On Trotskyist history & revolutionary continuity
Exchanges with a former leading Spartacist
The following is an edited and abbreviated version of an exchange between a former leading Spartacist cadre and Tom Riley of the Bolshevik Tendency.
It has been a very long time indeed….
I am ashamed by my failure to acknowledge your many stated truths, before and since I quit the ICL [International Communist League, successor to the international Spartacist tendency (iSt)]…. (I know these truths are not just “yours,” but you took the lead).
I think you may have missed an important but not obvious trick on the suppression of the [British] RCP [Revolutionary Communist Party] majority’s ([Ted] Grant’s) positions on EE [Eastern Europe], Yugoslavia and China in the late 1940s—not just by [Gerry] Healy, [Michel] Pablo, [Ernest Mandel aka] Germain and [James P.] Cannon at the time, but by the archival historian [Spartacist League (SL) leader James] Robertson (see “Genesis of Pabloism” but especially the 1973 preface to the revised edition of “Cuba and Marxist Theory”).
This issue was in play in the “clique fight” of 1972-73 [in the Spartacist League/U.S.] at a time when the British RCL ([Revolutionary Communist League] aka the Chartists) were in communication. It perhaps presaged the Norden split (see Appendix 1 of his 1993 opus [“Yugoslavia, East Europe and the Fourth International”].
It is related, therefore, to accounts of Spartacist organizational practices by [David] Cunningham and [Nick] Benjamin [leading figures in the 1972-73 “clique fight”] which model and prototype your treatment, and that of Norden. These practices potentially were aimed (in part) at obscuring important politics that were underway in 1972-3, despite the best blunders of the “cliquists,” and the smoke of [Marv] Treiger….
(There are references to Nick Benjamin’s writings relating to G of P [“Genesis of Pabloism”] in both David Fender’s papers at Tamiment, and footnotes to [Martin Cook’s] “Myth of Orthodox Trotskyism” , which I have not been able to track down [but subsequently located]. Someone mentioned to me a piece by him [Benjamin]: “The Trouble with Liz…” in the same vein).
If I have missed coverage by your tendency of these items, my apologies.
The construction of “unbroken thread” narratives is unhelpful, in my view, either analytically or historically: but I think it is true that Ted Grant was shunned and shat on by lesser, jealous figures.
This matters, in substance and in “style,” for the coming generations. It is related to Zinovievism and the Moscow Compromise over Paul Levi.
It also raises the reciprocating questions: why did Spartacist never contact Grant, or vice-versa?….
Looking “forward”: It seems from my exiguous reports that the SL pressure-cooker lid is right about to tear off, with everything from sex to money to China ready to spew out.
Any of us who stayed in, particularly in positions of responsibility (as I did) has some tough moral and intellectual days ahead….
Thanks for reaching out….
I am not entirely sure what to think about the RCP and the reasons that it did not feature more prominently in the SL historiography. Norden’s 1993 sketch seems to be pretty candid about misrepresentations for factional reasons as well as not knowing a lot—but having got the basics wrong about it in “Genesis of Pabloism.” We had our own criticisms of “Genesis of Pabloism” which we published as a letter to the German GIVI group in 1989. That document was written by Liz [Gordon] as I recall and essentially based on what was available in the SWP [Socialist Workers Party/U.S.] internals—which Robertson to his credit had collected and studied. He doubtless had a role. It was, all things considered, a pretty good first approximation and certainly better than anything else up to that time….
As you well know in politics (or life) things are rarely 100 percent. When I looked back recently at our 1982 declaration I was impressed with how well it stands up. At that time we hoped (indeed almost expected) that having the story laid out clearly and the point made that in the 1980s, as in 1903 or 1966, “the organization question is a political question” would be enough to break things open for at least some leading cadres in the iSt. Of course we were disappointed in that. Sometimes it is not enough to tell the truth and have the right analysis…critical mass often counts for a lot more (e.g., Trotsky on China, Germany, Spain, etc.). In hindsight I think we thought the iSt cadre was better than it was. But the SL was a pressure cooker that warped some fine minds—Dale Reissner more or less came over to us a few years after leaving the SL. I recall her saying that she read our initial statement when it first came out and paid no attention but later, after she was out, it “rang a few bells” and she found herself essentially agreeing with us.
I also recall [another Spartacist cadre] once lamenting how important psychology is in politics, and how much easier it would be for genuine Trotskyism if we were dealing with computers that could simply classify statements as true or false based on objective data.
When we were discussing the SL’s history prior to the ET [External Tendency of the international Spartacist tendency] launch I recall going back and reading closely through the [1972-73] Cunningham documents to see what they could tell us. I had also talked to a few people about that episode. Not much there in a positive sense politically, which is why our treatment of them focused on the organizational consequences for the SL. They lacked a firm political basis for their opposition—as did we when we were purged, which is why we more or less went along with it. A year after leaving the SL, they [Cunningham-Benjamin] came out with a document attacking the SL on Chile which I read as a contact in the SL HQ and which I found very unimpressive—something about the SL needing to be more flexible tactically re: popular fronts. I was recruited on the basis of the hard SL line that the Allende pop front would likely lead to a bloodbath (this was in autumn 1973 and not only had the Pinochet coup just happened but the “Chilean Road” was a question I had been wondering about as a left Maoist for a few years). I had gone to the trouble of studying what the SL, WL [U.S. Workers League], SWP and Mandelites [adherents of Ernest Mandel’s faction of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec)] had said at the time and on that basis opted for the SL. So I was very unimpressed with the sole document put out by the Communist Workers Group as I think they styled themselves [actually the “Communist Internationalist Group”].
And then they disappeared. Cunningham surfaced around the pop-frontist Central American solidarity milieu in the 1980s. Not too impressive.
This document you refer to in the David Fender archive “The Trouble with Liz…” seems not to have been written by Nick Benjamin but, according to the Tamiment finding aid, by Rick Saling (Box 2, Folder 14 of the Fender Collection). The article is dated 17 February 1969, which would be around the time that the faction in the SL led by Kay Ellens affiliated, as Spark, with the French Lutte Ouvrière tendency. A “Rick Saling” appears to have belonged to the Spark grouping in 1970, so he was presumably the author of that piece. I recall that Liz Gordon had written “The Trouble With Harry….”, an SL majority polemic against Harry Turner [Ellens’ factional partner in the SL] and I suspect this document was a response. I never found Harry’s critique of Robertson very politically interesting and glancing through some issues of his Vanguard Newsletter recently that impression was confirmed….
I presume that after leaving the SL you found other things to do and other ways to make a mark in the world; I am sure we would have heard had you not dropped out of sight politically. This is not uncommon of course. Life in the iSt/ICL takes a lot out of people—and as the group got worse it of course took more….
Catherine [Nason] and I were at the clone purge…meeting in 1978 and knew it was nfg; we were also very well aware that the Logan trial was essentially a crock at the time but said nothing much [see: “Jimstown as we knew it”]. What little we did say when the charges against Logan were initially announced in the Toronto local was brushed under the rug by Reuben [Samuels] (then the Canadian commissar) so as not to compromise us. We took the hint….
Former leading Spartacist:
I left the Spartacists in a very unhappy, self-loathing state, but determined to get on with life and to rebuild my personal psychological reserves and try to be a more normal (and therefore kinder) person again. I had become allergic to (and scared of) organized politics….
To the extent I had political differences when I left the ICL they were not at all crystallized: more like sentiments (see two examples below). They were coupled with a sharp skepticism about the way the ICL operated and its prospects.
[Nothing surprised me about] the dénouement with Phil & Co [Jan Norden and the Internationalist Group (IG)]….After all, Phil had once taught me, as the chair of a trial body of which I was a member, that “this isn’t a bourgeois court: we’re not neutral.”
The collective delusion of being able to make a German revolution out of the counter-revolution in [East Germany circa] 1990 also indicated a detachment from reality: a performance being played out in one’s own complete small world. That subject was filed under “holy,” cross-referenced “heresy.” You would need Kevlar nerves to really challenge the thinking there, and my nerves were shot.
The unique—yes, unprecedented—Spartacist descent into an intense, chilly silence has made me think a lot about the past: both my experience and actions, and the movement’s history. (The bonds of muteness, which seem to tie in every ex-member who must know something, are so tight that this situation must go well beyond normal political differences).
The post-2008 world is so febrile that it is impossible for me not to also think politically about the present and the future. But that does not make me immediately think about renewed activity of the classic type.
It does make me question the (remarkably uniform) “model” we have inherited from the ILO [International Left Opposition] of 1928-9. The experience of the FI [Fourth International] has not been very successful, and it has gone on for ninety years.
Phil’s Spartacist Re-Enactment Society [i.e., the IG] is at one extreme: he questions nothing before 1996 and sees nothing but program on paper. I am interested in deeper roots, starting from the observation that the only successful workers’ revolutionary party probably didn’t look like or behave much like a standard-issue post-Sixth Congress Comintern or ILO/MFI [Movement for the Fourth International] section modelled on the Org Theses.
(And of course, any successful movement for radical social change which transcends parliaments and expropriates capital is going to be built by people in their 20s and 30s, not those in their 60s and 70s!)
The ICL’s quest for absolute zero is the most bizarre edition of a broader collapse of most of historical Trotskyism, as the long 1940s finally end.
My read is that the IG and the IMT [International Marxist Tendency, founded by Ted Grant] seem to be the biggest exceptions to the trend of dying on one’s feet—but I have no contact with e.g., the Moreno offshoots….so I can’t judge whether there are other viable operations….
Which brings me back to 1972-3. Half the old PB [SL political bureau] walks out; Liz and Mark [Joseph Seymour] step up. According to the old orthodoxy this era of SL Transformation was a turn to the left and to hardness; a time of regroupment and of purging blow-ins like Treiger and cynical cliquists. The time of DOITT [SL’s 1974 “Declaration for the Organizing of an International Trotskyist Tendency”]. The beginning of the iSt.
But according to the new Hydra orthodoxy, it was the time of a coup by Anglo-American chauvinists [for our critique of this see: From Trotskyism to Neo-Pabloism – ICL Breaks with Leninism on the National Question]. Like many things that don’t make sense on the surface, that pair of accounts may signal transitions and hidden histories of interest.
Continuity is a strong drug, which alters perceptions and orientations.
The IMT claim an “unbroken thread;” so does the SL. Oddly, each has very largely ignored the similarity of the other’s analysis of post-war Stalinism. The importance of which is the plausible claim of a founding theory that avoids Stalinophobia ([Tony] Cliff/[Max] Shachtman, [Pierre] Lambert) and -philia (Pablo).
It’s as if Dorian Gray’s attic contained a picture, not of his own decay and dissipation, but of his disreputable twin, and vice-versa.
