind such a policy would not only suggest an understanding of the (for him non-existent) working-class side of the NZLP, but would also be proof of Pabloism, economism and all kinds of dire disease. To Trotsky “entry in itself proves nothing, the decisive thing is programme and action taken in the spirit of this programme after the entry.”18

In the meantime we adopt a stance of critical support towards the Labour Party – intransigent criticism of its bureaucracy, and revolutionary support for its base, which will smash the bureaucracy. This has nothing in common with the Socialist Action League’s policy of “critical” support, which is in fact merely an attempt to “pressure” the Labour bureaucrats to the “left”. We will fight for working-class control of the Labour Party, and while having no confidence in its programme or leadership, will campaign for its electoral victory as the party of the working class on the slogan: FOR LABOUR TO POWER – SMASH KIRK AND THE LABOUR BUREAUCRATS.

5. Organisational Primitiveness

Despite his weakness (which had ultimately to be resolved in either the direction of bourgeois ideology or in the acceptance of Marxism) Gager remained in the vicinity of revolutionary Trotskyism, maintaining a fairly uncompromising working class line. By the end of 1969 he had managed to attract only one other person who would have identified himself politically as a member of the NZSL (although a small number of supporters, mostly more interested in armchair discussion than political struggle, gave the NZSL a slightly greater impact than this would suggest). In 1970 the SL increased its publishing activities, made a concerted intervention in the Wellington Progressive Youth Movement and played a leading role in the campaign against a New Zealand rugby team going to play South African whites.

By the end of August Menshevik organisational principles had allowed the small old armchair periphery to see themselves as members, and we had recruited a number of new activists. We had a small but in respect of the activists fairly disciplined group in Wellington. There was also a group in Auckland of less satisfactory quality, who had only intermittent contact with the centre. The SL had become an organised group of revolutionaries struggling to build a vanguard party of the proletariat. The general thrust of activity and publications, despite errors, was good, and the development was generally in a favourable direction.

However, the later degeneration of the NZSL derived from its inability to train cadre capable of successfully resisting counter-revolutionary ideology (for example, Gager’s growing revisionist impulse). In the chapter of What Is To Be Done? entitled “The Primitiveness of the Economists and the Organisation of the Revolutionaries,” Lenin characterises as “primitiveness” organisational practices similar to those of the NZSL in this period19. The newer recruits, who came from a background of “mindless activism”, were kept in frantic public activity by the leadership, without any significant attempt to raise their level of political consciousness. The older members, interested in armchair discussion among themselves (though not in the theoretical arming of the newer membership, in organisational meetings, or in propagandistic activities) were benignly tolerated in their atrocious indiscipline and lazy inactivity. Thus, yielding to spontaneity in the field of organisation, the NZSL was left quite incapable of turning itself into a highly trained body of professional revolutionaries—a Bolshevik organisation. As Lenin remarked of the Russian movement at this stage:

“One cannot help comparing this kind of warfare with that conducted by a mass of peasants, armed with clubs, against modern troops. And one can only wonder at the vitality of the movement which expanded, grew, and scored victories despite the total lack of training on the part of the fighters … but as soon as serious war operations began … the defects of our fighting organisations made themselves felt to an ever-increasing degree.”20

6. The need for a propaganda orientation

No particular area of work (the unions, the Labour Party, the universities) in itself constitutes capitulation to economism or the bourgeoisie. No particular area of work is in itself revolutionary. The question is: what is the political programme directing the work. True, we must make a revolutionary party able to lead the working class, but before we can get far with the problem of leading the working class, we must get together the nucleus of an organisation of revolutionaries. Quoting an opponent in What is To Be Done? Lenin says “A committee of students is no good, it is not stable.” And then he replies to it: “Quite true. But the conclusion that should be reached is that we must have a committee of professional revolutionaries, and it does not matter whether a student or a worker is capable of qualifying himself as a professional revolutionary.”21 And we must move towards the implantation of revolutionaries in the working class, and intervening in its day-to-day struggles.

