Leon Trotsky
Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka)

The 1985–1986 split with the WRP

23-1. The Tenth Congress of the ICFI in January 1985 was dominated by two interrelated phenomena: first, a devastating political crisis inside the WRP and second, the suppression of fundamental political differences that had been raised by the Workers League of the United States over the preceding three years. Neither was discussed. As the WRP was abandoning its previous principled struggle against Pabloism, the Workers League had been moving in the opposite direction. In 1974, following the desertion of national secretary Tim Wohlforth, the Workers League made a deliberate turn to the working class and placed the fight against Pabloite opportunism at the centre of the party’s work. The Workers League played the leading role in the “Security and the Fourth International” investigation, which was bitterly opposed by all Pabloite groups. This investigation exposed the network of Stalinist agents inside the Trotskyist movement who had been responsible for Trotsky’s murder. It provided conclusive evidence that SWP leader Joseph Hansen had been a Stalinist, then FBI, agent.

23-2. In 1982, Workers League National Secretary David North presented detailed criticisms of Gerry Healy’s Studies in Dialectical Materialism, demonstrating that it represented an abandonment of the dialectical and historical materialism of Marx. North pointed out that “in the name of the struggle for dialectical materialism and against propagandism”, there had been a steady drift away from the struggle for Trotskyism, particularly the Theory of Permanent Revolution. The WRP leadership responded by threatening to sever relations with the Workers League unless North withdrew his criticisms. In a letter to WRP General Secretary Mike Banda in January 1984, North made a further analysis of the WRP’s positions, particularly in relation to the Middle East, and stated that the Workers League was “deeply troubled by the growing signs of a political drift towards positions quite similar—both in conclusions and methodology—to those which we have historically associated with Pabloism.” In February 1984, North delivered a political report to the ICFI that began by analysing the significance of the American SWP’s unambiguous renunciation of the Theory of Permanent Revolution in December 1982. He highlighted the WRP’s adaptation not only to bourgeois regimes in the Middle East but to Labour lefts and the trade union bureaucracy in Britain. Again the WRP threatened to split with the Workers League and blocked any discussion. The RCL was not represented at the meeting and was not informed about the discussion.

23-3. Following the defeat of the protracted British miners’ strike in 1985, a crisis exploded inside the WRP that rapidly led to its break from the ICFI and political disintegration. Keerthi Balasuriya travelled to Britain and learned for the first time of David North’s criticisms of the WRP in October 1985. Along with representatives of the Australian SLL and German BSA, he expressed his agreement with North’s analysis. On October 25, 1985, the ICFI issued two statements: on the expulsion of Gerry Healy and on the crisis in the British section. The latter statement identified the source of the political crisis in the “prolonged drift of the WRP leadership away from the strategic task of building the world party of socialist revolution towards an increasingly nationalist perspective and practice.” The ICFI resolved that the WRP register its members on the explicit recognition of the political authority of ICFI and the subordination of the British section to its decisions.

23-4. On December 16, 1985, the ICFI received the report of its control commission on the WRP’s financial dealings. In response to the findings, it passed a resolution declaring that the WRP had carried out a historic betrayal of the ICFI and the international working class, which “consisted of the complete abandonment of the theory of permanent revolution, resulting in the pursuit of unprincipled relations with sections of the colonial bourgeoisie in return for money.” The ICFI resolved to suspend the WRP pending an emergency ICFI Congress following the 8th Congress of the WRP. A further resolution adopted the following day reaffirmed the essential programmatic foundations of the ICFI and the historic correctness of the struggle against Pabloism. The suspension of the WRP was decisive in reasserting the political authority of the ICFI and the central importance of the programmatic principles of the Trotskyist movement. The decision made clear that there would be no compromise on these fundamental issues and established a principled basis for the resolution of the crisis within the WRP. Of the WRP delegates, only David Hyland, who led a minority inside the WRP that was to later form the British section of the ICFI, voted for the resolutions. The opposition of the Banda-Slaughter faction demonstrated that, while they had fallen out with Healy, they shared the same underlying opportunist and national perspective.

23-5. In a letter to David North, Slaughter opposed the subordination of the WRP to the ICFI asserting that internationalism consisted of “laying down class lines and fighting them through.” In its reply, the Workers League Political Committee asked: “But by what process are these ‘class lines’ determined? Does it require the existence of the Fourth International?... The International Committee of the Fourth International is the historical embodiment of the ‘whole programmatic base of Trotskyism and the Marxism of Marx and Lenin.’ The subordination of national sections to the IC is the organised expression of their agreement with the defence of that program. Those parties which uphold Trotskyism as the contemporary development of Marxist principles and program are organised in the Fourth International and accept the authority of the International Committee. To base one’s definition of internationalism on the separation of the program from its organisational expression is to adopt the standpoint of all those revisionist and centrist opponents of Trotskyism who deny the continuity of Marxism, embodied in the ICFI, in order to retain freedom of action within their theatre of operations.”[1]

23-6. The WRP split from the ICFI at its rump congress on February 8, 1986 on the basis of Banda’s document “27 Reasons Why the International Committee Should be Buried Forthwith and the Fourth International be Built” which renounced the entire struggle of the IC against Pabloism. All supporters of the IC were excluded from the congress. Within months, Banda had repudiated Trotskyism, proclaimed capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union to be impossible and hailed Stalin as the necessary Bonapartist leader who had defended the gains of the October Revolution. The ICFI concluded one year later in an exhaustive study of all those who split with the IC in 1985–86: “The main orientation of all the anti-ICFI tendencies is towards an out and out capitulation to Stalinism and Social Democracy, the repudiation of the political independence of the working class, and ever more pronounced orientation toward participation in popular front alliances with sections of the bourgeoisie.”[2]

23-7. The split in the International Committee was a reflection of profound changes in the economic base and political superstructure of world capitalism. The global integration of productive processes and the exploitation of cheap labour platforms in Asia that had begun in the late 1970s had undermined the programs of national economic regulation on which the social democratic, Stalinist and bourgeois nationalist leaderships had rested in the post-war period. Pabloism emerged within the Fourth International as an opportunist adaptation to the dominance of these bureaucratic apparatuses over the working class. The British SLL defended the program of Trotskyism but faced growing isolation, particularly after the SWP’s reunification in 1963 with the Pabloites and the split with the OCI in 1971. The SLL’s increasingly nationalist orientation began to diverge from that of the new IC sections formed in the 1960s and early 1970s that based themselves on the lessons of the splits of 1953 and 1961–63. This process accelerated with the foundation of the WRP. As it abandoned the struggle against Pabloism on which its political authority within the IC rested, the WRP blocked political discussion inside the international movement and responded to criticism with organisational threats and political provocations. The victory of the Trotskyists within the IC and the restoration of Trotskyism to the centre of its work marked a profound shift in class relations that was to become more evident with the decay and disintegration of the old bureaucratic organisations of the working class and the rapid move to the right of all the Pabloite groupings.


Fourth International, Volume 13, No. 2, p. 77.


Fourth International, Volume, 14 No. 1, p. 4.