Grant loathed Cannon as an anti-theoretical wrecker who kept the WIL [Workers International League] outside the FI in 1938, and boosted Healy (already known as a hooligan), as he and the IS [International Secretariat of the FI] smashed the RCP, when it was uniquely offering reasonable opposition to Pablo and Mandel.
Robertson espoused Cannon as the continuation of Bolshevism via Trotsky, whose inheritance was acquired transitively by Spartacist in the seven or eight years of founding the YSA [Young Socialist Alliance, youth group of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party] and then in the SWP RT [Revolutionary Tendency]. (Although in your interview with Myra Tanner Weiss she observed that Robertson didn’t know Cannon: they never worked together. His primary training came from the Shachtman group; he worked in the Hansen/Dobbs/Kerry regime).
The only time that the RCP’s history played a central role in SL history was in the summer of 1973. But it’s not something much talked about subsequently, to my knowledge.
Yes, the Cunningham outfit seems to have been a shambles, and easily dismissible as such (and then as rightist on Chile).
The point about the RCP majority can sound like an historical curiosity. But, besides the loss of a large slice of the pre-Transformation [SL] leadership, I think that maybe something deeper was going on in the “Genesis of Pabloism” years.
Cunningham, in HTHSL [“Hate Trotskyism—Hate the Spartacist League”] #2 (in the intro to the document on Chile) refers to the RCP’s “internal documents.” [The intro refers to “Haston’s Revolutionary Communist Party during the war years before the Cannon-Pablo-Healy combine chewed it up and wrecked it” as an organization that “perhaps” operated internally in accordance with Leninist norms.]
The SL was discussing with the Chartists (RCL) in 1972-3. The Chartists knew all about Healy, Grant’s RSL and the IG/IMG [International Group/International Marxist Group—co-thinkers of Ernest Mandel]: they included Al Richardson, the arch-archivist. Although authored a year later, Martin Cook’s “Myth of Orthodox Trotskyism” (a Chartist line document) indicates how much discussion was underway in those years, of which “Genesis of Pabloism” was an important part.
It’s therefore not clear that the only RCP material available to the SL PB in 1972-73 was that contained in the SWP’s bulletins. And if it was, why not fix that problem by getting the full documentary record, arch-archivist to arch-archivist? Especially as the “Haston/Ryan” question [the Vern/Ryan tendency within the SWP’s Los Angeles branch in the early 1950s echoed some of Haston’s positions] did not long remain as simply a parenthetic observation in “Genesis of Pabloism”: it was, in short order, studied further.
The glancing dismissal of the RCP majority in “Genesis of Pabloism” was very consciously elaborated (one year later in the late summer of 1973) in a PB-approved gloss on the position that Vern/Ryan produced only “the beginning of wisdom.”
This draft became the preface to a revised edition of “Cuba and Marxist Theory.” The Vern-Ryan issue is the centerpiece of the preface, which was itself treated as a major foundational codification.
The misidentification of the presence of Red Army troops with the automatic existence of a workers’ state is treated in the preface as a defining question, a differentiating claim by Spartacist to theoretical perspicuity and acumen, enabling the required steady course between Stalino-philia and -phobia.
In sum, where Cannon had gone by bemused orthodoxy and organizational reflex, Spartacist was pursuing with tutored and witting subtlety, able to handle the Cuban overturn of capitalism without following Hansen/Dobbs into the arms of Castro.
A lot was therefore riding on the originality of the RT majority/Spartacist position.
Were one to admit, in the context of the attempted grand regroupment with the LF [Leninist Faction] of the SWP (a bid to claim legitimate organizational continuity from the SWP…), that the SWP had not only backed Healy and Pablo before belatedly recoiling, but had also distorted and suppressed the exposition by the RCP of the very same position as that later advanced by Spartacist on China, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet glacis etc.—were one to admit this, then the twin theses of an unbroken thread through Cannon, and the unique solution by Spartacist to the theoretical disarray of the FI would be undercut.
Questions would then arise, above all about the Cannon regime.
Why was the RCP majority not just ignored, not just distorted, not just omitted from the widely available series of Trotskyist history records (both those produced by the SWP and by the WRP [Workers Revolutionary Party]), but expelled and smashed by Healy, under Cannon’s direction?
Was there a continuity of malign factional practices here, rather than a tenuous revolutionary thread? How true was the trope, stemming from Shachtman/Glotzer and Grant in the 1940s, of Cannon’s Zinovievism?
A narrower question also comes up. Was there a truly conscious perpetuation, by the SL PB of the time, of an old historical falsification by the SWP, later described by Phil? If so that is a truly rotten foundation.
At minimum it appears that there were perhaps more politics involved in the clique fight than was obvious on the surface. Nick Benjamin wrote a document about the “Genesis of Pabloism” at the time (cited by Martin Cook) that I have not managed to track down. It would be interesting to see what that says. There is also another document under his pseudonym, but I have lost the reference.
The backward connections of this line of enquiry include the Dog Days book, and its purpose, and more broadly the Zinoviev/Bolshevization inheritance.
I appreciated you forwarding the “The Myth of ‘Orthodox’ Trotskyism,” which I read with interest….
I had fairly recently re-read Norden’s Yugoslavia document and was again impressed with it. I presume you have seen the December 1996 letter I wrote to the IG on SL history in an attempt to initiate a serious exchange (it appears as Document 3 in our Trotskyist Bulletin No. 6). Unfortunately the IG is unwilling to participate in the kind of forensic investigation of what went wrong with the SL that Norden conducted over Yugoslavia—presumably for subjective reasons involving a combination of prestige and denial.
….There are one or two things I came across vis a vis the RCP, Yugoslavia, etc. online but have not undertaken any serious searches. I would of course like to read the full text of the RCP material and related documents. I was interested in Martin Cook’s account (which I do not think I had seen previously), not only in the context of our discussion but also because it provides an overview of events, and includes a few things that I did not know, or had forgotten. Much of it corresponds to the facts as I understand them of this critical period.
Yet Cook’s version is seriously flawed politically—both by his fairly standard centrist advocacy of voting for popular fronts, supporting the Arab regimes in the 1967 and 73 conflicts and whiffs of Stalinophobia (in the form of praise for the OCI [Organisation Communiste Internationaliste] and SLL [Socialist Labour League led by Gerry Healy]). It also has a fairly clear Labourite tilt. For the purposes of our discussion, it occurred to me that it would be helpful to identify areas of agreement and disagreement with the text. So I have attached some key portions of the document marked up to show points where I agree or disagree. I have also included some commentary even though I know that you will be familiar with most of the argumentation. [See Appendix below].
I am hoping that this may help focus our discussion. Our view of the main issues are adequately represented I think in the 1989 letter to GIVI that I forwarded to you earlier [see appendix to “Genesis of Pabloism”]. We consider GofP to be a very useful document—ground-breaking for its time. But it also had some serious flaws, as the omission of any discussion of the situation in Bolivia, which was fully documented in the SWP IDBs [Internal Discussion Bulletins], clearly demonstrated. It is not obvious why this problem and others evident in the SWP internals were not addressed by Gordon/Robertson. They should have been. The objective of revolutionaries must of course be to rely on the facts to produce a balanced account without fear or favor. We do consider the 1953 split to have been significant and one in which we have a side.
One other thing that I think has some relevance, or at least I found of interest, was the list of people Cook credited for help with the research in his piece. This included many from the groups he mentioned as taking an interest in the history of the FI at the time:
“The inability of most of the existing groups to confront the challenge has led to a confusing proliferation of small new groups that have split off from the older ones or been expelled (including our own tendency, [i.e., RCL/Chartists] founded in 1970). Virtually every single one of these groups has been forced to go back into the history of the ‘Fourth International’—the world Trotskyist movement—attempting to discover what went wrong with it, to rectify the mistakes of the past. This is absolutely correct and necessary: to paper over these lessons means building on sand, and this is the justification of the following document. The ‘established’ revolutionary groups (in particular the leaderships) are products of decades of working-class defeats and demoralization and the ‘social peace’ of the 50s & 60s. They have shown IN PRACTICE that they will not critically evaluate their mistakes: like the restored Bourbons, they have ‘learnt nothing and forgot nothing’.”
Presumably he did not include the SL among the “new” groups that had split off or been expelled from older ones; it was obviously not around for the 1953 events but predated the Chartists and the others by a decade or so. In his text he treats the SL as a sort of hybrid, a variant of the older “orthodox” formations which, although not sharing many of their vices, had developed an essentially equivalent set of other ones. He thanked representatives of various “small new groups” for their inputs:
“Finally, I would like to acknowledge the contribution made to the Demystification of the F.I. by other comrades: Richard Stephenson, David Fender, Henry Platsky, Barbara Gregorich, Phil Passen, Frank Richards, Dave Cunningham & Nick Benjamin, the American Spartacists and the German IKD in particular. I have made liberal use of their work in this analysis, little of which is completely original.”
I am not sure what became of the German IKD [Internationale Kommunisten Deutschlands] or its leaders, but none of the individuals he mentioned had much of a career in ostensibly revolutionary politics after Cook’s document appeared. Nor did the Chartists as I recall, apart from their Labour Party activity… That does not of course prove anything in particular—James Burnham’s writings on the popular front are as useful today as they were when they were published. But I find it interesting to consider the trajectories of many of the people he mentioned.
Richard Stevenson was of course Al Richardson who, according to his obit in Revolutionary History, left the Chartists in 1973 and never again participated in anything purporting to be a revolutionary organization (although they do mention that at different points in the 1990s he was supportive of [Ted Grant’s] Militant and [Sean] Matgamna’s Alliance for Workers Liberty). What both had in common with Al of course was a fondness for the Labour Party. I recall Al hanging around us on archival grounds in London in 1976. I also recall a slightly Zinovievist episode at an org party he attended at our place where he took the opportunity to sneak into our bedroom where I caught him on his hands and knees looking under the bed. He was of course a bit embarrassed and had no ready explanation. It was pretty obvious that he was hoping to purloin a few Spartacist internal bulletins to add to his collection.
David Fender was the leading figure in the Communist Tendency, an oppositional grouping within the SWP in the early 1970s which had a more leftist political critique of the party leadership than that of the much larger Proletarian Orientation Tendency (POT) which simply called for a turn to trade union work. Fender, after leaving the SWP, ended up with Harry Turner’s Vanguard Newsletter which dissolved into the Class Struggle League (CSL) sometime after its 1972 origin. Fender refused to have anything to do with the “petty bourgeois radicals of the CSL” and broke with Turner over the issue.
Henry Platsky was originally associated with Sam Marcy’s Workers World Party and after joining Vanguard Newsletter ended up as one of the leading figures in the Class Struggle League. The last issue of Class Struggle came out in March 1975, a couple of months prior to the date on the title page of Cook’s pamphlet. By 1978 Platsky was in Chicago attempting to launch a rock band modelled on the Clash. In a lawsuit he subsequently filed against the FBI and CIA, Platsky alleged that his musical career had been damaged by deep state harassment:
“In 1978 plaintiff became involved with the cultural-artistic movement which became known to the world as ‘punk-rock’ and was damaged by the disruptive activities of the agencies headed by the defendants in so doing.”