As Lenin and Trotsky said repeatedly, every revolutionary party must pass through a period of cadre-training and recruitment, and of theoretical struggle – at first predominantly within the organisation but with growing emphasis on testing its programme in propaganda struggle against revisionist organisations. The development of a tough cadre organisation is a necessary embryonic stage in becoming the party of the proletariat.

“We must not only tell the Russian, but also the foreign comrades that the most important thing in the ensuing period is study. We are studying in the general sense. They, however, must study in the special sense in order that they may really understand the organisation, structure, method and content of revolutionary work. If they do that I am sure the prospects of the world revolution will not only be good but excellent.”22>

A propaganda group orientation implies recognition of the fact that a group’s capabilities for leadership of masses is roughly proportional to its hold over the most politically conscious, so:

“As long as the question was (and in so far as it still is) one of winning over the vanguard of the proletariat to communism, so long and to that extent, propaganda was at the forefront.”23

The press of the Spartacist League must be geared to this task. The importance Gager places in the immediate production of a newspaper for mass distribution is entirely misplaced. Trotsky’s words to French comrades in his 1935-36 writings are sound. The task of building a mass newspaper is of great importance.

“This task cannot be effectively solved except as a function of the growth of the organisation and its cadres who must pave the way to the masses for the newspaper – since it is not enough, it is understood, to call a publication a ‘mass paper’ to have the masses accept it in reality.”24

In the meantime ours must be a propaganda paper geared to building the nucleus of the cadre grouping.

7. The disorganisation of the Spartacist League

The NZSL’s premature indulgence in mass agitation as its main activity constituted a major deviation which, in keeping the group to a low theoretical level caused its degeneration and disintegration. In the absence of a hardness and homogeneity of politics, the organisation was unified by a leadership structure depending on close collaboration between Gager, who gave leadership in matters of theory, and Bill Logan whose work was mostly organisational. This leadership broke down with comrade Logan’s departure overseas in December 1970, and tensions developed between Gager (supposedly supported by some theoretical members who had ceased coming to meetings) and the newly recruited members. The newer members fought particularly against Gager’s tendency to sectarian abstention from political struggle against other ostensible revolutionary groupings. The ideological roots of sectarianism lie in an inability to understand the theory of revolutionary leadership. The sectarian sees leadership merely as a matter of having the correct theory—he who has the correct theory is thought thereby to be the leadership—but in fact leadership must be won by struggle in the working class movement for the correct politics.

At about this time Gager had to be prevented from holding a separate “revolutionary” anti-war demonstration at the same time (but on a different route) as the official one. For reasons associated with his fundamental methodological weakness he is incapable of appreciating the possibilities for political development in some subjective revolutionaries in and around the ostensible revolutionary groupings, and he seldom sees any reason to be fighting for revolutionary politics at meetings and demonstrations organised by revisionists. (Of course, at times he can be forced to fight for his views politically.)

The tensions between the membership of the Spartacist League and Gager culminated with his holding of a rock concert, against the decision of two Spartacist League meetings, in the name of the Spartacist League, at a time conflicting with a Committee on Vietnam atrocity film-showing. Besides displaying once again Gager’s sectarianism, the holding of this rock concert was a blatant disregard on the part of the leadership for the operation of democratic centralism, and this on merely a tactical question. This led to the final collapse of the rank and file’s trust in the leadership.

Gager did not like the decisions reached by meetings of the Spartacist League in this period and he says “…more basic decisions were being made by people who … couldn’t attend meetings.”25 The Spartacist League had ceased to be an organisation, as meetings are a necessary condition for revolutionary organisation. The only alternative is autocracy. The people he agreed with and in Menshevik fashion wished to call members were unorganisable. As Lenin says in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, “the Party should admit to its ranks only such elements as allow of at least a minimum of organisation.26 Gager’s principle that those who work for the organisation but cannot attend meetings should make decisions, smells very much like the Menshevik principle which allows people who do not belong to any of the organisations of the Party, but only “help it in one way or another”, to call themselves Party members. This, “is in reality an anarchist principle. To refute this, one would have to show that control, direction and discipline are possible outside an organisation” – or a meeting.

After the rock concert episode, the organisation disintegrated. Members were “expelled” or “resigned”. According to Gager, it was “as it was in early 1970”27.

