Five years after the British Workers Revolutionary Party split from the International Committee of the Fourth International, Cliff Slaughter, the secretary of the ICFI until 1985, who was the key figure in organizing the split, has publicly repudiated the historical role and significance of the Fourth International. Having returned from a three-week trip to the Soviet Union, he has published two articles in the December issue of the WRP’s magazine, The International. One is entitled “Soviet Union at the Crossroads,” and the other, “Marxist Theory and the Soviet State Today.” Taken together, they constitute a wholesale attack on the entire program of the Trotskyist movement and its theoretical foundation, Marxism.
Slaughter sums up his current perspective in a passage dismissing the whole 70-year-long struggle which the Left Opposition and the Fourth International have led in defense of Marxism. “Marxists, having fought for many years, sometimes their whole political lives, to refute in words and deeds the lie that Stalin and the Stalinists were the heirs of Lenin and Bolshevism, find themselves in a situation where this issue seems to be irrelevant,” he writes (The International, December 1990, p. 18). It is wrong, he claims, to counterpose the Marxism of the Fourth International to the Stalinist falsifications: “We must not simply proceed as if there is some ‘real’ Marxism which we have always known and somehow preserved and counterpose it to the false consciousness resulting from years of Stalinism” (Ibid., p. 24).
He explicitly opposes any defense of the property relations created by the October Revolution in the Soviet Union against capitalist restoration. Trotsky in 1940, shortly before his death, stressed in a “Letter to the Workers in the USSR”: “It is the duty of revolutionists to defend tooth and nail every position gained by the working class, whether it involves democratic rights, wage scales, or so colossal a conquest of mankind as the nationalization of the means of production and planned economy” (Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40, p. 166; emphasis added). Slaughter now takes a diametrically opposed position: “In political work in the Soviet Union of today ... Marxists cannot start from the assumption that the working class must defend itself against the restoration of capitalism...” (The International, December 1990, p. 17; emphasis added).
Slaughter’s Attempts to Destroy the ICFI
Slaughter’s frontal attack on the program of the Trotskyist movement has come as no surprise to the International Committee of the Fourth International. Five years ago he had already attempted to destroy the ICFI by organizing the WRP’s split.
The International Committee was formed in 1953 to defend the Fourth International against the revisionism of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel. They had attempted to subordinate the program of the Fourth International to the needs of the Stalinist bureaucracy and, later on, to those of various petty-bourgeois nationalists.
In 1963 the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, one of the founding sections of the International Committee, split from the International Committee and reunited with the Pabloites. This was the origin of the “United Secretariat” led by Mandel. The British section, the Socialist Labour League, which later changed its name to Workers Revolutionary Party, refused to participate in this reunification. Its struggle during that period saved the International Committee and, with it, the program of the Fourth International from liquidation.
But 10 years later, the WRP too increasingly began to adopt Pabloite positions, leading ultimately to its complete political degeneration. The WRP built up opportunist relations with trade union and Labour Party bureaucrats, with bourgeois regimes in the Middle East and with the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow. While, because of its historical record, the WRP still enjoyed considerable influence and political authority within the International Committee, it came to look upon the other sections of the ICFI as merely convenient sources of finance to be manipulated for the purposes of its own opportunist maneuvers.
Inside the sections there was growing opposition to the opportunism of the WRP. In 1982 and again in 1984, the Workers League presented extensive critiques of the policies and the theoretical methods of the WRP. The WRP leadership sought to suppress any discussion of these issues with threats of a split.
In October 1985, the WRP, in which Cliff Slaughter, Gerry Healy and Michael Banda had collaborated closely for 30 years, broke apart due to its own internal rot. Gerry Healy, its most longstanding leader, was expelled because of a dirty scandal and shortly thereafter declared himself a supporter of Gorbachev.
The ICFI issued a resolution at that time declaring that at the root of the crisis in the WRP was “the prolonged drift of the WRP leadership away from the strategical task of the building of the world party of socialist revolution towards an increasingly nationalist perspective and practice.” It called upon “all leaders and members of the WRP, whatever their legitimate differences on perspective and program, to subordinate themselves to the discipline of our international movement and uphold its authority,” and it warned: “If this is not done, there is the imminent danger of a split without clarity on issues of principle and program. Such a split would severely weaken the party and create the conditions for provocations against the WRP and other sections of the ICFI” (Fourth International, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 50).
Slaughter and Banda voted in favor of this resolution, but they did so for purely factional reasons, in order to secure a majority against Healy and his supporters. As soon as the split with them was over, Slaughter and Banda mounted a series of provocations in order to prevent the political lessons of the WRP’s degeneration from being drawn.
On February 8, 1986, the WRP leadership consummated its break from the International Committee. The political platform for this split had been drafted by Banda, a hysterical attack on the entire history of the Fourth International under the title “27 Reasons Why the International Committee Should Be Buried Forthwith.” (Banda’s document is answered in The Heritage We Defend by David North.) Slaughter, with the aid of the police, barred the minority which had constituted itself within the WRP in support of ICFI from entering the party’s eighth congress. The elements on which Slaughter and Banda based themselves included Stalinist provocateurs, declared anti-Trotskyists and embittered petty bourgeois, who regretted that they had ever joined a revolutionary party. The overwhelming majority of them left the WRP shortly after the split. Some, like Banda, openly declared themselves in favor of Stalinism; others crawled under the wings of various revisionist organizations; most of them turned their backs on politics and devoted themselves to their personal careers. They agreed on only one issue: their uncontrollable hatred of the ICFI and the internationalist principles which it embodies. In the weeks following the split, this hatred reached a pitch of raging fury. In March, the WRP passed a resolution calling for the dissolution of the International Committee and denouncing its traditions as “anticommunist.”
But Slaughter’s attempt to destroy the International Committee failed miserably. Out of the struggle against the WRP liquidators, the ICFI emerged theoretically and organizationally stronger and expanded its work to many new countries, including the Soviet Union. The internationalist minority of the WRP became the International Communist Party, the British section of the ICFI.
Slaughter’s Front with the Pabloites
After the split, Slaughter tried to build an international front with Pabloite and other pro-Stalinist tendencies against the International Committee. Cyril Smith, a close collaborator of Slaughter’s, proclaimed in Workers Press, the organ of the WRP: “I think the term ‘revisionist,’ once a term with scientific significance for Marxists, has now become just a term of abuse. We should stop using the designation ‘Pabloite’ in talking about the organizations associated with the United Secretariat. It can only foul up the discussion” (September 13, 1986). In January 1987, the WRP agreed on a fusion with the Argentine Movement for Socialism (MAS) led by the long-standing Pabloite Nahuel Moreno, who collaborated closely with the Argentine Stalinists.
At that time, the new leader of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev, was still extremely popular amongst those petty-bourgeois layers upon which Slaughter based himself in his campaign against the ICFI. Slaughter could hope that a pro-Stalinist orientation would provide a stable platform for his operations against the International Committee. The WRP press published several articles attacking the International Committee because it accused Gorbachev of preparing the restoration of capitalism.
But then something happened which Slaughter had not expected. The Stalinist bureaucracy began to break apart; in Eastern Europe one Stalinist regime after the other collapsed. In his latest article Slaughter admits, “The depth of the crisis of the Stalinist regime took me by surprise” (The International, December 1990, p. 24).
Coming from Slaughter, this is quite a remarkable confession. He inadvertently lets slip the basis for his own opportunism: a deep-rooted skepticism towards the perspectives of the Fourth International. He admits that he had overlooked the crisis of Stalinism and had drawn no conclusions from the events in Poland, where the Stalinist regime had collapsed beneath the onslaught of the working masses. As these lines prove, Slaughter had for a long time abandoned Trotsky’s conception that the Stalinist bureaucracy was a tool of the world bourgeoisie within the workers state, and that the laws of history would eventually prove themselves stronger than the bureaucratic apparatuses.
The fight against this profound skepticism towards the program of the International Committee was central to the split in 1985-86. As early as 1982, the Workers League, referring to the crisis of Stalinism, warned the WRP that their distortion of Marxist theory and their Pabloite conceptions would disarm the International Committee in the face of this development (see Fourth International, Autumn 1986). Slaughter’s admission that the extent of the crisis of the Stalinist regimes took him by surprise amounts to a belated confirmation of this warning. If the International Committee had not broken with the WRP, the developments in the Soviet Union would have caught it in the same surprised, unprepared and demoralized state as Slaughter.
The material roots of the skepticism displayed by Slaughter lie in the social position of broad layers of the middle class, who had flourished under conditions of the relative class peace during the postwar period, and are now coming under pressure as the postwar settlement is breaking down. Many from these petty-bourgeois layers had considered themselves “socialists” or “lefts,” as long as the Stalinist and social democratic apparatuses kept the working class under a tight rein and revolutionary struggles were not in sight. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the turn to the right by the social democrats in the West have left them panic-stricken and deeply demoralized; they proclaim the end of the workers movement while clinging even closer to the decaying bureaucratic apparatuses.
Those were the layers who rebelled against the Trotskyist program within the WRP in 1985-86—actors like the Redgraves; journalists like Mitchell, Pirani and Spencer; professors like Slaughter, Pilling, Kemp and Smith; trade union bureaucrats like Gibson and Temple, and, finally, full-time party workers like Bruce and the Banda brothers. Slaughter mobilized them against the International Committee. In his articles on the Soviet Union today, the skepticism, misery and demoralization of these forces find their most concentrated expression.