Barbara Gregorich & Phil Passen did an interesting interview on their political history in 2016 which is introduced with the following summary of their activity:
“Barbara Gregorich and Phil Passen were members of the US Socialist Workers Party from 1965-72, and key figures in the Proletarian Orientation tendency within the SWP and then in the Class Struggle League 1972-74. While maintaining their anti-capitalist views, Barbara became a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and Phil is a musician on the hammered dulcimer.”
The core of the CSL, which Passen and Gregorich abandoned in 1974 (shortly before it folded), was composed of the roughly 30 member Leninist Faction, which constituted the left wing of the original POT group. The majority of the POT (which Gregorich estimated to consist of about 50 people) remained in the SWP after the Leninist Faction split in 1972 and later evolved into the Internationalist Tendency, which supported Ernest Mandel’s brand of centrist politics in the USec. The LF engaged in discussions with the SL but a majority of the group opted to launch the CSL rather than join the Spartacists. Ten members of the LF chose instead to join the Spartacists. These included David and Martha Phillips, Dave Edwards (who broke with the SL in 1985 along with Jim Creegan who spent about 15 years with us) and Paul Kneisel, an early supporter of ours in New York City who introduced us to Myra Tanner Weiss. Another LF member who opted for the SL was Ron Painter, who worked in Ford’s Mahwah New Jersey auto plant throughout the 1970s.
In their interview, Gregorich and Passen favorably refer to Fred Ferguson as a solidly working-class comrade in the CSL. After the CSL folded, Fred joined the SL but was eventually expelled at its 1983 national conference. He was with us for about a dozen years after that and we published several articles on his trade-union work including this one: “Class Struggle Candidate in SF Printers Union”.
Had the CSL been more serious it might well have joined the SL. They had pretty left-wing political positions, but other factors were operating. Fred told me that Passen and Gregorich did not like the Robertson/SL “vibe,” a sentiment he shared at the time. (Robertson probably did not much care for the CSL’s vibe either). The CSL advocated a form of democratic-centralism in which members could say whatever they wanted publicly but were supposed to act in accordance with the majority position. They dubbed this “Freedom of criticism, unity in action” which, as I recall, was justified by reference to an article or two by Lenin in which he argued for a free hand versus his Menshevik factional opponents.…Fred told me that life in the CSL convinced him that their version of democratic-centralism was unworkable—a view that was reinforced when Passen and Gregorich just gave up and walked away.…
Passen and Gregorich would have been talking to the SL around the same time as the Cunningham, Benjamin, Treiger blow-up. Perhaps that played a role in deflecting them. [The November 1973 document by the CIG reported that “one of the grounds for the ‘post mortem’ expulsion of Dave Cunningham was that he had ‘leaked’ (having already resigned from the SL) the regime’s own documents against us to the LF thereby ‘sabotaging’ the fusion!”] I recall that when I met the CSL in 1973 after moving to New York to investigate the Trotskyist left, I could not see why they should exist outside the SL—they did not seem to have a lot of differences, and the ones they had struck me as wrong. On top of that they were significantly smaller and their newspaper was far less interesting.
The Chartists had some relations with the SL for a while, and their version of the history of the FI (see: “The 4th International and our attitude toward it,” written by Al Richardson) paralleled “Genesis of Pabloism” politically. I recall Keith Vanness coming around to visit us in London. It was amiable enough because by that point  the Chartists’ Labourism meant there was so much distance that there was no point in serious engagement.
Frank Richards is of course Frank Furedi [see: wikipedia.org/] of the RCG-RCT-RCP circa the 1970s and 1980s. I recall that [a comrade] (correctly) immediately identified his article on the history of the FI that appeared in the RCG’s journal in 1976, as a lightly reworked version of GofP.
What all of these individuals have in common, including Cunningham and Benjamin (as well as Moore-Stuart and Treiger) is that none of them did anything (or at least anything very useful) after the mid-1970s in terms of party-building. Frank Richards’ RCP was more or less explicitly non-Trotskyist as I recall. Al Richardson at least did some useful archival work. But for the most part they were a layer of people who proved not to be seriously committed to the difficult struggle to build a viable Trotskyist organization. They came in on high tide and (most of them) left when it ebbed.
So I don’t think they qualify for the generous assessment that Martin Cook offered of the orthodox sectarians he was skewering: “However harsh may be our criticisms of those who participated in the struggles of the F.I., and of the results they produced, we do not forget that they FOUGHT.” The gang that Cook credits for assisting in the “demystification” of Trotskyist history all gave up, got out of politics or disappeared into the Labour Party. None of them proved capable of sustaining a serious effort to build a Trotskyist organization for any length of time. If we were to apply Cook’s formula to them it might read: “However correct may be some of their criticisms, we do not forget that they gave up the fight and LIQUIDATED.”
None of that of course determines which of their criticisms are correct and which are not….It occurs to me, however, that there is something of a link with what the ET designated the “second transformation” of the SL, from a hard Trotskyist group with a real internal life, into something that became an “obedience cult” with formally correct politics but very little internal political discussion and a great deal of pressure on the membership. This, as we predicted in our 1982 founding declaration, was unlikely to go away by itself and did, over time, begin to manifest itself in real, overt programmatic deviations from the consistent Trotskyist line to which the core cadre had been recruited.
The “link” between the CSL et al going out of business as any sort of Trotskyists and the SL morphing into something qualitatively different than what it had been previously, was the massive downturn in the left, particularly in North America as Passen and Gregorich mention in their interview. It was palpable….When we got back to Toronto after the excitement and optimism generated by the successful 1978 regroupment with the 20-odd members of the Workers Socialist League which launched the Spartacist League/Britain, it was very obvious that the Canadian group we had left two years prior was losing momentum. The OROs [ostensibly revolutionary organizations] were moving to the right and shrinking, there were fewer big strikes and the sizeable Maoist milieu was coming apart (most of the larger Maoist groups dissolved within a few years.) Our people had hung on and we had trade union work, etc., but the mood was very down. We had no contacts and while we could still sell papers, our forums and other public activities were pretty much members-only events.
A few years earlier things had been very different. In 1974 at the SL National Conference there had been a lot of talk about an imminent massive working-class upsurge—there was no such anticipation by 1978. It was in this period that Robertson moved from a one-bedroom railway flat in upper Manhattan, not too dissimilar to what I had lived in when I worked as a laborer in the garment district, to a big loft in cool downtown Soho with a jacuzzi (constructed by party labor). He also started going out to fancy restaurants, sometimes taking along his coterie and others who were “doing well” and putting their meals and drinks on the party tab. Sometimes there would be a dozen or more on such outings. We always felt uncomfortable about attending; we knew that a lot of industrialized comrades in auto, etc. were working forced overtime and paying huge pledges, and it was their money that was funding these events. Not everyone felt that way; some, more inclined to sycophancy, were eager participants.
We witnessed this with our own eyes—we lived through it. 1978 was the year of the “ed board blowout” where Liz and Charlie Brover, perhaps WV’s best writer, were smashed for making a correction/modification of a formulation in a draft Robertson co-wrote. He threatened to split the group over it. Later that year we witnessed the “clone purge,” which was advertised as “sub-political.” We agreed that it was indeed “sub-political” because at the time we did not regard the destruction of a layer of talented petty-bourgeois young Marxist intellectuals as “political.” We were wrong about that of course.
So there was a problem that confronted the whole left in different ways—the CSL went out of business, Cunningham, Benjamin, Treiger et al dropped out of politics. The SL stayed in business, but Robertson and his faux “Cannonist” clique turned a corner that eventually led to the Hydra implosion (From Trotskyism to Neo-Pabloism). I never saw Al Richardson, the CSL types or all the others who generally disliked the SL for the wrong reasons as a viable alternative. The answer it seemed to us then, and now, was to sort out what was good about the SL (its “orthodox” program) from what was bad. Everyone who left the SL after the leftist surge of the 1960s and early 70s receded and renounced Trotskyism (like Cunningham et al) had the effect of validating the Robertson regime for those who remained—particularly the idea that its version of a “Cannonist” internal regime was integral to opposing class collaboration, petty-bourgeois nationalism, Islamic reaction, capitalist counterrevolution in the USSR, etc. During our time in the Spartacist tendency we essentially accepted that false identity.
I went back to have a look at the treatment of the British RCP under Haston/Grant in Norden’s 1993 document. I have pasted in a chunk of what he wrote and bolded a few bits which seem to constitute an unambiguous recognition that the RCP got things right at the time:
“In ‘Genesis of Pabloism,’ we wrote that ‘Virtually without exception the Fourth International was disoriented by the Yugoslav revolution.’ With the documentation now available to us, we can say that this is not entirely true. The British Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) at least understood that capitalism had been abolished, not only in Yugoslavia but in the other countries of East Europe as well, and opposed the capitulation to Tito. Yet the RCP’s line was dismissed out of hand, not only by Pablo but also by the SWP, and, most importantly, almost none of its documents were widely disseminated in the FI. At the April 1948 Second World Congress, the RCP submitted amendments to the resolution on the USSR and Stalinism in which they opposed the description of the East European states as capitalist, noting instead:
“‘a) The basic overturn of capitalist property relations has already been, or is in the process of being completed. b) The capitalist control of the government and the apparatus of the state has been, or is in the process of being destroyed. c) This process of assimilation is the necessary and inevitable product of the class character of the Russian economy, and of the preponderance of the Russian state as the dominant military and political force in the existing relations of world powers on the one hand, and the balance of power between the Stalinist and working class organisations and the remnants of the ruling class, on the other.’
“At the same time, the RCP was careful to underline that ‘the destruction of capitalism in these countries must not be taken as a model for the general overthrow of capitalism, nor does it prove that capitalism can be destroyed in Western Europe coldly, by terror from above.’
“So unlike the rest of the International, the British RCP did not face a theoretical quandary in dealing with the Tito-Stalin split. RCP leaders Jock Haston and Ted Grant, in a July 1948 article, noted that this ‘marks a new stage in the development of international Stalinism which must be closely followed by revolutionary and militant workers,’ but they cautioned: ‘One thing we know, Tito is no Trotskyist. Organisationally and ideologically he is the enemy of Trotskyism.’ Their article concluded:
“‘All socialists will give critical support to the movement in Yugoslavia to federate with Bulgaria and to gain freedom from direct Moscow domination. At the same time, the workers in Yugoslavia and these countries will fight for the installation of genuine workers’ democracy….This is impossible under the present Tito regime. For an Independent Socialist Soviet Yugoslavia within an Independent Socialist Soviet Balkans. This can only be part of the struggle for the overthrow of the Capitalist Governments in Europe and the installation of Workers’ Democracy in Russia.’