8. Gager’s “theoretical advances” and final betrayal

In a lengthy exchange of letters with comrades Logan and Hannah, Gager claimed great theoretical advances as compensation for this organisational catastrophe. But these “advances” were nothing more than a complete swing away from revolutionary Marxism, though not completely inconsistent with his past which is one of theoretical muddlement over the deformed workers’ states, and of an undialectical view of the Labour Party (constituting an unrounded form of inverted Pabloism similar to the Healyite position on Cuba that it is not a deformed workers’ state but a capitalist state). In this period he became more clearly Pabloist, going completely soft on Stalinism and forming an uncritical alliance with the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ). Softness towards Stalinism has always been a characteristic of Pabloists. Jim Cannon was talking of Pabloism when he said:

“The simple truth, which we must now recognise and deal with, is that we have nothing less than a pronounced tendency towards Stalinist conciliationism in the Party.”28

For Pabloists: “The working class is transformed into a pressure grouping, and the Trotskyists into a pressure grouping along with it ….”29 “The Pabloites tend to replace the role of the working class and its organised vanguard—that is, the world Trotskyist movement—with other forces which seem to offer greater chances of success.30” Thus the foundation of Pabloism is the denial of the proletariat as the world historic revolutionary force. The theoretical advance claimed by Gager at this time involved the view that action by revolutionaries in any milieu in which the working class was in any way organised was necessarily “economist” and therefore bad. Gager’s “anti-economism” is no more than an unsuccessful attempt to dress his denial of the proletariat’s role in orthodox clothing.

With the publication of the first issue of a newspaper entitled Red Gager showed that the final resolution of the contradiction between the subjective revolutionism and the un-Marxist method of his thinking is in a complete break from revolutionary working-class politics. In its statement of principle, “Where we Stand” he says:

“The Trad Left believes that the bigger and better the unions, the closer the people are to socialism. Red believes that unions exist to make agreements with bosses, not to make workers their own bosses. The unions in every big confrontation with the state in New Zealand have always been defeated. For victory what is needed is a political party standing for Power to People. Agreements between employers and unions end up as conspiracies to defraud the consumer. What is needed is an alliance of workers and consumers against employers. Red stands for voluntary unionism.

“… Red stands for full military training for the people.”31

“Power to People”? Which people? Which class? What sort of power? Not state power of course? The state is nothing more than a class organised to oppress other classes. It is clearly impossible for the “people” to hold state power, for them to be organised as oppressors—who would they oppress? As Engels says of the revolutionary state (and this is repeated by Lenin in State and Revolution): “the state is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution, to hold down one’s [class] adversaries by force … so long as the proletariat still needs the state it does not need it in the interests of freedom [or of the ‘people’] but in order to hold down its adversaries”32. When things develop to the stage when there are no longer distinctions between classes, when all the people have the same interests, there will be no state, no power.

When pressured on this question Gager retreats, saying he means to call for a “people’s revolution”. Trotsky answers this quite clearly:

“Thanks for the quotation about the ‘people’s’ revolution from Thaelmann’s speech, which I glanced through. A more ridiculous and maliciously confused manner of putting the question cannot be imagined! ‘The people’s revolution’ – as a slogan and even with a reference to Lenin …. It is understood that every great revolution is a people’s or national revolution, in the sense that it unites around the revolutionary class all the virile and creative forces of the nation around a new core. But this is not a slogan; it is a sociological description of the revolution, which requires, moreover, precise and concrete definition. As a slogan, it is inane and charlatanism, market competition with the fascists, paid for at the price of injecting confusion into the minds of the workers.