Slaughter’s writings exude demoralization. This characterizes not only the content, but also the form and style of his articles—hardly a sentence is grammatically correct; no idea is logically developed; no argument is thought through. Slaughter—one of the most talented Marxist authors during the sixties—displays the complete disintegration of his capacity for theoretical thought. He remarks in the introduction, “This article is based only on incomplete information and impressions gathered in a three-week visit to the Soviet Union, with some reflections about their possible implications for the rebuilding of the Fourth International. No more than that” (The International, December 1990, p. 17).
The crisis of Stalinism discredited all the Pabloite tendencies. Ernest Mandel, to this day, continues defending Gorbachev, even as bourgeois commentators no longer express the slightest doubts about his procapitalist intentions. For Slaughter, this crisis was, to say the least, an unpleasant “surprise” which served to disrupt all of his abortive attempts to cobble together a “mass” centrist movement against Trotskyism.
Slaughter sought to carry through his fusion with the MAS in 1987 as it was preparing a fusion with the Argentine Stalinists. This was the type of alliance with revisionists and Stalinists which he envisaged in Britain and internationally. But the historic crisis of Stalinism and its Pabloite apologists—which he now admits he utterly failed to anticipate—shattered the foundations for such a movement. In the case of the MAS, the marriage failed before the honeymoon had really begun. In the course of this, Slaughter lost his only collaborator in Australia, Phil Sandford, and another wing of the WRP under Bill Hunter, who had both taken a liking for the right-wing policies of the MAS.
Slaughter was compelled to develop a new orientation. He began to carefully distance himself organizationally from the United Secretariat. The program of the “10 points” which had originally served as the basis for the fusion with the MAS was, accordingly, “expanded” in February 1988. Suddenly Slaughter reasserted his adherence to the continuity of the International Committee, which he had rejected vehemently only two years before. The “expanded” program says: “The continuity of the Fourth International has been a contradictory process, but has been the center of the struggle for Marxism, for revolutionary leadership. It consists of the struggle for the continuity of Bolshevism against Stalinism, and against the liquidationist revisionism which has transmitted this Stalinist pressure into the Trotskyist movement. That is why the 1952-1953 break with Pabloism, the founding of and then the struggle conducted by the International Committee were decisive, because they maintained the continuity of the Fourth International against revisionism...” (“Tasks of the Fourth International,” Autumn 1988, p. 3).
The WRP continued its search for support amongst the Pabloites. As late as October 1989 it published an “Open Letter to Members of All Sections of the United Secretariat,” inviting them to collaborate with the “Preparatory Committee for an International Conference for the Rebuilding of the Fourth International,” the orphaned offspring of the brief romance between the WRP and the MAS which the WRP was now using as a front for its international operations.
The “Workers International”—a Front against the Fourth International
In the wake of published reports revealing the powerful response to the first trip by the International Committee to the Soviet Union in November 1989, the WRP began attempting to distance itself from the traditional Pabloite organizations. In March 1990, Geoff Pilling and Cyril Smith—the same Cyril Smith who four years earlier had cautioned against even uttering the word “Pabloite”—wrote that only those who recognized the continuity of the International Committee could join Slaughter’s “Preparatory Committee.” They declared, unabashedly: “The Preparatory Committee was consciously founded on the achievements of the International Committee, which, despite its serious errors and even crimes, did, in our estimation, represent just this struggle for the continuity of the Fourth International” (“Tasks of the Fourth International,” March 1990, p. 7).
On April 14 and 15, 1990 in Budapest, the “Preparatory Committee” was pompously renamed “Workers International for the Rebuilding of the Fourth International.” The celebrations of the event were orchestrated by Slaughter and Balaczs Nagy, an old friend from the sixties, who had sided with the French OCI against the International Committee in 1971 and had led a lonely life in France ever since. The audience consisted of a motley group of petty-bourgeois charlatans and open anticommunists.
The founding conference of the “Workers International” was an elaborate fraud. Budapest was chosen as the location of the event in order to prepare Slaughter’s entry into the Soviet Union. After the failed alliance with the MAS he urgently required a new international cover. Nagy provided one. In his old home country, he still knew a dozen or so friends, whom he roused from their decades-long political slumber, and presented as the Hungarian section of the “Workers International” under the name Revolutionary Socialist League.
Slaughter’s house organ, Workers Press, proclaimed enthusiastically: “Delegates and individuals from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Britain, Ireland, the United States, Argentina, Australia, Namibia and South Africa attended the highly successful conference” (April 21, 1990). But the names and the political identity of most of these “delegates and individuals” have remained a secret up to this day. Only three organizations were named: Slaughter’s WRP, Nagy’s Revolutionary Socialist League and the WRP of Namibia. It is not even clear whether those present joined the “Workers International,” or merely participated as observers in the conference. Most of them have not been heard from since.
But even the very limited information provided in the pages of Slaughter’s press makes clear that anybody, no matter how reactionary or right-wing his political positions, was welcome to take part in this farce. Thus, Workers Press published an interview with Mrs. Sandome Szabo, who attended the conference as the “leader of the Hungarian Movement for Self-Management.” The aim of her organization, said Mrs. Sandome, was “to destroy the state apparatus which existed under the Stalinist dictatorship” and to restore in the countryside those property relations which existed in “1947 before collectivization”—i.e., under the regime of the fascist Admiral Horthy. This program, she lamented, was rejected by all parties except the right-wing Smallholders Party (April 21, 1990). Why this woman should be interested in reconstructing the Fourth International, Slaughter never explained.
On the role of the WRP of Namibia we have already published an exhaustive statement: “Provocation in Namibia: How Cliff Slaughter Built his ‘Workers International,’” (Bulletin, June 29, 1990). On the eve of the elections in Namibia, Slaughter, together with that organization, staged a foul campaign against the bourgeois nationalist SWAPO. Slaughter and the WRP of Namibia fought not for the political independence of the Namibian working class against the bourgeois nationalism of SWAPO, but to vilify SWAPO on the basis of highly exaggerated accusations of internal repression. In this campaign, they collaborated closely with tribal organizations which had served as puppets for the South African regime and used forged material provided by the South African secret service BOSS. This campaign played directly into the hands of the most reactionary elements, who exploited and manipulated the internal conflicts of die nationalist movement for their own ends.
Slaughter’s latest articles serve to further confirm that the “Workers International” is nothing more than a front for provocations against the International Committee. The policies it advances in the Soviet Union are diametrically opposed to the traditions of the International Committee. It openly sides with the proponents of capitalist restoration, like the supporters of Yeltsin in the new miners union, and refers to those who fight for the program of the Fourth International as “sectarians.” “Those sectarians,” Slaughter writes, “sometimes calling themselves Trotskyists, who condemn these attitudes as reactionary and look for people who talk about defending Leninism, are more likely to find themselves in the company of apologists for and defenders of Stalinism” (The International, December 1990, p. 17).
If he, nevertheless, claims to stand for the continuity of the International Committee, it is only because Gorbachev and the Pabloites are so discredited. Slaughter can only hope to retain some credible cover for his role as a provocateur against the Fourth International by pretending to represent the continuity of the International Committee. In this, he responds directly to the most fundamental needs of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which, in its deadly fear that the deep opposition within the working class will come together with the program of the Fourth International, urgently requires a counterweight against the International Committee.
Slaughter’s latest attack on the program of the Fourth International confirms the historical significance of the split in 1985-86. Had the International Committee capitulated to Slaughter then, the Trotskyist movement would have been destroyed on the eve of the greatest international class struggles in history. At the same time, it provides a welcome opportunity to draw a balance sheet. Marxism, as the revolutionary theory of the working class, always finds its fullest development in the struggle against revisionism, which is the sharpest expression of the ideological pressure exerted by the bourgeoisie upon the revolutionary party. The struggle against the WRP renegades uncovers the political problems and tasks which now face the international working class and its conscious vanguard, the International Committee of the Fourth International.
Theoretical Justification of Skepticism
To this day, Slaughter tries to make his followers believe that he bears no responsibility for the degeneration of the WRP during the seventies and early eighties. He claims to have acted under the coercion of “Healy’s regime,” which he compares to that which existed under Stalin. Leaving aside the fact that Healy had neither prisons nor a GPU at his disposal to enforce his will, Slaughter’s conduct does not exactly testify to his courage as a revolutionary. The documents prove that Slaughter played a key role in the degeneration of the WRP, and that he bears the central responsibility for the complete break of the WRP with the program and perspectives of the Fourth International. He was the first to formulate the theoretical skepticism which gradually undermined the political consciousness of the WRP cadre and disarmed them against the class pressure of the bourgeoisie.
In a document directed against the French OCI, Slaughter wrote in 1972 that revolutionary parties were not built simply “by bringing the program of Trotskyism on to the scene of political developments.” There was, he held, something “much deeper than questions of agreement on program and policy,” namely, “a thoroughgoing and difficult struggle against idealist ways of thinking,” “a conscious struggle for theory, for the negation of all the past experience and theory of the movement into the transformed reality of the class struggle” (Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, vol. 6, pp. 83 and 226).