“A powerful letter to the International Executive Committee by Jock Haston, ‘on behalf of the Central Committee, RCP,’ undated but probably written in late summer 1948, criticized the Open Letters of the I.S., noting that while they exposed the bureaucratic expulsion of the YCP [Yugoslav Communist Party] from the Cominform, this ‘must not mean that we become lawyers for the YCP leadership, or create even the least illusion that they do not still remain, despite the break with Stalin, Stalinists in method and training.’ Haston criticized the Open Letters for failing to fulfill these conditions and appearing to be ‘based on the perspective that the leaders of the YCP can be won over to the Fourth International.’ While individuals may change, Tito et al. ‘themselves rest on a Stalinist bureaucratic regime in Yugoslavia.’ Thus, ‘by their silence on fundamental aspects of the regime in Yugoslavia and YCP policy, the letters strike an opportunist note.’ Haston’s letter contained the essentials of a Trotskyist position on Yugoslavia:
“‘Tito is attempting, and will attempt, to follow an independent course between Moscow and Washington, without altering the bureaucratic machine or turning to proletarian internationalism. A bureaucratic regime, resting as it does mainly on the peasantry, can have no independent perspective between the Soviet Union and American imperialism. “‘The main emphasis of the [I.S.] letters should have been to show the necessity for a radical break with the present policy of the YCP, the introduction of soviet democracy within the party and the country, coupled with a policy of proletarian internationalism….
“‘It is impermissible to slur over the nature of the YCP, its identity on fundamental points with other Stalinist parties. Such a slurring over can only disorientate Stalinist workers. Yet every attempt is made by the I.S. to narrow the gulf that separates the policy of the YCP from Bolshevik-Leninism….’”
Norden’s text strikes me as a pretty fair-minded assessment on the whole. I do not see a big problem with it. Too bad that both the IG and ICL are incapable of making a similarly candid assessment of some of their own deviations.
Comments on Martin Cook’s 1975 study of post-war Trotskyism:
Notes on ‘The myth of “Orthodox” Trotskyism’
The following is an edited version of comments by Tom Riley on excerpts from Martin Cook’s 1975 critique of “Orthodox Trotskyism” which is referred to in the exchange above. While fundamentally flawed by the Chartists’ Labourite political bent (see this excerpt from an article in the 23 November 1973 issue of Workers Vanguard), Cook’s document contains many correct observations as well as much with which we disagree.
Blue highlight signifies substantial or general agreement
Green highlight signifies substantial or general disagreement
Yellow highlight is commentary
The struggle after the degeneration of the Comintern for a New International, though finally aborted for a whole period, was essential. Conversely, the degeneration and disintegration of the “Fourth International” after the last War was an international process: what happened to organizations in particular countries can only be understood in this context, not in terms of the foibles of individual leaders. However harsh may be our criticisms of those who participated in the struggles of the F.I. [Fourth International], and of the results they produced, we do not forget that they FOUGHT. Thousands of them died at the hands of the class enemy and the Stalinists. While others copped out to become cynics or professional anti-communists, they at least maintained a crude continuity of struggle for revolutionary Marxism, for the world proletarian socialist revolution. Without their courage in “swimming against the stream”, revolutionaries of today would be far more disorientated even than they are.
Our complaint is not that revolutionaries during a period of unparalleled working-class retreats did not build mass parties, so much as that they failed to maintain the essential programme and method of the October Revolution. This is not to take a sanctimonious view—who can say we would have done any better? The document does not waste time with long outlines of what SHOULD have been done in the “lean years”. Suffice it to say it was necessary to recognize the REAL weakness of the Trotskyists and not mechanically counterpose their puny forces to the mass organizations of the working class. Revolutionary propaganda had to be made relevant to existing consciousness via a transitional strategy. And reality should have been stared in the face, however depressing: in order to “say what is”.
The pamphlet focusses very narrowly on one particular aspect: the tradition of those who claimed to fight Trotskyist revisionism, and why they were incapable in the main of so doing
It must be stressed that the idea of a fixed “Chinese Wall” between the “Orthodox” groups and the “Pabloites” is all part of the myth. As we shall show, the features of “Pabloism” have largely been present at different times among the supposedly Orthodox, and the reverse is also true. Correctly speaking, “Orthodoxy” is a trend or syndrome characterized by:
- Refusal to admit that changes can occur in the real world.
- Excessive attention to the letter of the Marxist scriptures in isolation from method.
- Congenital sectarianism.
- A subjective, idealist and voluntarist approach to party-building.
- Insensitivity to anything not seen as part of the conventional class struggle, e.g., racial and sexual oppression.
- Theoretical sterility.
- Political paranoia vis-a-vis class enemy & competing revolutionaries.
As Trotsky observed, it is a compliment to be called a sectarian by an opportunist. Many of the alleged attributes of “Orthodoxy” are in the eye of the beholder…no serious political person would plead guilty to i, iii, iv, vi or vii. Many leftists would consider that the SL’s use of the Transitional Program as the basis for its trade union work to have been sectarian. I disagree—much of the work of its trade union supporters was exemplary as we sought to demonstrate by the highlights of that activity we included in our 1998 edition of Trotsky’s 1938 program.
2. THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL AND WAR, 1938-45
The American Socialist Workers Party was one of the very few organisations at the foundation of the FI with a worthwhile working-class base. It even claimed 2,500 members. It was also the section Trotsky worked with very closely in his last three years. It thus had a historic and unique position of leadership in the world movement, one which it was never able to fulfil. This failure was of key importance in the degeneration of the Fourth International.
The SWP had been able to lead the celebrated Minneapolis teamster strike, a precursor to the organisation of mass trade unionism. At its head stood Jim Cannon, a genuine working-class leader who exemplified all the weaknesses (provincialism, pragmatism, etc.) of the American proletariat. He had broken from the Kremlin empirically, in consequence of the disastrous effects of Stalin’s policies on party-building in the U.S. He would always continue to see international issues primarily from the viewpoint of their relation to the “American question”. Throughout the 1930s there existed a “division of labour” between Cannon, who supervised the day-to-day organisational and industrial work; Trotsky, who supplied the basic theory and strategy; and intellectuals like Burnham and Shachtman, who popularised Trotsky’s views propagandistically.
Of course, any revolutionary organisation is a combination of such disparate elements. The problem was that the contradiction was never transcended by a proper HOMOGENISATION of the SWP. The trade unionists and “apparatchiks” remained wedded to the backward outlook of the class; the intellectuals never broke from the milieu of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. The Party displayed a constant tendency to adapt itself, firstly to the social democrats In the Socialist Party (12) and also to the “progressive”, anti-Stalinist Rooseveltians in the trade unions. (13) Due to preoccupation with their entry work, and also their lack of open revolutionary politics to provide a clear alternative to the Stalinists and reformists, the SWP got remarkably little out of the unparalleled workers’ upsurge of the late 30s. The SWP went from a group of 100 to one of over 2000 in only ten years and became a significant factor in the American left. The Minneapolis General Strike was its largest and most celebrated action, but it did a great deal more—including leading some of the more important anti-fascist actions. In 1934 it almost doubled in size by regrouping with A.J. Muste’s American Workers Party, and then doubled again after a successful entry in the Socialist Party (despite instances of political adaptation by some leading figures—notably Max Shachtman and James Burnham). The SWP published the FI’s leading theoretical journal in this period, as well as a selection of books and pamphlets and a weekly newspaper. It also provided the cadre to organize Trotsky’s security in Mexico as well as the campaign to expose the Moscow Trials. At the same time, it sunk roots into various sectors of the industrial proletariat in addition to its prominent role in the Teamsters—fractions in auto, rubber, steel and several maritime unions were established. The SWP was deemed sufficiently potent for the U.S. government to jail 18 of its leading cadres during World War II, in an attempt to prevent it from emerging as a center of working-class resistance to the imperialist war effort. The SWP certainly had shortcomings and limitations, as became very clear after Trotsky’s assassination. But on balance, the SWP under Cannon in the late 1930s, with Trotsky’s active collaboration, provides the most successful example of a proletarian Trotskyist organization and the best model for the future.
THE FIGHT WITH BURNHAM & SHACHTMAN
The fragile set up exploded in 1939-40 when the petty-bourgeois elements completely abandoned a Marxist perspective of defence of the USSR. The resultant faction fight is highly illuminating. In the first place, the whole of the theoretical work for the Cannonite majority had to be done by Trotsky. The Russian question raised the crucial issue of the marxist method: DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM. It was not just the followers of James Burnham and Max Shachtman who scorned the dialectic. The majority comrades, preoccupied with practical matters, had passively accepted Trotsky’s politics without assimilating his method—which would have meant actively participating in the development of theory. Trotsky talked at this time of “beginning” the theoretical education of the party—after 12 years! (16) He also had to combat Cannon’s long-standing tendency to resolve political questions by organisational means, to regard the aim of the conflict as expulsion of the minority rather than winning them over and political clarification, to get back to the nitty-gritty at the first opportunity.(17) He wrote: “It is precisely the party’s penetration into the trade unions and into the workers’ milieu in general that demands heightening the theoretical qualification of the party as a whole”. (18) Of course, these weaknesses of Cannon were those of the class itself, and Trotsky backed him on this basis. But after, the latter’s assassination in June 1940, they were to prove insuperable blocks to the SWP’s development into a revolutionary communist party.
THE SWP AND WAR
In 1941 the SWP was faced with a terrible threat to Its existence in the arraignment of 18 of its leaders under the Smith Act in Minneapolis. In his defence testimony, Cannon completely watered down the marxist programme of social revolution (19), not just for the benefit of the jury (which might have been justifiable) but for the production of a widely distributed agitational pamphlet on socialism. The criticisms made then by Spanish trotskyist Grandizo Munis, though rather purist, are generally pretty fair comment. (20) When we reviewed this material in 2003 we came to the opposite conclusion – see: Lessons from Working-Class History: State Repression & the Left. We did, however, recognize that on one point Munis was substantially correct:
“One weak formulation in Cannon’s testimony came when he suggested: ‘The reason we do not support a declaration of war by American arms, is because we do not believe the American capitalists can defeat Hitler and fascism.’ Munis observed that this implied: ‘we would support it if we believed in that defeat.’ Cannon might better have responded by pointing to the enthusiasm with which major sections of the U.S. capitalist class greeted both Mussolini and Hitler as bulwarks against the spread of Bolshevism.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, the SWP from the death of Trotsky completely betrayed its international responsibilities—showing the leadership’s incapacity of ever becoming real Leninists. This attitude was sharply opposed at the time, Cannon doing his best to block discussion on the subject. (note 25). Giving leadership to the F.I. as a whole did not happen; the New York based International Executive Committee hardly functioned.