“… In order that the nation should indeed be able to reconstruct itself around a new class core, it must be reconstructed ideologically and this can be achieved only if the proletariat does not dissolve itself into the ‘people’, into the ‘nation’, but on the contrary develops a programme of its proletarian revolution and compels the petty bourgeoisie to choose between two regimes. The slogan of the people’s revolution lulls the petty-bourgeoisie as well as the broad masses of the workers, reconciles them to the bourgeois-hierarchial structure of the ‘people’ and retards their liberation.”33

But it is clear from the passage quoted from “Where we stand” that Gager does not want merely to lull the “people”. Remember: “Red believes that unions exist to make agreements with bosses …. Agreements between employers and unions end up as conspiracies to defraud the consumer. What is needed is an alliance of workers and consumers against employers. Red stands for voluntary unionism.” Even without the last sentence it would be clear that Red wants to smash the unions. But the call for voluntary unionism in New Zealand is clearly a call to end the system under which all unions have won from the employers union membership as a condition of employment. Thus “voluntary unionism” would in itself smash all but the strongest unions. Gager without doubt wants to mobilise his “people” to smash the organisations of the working class. A more pernicious manifestation of bourgeois politics has seldom been presented in left-wing disguise. It is true that the bureaucratic leaders of the unions confine them to inadequate attempts to keep wages rising as fast as prices. It is true that they are at present merely instruments to keep the workers quiet. It is true that trade unions, without the leadership of a revolutionary party, will never rise above the level of tomorrow’s bread and butter. The point is not merely to understand this but to change it.

“The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination an disciplining of the workers, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.”34

We will build a revolutionary party, we will organise revolutionary caucuses among the union rank and file, we will lead the struggles of the workers from the partial and economist, from the level of bread and butter, to the level of revolutionary consciousness and revolutionary struggle. We will work around a transitional programme “stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”35 We will lead “the base against the top”, smash the union bureaucrats, and turn the unions into instruments of the revolutionary working class. The unions have within them that potentiality, but Gager’s inability to see and exploit the contradiction between the bourgeois interests served by the union leaderships and their working-class membership have resulted in a sectarianism so extreme that it amounts to an attack on the working class.

Red was the dividing line. It marked Gager’s final break from revolutionary politics. In a situation of political isolation he used the disintegration of the NZSL in order to purport to make completely fundamental changes in its line. Without any proper decision-making process he presented some sort of new-left populism or worse, specifically counterposed to the working-class movement.

Gager had previously counterposed the propaganda orientation advocated by comrades Hannah and Logan with a plan for a popular paper. In style, content and programme Red, number 1, shows itself to be a truly “popular paper” – for the petty bourgeoisie. On the front page greatest prominence was given to an article on ecology signed by one Brian Longrigg – a man obviously more sympathetic to the ideology of the National Party lawyers in the Save the Manapouri Campaign than to any even ostensibly revolutionary group. On the back page in uncritical support of the bourgeois puppet Awami League, Red calls for “us” to “cease hiding behind legalisms and recognise the Provisional Government of Bangladesh.” Inside the paper was a mish-mash of notes in gentle criticism of the Labour Party bureaucracy, left-liberal support for Vietnamese Stalinism, and rock-record reviews. Despite the paper’s great interest in international affairs, its statement of principle fails to call for an international revolutionary leadership. The paper makes it quite clear that Gager has completely deserted the struggle to rebuild the Fourth International.

“… the question of the International, as well as the question of national parties, cannot be deferred for a single hour: we have here in essence two sides of one and the same question. Without a Marxist International, national organisations, even the most advanced, are doomed to narrowness, vacillation and helplessness; the advanced workers are forced to feed upon surrogates for internationalism.”36

But though Red marks Gager’s final break from the politics of the Spartacist League some organisational unclarity remained, and he participated in some of the meetings of members of the Spartacist League which rebuilt in March. He was too arrogant and unorganisable to subject himself to the discipline of any group, and despite the fact that he continues to respond to criticisms with smokescreens of faked orthodoxy he is too far from Marxism to stand by seeing it used to test his views. His walk-out was merely the organisational expression of his earlier desertion of Marxism-Leninism. He was finally formally expelled.

The Spartacist League’s immediate task is to sharpen itself into a fighting propaganda group, a nucleus of trained Marxists capable of intervening in every radical movement and in the trade unions with revolutionary politics. One of our first steps towards this has been the establishment of a regular propaganda press.

The Spartacist League, as a national section fighting for the rebuilding of the Fourth International, is in the vanguard of the struggle for a socialist revolution, which will prepare for the freeing of the energies of all mankind and the creation of a truly liberated society.