This counterposing of program to theory had nothing in common with Marxist dialectics, which conceives of negation “as a moment of connection, as a moment of development, retaining the positive, i.e., without any vacillation, without any eclecticism” (Lenin). Rather, Slaughter introduced the dialectics of skepticism, which conceives of negation as “empty negation, futile negation, skeptical negation, vacillation and doubt” (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 38, p. 226), as a justification for calling into question all Marxist concepts.
On the basis of this theoretical skepticism, the WRP in the following years threw overboard all the programmatic principles which had been elaborated by the Fourth International since its foundation. Anyone who, basing themselves on Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, opposed the opportunist relations of the WRP with the bourgeois regimes in the Middle East was condemned as an opponent of dialectical materialism and accused of putting “propagandist labels” on “living reality.” The same happened to all those who, basing themselves on Trotsky’s writings on social democracy and the trade unions, opposed the collaboration of the WRP with Labour politicians and union bureaucrats. Political struggle was no longer conducted over questions of program and perspectives, but instead philosophical categories were twisted in such a way as to justify the grossest forms of opportunism.
In 1984, in a document drafted for the Tenth World Congress of the International Committee, Slaughter was even more outspoken. He denounced all those who defended the program of the Fourth International as servants of counterrevolution. This was aimed particularly at the Workers League in the USA, which had criticized the opportunism of the WRP. Slaughter wrote: “In today’s historic conditions the lines drawn between a revolutionary party based on dialectical materialist training on the one hand and groups formally adhering to the Trotskyist program on the other are lines between preparation for revolution and preparation to serve counterrevolution” (Fourth International, vol. 15, no. l, p. iv).
Today, Slaughter again counterposes dialectics to program in order to attack the programmatic foundations of the Fourth International. He writes: “Even though we may repeat many times the maxim that ‘without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement’, and reaffirm that the revolutionary party is based upon Marxist theory, we are always in danger of taking Marxist theory for granted, as it were. We continue to operate with fixed notions of the meaning of Marxist concepts, instead of continuously reworking these concepts critically, as the world to which they refer develops, or as our practice of changing the world develops...” (The International, December 1990, p. 24).
For Marxists, concepts are not “fixed” but dialectical, i.e., they must be able to express movement and change; but this in no way contradicts the fact that they do have an objective, scientific content, which is itself the result of a long evolution. No serious scientist who makes a new discovery throws overboard all past theoretical achievements in his field; rather, such achievements serve as the framework within which the new discovery is analyzed. But this is exactly what Slaughter does. “I was too ready to give stock answers to questions on the dictatorship of the proletariat, permanent revolution, the revolutionary party, the October Revolution, the treachery of reformism, and so on,” he writes (Ibid., p. 24).
The list of “stock answers” called into question by Slaughter is nothing less than the entire Marxist program.
Up to now, the “stock answer” of the Fourth International to the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat was that this is the state form discovered by the working class in the course of its historical struggle against capitalism; that the proletariat can not rest content with conquering the old state apparatus, but must smash it and establish its own organs of workers power.
The “stock answer” on permanent revolution was that this is the only conception which completely refutes the Stalinist theory of “building socialism in a single country.” Against the disastrous policies of Stalinism, the Fourth International has always insisted upon the revolutionary role of the proletariat in the advanced as well as the backward countries, and upheld the international character of the socialist revolution.
The answer to the question of the revolutionary party was that Bolshevism, the party of a new type, was the decisive instrument to develop the consciousness of the working class and liberate it from the domination of bourgeois ideology; that Stalinism did not result from Bolshevism, but from its destruction by a counterrevolutionary bureaucratic caste; that the bureaucratic, police-style centralism of the Stalinists has as little to do with the democratic centralism of the Bolsheviks as the infallibility of the popes with the democracy of the first Christians.
The Fourth International’s position on the October Revolution was that it marks the beginning of a new epoch in the historical development of mankind, and must, therefore, be defended by the international working class.
The standpoint on the treachery of reformism was that reformism is an agency of imperialism; that during peacetime it attempts to better the lot of the workers while unconditionally defending the system of wage slavery, which is why it sides with its capitalist masters against the working class in times of war and crisis.
Now, according to Slaughter, all these are “stock answers,” utterly insufficient for the present situation in the Soviet Union. “What shook me even more, on even the briefest reflection,” he writes, “was my unpreparedness as a Marxist for the questions which were raised in discussion—with workers, with intellectuals, with young people, many of them acutely interested in politics, others not.”
Slaughter does not reveal his new answers to these questions (with one exception, to which we will return). He simply rejects the old ones. “My answers showed,” he continues, “that I had not even begun to understand the real content of what I had said in words many times, that is, that Stalinism had wrought tremendous destruction of class consciousness and had corrupted Marxism. If indeed this has happened, and it has, then the situation resulting from it is something previously unknown. It must be studied and mastered before we can overcome it” (Ibid., p. 24).
There is only one conclusion which flows from such an outlook—one which has been drawn a thousand times before within the petty-bourgeois, anticommunist layers on which Slaughter bases himself: “Marxism is dead! It has lost all theoretical and practical significance for the present situation in the Soviet Union—and not only there!” Slaughter spells this out, writing: “We must not simply proceed as if there is some ‘real’ Marxism which we have always known and somehow preserved and counterpose it to the false consciousness resulting from years of Stalinism.”
Slaughter emerges as a theoretician of the “renunciationism” which in the course of the past 10 years has gripped broad layers of the former radical petty bourgeoisie and the reformist and Stalinist bureaucracies, and which is the main cause of the present paralysis of the international workers movement. The resolution of the crisis of proletarian leadership, which is at the center of the program of the Fourth International, today means to overcome this “renunciationism” through the struggle of the International Committee of the Fourth International.
The collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union is not a refutation but a dramatic confirmation of Marxism. No other book predicted this collapse so accurately and analyzed the laws which lie behind it so thoroughly as Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed, even though it was written more than 50 years ago. This is because Trotsky based himself on precisely those Marxist concepts which Slaughter now calls into question in their totality. Without these concepts, it is impossible to develop a scientific understanding of social changes.
Only through a process of abstractions, i.e., with the help of scientific concepts, can human thought arrive at a truly concrete understanding. The concrete which is immediately given through sensual perception is only a reflection of the momentary, superficial forms of a phenomenon and leaves out its essence, its history and development. For the skeptic, who denies the possibility of objective cognition altogether, every change he comes across means that “everything” must be called into question. He can but base himself on the most superficial impressions.
In that respect, the skeptical impressionism which pervades Slaughter’s articles on the Soviet Union differs in no way from that of Pablo, who in 1950 proclaimed that the program of the Fourth International was outdated because of a “new world reality.” It is at best even more vulgar and subjective. Whereas Pablo had justified his attacks on the program of the Fourth International with references to historical events like the formation of the deformed workers’ states in Eastern Europe and the Cold War, Slaughter bases himself solely on personal impressions gathered during a three-week trip to the Soviet Union: “I write about how, in the Soviet Union, I came up against the need to be very self-critical of my own laziness and unpreparedness in matters of theory,” we read in his article. “The depth of the crisis of the Stalinist regime took me by surprise.... I was forced to pull up sharp after only a few days, to do some very hard thinking, and to go back to Marxist writings which I thought I had read and understood a long time ago once and for all, as it were. Political questions came up in forms which were unfamiliar, and for which I was not prepared” (Ibid., p. 24).
In other words: In the Soviet Union, confronted with a couple of anticommunists and the prevailing political confusion, Slaughter decided to capitulate and unceremoniously drop even the pretense of adhering to Trotskyism. Rather a poor performance for a man proclaiming his intention to rebuild the Fourth International!
Slaughter’s claim that Stalinism has “corrupted Marxism” is nothing but a slander of the Trotskyist movement, parroting the conception, so widespread in right-wing circles of the Soviet intelligentsia, that Trotskyism was only a different form of Stalinism. In reality Stalinism could just as little “corrupt” Marxism as a scab can “corrupt” a strike; it could only betray it and persecute its representatives: the cadres of the Left Opposition and the Fourth International. Slaughter’s word-splitting ultimately points to the conclusion that not only Stalinism, but also the Trotskyist movement, the present-day representative of Marxism, has degenerated. This theme runs like a red thread through the writings of the “Workers International.”
The only question to which Slaughter tries to give a “new answer” is that of the class nature of the Soviet Union. Knowing that Trotsky wrote extensively on this subject, he proceeds with caution. It was not that Trotsky was wrong in defining the Soviet Union as a workers state, but he, Slaughter, did not read Trotsky’s articles carefully enough: “In answering the many attacks on Trotskyism around this basic issue in the past, we (I say ‘we’, speaking certainly for myself) have oversimplified Trotsky’s argument and conclusion, dangerously so. We have proceeded as if ‘worker’s state’ (degenerated, yes) applies to the Soviet Union because the means of production were nationalized, state property... It seems clear that we (again I speak primarily for myself) were missing out something of fundamental importance when we—I now think irresponsibly and dangerously—said little more than ‘nationalized means of production’ in explaining why the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers’ state” (The International, December 1990, p. 25).