When in 1947-48, Marshall Aid and the onset of the Cold War revealed the idea of neutral pro-Soviet bourgeois regimes a la Finland as Utopian, the Kremlin simply liquidated these phenomena and bureaucratically assimilated the political and economic forms from the Baltic to the Black Sea to those already existing in the USSR: these latter based, in the last analysis, on the proletarian revolution of 1917.
The. F.I. was incapable of making this analysis, which completely accords with Marx’s writings on the expansion of capitalist productive forms by military conquest and Trotsky’s on Poland in 1939 (32), because of its adherence to formalist Orthodoxy. Cannon, Mandel and the other main leaders based themselves on the characterisation of Stalinism as “counter revolutionary through and through”—If this was the case, how could it destroy capitalism in half of Europe?
THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY
The only serious tendency to stand out against the tide at this time was the majority of the British RCP, led: by Jock Haston and Ted Grant. They came from the Workers International League, a group singled out for denunciation at the F.I. Founding Congress. (35) This had developed rapidly due to effective industrial work and a rather less than orthodox line on the war, while the Revolutionary Socialist League (the official section) was preoccupied with entry activities at a time when the LP apparatus was largely suspended for the war. The two groups were fused into the RCP at SWP instigation in 1944. After the war, the RCP was the only section to question the official prognosis of crisis, slump, and revolution. In 1946, they pointed out that the “classic conditions for booms” were present in Europe. Ted Grant eventually worked out an analysis of the buffer states that was broadly correct (36)
Rather than confront the Haston-Grant tendency on a political basis, which they were incapable of doing for obvious reasons, the F.I. leadership resorted to Zinovievist organisational manoeuvrings. They lent their authority to the tendency in the RCP led by Gerry Healy, a Cannon loyalist of some standing. This group quite correctly advocated entry into the Labour Party, but on the perspective of world catastrophe which the majority (who at least had some grasp of the Marxist method) rightly opposed. The ex-WILers’ opposition to entry flowed from their success in industrial agitation (cf. IS nowadays); they considered the LP would be by-passed by the future struggles and had a sectarian attitude towards it. Healy’s success regrouping cadres from the British Communist Party after 1956, like the WIL’s trade union successes during WWII, was only possible outside the framework of Labour entrism. The Chartists’ fixation on long-term Labour entrism ended in liquidation. Entry into a larger formation in the workers’ movement can make sense at some historical moments, particularly when there is evidence of leftward movement within a section of the membership, but it is a matter of properly weighing the conjunctural opportunity. Long-term entry in a reformist organization necessitates abandoning, or at least indefinitely suspending, independent revolutionary activity (as such actions are likely to result in immediate expulsion from the host). In 1947 the Healy group broke off and entered the Labour Party, while the RCP collapsed and joined them in 1949.
THE POST-WAR SWP
On an international plane the SWP leaders combined general inactivity with passive support to the revisionist politics and methods of the European sections. Their strength remained the working-class base and orientation of the organisation. But precisely their (positive) over-reaction to the labour upsurge of the mid-1940s was to lead to the negation even of this in the subsequent period (though not immediately). Despite Trotsky’s repeated advice, the SWP had never abandoned their strategy in union work of blocs with “progressives” effectively against the CP. The articles by Chris Knox that appeared in Workers Vanguard in 1973 contain a valuable analysis of this problem. We reprinted them in our 1998 edition of the Transitional Program and they are cited in Bryan Palmer’s 2013 book Revolutionary Teamsters, the definitive account of the 1934 Minneapolis strikes—the most important labor actions ever carried out by Trotskyists anywhere to my knowledge.
YUGOSLAVIA AND CHINA
One of the favourite type of myths that circulate in the “trotskyist” movement nowadays is the dating of the political degeneration of an organisation from the point where one broke from it oneself. Thus, Gerry Healy tells us: “Then, in 1951, came Pablo…with his theory….”(41) It is not explained that Cannon and Healy worked alongside Pablo, Frank and (the at that time orthodox) Mandel in close political and organisational collaboration from before 1945 right up to 1953….In fact Healy and the SWP were that incapable of working out their own theories that they were only too glad to accept the offerings of the creative young intellectuals in Paris. The crassest example of all this concerns Yugoslavia. This shows precisely how Pablo’s revisionist theories of the early ’50s were merely the logical extension of the politics of the whole preceding period of the F.I. The reason is simple. Concrete reality eventually disproved the sterile contention that Stalinism could not overthrow capitalist productive relations.
The first manifestation of this turn-about was in July 1948, when the International Secretariat penned its celebrated Open Letter to the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, describing the latter as a “revolutionary workers’ party” and offering it full support against Stalin’s attacks….In 1950 Murry Weiss, speaking for the SWP N.C., claimed that the Yugoslavian leaders were a “certain mould of men” who had somehow empirically broken with Stalinism and decided to carry out a proletarian revolution, i.e. as “unconscious trotskyists” in effect. This Is the same theory of “blunted instruments” later applied by Pablo and the SWP to Cuba, for instance. (42) Needless to say, Healy implemented the policies of his mentors to the hilt….
A similar process occurred with China. Almost up to the moment of the victory of the People’s Liberation Army in 1949, the F.I. denied the Stalinists would be capable of overthrowing Chiang Kai-Shek. Once again they refused to see that the capitalist state had been overthrown by one based on the masses and, more importantly, on the pre-existing degenerated workers’ state in the USSR. They only empirically deduced that a workers state had been created in China, after several years of nationalizations etc….The unfortunate Chinese Trotskyists were pressed to do entry work in the CCP, which gratefully replied by murdering many and incarcerating the rest in jail, where the survivors still remain. Healy, at this time, as Peng Shu-Tse reported, acted as an agent of Pablo’s policies in this matter. (45) (A similar policy, with equally disastrous results, was urged on the remainder of the Vietnamese section.) The former RCP majority having been largely driven to demoralization or out- of the movement altogether, it fell to Dennis Vern and Sam Ryan of the SWP Los Angeles branch to be the challengers of the nonsensical line put forward.
It is no accident that Vern-Ryan were also the only people at this time to expose the betrayal of the Bolivian revolution by the POR acting with FI encouragement towards Paz Estenssoro (the Bolivian Kerensky) in the manner of Stalin and Kamenev in Spring 1917. (47) This was the logic of the theory of “transitional” “workers and. farmers governments”….
THE SPLITS OF 1952-4
It might well be asked, given the near unanimous agreement In the Fourth International to abandon all the basics of Marxist method and theory, evading principled political discussion and reassessments, how can we account for the whole show splitting wide open at the end of 1953? The point is that Pablo’s trump card was his consistency in empirical adaptation to the “New World Reality.” This was bound to win out because, at least he knew how “to put on an overcoat when it’s raining”. The “orthodox” elements such as Cannon tailed after in a contradictory way. They didn’t like the sound of what the IS was coming out with, but so long as the final logic of it was not apparent and he kept out of their patch, they were prepared to go along with it.
Pablo’s policies were passed, in all essentials, at the “Third World Congress” of the Fourth International in 1951. (49)
It was expressly advocated that open presentation of Trotskyist politics be abandoned…so as to “get closer” to Stalinist-led workers. (50) This line was furiously opposed by the majority of the French section, the Parti Communiste Internationaliste. They had not had any serious, disputes with the IS leaders up to 1951 and had fully put into practice their line on Yugoslavia. (51) However, the logic of revisionism meant the liquidation of their own programme and organisation into the French CP….
This was, however, by no means the clear-cut political break that some would have us believe. (52).… they claimed agreement with the World Congress decisions accusing Pablo of violating them. (53) This was repeated In Renard’s letter to Cannon….
The SWP and the British Healy Group only broke their links with Pablo when the latter supported oppositional factions in their organisations…. They had no interest in being told what to do…. The pro-Pablo minority were a rotten bloc between Bert Cochran’s conservatised anti-Stalinist TU militants around Detroit and George Clarke’s pro-Stalinist intellectuals in New York. They had a cruder line than Pablo himself….Cannon himself vied with them as the best defender of the decisions of the Third World Congress….He was merely asserting his traditional “American Exceptionalism”—i.e., liquidation might be fine everywhere from Paris to Peking, but the American CP was different you see! Cannon made his own bloc with the Dobbs-Kerry-Hansen apparatus….
The same sort of thing happened at an international level. Though the organisational manifestations of the spilt were highly complicated (and will not be dwelt on here), the political differences were simple to the point of being non-existent. They mainly consisted of varying estimations of the current developments in World Stalinism, with scant attempt to go back to fundamentals to explain the opposing opinions. The organizational question is a political question—in both 1903 and 1953. The split in 1953, as we argue in our 1989 letter to GIVI, posed a crucial political issue for Trotskyists: whether to liquidate or maintain independent organizations.
Without carrying on a full political struggle beforehand, all of a sudden the SWP leaders declared an open split In the middle of the discussion preliminary to the 4th World Congress of the FI. Again this was not by chance: the Orthodox brigade had no serious political alternative to Pablo’s liquidationism on which a struggle could have been waged.
Let us be clear. The criticisms made in the Open Letter of the IS’s line on the East German events, the French general strike, entrism sui generis and so on were absolutely correct in themselves. But, abstracted from any conscious effort to analyse the roots of the crisis in the FI and the role of the SWP therein, they were incapable of making a real attack on Pablo’s revisionism, which was seen as his personal fault (demonology). As the comrades of the former Leninist Faction (now Class Struggle League) rightly said, the difference between Cannon and Pablo in 1953 was that one was heading towards liquidationism by ox-cart, the other by jet-plane.(63) In our view there was an important difference. The SWP leadership’s opposition was seriously flawed and a decade later they ended up uniting with Pablo/Mandel over Cuba, but in 1953 Cannon resisted political liquidation, at least in the US. As we pointed out to GIVI, the 1953 fight, limited as it was, laid the basis for the formation of the Revolutionary Tendency in the early 1960s which, a decade later, in “Genesis of Pabloism” produced what was to my knowledge the most coherent outline of the history of post-war Trotskyism. More importantly, the RT/SL consistently upheld the fundamental programmatic core of the Bolshevik-Leninist legacy upon which Trotsky founded the Fourth International—unlike its various competitors, including the Chartists.
To sum up: the case that the International Committee broke from “Pabloism” and thus secured the continuity of authentic Trotskyism in 1953 rests on their defence against Pablo’s liquidation into Stalinism. But this was a reflex, gut reaction on the part of men who had built up independent organisations against Stalinism, with a certain working-class base. It at no time entailed a break with the impressionist method of Pablo and a return to dialectical materialism. Nor did it question the ISFI’s false analysis of the post-war epoch. Nor did it attempt to explain why they had gone along with Pablo for so long. They had accepted his premises, but drawn back when faced with the logical conclusions of them. Thus, to talk of “Pabloism” as an explanation of the failure of the FI confuses more than it clarifies. Perhaps Cde Cook would have agreed that the IC leaders accepted and promoted “Pabloism,” until it came home. That explains and clarifies—and is also true. Pabloism is the particular form of revisionism that destroyed the FI as a revolutionary organization and the partial, belated and inadequate opposition offered by the IC was not only better than acquiescence, but provided a basis for the revival of an authentically Trotskyist formation in the RT/SL of the 1960s and 70s.