“Our day-to-day preparation of the working class and our intervention and leadership in the decisive moments of the class struggle will propel the struggle forward to the final victory.”37


1. 8 January 1967
2. Letter from Gager to Logan, 3 January 1971.
3. “Declaration of Principles of the Spartacist League”, Marxist Bulletin, n 9, p 10. The Marxist Bulletin series is published by the Spartacist League US. The “Declaration of Principles” was also published in Spartacist, n 8, November-December 1966 – PRG, January 1991.
4. “Declaration of Principles of the Spartacist League”, p 10
5. “The Fourth International and the Soviet Union”, Documents of the Fourth International, Pathfinder, New York, 1973, p 107
6. “Imperialist War and World Revolution”, Documents of the Fourth International, p 327
7. >Dispute, November-December 1964
8. Letter from Gager to Locke, undated, about September 1968
9. Letter from Gager to Logan, 28 November 1971
10. “Declaration of Principles”, p 10
11. Dispute, September 1964
12. The Independent Labour Party of England was a left-social democratic, sometimes centrist, organisation. Originally formed in 1893, it helped found the Labour Party, left it in 1932, and then returned to it in 1939 – PRG, January 1991
13. “The League Faced with a Decisive Turn” (June 1934), Writings of Leon Trotsky [1934-35], Pathfinder, New York, 1974, p 42
14. “Reformism Now”, an internal discussion document by Owen Gager, 26 September 1971
15. Peter Frazer: Labour Prime Minister 1940-49; Michael Joseph Savage: Labour Prime Minister 1935-40 – PRG footnote, January 1991
16. The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (The Transitional Programme) [1938], New Park, London, 1980, p 13
17. “The ILP and the Fourth International” (18 September 1935), Writings of Leon Trotsky [1935-36], Pathfinder, New York, 1977, p 142
18. “Centrist Combination and Marxist Tactics” (28 February 1935), Writings of Leon Trotsky [1934-35], p 203-4. (The original citation given by the NZSL was from an earlier edition of Trotsky’s Writings which gave this article’s title as “Centrist Combination and Marxist Faction” – PRG, January 1991.)
19. V I Lenin, What Is to Be Done? [1902], Collected Works, Progress, Moscow, 1961, v 5, p 440
20. As above, p 442-3
21. As above, p 462
22. V I Lenin, “Five Years of the Russian Revolution and the Prospects of World Revolution” (Report to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 13 November 1922). (A slightly different translation can be found in: Collected Works, 1965, v 33, p 431-2 – PRG, January 1991.)
23. V I Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder (1920). (A slightly different translation can be found in: Collected Works, 1966, v 31, p 93-4 – PRG, January 1991.)
24. Leon Trotsky, “What Is a ‘Mass Paper’?” (30 November 1935). (A slightly different translation can be found in: The Crisis of the French Section [1935-36], Pathfinder, New York, 1977, p 97 -PRG, January 1991.)
25. Letter from Gager to Logan, 28 November 1971
26. V I Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back [1904], Collected Works, 1965, v 7, p 256

27. Letter from Gager to Logan, 21 August 1971
28. James P Cannon, Letter to Dobbs (6 April 1953), Speeches to the Party, Pathfinder, New York, 1973
29. Socialist Workers Party, “Against Pabloist Revisionism” (1953), International Committee Documents 1951-54, Towards a History of the Fourth International, Part 4, Education for Socialists series, New York, 1974, p 152.
30. Revolutionary Tendency of the SWP, “In Defence of a Revol-utionary Perspective” (1962), Marxist Bulletin, n 1, p 3
31. Red, n 1, November 1972
32. V I Lenin, The State and Revolution [1917], Collected Works, 1964, v 25, p 445. (The additions in square brackets are those of the NZSL in 1972 – PRG, January 1991.)
33. Leon Trotsky, “Thaelmann and the ‘Peoples Revolution'” (14 April 1931), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, Pathfinder, New York, 1971, p 75-6
34. Leon Trotsky, “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” (1940), Leon Trotsky on the Trade Unions, New York, Pathfinder, 1975, p 71.
35. The Transitional Programme, p 14-5
36. Leon Trotsky, “The ILP and the Fourth International”, p 147
137. “Declaration of Principles”, p 11