This is a calculated falsification of the positions of the Fourth International, as Slaughter, who himself wrote at length on this subject in the sixties, knows very well. The position that the existence of nationalized property relations was the central criterion for a workers state is borrowed from the theoretical arsenal of Pabloite revisionism, not from that of Trotsky and the International Committee for whom the decisive question has always been how these property relations came into being.
When at the end of the forties the Stalinist bureaucracy began to effect nationalizations in the Eastern European territories occupied by the Red Army, the majority of the Fourth International decisively rejected the idea of simply calling these states “workers states.” Ernest Mandel (who was soon to revise his position) formulated the position of the Fourth International in 1949 as follows:
We immediately refuted this absurd accusation. We said that only the nationalization of the means of production resulting from the proletarian revolution was a criterion for the existence of a workers state.
Only if one considers the economic transformations produced by the October Revolution in their entirety has one the right to consider for the USSR such formulas as ‘mode of production,’ ‘relations of production’ and ‘property relations’ as three equivalent formulas expressing the existence of the proletarian revolution on the economic, social and juridical arena respectively. But it does not at all follow that any nationalized property whatever is to be identified with a non-capitalist mode of production and therefore with a revolution in the productive relationship. Such a conception would in fact be ‘economist,’ that is, a serious phenomenological deviation from Marxism. But that was never Trotsky’s conception or that of the present majority of the Fourth International. (David North, The Heritage We Defend, Detroit: Labor Publications, p. 172)
Morris Stein, a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party, wrote on the same question: “The simplified approach which reduces itself in essence to the proposition: nationalization equals workers state, can only disorient our movement. It is a caricature of Marxism” (Ibid., p. 177).
It was only later that the Fourth International characterized the state formations created in Eastern Europe as “deformed workers states.” In doing so, it acknowledged that the progressive property relations created by the October Revolution had been extended to Eastern Europe and had to be defended. However, the Fourth International placed the emphasis on the term “deformed,” in order to stress that these states had not been created by a proletarian revolution and were therefore not viable. Only a political revolution, i.e., the overthrow of the ruling bureaucracy by the working class, while preserving the nationalized property, could turn them into a starting point for the building of a socialist society.
The simple equation of “nationalization” with “workers state,” irrespective of whether nationalization has been effected by bureaucratic methods from above or by revolutionary means from below, leads directly to the Pabloite conception that the Stalinist bureaucracy, through the nationalizations in Eastern Europe, had proven its capability for reform and disproven Trotsky’s analysis that it was counterrevolutionary through and through. This was the theoretical starting point which led the Pabloites to call into question the program and existence of the Fourth International.
If Slaughter now states that he himself has “said little more than ‘nationalized means of production’ in explaining why the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers’ state,” this is an open admission that he has taken over the position of the Pabloites a long time ago.
At the beginning of the 1960s, the International Committee was again compelled to fight against the conception that nationalizations carried through from above were equal to the formation of a workers state. Slaughter himself, as a leading member of the Socialist Labour League, as the British section was called at the time, played an important role in this conflict. The American Socialist Workers Party, which in 1953 had still decisively rejected the Pabloite theories about a self-reform of the bureaucracy, now advanced the position that a workers state had been created in Cuba based on the nationalizations of the Castro regime, and used this to justify its reunification with the Pabloites, who held the same position on Cuba.
The Cuban revolution, the Political Committee of the Socialist Workers Party wrote in May 1962, had undergone a “qualitative transition from its initial national-democratic phase over to its proletarian-socialist stage.... The decisive change came between August-October 1960 when the nationalizations in the major areas of Cuban industry changed the basic social-economic structure of the country” (Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, vol. 3, p. 211).
The SLL emphatically rejected this position. It pointed out that there was no trace of independent organs of workers power in Cuba, and it insisted that a petty-bourgeois nationalist regime like Fidel Castro’s could no more create a real workers state than the Stalinist bureaucracy. Its answer to the SWP, published in July 1962, deserves to be quoted at length. It demonstrates how infinitely far Slaughter has moved away from his own Marxist past. Basing itself on Trotsky’s writings from the 1930s, the SLL not only rejected the criterion of “nationalization” for defining a workers state, it repudiated the entire “normative method” which attempts to “define” historical phenomena on the basis of criteria tom out of their context.
“Trotsky insisted,” the SLL wrote, “that his discussion and definition of the USSR were to be taken historically, and in relation to the world struggle between the working class and the capitalist class. At every stage of his eleven-year-long work towards a ‘definition’ of the USSR, Trotsky insisted on a rounded, critical perspective and not simply a ‘normative’ method applying definite criteria. The SWP method is the opposite, taking certain ‘criteria’ from the discussion of one particular manifestation of the revolutionary struggle in one part of the world as a unique stage in the development of the world revolution. They apply this criteria to another part of the world a generation later, to a particular sector of a particular stage of the struggle. Thus nationalizations and the existence of workers’ militias are sufficient to make Cuba a ‘workers state’ and to make the Cuban revolution a socialist revolution. This ‘normative’ method is the theoretical cover for the practice of prostrating themselves before the present unstable and transitory stage of struggle—the victory of the petty-bourgeois nationalists—instead of starting from the perspective and tasks of the working class” (Ibid., p. 256).
Should Slaughter still have any doubts as to why Trotsky and the International Committee describe the Soviet Union as a “workers state,” he can read in that same resolution: “Trotsky and the Fourth International adjudged Russia a workers state because in the October Revolution the armed workers, organized in the Soviets, took the State power, which they then used to expropriate the capitalists and to defeat the counterrevolution” (Ibid., p. 255).
In his latest article, as we have seen, Slaughter now claims that it is incorrect to call the Soviet Union a workers state simply because the means of production are nationalized. This, however, does not signify a break with the “normative method” and a return to the dialectical, historical method of Trotsky and the Fourth International on his part. Quite the opposite, he merely replaces one subjective norm with another. “Trotsky does not say that there is a workers state because the means of production are nationalized, but something different,” he explains. “For Marxism, Trotsky states clearly, the class nature of the state is decided on the basis of whether as a state it assures economic development and culture on the nationalized foundations” (The International, December 1990, p. 25).
Taken in isolation, this criterion is just as wrong and misleading as the criterion of “nationalization.” Against his opponents within the party, who called into question the class nature of the Soviet state, Trotsky indeed pointed repeatedly to the fact that the nationalized means of production, despite the strangling role of the ruling bureaucracy, made possible an enormous progress of production and must therefore be defended. But taken in isolation, i.e., separated from the historical origin of the Soviet Union and its position in the international class struggle, the development or stagnation of production can no more decide its class nature than the question of nationalization.
As if he had anticipated Slaughter’s arguments, Trotsky wrote in 1937: “For the sake of simplifying the question, however, let us grant that the bureaucracy has already become an absolute brake upon the economic development. But does this fact in itself mean that the class nature of the USSR has changed or that the USSR is devoid of any kind of class nature? Here, it seems to me, is the chief mistake of our comrades.
Up until the First World War bourgeois society developed its productive forces. Only during the past quarter of a century has the bourgeoisie become an absolute brake upon economic development. Does this mean that bourgeois society has ceased being bourgeois? No, it means only that it has become a decaying bourgeois society. In a number of countries, the preservation of bourgeois property is possible only through the establishment of a fascist regime. In other words, the bourgeoisie is devoid of all forms and means of its own direct political domination, and must use an intermediary. Does this mean then that the state has stopped being bourgeois? To the extent that fascism with its barbaric methods defends private property in the means of production, to that extent the state remains bourgeois under the fascist rule.
We do not at all intend to give our analogy an all-inclusive meaning. Nevertheless, it demonstrates that the concentration of power in the hands of the bureaucracy and even the retardation of the development of the productive forces, by themselves, still do not change the class nature of society and its state. Only the intrusion of a revolutionary or a counterrevolutionary force in property relations can change the class nature of the state... (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, pp. 62-63, emphasis added).
The fate of the Soviet Union will be decided, not by theoretical speculation, but through the struggle of living classes. Precisely because it has been created by a social revolution, it can only be destroyed by a counterrevolution.
Slaughter Renounces Internationalism
This is decided not only by the class struggle within the Soviet Union itself, but, far more decisively, by the international class struggle. This is the perspective, considered self-evident until Lenin’s death, for which the Trotskyist movement has fought since Stalin proclaimed his theory of “building socialism in one country” in 1924.
Trotsky as well as Stalin knew that this was the essence of all differences. In 1926, Stalin wrote: “The difference in views lies in the fact that the party considers that these internal contradictions and possible conflicts can be entirely overcome on the basis of the inner forces of our revolution, whereas comrade Trotsky and the Opposition think that these contradictions and conflicts can be overcome ‘only on an international scale, on the arena of the world-wide proletarian revolution.’” Trotsky commented: “Yes, this is precisely the difference. One could not express better and more correctly the difference between national reformism and revolutionary internationalism” (The Third International After Lenin, New Park, p. 48).
Today, as the policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy have brought the Soviet Union to the brink of destruction, this remains the decisive starting point for the development of a revolutionary orientation for the Soviet working class.