THE FINAL DEGENERATION OF THE SWP
It would be false to the core to suppose that the SWP’s return to the “Pablolte” fold dates from 1960 when its “theoreticians” suddenly “discovered” that Castro had built a “healthy workers” state in Cuba. At the time of the I953 split, the SWP was already a very sick organization, and its remaining sparks of revolutionary possibilities were soon extinguished…. The party’s total disorientation was shown by its insistence that McCarthyism was fascism, the inordinate interest in a debate on whether women would wear cosmetics under socialism, and the fact that Hansen was still toying with a state-capitalist line on China in 1955. In 1957, the Party called for US troops to defend integration In Little Rock, Arkansas (just as in 1965 at Selma, Alabama and 1974 at Boston Mass. Cook fails to credit the SL as the SWP’s main critic over its demand for US army intervention in Boston.)
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE TO 1961
As we have shown, Jim Cannon’ s break from Pablo had been purely formal, lacking any real understanding of the revisionist abandonment of method and the causes thereof…. Since they were the mainstay of the IC (though of course not formally affiliated), the latter barely functioned most of the time. When it was a question of unity proposals, the IS preferred to correspond direct with Cannon and Dobbs, who would reply without consulting the other sections.
The first unity manoeuvres came in 1954, when Cannon took as good coin the Ceylonese LSSP’s “orthodox” criticisms of Rise and Decline. Leslie Goonewardene’s “Trotskyist principles” were a bit of a sick joke, considering that the LSSP was already playing a far more treacherous role in the working class (e.g., its non-leadership of the 1953 Hartal) than Pablo’s forces would ever be in a position to. This seems plausible, although I am not familiar enough with this history to be certain.
Thus the Americans slid back to Pablo in deeds, if not always In words. Meanwhile however, the British and French sections (whether due to the histories of their organizations or the more favourable state of the workers movement in their countries) reacted in a different way. They systematized the critique of Pabloism into a whole “orthodox” world outlook. Still without a proper accounting of F.I. history or world economic perspectives, they quite correctly stressed the essentially counterrevolutionary nature of Stalinism worldwide, The SL in its prime had a good record on the question of Stalinism—it combined forthright criticism of the anti-working class crimes of the Vietnamese Stalinists with calls for Military Victory to the Viet Cong. The SL was also forthright about the defense of the USSR and deformed workers’ states against both foreign and internal counterrevolutionary threats. Healy-Lambert, by contrast, increasingly tended to social-democratic anti-Sovietism, highlighted by their opposition to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and support for Polish Solidarnosc in the 1980s. the irreplaceable position of the working class in the socialist revolution, and the necessity for independent Leninist vanguard parties. But their perspective was flawed. Firstly, it tended to reduce all questions to the “crisis of leadership”, abstracted from the concrete conditions that might permit the reformists’ hold to be broken….
The price the revolutionary movement has had to pay for these defects of the Orthodox Tradition has been the continued dominance of the outright revisionists among those who call themselves Trotskyists. Thus the SWP leadership was able to “line up” its membership for reunification despite a serious and vocal revolutionary opposition and the party’s own memory of struggle against Pablo and Cochran. The SL over the years provided consistently correct criticism of the fake “orthodoxy” of both the OCI and SLL. The “serious…revolutionary opposition” to reunification with Pablo/Mandel was sabotaged when Healy engineered the unprincipled split of the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) which discredited it in the eyes of those leftist SWP cadres who might potentially have been won over. Cook at least implicitly recognizes the significance of the RT’s efforts to resist capitulation to Castroism, which was the political basis for the 1963 reunification with the Pabloists.
….This may well be true, but it is not sufficient to justify the claims that the IC represented the “continuity” of trotskyism, much less its embodiment. The only conference of the IC in this period, at Leeds in 1958, was rendered ineffective by the SWP’s refusal to participate in the discussion. (71)
HEALY AND THE SOCIALIST LABOUR LEAGUE
After their split from the RCP in 1947, Healy and Lawrence had devoted themselves to low profile work in the Labour Party, reinforced from 1949 by the dejected remnants of the former majority. From the end of 1948 they collaborated with left Tribune-ites such as Tom- Braddock M.P. and Ernie Roberts in producing a journal called Socialist Outlook. This introduced itself on the perspective that, after three years of Attlee’s Government, “the socialist outlook is in danger of becoming more and more openly abandoned in favour of so-called realism”. (72) The content of this journal could be described as a cross between the present-day Militant and the politics of the old (1968-72) Socialist Charter (“clause Fourism”), with the accent rather on the latter. The paper’s line on the Korean War was near-Stalinist, emphasizing “Peace”. (73) (This was partly due to John Lawrence being the Editor, partly a reflection of the current FI line.)
The Outlook was killed off by-the effects of the faction fight with Lawrence, together with proscription by Transport House. Adaptation to Bevanism continued, however. In fact, for two or three years until the establishment of the Newsletter In 1957, Group members went so far as to sell Tribune. An early Labour Review pamphlet by Healy talked of socialism being enacted through Parliament if “backed…by a mass mobilisation”, and of Britain rising “to a new and higher level of world leadership under socialism.”
Nonetheless, the organization still had important potentialities, as shown by its recruitment of a whole layer (mainly of intellectuals), of those who quit the CPGB after the 20th Congress revelations and the Hungarian events. The subsequent rapid exodus of most of these bore testimony to Healy’s hardening organizational control and the Group’s developing political sterility.
In 1957/8 the Group’s fire was largely concentrated against the Right and the CP, not so much the Labour left…. But in a year or two, the groundwork was already being laid for the later plunge into out-and-out sectarianism (not that this is in a fundamental sense contradictory to opportunism). The decision to leave the Labour Party in favor of building an openly Trotskyist competing organisation represented a move to the left by Healy. The question of exactly when to undertake and when to terminate an entry is of course a tactical one for revolutionaries. Trotsky’s French Turn was intended as a short-term tactic to intersect social-democratic workers moving to the left and win them to the nascent Fourth International—a very different policy than permanent, or at least indefinite, immersion in social democracy. The Chartists’ Labourite cloven hoof seems evident here.
The Socialist Labour League (SLL) was founded at Whitsun 1959, the glowing possibilities that appeared to be open to it soon to be lost to sight. It is hard to resist the conclusion that from this time on the real perspective of Healy & co. was that of using the Labour Party to recruit sufficient cadre to establish an independent sect, then quit. This perspective was that followed in practice by International Socialism, International Marxist Group and Militant in their turn. Revolutionaries do not have a problem with building a group outside the Labour Party—unless there were a realistic prospect of winning a majority to the Trotskyist program, which has never been the case so far. The Chartists, as a group of only half a dozen or so whose departure from the IMG in the late 1960s centered on the question of Labour entrism, had a different perspective. To their credit they were capable of making some coherent (and “orthodox” Trotskyist) criticisms of Pabloism during the 1970s when this text appeared—perhaps in part because of Al Richardson’s brush with the SLL.
This period also saw an explicit re-emphasis of the economic catastrophism arid doomsday-mongering that Healy had never really abandoned—a sure sign of failure to come to terms with the Marxist approach to reality.
LAMBERT AND THE PCI MAJORITY: ALGERIA
The majority of the PCI split in the mid-50’s to lose elements such as Bleibtreu, after which the group around Pierre Lambert was dominant. In 1958, it ceased to call itself a “party”, and grouped Itself around Its journal La Vérité. The main question at this time was the national liberation struggle In Algeria. The “Lambertists” made a disastrous error in their tail-ending of the MNA (Mouvement National Algerien), led by Messali Hadj…. The proto OCI described the MNA as the closest thing to a bolshevik party around, and La Vérité declared: “conscious revolutionaries will fight to the end to defend the genuine Algerian revolutionaries against the FLN killers”. Unfortunately, it became increasingly clear that the French Government was using the MNA as a pawn against the FLN. New Park at the time published a pamphlet praising Messali Hadj with a picture of him on the cover.
…the Lambertists played right into the hands of Frank-Mandel and the ISFI. The latter, of course, completely glorified the FLN, hailed Ben Bella as the next Castro, and sent Pablo into the Algerian Government to preside over the liquidation of what independent proletarian organization existed. But they gained support for their principled stand of revolutionary defeatism.
Largely driven out of the CGT by the usual Stalinist thug tactics, the Lambertists were forced to concentrate their industrial work in Force Ouvrière (FO), the Cold War right-wing, split-off from the CP-run CGT. They worked alongside remnants of the old anarcho-syndicalist tradition such as Hébert, a militant of some standing in the Loire-Atlantique (Nantes) area. Careful fraction work enabled them to secure certain positions in the union apparatus. The immersion in FO bureaucracy was presumably closely linked to the OCI’s rightward evolution by the late 1970s into an overtly anti-Soviet formation.
THE SWP REUNIFIES WITH THE INTERNATIONAL SECRETARIAT
As we have seen, the International Committee had been heading for a split almost since its inception. That this finally occurred seems to have been due to the SLL’s political offensive which dated from approximately 1959.