It is by no means the starting point for Slaughter. He approaches the problem from a purely nationalist criterion—the “economic development and culture” within the Soviet Union. This leads him directly into the camp of the proponents of “market” and “private property,” who cite the Soviet Union’s lagging behind the development of the world economy as proof of the superiority of capitalism and conclude from the “stagnation of economy and culture on nationalized foundations” that these nationalized foundations must be abolished. We have already seen Slaughter’s answer to the question whether the property relations created by the October Revolution should be defended. He says: “In political work in the Soviet Union of today ... Marxists cannot start from the assumption that the working class must defend itself against the restoration of capitalism.” If one approaches the present crisis in the Soviet Union from a purely national viewpoint, one must indeed arrive at the conclusion that there is “nothing to defend.”
Trotsky took an entirely different, internationalist approach to the problem and arrived at the opposite conclusion. He saw the property relations created by the October Revolution as a conquest of the international working class which must be defended. If the USSR remains isolated, he insisted again and again, neither nationalizations nor planned economy can abolish the contradictions of world economy and the effects they have on the Soviet Union, and it must inevitably fall victim to them. These property relations can result in lasting historical progress only if they are extended throughout the planet by the world socialist revolution. Thus, the defense of the gains of the October Revolution inseparably coincides with the struggle for world socialist revolution.
From this standpoint, Trotsky wrote: “If the proletariat drives out the Soviet bureaucracy in time, then it will still find the nationalized means of production and the basic elements of the planned economy after its victory. This means that it will not have to begin from the beginning. That is a tremendous advantage! Only radical dandies, who are used to hopping carelessly from twig to twig, can light-mindedly dismiss such a possibility. The socialist revolution is too tremendous and difficult a problem for one to light-mindedly wave one’s hand at its inestimable material achievement and begin from the beginning” (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, p.69).
Slaughter does not even raise the question of how the stagnation and crisis in the Soviet economy is bound up with the crisis in capitalist world economy. This, however, is the key to understanding the issue. The collapse of the Soviet Union does not prove the “failure of socialism,” but the practical bankruptcy of the Stalinist conception of the “building of socialism in a single country.” Trotsky had predicted theoretically the inevitable catastrophe flowing from this retrograde theory as early as 1924.
Today the unprecedented internationalization of the world economy and globalization of production since World War II have rendered even more untenable the attempt to sustain a nationally isolated economic system. The development of the Soviet economy urgently requires its integration into the world economy. There are only two ways in which this can be done: i.e., the capitalist way, through the opening up of the Soviet Union to international capital or the socialist way, through the extension of socialist revolution. The former inevitably leads to the transformation of the USSR into a semi-colony of imperialism. This is the road of the Stalinist bureaucracy. In East Germany and Poland all those who had hoped to find a solution to the economic crisis through capitalist restoration have already found out that the only role capitalism offers them is that of the paupers of Europe.
The states in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have become the first victims of the same contradiction which is also driving all the advanced capitalist countries into wars and deep economic crises: the contradiction between modem world economy and the boundaries of the national states. The breakdown of the economic and political equilibrium which imperialism, with the help of Stalin, had created in the aftermath of World War II in order to stabilize its rule, creates all the material preconditions for the realization of the perspective of world socialist revolution. In every country throughout the world, the working class today faces the same problems: mass unemployment, austerity measures, hunger and barbaric imperialist wars. The program of the Fourth International is completely vindicated. The fate of the Soviet Union is bound up inseparably with the fate of the international proletariat.
Opposition to Stalinism from the Left and from the Right
Slaughter justifies his attack on the program of the Fourth International with the claim that the working class itself is anticommunist: “People feel very strongly that communism stands between them and a future for themselves and their children.” Therefore he claims the only program which can serve as the basis for opposition to the bureaucracy is that of capitalist restoration: “People do not start from anything like resisting restoration of capitalism. They accept the necessity of ‘market economy’ as the only way yet proposed for breaking the state-bureaucratic stranglehold and its consequences in breakdown” (The International, December 1990, p. 7).
As his article makes clear, Slaughter bases this conclusion on the reading of a few issues of the pro-capitalist Moscow News (which he quotes at length), and his conversations with the rising bureaucrats of the new miners union and representatives of the numerous petty-bourgeois organizations which currently infest the political life of Moscow. He systematically blurs the difference between the anticommunism of the petty bourgeoisie and the anti-Stalinism of the working class in the process. (In fact the term “working class” hardly appears in his article; he prefers more neutral expressions like “the masses,” “the people” or “the ordinary people.”).
This distinction, however, is crucial. The petty bourgeois hates Stalinism because it prevents him from becoming a proprietor and exploiter; the worker hates it because it disorganizes production, parasitically lives off the nationalized property and oppresses him politically. While on the surface these two attitudes may look similar and both may express themselves in illusions about the “market,” this term means something completely different to the worker and to the petty bourgeois. The petty bourgeois sees the “market” as a means to enrich himself, the worker as a means to evade the sabotage of production by the almighty bureaucracy and to overcome the permanent shortage of consumer goods.
The petty bourgeoisie, which, together with large sections of the bureaucracy, provides the social basis for the program of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, seeks to exploit the confusion of the working class on this question in order to take it in tow politically. This is the purpose of the populist demagogy of Yeltsin, who is a Stalinist bureaucrat by origin, a counterrevolutionary by conviction and much closer to fascism than to socialism. It is significant that all petty-bourgeois parties in Moscow, from the ultraright Pamyat to the Social Democrats and the Socialist Party of Kagarlitsky, support Yeltsin in one way or another in the name of “fighting the bureaucracy.”
How was it possible that in East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia the revolutionary uprisings against the bureaucracy were diverted into the dead end of capitalist restoration, with its disastrous social impact for the working class? It was only because the petty bourgeoisie was able to dominate the working class politically; in East Germany through the New Forum, in Czechoslovakia through the Civic Forum and in Poland through the “experts” and the Catholic church in the leadership of Solidarity.
The central task of the Fourth International in the Soviet Union today consists in liberating the working class politically from the corroding influence of the petty bourgeoisie. It is against this task that Slaughter’s opposition is directed. This is why he systematically blurs the difference between the program of political revolution and the program of capitalist restoration, between the program of the working class on the one hand and the program of the petty bourgeoisie and the Stalinist bureaucracy on the other.
Moreover, Slaughter’s claim that the Soviet working class overwhelmingly supports the smashing of the nationalized property relations does not stand up to critical examination. The International Committee of the Fourth International has received numerous letters from Soviet workers, testifying that there is profound opposition to the policies of “perestroika.” This is confirmed by the constant complaints of the bureaucracy about the psychology of “equalizing” and the deep-rooted hatred against personal enrichment in the working class—which Slaughter could even have found in Moscow News, if he had bothered to read it critically.
But even if we were to assume that decades of miseducation by the Stalinist bureaucracy had in fact created widespread confusion on the nature of the market and private property amongst the working class, this would by no means justify any adaptation to this mood. Quite the contrary, it would make the struggle against it even more urgent.
The starting point of the program of the Fourth International is not the mood of the masses, but the objective situation. The crisis of world economy carries the class contradictions in every country of the world to extremes. In the Soviet Union it will rapidly bring to the surface the irreconcilably opposed interests of the bureaucracy and those sections of the petty bourgeoisie which promote the restoration of capitalism, on the one hand, and, on the other, the working class, which defends its social achievements against the bureaucracy. This will create the conditions to win millions of workers to the program of the Fourth International, the banner of world socialist revolution—provided the Fourth International does not capitulate on the eve of these struggles and lower its banner.
In many respects the present world situation can be compared to that of 1914. Then, too, a 40-year period of relative stability was abruptly ended. The outbreak of the First World War shocked and confused the working class. Social Democracy betrayed its own program and supported the imperialist war. A large section of the working class was swept away by the influence of the chauvinism which was systematically inculcated by the petty bourgeoisie. Large numbers of workers entered the war with shouts of “hurrah.” But the future of the working class was not determined by the many who capitulated to these moods, but by the few who fought against them—Lenin and Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
The claim that Marxists cannot “start from the assumption that the working class must defend itself against the restoration of capitalism,” because it allegedly does not want to do so, is opportunist to the core. It is based on the unprincipled traditions of the Kautskys and MacDonalds, and not on the revolutionary traditions of Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and Liebknecht.
Supporting Yeltsin and Gorbachev
During his trip to the Soviet Union, Slaughter participated as an observer in a miners congress in Donetsk. This meeting decided to found a new miners union, independent of the old, Stalinist-controlled one. Slaughter hails this decision as a “victory” which was “achieved after a dramatic five-day struggle in the congress itself,” and writes: “The miners are the first section of the Soviet workers to form their own independent union, independent of the state and the bureaucracy” (Workers Press, November 3, 1990).
In fact, the new union is “independent” only in form. Politically it is dominated by forces who share the outlook of the most right-wing sections of the bureaucracy and openly support the restoration of capitalism. This is made clear by a resolution passed by a previous congress in July, which was inspired by the pro-capitalist elements around Boris Yeltsin and formulates the official line of the new union. Slaughter’s magazine, The International, has reprinted it without a word of criticism under the headline, “Soviet Workers Against the Bureaucracy.” The resolution identifies “the monopoly of state property and the absence of a market and competition” as the source of the economic problems in the Soviet Union and calls for a government that abolishes the “monopoly of state property” and carries through “a real transformation to market and democracy.” It states its agreement “that creating an effective economy will require the closure and transformation of many production units.” It merely demands that “such a transformation should not be made too painful for the majority of the people.” It supports the “transformation of the ownership of the means of production... into collective joint stock or individual property.”
The realization of these demands would have devastating social consequences. In Poland, Hungary and East Germany, where a similar program has been carried through, millions of workers are now unemployed and further millions do not earn enough to meet their most basic needs. A trade union dominated by such a perspective is not “independent,” it must inevitably become transformed into a tool of the state and the emerging capitalists against the workers—as the example of Solidarity in Poland and its leader Lech Walesa demonstrates.
Slaughter’s support for the restoration of capitalism inevitably obliges him to defend Gorbachev against the criticism of the International Committee of the Fourth International. He depicts Gorbachev not as the driving figure behind capitalist restoration, but as an honest reformer, who is just not far-sighted enough. “It is hardly worth discussing the view, based in preconceptions to which selected ‘facts’ are then fitted,” he writes, “that Gorbachev set out five years ago in the leadership of the Soviet bureaucracy to restore capitalism in the USSR.” Rather, Gorbachev had only reacted to the pressure of “the people” and tried “to ‘improve’ the system with a little democracy, ‘openness’... Gorbachev set out with a pragmatist-bureaucratic idea of reforming from the top, of eliminating the more gross of bureaucratic abuses, of restoring some semblance of conviction in the Soviet system among the people...” (Ibid., p. 21).
According to Slaughter the real driving force behind capitalist restoration is not Gorbachev and the bureaucracy, but “the people”: “Many people ... fear that dictatorship of the proletariat means only dictatorship against them by a bureaucratic tyranny claiming to represent an industrial working class which is a minority. Gorbachev undoubtedly grasped that this is the real attitude of the people towards ‘socialism,’ ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ ‘the party,’ as they know these things. He recognized that this set of ideas and methods as an ideological basis for rule was finished, was even an invitation to revolution against the bureaucracy” (Ibid., p. 21).
Insofar as Slaughter even acknowledges that capitalist restoration is a danger, he ascribes it to an abstract historical process which apparently develops entirely independently of the will and deeds of individuals. “But the danger of restoration stems objectively from the continued rule of the bureaucracy, from the delay in the world revolution which both conditioned its rise and was then continued and deepened because of the bureaucracy’s politics” (Ibid., p. 21). This type of objectivism is the stock in trade argument of every opportunist whitewashing a traitor of the working class. Of course history is subject to objective laws; but these laws assert themselves through the struggle of classes, in which individual protagonists represent definite interests. The danger of capitalist restoration, stemming objectively from the delay in the world revolution, is today concretely embodied in Gorbachev and his perestroika.
Slaughter’s “Retrogressionist” Theory
Slaughter’s entire argumentation points to the well-worn conclusion, which has always been directed against the Marxist vanguard party by the demoralized petty bourgeois: it is not the bureaucracy which is responsible for the crisis of the workers movement, rather it is the working class itself which has degenerated, which is no different than the bureaucracy and which has practically ceased to exist.
Fifty-four years after Trotsky published The Revolution Betrayed and called for the overthrow of the bureaucracy, a desperate Slaughter writes: “The bureaucracy has not been cleared out by the working class, but shows every sign of internal decay and disintegration.” This has led to a point where “the working class’s own consciousness, two whole generations farther on, has been subjected to the ‘liquidation’ which was already well under way in 1936” (Ibid., p. 17).
The degeneration of the bureaucracy, Slaughter claims further down, has taken hold of all of society—i.e., the working class as well: “Petty pride and envy more and more tend to predominate in the relations between individuals. The role of barter between enterprises and between persons is daily increasing. Parents are tempted to look for ways of ensuring their families’ well-being and progress at the expense of their neighbors—the habits of life and thought of the bureaucracy in this regard spread to the whole people” (Ibid., p. 22).
Slaughter’s conclusions from this sordid assessment are explicit: the Soviet working class has been liquidated as a class and it “will have to reconstitute itself as a class, in terms of its organization and consciousness” (Ibid., p. 23). Moreover, the achievements of the October Revolution have ceased to exist. “In no way do the mass of working people see capitalism as something which they left behind,” he writes. “In terms of the things they want—a decent standard of life, and freedom—they see themselves a long way behind capitalism” (Ibid. p. 17). Slaughter’s claim that “the working class’s own consciousness” has been “liquidated” is nothing more than a second-rate imitation of the theories initiating the turn to the right by large sections of the formerly “socialist” petty bourgeoisie at the end of the seventies, theories that found their consummate expression in Andre Gorz’s book Farewell to the Working Class. It reflects the deep skepticism of a large layer of petty-bourgeois intellectuals who have lost all confidence that the working class will ever be able to carry out a successful socialist revolution, and who see the cause for its defeats not in the treachery of the leadership, but in the social nature of the working class itself.
In the history of the Marxist movement, tendencies have repeatedly emerged citing an alleged retrograde step in history in order to justify their rejection of the program of socialist revolution altogether. As a rule, they were moving directly into the camp of the class enemy.
The most outspoken of these were the “retrogressionists,” a group of German Trotskyists in exile who argued between 1942 and 1944 that fascism was not the product of decaying capitalism, which, on a world scale, was ripe for socialist revolution, but the expression of a new, universal social system in a retrogressive historical process. For them, fascism meant that for the foreseeable future the working class would be unable to carry through a victorious socialist revolution. “Socialism,” they wrote, “is sucked into the past. The proletariat has again, as formerly, become an amorphous mass, the characteristics of its rise and its formation have been lost” (The Heritage We Defend, p. 103).
The parallel between Slaughter’s thesis and that of the retrogressionists is obvious. Both start from the idea that the historical process has been thrown back by decades, if not centuries and that humanity is again confronted with past historical tasks: the establishment of bourgeois democracy and—in Slaughter’s case—the establishment of trade unions.
The retrogressionists concluded that the working class would be incapable of fighting for a socialist program for a long time to come and had to limit itself to democratic demands, tail-ending the bourgeoisie. This perspective objectively aided the bourgeoisie itself, which feared a revolutionary offensive of the working class after the Second World War. It tried to control this upsurge, assisted by its Stalinist and social democratic agents, by spreading democratic illusions.
Slaughter concludes that it is wrong and sectarian to fight for the program of the Fourth International in the Soviet Union, to defend the property relations created by the October Revolution, through the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy. This perspective coincides with the deepest needs of the Stalinist bureaucracy itself, which in its death agony fears above all that the movement of the Soviet working class will come together with the program of the Fourth International.
Occasionally Slaughter speaks about the “breakup of the bureaucratic state apparatus” by the working class and the establishment of a “workers’ democracy in economy and state.” But this remains an empty phrase as long as he does not explain on what property relations such a “workers’ democracy” should be based. Unless that is made clear, even a Labour government in Britain or the regime of Lech Walesa in Poland could be called a “workers’ government.”
A Centrist Trap for the Working Class
Slaughter’s “retrogressionist” theory was translated into practical politics with the convening of an International Conference of Trades Unionists by the “Workers International” on April 14 in London.
If, as Slaughter claims, the working class has been thrown so far back, then there is nothing left for it to do except start from the beginning: with trade unions, the most elementary form of working class organizations. From his demoralized conception, that the working class must “reconstitute itself as a class, in terms of its organization and consciousness,” Slaughter’s supporters have obviously drawn the practical conclusion that the working class must return to tasks it confronted in the last century. The aim of the conference, according to its main resolution, is “a return to a truly working-class trade unionism, completely independent of the employers and their state” (Workers Press, March 14, 1991).
The obvious question about the causes of the present, worldwide crisis of the unions is never raised nor answered, neither in the resolution of the conference itself nor in the previous discussions. Slaughter resembles a doctor who promises to cure his patient without ever finding out the nature and causes of his disease. If we take a look at the cause, we will quickly see that the therapy proposed by Slaughter will inevitably lead to the death of the patient.
The cause of the crisis of the unions is the complete bankruptcy of the nationalist programs of their present leaderships.
The intensification of the struggle between the strongest imperialist powers for control of the world market compels the unions, as long as they remain on a national basis, to tie their interests more and more to those of their “own” bourgeoisie. Under conditions in which a lag in productivity for even a few years can mean the bankrupting of entire branches of industry, the union bureaucracy sees its task as increasing productivity in a joint effort with the employers in order to defend the latter’s position on the world market. Hence the increasing transformation of the unions into corporatist instruments of the employers and the state. They are not only unable to defend reforms won through past struggles, but come forward openly as the policemen of capital in order to enforce the abolition of trade union rights and to support imperialist wars.
This transformation is taking place in all countries, quite independently of the political orientation of the trade union leaders. It applies equally to the American AFL-CIO, which politically supports the capitalist Democratic Party and, on the international arena, functions as a principal arm of the CIA, as well as to the unions led by social democrats in Britain and Germany or the Stalinist-dominated organizations in France and Italy. In Eastern Europe, the new “independent” unions vie with the old Stalinist ones in subordinating the working class most effectively and completely to the needs of international capital.
Under these conditions, to speak about “a return to a truly working-class unionism,” is not only utterly utopian, but reactionary through and through. Such a perspective can serve only as a left cover for the treacherous policies of the trade union leaders and to lead the working class into a hopeless dead end. Every union, however “independent” and “democratic” it may formally appear, must inevitably turn into an agency of the bourgeoisie as long as it remains on purely trade union, i.e., reformist, ground.