Firstly, in vitriolic public denunciations of the Pabloites. Secondly, in confronting the SWP leaders with the need for some sort of discussion and asking them to clearly take a position on the ISFI as a revisionist tendency. (85) Cannon, Dobbs & co., who could otherwise have maintained the status quo indefinitely, could and would not face such political questions. They developed their unofficial contacts with the Mandelites, and worked out parallel with them a pro-Castroist line as a “principled” cover for the reconciliation. A Parity Committee the IC and IS was set up in late 1962 to work towards discussions. The SLL and the Lambertists saw this as a long-run matter of political clarification; however the SWP and the groups following its lead (the bulk of the IC), called for the next IC Conference (May 1963) to be to prepare re-unification. Knowing he would be out-voted, Healy wrongly boycotted this and the subsequent Unity (7th) IS Congress that established the “United Secretariat” of the F.I. (or USec). Needless to say, the new organization rested on the premise that in return for lending its prestige to the “F.I.”, the SWP would be free from any interference from Europe. More significant than the organizational manoeuvres, in any case, was what the split-cum-re-unification revealed about the IC. (86)
Cuba was, said Joseph Hansen as the SWP’s appointed “theoretical” hatchet man, the “Acid Test” for marxists….Furthermore the “Cuban road” could be extrapolated as the strategy for the whole of the Third World—the I.S. agreed on this. This Is clearly expressed in the SWP unity resolution of March 1963, For Early Reunification of the World Trotskyist Movement (which Healy has not seen fit to print yet, even in the latest 4-volume compilation). The key paragraph 13 states:
“Along the road of a revolution beginning with simple democratic demands and ending in the rupture of capitalist property relations, guerrilla warfare conducted by landless peasants and semi-proletarian forces, under a leadership that becomes committed to carrying the revolution through to a conclusion, can play a decisive role in undermining and precipitating the downfall of a colonial or semi-colonial power. This is one of the main lessons to be drawn from experience since the second world war. It must be consciously incorporated into the strategy of building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.”(87)
Cook rightly identified this paragraph as key to the reunification of the SWP and the Pabloists. But he deliberately omits that at the SWP’s 1963 convention, the RT (the SL’s progenitor) submitted a “Draft Resolution on the World Movement,” reasserting the strategic centrality of conscious proletarian leadership, in deliberate counterposition to the leadership’s impressionistic Pabloist embrace of peasant guerrillaism:
“15. Experience since the Second World War has demonstrated that peasant-based guerrilla warfare under petit-bourgeois leadership can in itself lead to nothing more than an anti-working-class bureaucratic regime. The creation of such regimes has come about under the conditions of decay of imperialism, the demoralization and disorientation caused by Stalinist betrayals, and the absence of revolutionary Marxist leadership of the working class. Colonial revolution can have an unequivocally progressive significance only under such leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. For Trotskyists to incorporate into their strategy revisionism on the proletarian leadership in the revolution is a profound negation of Marxism-Leninism no matter what pious wish may be concurrently expressed for ‘building revolutionary Marxist parties in colonial countries.’ Marxists must resolutely oppose any adventurist acceptance of the peasant-guerrilla road to socialism-historically akin to the Social Revolutionary program on tactics that Lenin fought. This alternative would be a suicidal course for the socialist goals of the movement, and perhaps physically for the adventurers.”
This “orthodox” defense of a core proposition of Marxism demonstrates the qualitative political superiority of the RT/SL to the degenerated SWP (as well as the SLL and OCI) circa 1963. Cook presumably omitted this from his account because it did not fit the case he was trying to make.
The orthodox wing were quite unable to challenge the real essence of Hansen’s revisionism, which was not that he thought Cuba was a workers state, but that he thought the Castroites were genuine revolutionaries in the Marxist sense, rather than petty-bourgeois pragmatists. From this flowed the ideas that Cuba was actually a healthy workers state. … (Tim Wohlforth later was to talk of the Cuban bourgeoisie being “exhausted”. Jim Robertson quipped that they certainly should be, having swum 90 miles to Miami!) (91) The clear superiority of the RT’s analysis is obliquely recognized here, but is generally absent in this document.
This was of course related to the whole perspective on the so-called “Colonial Revolution”. Both factions were one-sided. The SWP could only see the epicentre of world revolution shifting to the Third World and concerned itself with securing a slice of the action as usual. An all-engulfing revolutionary “process” was creating peasant vanguards who would carry through the Permanent Revolution as “blunted instruments”. (92) On the other hand, the SLL tended to suggest that nothing of importance could be won in the semi-colonial countries until imperialism was smashed in the metropolitan centres, that capitalism could only be overthrown by consciously revolutionary-Marxist parties, etc….The SLL stated, for instance—”Only if the proletariat, through Bolshevik parties, places itself at the head of the peasant movement for agrarian reform, can imperialism be defeated in these countries. Without a perspective of class alliance with the workers of the advanced countries, such parties will not be successfully built”. (93) Now, in the final analysis, this is not wrong; but it quite ignores the real and important defeats imperialism can suffer in the short term (Vietnam, Cuba, Aden, Algeria, Mozambique, etc.).
The counterpart to the above was the perspective for the advanced capitalist countries. As for elsewhere, the Hansen/SWP “analysis” was a sort of Readers Digest round-up, describing trends arid developments with no idea of the dynamic of the class struggle or economic crisis. The passivity of the Western proletariats is taken as a ‘fact’. In time, no doubt, this ‘fact’ will change (obligatory nod in the direction of Orthodoxy); in the meantime, let us confine ourselves to acting as cheerleaders and unpaid P.R. men for the Colonial Revolution. This is a fair summary of the symmetrical errors of the SLL and SWP—but it omits the fact that the “orthodox” RT/SL was able to orient correctly to the situation and, with very small forces, intervened as Marxists in both black struggles and the anti-war movement in the 1960s.
In what way was Hansen’s sycophancy towards Castro any worse than Murry Weiss’s towards Tito? Hansen’s lasted longer and was never corrected, but they were politically comparable. On the other hand, the RT’s record in combatting this deviation was roughly comparable to the correct criticisms offered by Haston-Grant. The RT cadres however did not give up and melt away after failing to win a majority of the SWP but instead proceeded to build an organization on a solidly Trotskyist program. Furthermore, the core of the revolutionary opposition in the party at this time were not long-standing cadres. They were elements-drawn In from the Shachtmanlte youth in 1957. The party membership as a whole had not been educated in revolutionary marxism, properly speaking. Yet Wohlforth and Robertson, have persisted in dating the SWP’ s departure from Leninism from their own break with the leadership. They broke with the SWP leadership over its wholesale adaptation to Castroism. This was not an inconsequential detail; it represented the end of the SWP as any sort of revolutionary instrument. There were other centrist symptoms which the RT criticized, but the reunification with Pablo/Mandel over petty bourgeois-guerrillaism and Castroism as “unconscious Trotskyism” represented a qualitative transformation. The RT offered what Cook acknowledged as “revolutionary opposition” to the developing revisionism of the Dobbs-Kerry leadership and its expulsion represented an irreversible break with the SWP’s Trotskyist past. Had the RT managed to win over a chunk of the party’s core cadre the history of our movement over the past 60 years might have been very different. The RT expulsion for its political ideas, despite the fact that it upheld party discipline, represented a major departure from the SWP’s adherence to Leninist practice as Myra Tanner Weiss asserted at the time. The treatment of the RT, which became the template for eliminating other varieties of internal dissent, represented the organizational aspect of the SWP’s final break from its revolutionary past. They found this necessary to bolster their own claims to the “continuity” myth, i.e. an Apostolic Succession, through Cannon to Trotsky and Marx…. This [failure of SWP cadres to reject the notion that Castro presided over a healthy worker state] was helped by Healy’s customary organizational tactics. He maneuvered a split in the Revolutionary Tendency because Robertson-lreland-Mage were not prepared to be yes-men to Clapham High Street diktats…. The RT leaders, to their credit, refused to personally certify that the revisionist SWP leadership remained “revolutionary”, as Healy demanded. Their insistence that the enthusiasm for Castro represented a profoundly centrist impulse, and their refusal to bow down to Healy’s Zinovievist bullying did not much impress comrade Cook. His political animus for the SL is reflected in his treatment of the political pretext Healy used to split the RT: while being critical of Wohlforth, leaves out the fact that Robertson et al were right on the essentials. This [Healy splitting the RT] wrecked whatever possibilities the minority might have had of making a sizable impact on the SWP. The “Reorganized Minority Tendency” (Wohlforth-Philips) pontificated that there might be “elements” of centrism in the Party majority, but these did not predominate. (100) In fact, the SWP’s whole outlook was founded on the Pabloite premise that the post-1945 events had “definitively altered the world relation of forces in favour of socialism.”(101) Farrell Dobbs did not arrive overnight at the position of sending condolences to Jackie Kennedy.
The first issue of Spartacist contained the following on Dobbs’ letter to Jackie Kennedy:
“The acid test of any organization presenting itself as socialist takes place in periods of revolutionary opportunity or crisis. All such organizations were tested in their ability to maintain their principled positions at the time of the Kennedy assassination.”
“…the words of Dobbs and the Militant were not those of a revolutionary Socialist, but rather of Social Democrats and bourgeois liberals, and richly merited the attacks of Gerry Healy and the Socialist Labour League.”
Healy’s comments appeared in the same issue:
“‘How Trotsky would have loathed this statement of the leader of the Socialist Workers Party. He would have flayed its author alive in every language he could muster. This is cringing bootlicking of the American petty-bourgeois by a man who claims to be a Marxist!‘”
. . .
‘Farrell Dobbs does not look to the working class as his only real ally in the fight against the witch-hunt. He looks in the opposite direction, towards the ruling class. On this question, as on all others, Dobbs has betrayed the Marxist movement….‘”
Unfortunately, the alternative to Healy-Wohlforth was provided by the sectarian purism of the Robertson tendency. The “alternative to Healy-Wohlforth” was the correct insistence of Robertson and the RT majority that the SWP leadership had become thoroughly politically degenerated. Was this recognition, at the time, which Cook apparently shared, an example of the “sectarian purism” of which he complained? His dismissal of Robertson et al as “sectarian purists” is unsupported by any evidence, because there was no evidence of it in the period he is discussing.
THE 1966 INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE CONFERENCE
… Events at this Conference fully revealed the opportunist and unprincipled character of Healy in particular. They also revealed that Robertson at that time, unlike Wohlforth, had a revolutionary backbone—something that Healy could not tolerate in his “international.” Cook did not highlight this, perhaps because it does not fit the case he was trying to construct. (A decade and a half later Robertson was running an operation with an internal regime similar to Healy’s SLL). In 1965, Robertson’s Spartacists and Wohlforth’s ACFI [American Committee of the Fourth International] had participated in unity talks in Montreal under Healy’s aegis. On this basis the SLUS sent an observer delegation to the Conference. But Healy had decided he could not risk the fused American organisations, having a Robertson, i.e., independent leadership.…Once again, hatchet work was employed to by-pass the SLL’s inability to answer the political points made by the Spartacists. For instance, their position that the Fourth International had been destroyed and must be rebuilt was pilloried as further evidence of anti-internationalism.
Cook’s reference to Robertson’s “independence” is illustrated by his remarks to the 1966 conference, including the following:
“Pabloism is a revisionist answer to new problems posed by the post-1943 Stalinist expansions. And Pabloism has been opposed within the movement by a bad ‘orthodoxy’ represented until the last few years by the example of Cannon….
“After 1950, Pabloism dominated the F.I.; only when the fruits of Pabloism were clear did a section of the F.I. pull back. In our opinion, the ‘orthodox’ movement has still to face up to the new theoretical problems which rendered it susceptible to Pabloism in 1943-50 and gave rise to a ragged, partial split in 1952-54.”
Robertson also took a barely disguised swipe at the SLL’s chronic crisis mongering:
“Lenin pointed out that there is no impossible situation for the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to throw them out. Otherwise, ‘crises’ are all in a day’s work for the mechanisms and agencies of imperialism in muddling through from one year to the next.”
He also obliquely referred to Healy’s responsibility for splitting the RT in 1962:
“Up to now, we have not done very well, in our opinion, in smashing the Pabloites; the impact of events alone, no matter how favorable objectively or devastating to revisionist doctrines, will not do the job. In the U.S., the break-up of the SWP left wing over its five-year history has been a great gift to the revisionist leadership of the SWP.”
Robertson correctly observed that the IC’s positions on Cuba and other deformed workers’ states, “show theoretical weakness or confusion on this question.”
These criticisms embarrassed Healy and resulted in the organizational “hatchet work” and ejection of the Spartacists from the IC conference. While condemning Healy’s actions, Cook refrained from commenting on the political differences between the Spartacists and Healy-Lambert, thereby missing an opportunity to acknowledge that the SL circa 1966 was programmatically superior to the IC’s “orthodox” leadership.
A postscript to this was that the SWP put out a pamphlet on the whole affair, which of course was a gift to them in discrediting antirevisionist politics in general. One of their supporters, Ernest Tate, selling this outside an SLL meeting at Caxton Hall in London, was beaten up by a goon squad on Healy’s instructions. Worse still, Healy had the gall to sue the left papers which published Tate’s protests in the bourgeois courts (i.e. rather than accept a workers’ commission of inquiry). Once more, all he could show was how far his methods had strayed from those of Bolshevism.
Cook missed another opportunity to credit the SL here—the pamphlet Tate was selling (“Healy ‘Reconstructs’ the Fourth International”) consisted of materials originally circulated by the Spartacists, with an intro by Joe Hansen. Cook’s conclusion regarding Healy’s unprincipled legal response is fair enough, but his tendency to edit out the role of the SL falls short of Bolshevism’s best traditions.
…the OCI has rightly elaborated a strategy for party-building by the united front, flowing from the constantly felt necessity of the class Itself for united action. It points out that to see the U.F. as tactic not strategy, defensive not offensive, is formalist nonsense. The united front is a tactic, not a strategy. The OCI’s strategic united front, while a sharp contrast with Healy’s dead-end sectarianism, was no closer to being a revolutionary policy. It provided a rationale for virtual liquidation into the French Socialist Party, so it is not entirely surprising that Labour deep-entrists like Cook endorse this sort of “party-building.” In a 1973 letter to the OCI/OCRFI the SL cogently outlined the Trotskyist critique of the “strategic united front”:
“In terms of the OCI’s work in France, our position has been elaborated in Workers Vanguard No. 11, September 1972. We believe that we share with the first four Congresses of the Communist International the view that the united front is essentially a tactic used by revolutionists ‘to set the base against the top’ under those exceptional conditions and decisive opportunities in which the course of proletarian political life has flowed outside its normal channels. Comrade Trotsky heavily elaborated on this conception over the German crisis of 1929-33 and also in his discussions with SWP leaders in 1940 regarding an approach by the SWP to the Communist Party U.S.A.
“The united front is nothing more than a means, a tactic, by which the revolutionary party, i.e., its program and authority, can in times of crisis mobilize and then win over masses (at that time supporters of other parties) by means of concrete demands for common action made to the reformist organizations. Any other interpretation must base itself on a supposed latent revolutionary vanguard capacity within the reformist or Stalinist parties themselves—a central proposition of Pabloism.
“The aim of the united front must be to embed the revolutionary program in the masses. In the same way, in the highest expression of the united front, the soviets, the condition for their conquest of power is the ascendancy of the revolutionary program. Any form of fetishism toward the mere form of united fronts or soviets (or for that matter toward trade unions or factory committees) means abdicating as revolutionists, because at bottom it is the dissolution of the vanguard party into the class through the substitution of such forms (and other politics!) for the role of the revolutionary party. This is not Leninism but at best a variant of Luxemburgism. One of Lenin’s greatest achievements in counterposing the revolutionary vanguard to the reformists was to transcend the Kautskyian conception of ‘the party of the whole class.’ To place emphasis upon some mass form at the expense of the vanguard party would be to smuggle back in the Kautskyian conception.”
In the case of Vietnam, the SLL quite correctly raised the slogan of “Victory to the NLF”. The SL slogan of “Military Victory to the NLF” was superior, as it implied no political support to the Stalinists. In our original “Declaration of an External Tendency of the iSt” we criticized the SL leadership for abandoning this distinction in 1981 over El Salvador noting that “some SLers in the Anti-Imperialist Contingents [were] carrying the flag of Trotsky’s Fourth International while others held high the banner of the popular front” (the FMLN). Later, regarding Afghanistan, we eventually corrected the policy of “Hailing” the Soviet military in favor of advocating their “Military Victory.”
But it [the SLL] abstained from a struggle for its politics within the VSC (Vietnam Solidarity Campaign). And it went on to completely idealise the Stalinist leadership. I am not familiar enough with the SLL’s record on Vietnam to comment on this, although it is quite believable. The SL of course did not abstain on this issue but attempted to intervene in a principled fashion in the anti-war movement (see the article in Spartacist No. 5, on relations with the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade committee in 1965). In 1973 the SL published a substantial critique of the crimes committed by the Vietnamese Stalinists against their Trotskyist rivals.
At the big antiwar events in the early 1970s the SL’s slogan “All Indochina Must Go Communist!” represented an attempt to cut against both the cross-class “single issue” strategy of the SWP as well as the calls by pacifists and Stalinists for a negotiated end to the war. In a major 1971 statement (“For Class Action Against the War”) the SL quoted SWP leader Farrell Dobbs’ 1953 observation during the Korean conflict that “The fight against the war can really be effective only to the extent that the workers adopt class-struggle policies in defending their interests.” This attitude, the SL observed, was “blatantly and diametrically counterposed to the current politics of the SWP. The SWP leaders…have consciously rejected Trotskyism in favor of a perspective of reformist class collaboration.”
Similarly with the Middle East. On the one hand the SLL prating about the “Arab Revolution”. On the other the OCI, placing on the same footing the Zionist state of Israel and the anti-imperialist struggle of the Arabs. The USec, SLL, etc all pushed the fantasy that various bourgeois-nationalist regimes in the Middle East somehow embodied a trans-class “Arab Revolution.” To their credit, the Chartists apparently did not. Yet they obviously agreed with the SLL/USec position of backing the Arab regimes in their 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel. The SL’s position of revolutionary defeatism on both sides in those conflicts was vastly superior as we explained in the section on “The Arab-Israeli Wars” in our 1988 polemic with the British Workers Power group.
Further examples of the tendency of both, wings of the IC to over-react impressionistically to the tailism of the USec are provided in their attitude to specially oppressed groups such as women and Blacks…
So much for the struggle of the Bolsheviks and the early Comintern to establish a Communist Womens’ Movement to wage uncompromising war against all that subjugated and degraded women of ALL social classes. Similarly the IC has either ignored the problem of Black oppression or claimed that to raise demands specifically on this issue divides the proletariat. As with the Vietnam antiwar movement, the SL’s attitude toward the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and more generally its record on the questions of special oppression of blacks, homosexuals and women (including the publication of Women and Revolution) contrasts starkly with the record of the Healyites. In its approach to these issues the revolutionary SL counterposed a class analysis to the “tailism of the USec”et al.
Not only has the SWP consistently demanded the use of Federal troops to enforce integration: more than once it has supported AND PARTICIPATED IN scabbing on teachers’ strikes, all in the name of fraudulent “community control”. Its whole policy amounts to “polyvanguardism”…. Cook fails to credit the SL for being by far the most prominent critic of the SWP’s 1974 campaign for U.S. federal troops to Boston see: “The Fight to Implement Busing.”
The SL also consistently opposed scabbing on teachers’ strikes, at a time when most of the left solidarized with “black community” demagogues. See “New York City School Strike: Beware Liberal Union Busters!”
Once again Cook’s criticism of the capitulations of the “orthodox” SWP fails to credit the SL for taking a principled (and unpopular) stand.
THE SPARTACIST LEAGUE
….Despite Healy’s slanders, its errors have not been opportunist ones. Rather, it has reacted against the extreme opportunism of the SWP to pursue a more consistently Orthodox line than the IC itself. It has analyzed Cuba as a Workers State and called for Victory to The NLF without capitulating to Castroism or Stalinism. It has maintained the Transitional Programme at the centre of its activity. It is one of the very few groups to have a revolutionary position on Womens Liberation, for instance. Yet, however correct much of what it says may be on paper, it has revealed itself incapable of building a revolutionary leadership in the American proletariat. Its main orientation has been to what it calls the OROs (Ostensible Revolutionary Organizations) i.e., small group politics. This is reflected in the ultra-propagandist and sectarian style of its publications. The SL was a group of a few hundred in the mid-1970s with some exemplary trade-union work—it correctly described itself as a “sub-propaganda group” and never pretended to be directly contending for “leadership in the American proletariat.” Its newspaper, Workers Vanguard, was widely read in the U.S. left in the 1970s, including by many cadres of the Class Struggle League and other “revolutionary” groups which published “mass” papers with fewer working-class readers and much less influence. The SL’s polemical press policy (which paralleled Lenin’s approach, as is obvious from perusing his collected works) was integrated with trenchant analysis of vital global and American political questions. Issues of Workers Vanguard from the 1970s generally compare favorably with those of the SWP’s Militant of any period or any other Trotskyist newspaper I have seen.
Though it has begun systematic penetration of the trade unions, it shuns united-front activity. It presents the Transitional Programme as an ultimatum to the class, something you have to agree with to join one of its rank and file caucuses: thus transforming it from a bridge to the workers to a barrier between them and the party. This criticism, shared by all the SL’s centrist and reformist opponents in the 1970s, is refuted by the historical record of the SL’s exemplary trade-union work, some of the highpoints of which are included in our 1998 edition of the Transitional Program. The basic conception developed by James Robertson of building disciplined groupings in selected unions on the basis of a revolutionary program was superior to the approach of the SWP in its best period under James P. Cannon. While the SWP was engaged in much larger scale activity, its work tended to center on blocs with “progressive” (non-Stalinist) union leaders. As Workers Vanguard, 31 August 1973, observed:
“Criticism of these bureaucrats tended to take the form of pushing for consistent trade-union militancy rather than building a revolutionary political alternative, so that when the ‘progressive’ bureaucracy lined up with Roosevelt for war in 1940, an embarrassing lack of political distinction between the Trotskyists in the trade unions and these ‘progressives’ was revealed.”
—See: “The Primacy of Politics,” reprinted in Revolutionary Work in the American Labor Movement: 1920s–1950s.
It [the SL] makes a principle of abstaining from voting for workers’ parties forming part of Popular Fronts (even informal ones). The SL’s refusal to vote for popular-front candidates—even “informal” ones, or those with only the shadow of the bourgeoisie—is one we are proud to uphold as we explained in the 1988 polemic with Workers Power cited above.