For the working class, there is no way back to some “truly working-class trade unionism,” but only a way forward to a new, international political program. Unions can be truly independent from the employers and the state only to the extent that the political program of the Fourth International gains influence within them. The building of sections of the Fourth International is the precondition to overcoming the crisis of the unions.
This is precisely what Slaughter’s Conference of Trades Unionists explicitly rejected. The conference resolution does not mention the Fourth International and its political program once! And an explicit invitation to attend the conference had gone out to representatives of political tendencies which reject the program of the Fourth International.
At the conference itself, several amendments to the final resolution, aimed at giving it a socialist coloring, were voted down at the instigation of the WRP delegates. For example, they opposed an amendment to supplement the demand for “workers’ control” by the following sentence: “The only way to achieve this is through proletarian revolution, establishing the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat in every country as the first step towards building the new socialist order.”
The resolution finally adopted by the conference essentially consists of three slogans, which, ripped out of context from Trotsky’s writings and completely separated from the program of the Fourth International, constitute nothing but a centrist trap for the working class.
The first slogan is the “complete independence of the trades unions from the employers and from the state and the government.”
Trotsky advanced this slogan in his article “The Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay.” But he never harbored the slightest illusion that such independence could be achieved outside of the growth of the influence of the Fourth International in the unions. He wrote: “The trade unions in the present epoch cannot simply be the organs of democracy as they were in the epoch of free capitalism and they cannot any longer remain politically neutral, that is, limit themselves to serving the daily needs of the working class. They cannot any longer be anarchistic, i.e., ignore the decisive influence of the state on the life of peoples and classes. They can no longer be reformist, because the objective conditions leave no room for any serious and lasting reforms. The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat” (Marxism and the Trade Unions, Labor Publications, p. 12).
The demand for the independence of the unions from the capitalist state was a tactical slogan for the work of the Trotskyists within the unions, and not a substitute for a revolutionary program. Slaughter’s “Workers International,” however, transforms this slogan into an independent program, thus robbing it of any progressive content. One only has to consider this subterfuge in the light of the recent experiences of the working class in Eastern Europe to see its thoroughly reactionary nature.
In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, virtually all political parties—from the Stalinists to the most right-wing, procapitalist groupings—are proposing “independent” trade unions. (In Hungary, for example, the Solidaritas union—in which the Hungarian supporters of the “Workers International” are active—has been founded by the ultra-right FIDESZ party.) But as long as these unions do not defend the social conquests of the October Revolution—the nationalized property relations and the planned economy—their formal “independence” from the Stalinist state apparatus is nothing but a sham. They serve as agencies of international capital, which, in the final analysis, is the function of the Stalinist bureaucracy itself.
In the resolution of the Conference of Trades Unionists there is not the slightest hint of defense of the nationalized property in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Even the traditional designation of these states by the Fourth International as “degenerated” or “deformed” workers states is dropped. Instead, the resolution speaks about “the bureaucratic systems of eastern Europe and the USSR—which had been falsely called ‘socialist’.” This wording has a clear political significance: it blurs the difference between left and right opposition to Stalinism; it is an open invitation to all anticommunists who pursue the restoration of capitalism.
An attempt from the floor of the conference to correct this was blocked at the insistence of the WRP. The following amendment was rejected: “In the Soviet Union we fight for workers ’ control and workers’ management of the enterprises. This means access to all accounts and plans, to all information necessary for the running of the plants as well as of the state budget. Defend the property of the workers and peasants from privatization under the ownership of the bureaucrats, from private capitalists and from the imperialist monopolies! For social ownership of the means of production and a democratic workers’ plan drawn up by a congress of workers’ delegates.” Even members of reactionary revisionist groups like Workers Power and Spartacist, who participated in the conference, were attacked from the right by WRP delegates on this question.
The international bourgeoisie has long recognized the usefulness of such “independent” unions, as advocated by Slaughter. The devastating social consequences of the introduction of capitalism cannot be imposed upon the working class by the state power alone. Such “unions” are necessary to undermine the resistance of the working class from within. Therefore, the bourgeoisie supports them financially and organizationally to the best of its abilities. This is the bitter lesson of Poland, where today the leadership of Solidarity carries out attacks against the working class which under the Stalinist regime would have inevitably produced an uprising. When in 1980, based on its opposition to Stalinism, Solidarity rallied 10 million workers behind its banner within only a few months. It was the mightiest “union independent of the state” in the world. But the complete lack of a revolutionary, socialist perspective made possible its transformation within a decade into an instrument of international capital. After the Polish experience, to put forward the tactical demand for the “independence of the unions” as an independent program constitutes the criminal preparation of further defeats for the working class.
The second slogan of the conference resolution reads: 'restoration of workers’ democracy in our unions.”.
As in the case of the “independence of the unions,” this slogan can only be realized in the framework of a revolutionary program. The internal regime of an organization—be it a party or a union—is always determined by its political program. A union which supports the introduction of capitalist exploitation and social inequality cannot tolerate a democratic regime within its organization.
And the third slogan is: “Re-establishment of international working-class solidarity.”
This, too, is a platonic phrase acceptable to any trade union bureaucrat as long as it is not bound up with an international revolutionary strategy for the working class. But as we have demonstrated, this is precisely what the “Workers International” rejects.
Slaughter and the “Workers International” turn the relation between the building of the Fourth International and the struggle for the independence of the unions upside down. They claim that the struggle within the unions is the prerequisite and the basis for the building of the Fourth International. They explain in their call for the Conference of Trades Unionists that just to say “the key factor in the situation is the Fourth International is to leave it at the level of an abstract generalization.... The fact is that, at this point, even the most class-conscious workers have no starting point for independent working-class politics, for trade union democracy, for real working-class internationalism.” Therefore, it is “necessary to set about the reconstruction of the Fourth International in and through the reconstruction of the working-class movement as a whole” (The International, December 1990, p. 2, emphasis added).
With this position, they reject everything ever said or written in the Marxist movement about the relationship between the revolutionary party and the unions, between the political and economic struggles, socialist and bourgeois consciousness—from Rosa Luxemburg’s polemics against Bernstein to Lenin’s writings against the economists to everything Slaughter himself put down on paper during the sixties against rank-and-fileism and against opportunist tendencies. In April 1971, in the pamphlet Who Are the International Socialists?, Slaughter wrote on the revisionist group led by Tony Cliff:
For years its members have violently opposed the struggle of Trotskyism to build a revolutionary party of the working class. Instead, they have argued, Marxists (note to the reader: they consider themselves Marxists!) must wait for the revolutionary strategy, tactics and organization to emerge from the working class’s everyday struggle.
If you build a party, you will be guilty of ‘substitutionism,’ i.e. putting yourself up as substitute for the historical mission of the class.
This ‘theory’ of opposition to Lenin’s idea of a revolutionary party is merely the ‘theoretical’ gloss given to their consistent service to the reformist bureaucracy—the Labour leadership—which keeps the working class under the heel of capitalism.
It always ends up with blaming the working class itself for the fact that capitalism continues in existence, that defeats occur.
In other words, they help the reformist to restrict the working class to the limits of its experience within the conditions of life in the capitalist nation-state.
They do not found their program and work in the British workers’ movement on the world revolutionary role of the proletariat. That would mean starting from the Trotskyist program, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International.
This program they condemn as out-of-date, which amounts to saying there was no justification for the founding of the Fourth International.
These are not internationalist socialists at all, but a specialized—anti-Trotskyist—detachment of British reformism. (Who Are the International Socialists?, p.2)
That every single word can today be directed against Slaughter himself is a measure of how far he has moved to the right during the past 20 years—and especially since his split with the International Committee five years ago.
The conception that the building of the Fourth International takes place in and through the building of trade unions comes directly from classical opportunism. Nationalistic to the core, and untroubled by any knowledge of the history of the international workers movement, the WRP views all problems of the world through its “English spectacles,” as Rosa Luxemburg once succinctly said in an article against Bernstein, who had also attempted to portray the trade unions as a model and example for the socialist movement.
“Whenever one speaks about the great role reserved for the unions in the future of the workers’ movement,” she wrote in 1899, “then naturally the English trade unions are paraded as an example for the ‘economic power’ one can achieve as well as a shining example of what the German workers must strive for. However, if there is one chapter in the history of the workers movement suited to thoroughly destroy the belief in the socializing effect and general rise of the unions in the future, it is precisely the history of English trade-unionism. Bernstein has built his theory on the English conditions, he sees the world through ‘English spectacles.’ This has already become a catchword in the party” (Rosa Luxemburg, Collected Works, vol. 1, p.471-72).
Luxemburg demonstrates that the period of the great success of the British unions, as far as the fight for social reforms is concerned, coincided with the golden era of English industry, its undisputed rule over the world market. It was precisely this rule which made it possible for the trade unions to achieve their gains on purely bourgeois grounds, with the methods of class collaboration. The rise of the English trade unions corresponded to the decline of the socialist movement, which had reached a first peak with the Chartist movement of the 1840s.
The conclusion drawn by Rosa Luxemburg more than 90 years ago reads like a fresh, devastating indictment of the WRP’s Conference of Trades Unionists. “Above all, the idea of the immediate importance of the unions for socialism appears to be completely wrong. Precisely the English trade union movement, which is cited in this respect, owes its past successes above all to its purely bourgeois character, its opposition to socialist ‘utopianism’...
“Precisely English trade-unionism, the classic representative of which is the satiated, correct, prejudiced, narrow-minded worker-gentleman with his bourgeois thoughts and feelings, proves that the trade union movement as such is not in the least something socialist. Indeed, it can, under certain circumstances, be a direct obstacle for the spreading of socialist consciousness, just as, conversely, socialist consciousness can under certain circumstances be an obstacle for purely trade union successes” (Ibid., p. 1, emphasis added).
Trade unions can only play a progressive role in the emancipation of the proletariat, Luxemburg explains categorically, if they are “subordinated to the socialist movement in advance.” Socialist consciousness is developed in a struggle against and at the cost of trade union consciousness. It does not arise spontaneously out of the trade union struggle, as the “Workers International” claims by saying: “What is necessary is that the advanced workers share common experiences with us in struggle in the trade unions” (The International, December 1990, p.2).
The same conceptions were elaborated in detail by Lenin in his polemic What Is To Be Done?, which is directed against Economism, the Russian variant of Bernsteinism.
He describes as “the fundamental error that all the Economists commit” the “conviction that it is possible to develop the class political consciousness of the workers from within, so to speak, their economic struggle, i.e., making this struggle the exclusive (or, at least, the main) starting point, making it the exclusive, or, at least, the main basis. Such a view is fundamentally wrong.... Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside of the economic struggle, from outside of the sphere of relations between workers and employers” (What Is To Be Done?, pp. 78-79).
The “Workers International” stands on its head the relation between the socialist party and the unions in the true tradition of Bernstein: “What do Bernstein’s ‘English spectacles’ add up to?,” Rosa Luxemburg asks. “They are a concave mirror of his mode of conception, in which all phenomena are turned upside down. What he considers to be the strongest means of socialist struggle was in reality a veritable obstacle for socialism, and what he considers to be the future of German social democracy is the more and more dwindling past of the English movement in its evolution towards social democracy” (Collected Works, vol. 1, p. 2).
The Significance of the Split with the WRP
Slaughter’s open attack on the program and principles of the Fourth International, as well as the deep-rooted skepticism and demoralization which characterizes him and the political tendency which he leads, vindicate the historical significance of the split which occurred in the International Committee in 1985-86.
Not a single one of the groups which at that time broke with the International Committee has been able to develop a viable perspective for the working class. Every one of them has gone through repeated splits and has continuously drifted to the right.
The quarrels between them never involve questions of principle, but merely different variants of opportunism. Slaughter’s groveling before the right-wing “democrats” in the Soviet Union hardly differs from the open support for Gorbachev and Yeltsin espoused by Vanessa Redgrave’s “Marxist Party”; his attitude towards Arthur Scargill and other British trade union bureaucrats is identical with the position of Sheila Torrance’s WRP, which excels in eulogizing such traitors to the working class; and in his cynicism towards the history of the Fourth International he measures up to the WIL of Richard Price, whose specialty is to embellish Banda’s “27 Reasons Why the International Committee Should Be Buried” with ever more details.
In stark opposition to the various fragments of the WRP, the International Committee has not experienced a single split during the past five years and has consolidated and expanded its organization; its perspectives find a growing response within the international working class. Dozens of workers from the Soviet Union correspond on a regular basis with the International Committee, and it has developed systematic work in India. In Germany, only four month after the wall came down, the BSA participated with its own candidates in the Volkskammer elections and also—for the first time in its history—stood its own candidates in the following national elections. In Sri Lanka, the RCL heads the fight of the working class against the bestial government massacres of rural youth and Tamils; in the United States the Workers League took the responsibility for the mobilization of the working class against the imperialist war against Iraq, and in Australia the Socialist Labour League has won great respect amongst workers and youth for its irreconcilable opposition against the Hawke government and its “left” appendages.
All this serves to demonstrate that the split of 1985-86 was a split between a revolutionary Marxist tendency on one side and an opportunist tendency on the other. The opportunists were driven out of the Fourth International; for the first time in many years the revolutionary Marxists again won the upper hand.
The fact that the opportunists were successfully defeated and exposed cannot be explained by purely subjective factors. It reflects a fundamental change in the balance of forces between opportunism and revolutionary Marxism within the working class itself.
The International Committee was founded in 1953 in order to lead the fight against opportunism within the Fourth International, which had reached alarming dimensions with the tendency of Pablo and Mandel. James P. Cannon, the leader of the American SWP, issued an “Open Letter” in which he called upon all “orthodox Trotskyists” to assemble under the banner of the International Committee and to throw the opportunists out of the Fourth International. But this fight proved to be considerably more protracted and difficult than the founders of the International Committee had originally expected. The reason for this was to be found in the objective situation. The balance of forces within the workers movement was very unfavorable for the revolutionary Marxists.
Imperialism had stabilized itself and in most countries the workers movement was controlled by the Stalinist or social democratic bureaucracies or, in the less developed countries, trailed behind bourgeois nationalists. Pabloism embodied the pressure of these objective circumstances upon the Fourth International. It represented an attempt to adapt the Fourth International to these circumstances, to accept them as “given” and to throw overboard any perspective of changing them by revolutionary means. In this way, Pabloism itself became a prop of the capitalist postwar order. Wherever the Stalinists, social democrats or bourgeois nationalists began to lose control over the working class, the Pabloites provided them with a left cover.
As long as the Stalinists and social democrats were firmly in the saddle, Pabloism was again and again able to gain a foothold within the International Committee. The revolutionary elements repeatedly found themselves on the defensive. Cannon capitulated to Pabloism in 1963. Slaughter, who in 1963 had correctly stated that Pabloism could no longer be considered as a tendency within the Fourth International, and Healy followed the same road 10 years later. By the middle of the seventies the Trotskyists were again in a minority within the International Committee.
The ability of the Trotskyists to triumph over the opportunists in 1985-86 is inseparably bound up with the fact that the control of the Stalinist and social democratic apparatuses over the working class, on which Pabloism rested in the final analysis, had already been considerably weakened. Three years later this became apparent in the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe.
Today, Stalinism is completely discredited within the working class—not only in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but also in France and Italy, where it once had considerable influence. In the Middle East and India, Gorbachev’s open support for imperialism during the gulf war has shattered what little remained of the illusions that Stalinism constituted some “anti-imperialist” force.
The social democrats’ joy over the collapse of Stalinism was rather short-lived; they themselves and the unions they control are faced with a wholesale desertion by the workers. In countries where they hold power—in Australia, New Zealand, France and Spain—this process has already assumed a mass character.
In the ranks of the Pabloites, this development has caused fear and horror and triggered a panicky flight to the right.
Mandel’s United Secretariat no longer bothers itself with the revision of Marxism, but collaborates directly with counterrevolutionary forces who organize or advocate the use of state violence against the working class—Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and the NSSP in Sri Lanka. Its sections liquidate themselves into the petty-bourgeois organizations of their respective countries. Its relationship towards the Fourth International today equals that of the Second International to Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht on the eve of the First World War.
The turn to the right and disintegration of the various WRP fragments result from the same developments. Slaughter was neither demoralized nor troubled while Stalinism remained firmly in power. In fact, he was so self-satisfied that he did not deem it necessary to work full-time for the party. Even though he was the secretary of the International Committee, he frequently did not find the time to leave his professor’s desk or the race track in Bradford to attend its meetings. Only recently has he thrown himself into feverish activity and churned out his demoralized articles.
This demonstrates the real class foundation of Pabloism. It bases itself completely on the domination of the bureaucratic apparatuses over the working class. The collapse of these apparatuses has literally cut the ground from beneath its feet. Reading Slaughter’s articles or listening to Mandel’s speeches, one gets the impression of a drunkard reeling along a ship’s deck on rough seas. One can only compare them to Bernstein and other classic exponents of opportunism in a qualified manner. Unlike them, Bernstein was a serious theoretician who knew how to aggressively stand up for his theses.
All Pabloites regard the collapse of the bureaucratic apparatuses as a catastrophe—hence their demoralization. The International Committee, on the other hand, sees the collapse of these apparatuses as the essential precondition for a new revolutionary upswing of the working class, which is the source of its revolutionary optimism.
We are not blind to the devastating consequences which the collapse in Eastern Europe has for the working class. But the responsibility for this lies squarely with the Stalinists. For almost 70 years the Trotskyist movement has warned that the Stalinist policies of “socialism in a single country” would lead the working class into a blind alley. The effects of this collapse will not be mitigated by the likes of Mandel and Slaughter, who cling to the doomed Stalinist criminals as they now organize the capitalists’ entry into the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
The sooner the Fourth International succeeds in rallying the working class behind its banner, the smaller will be the price paid for the Stalinist betrayal. In order to achieve this, it is not only necessary to incessantly expose the role of Stalinism and Social Democracy before the working class. It is even more important to unmask the Pabloite charlatans who misuse the name of the Fourth International in order to throw one last lifeline to Stalinism.
The International Committee will spare no effort to achieve this aim and to raise the spotless banner of the Fourth International over the coming socialist development of the international working class.