Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

The political difficulties facing the SLL

148. Healy was determined to take on and defeat the Pabloites in the working class. He began to work on the premise that it would be possible to use what he considered to be—with some justification—a more favourable political situation in Britain, to overcome the unfavourable disposition of international forces in the aftermath of the SWP’s renegacy. He calculated that a political breakthrough in Britain would become a pole of attraction for revolutionists around the world, strengthening the authority of the International Committee.

149. The SLL had made important organisational advances after 1956, and by the mid-1960s, was both numerically larger than its Pabloite opponents and possessed of an experienced cadre and a base amongst sections of workers and youth. It was well placed to take advantage of an emerging militant movement of the working class, expressed in wildcat strikes and unofficial rank and file movements. Plans for the first daily Trotskyist newspaper, the Workers Press, which was to be launched in 1969, were seen as providing the means to directly politically challenge the Stalinists and social democrats, and transform the SLL into the mass party of the British working class.

150. While it was both correct and necessary to use every opportunity presented in Britain to help strengthen the international movement, Healy’s conception was wrong from a strategic perspective. Involving a false reading of the Russian Revolution, Healy’s underlying premise was that he could emulate the way in which the Bolshevik seizure of power had provided the impulse for the growth of the Third International. But the Russian Revolution was primarily the product of international, not national factors. It had been prepared through the struggle waged by Lenin against the opportunism of the Second International, and fought on the basis of the international revolutionary strategy developed by Trotsky.

151. The persistence of Pabloite revisionism was a manifestation within the Fourth International of a broader policy pursued by imperialism to cultivate a petty-bourgeois stratum as a social buffer against the working class. The dominant political role played by this layer was an overarching feature of the post-war years. The Soviet Union appeared to be at the height of its power, while the 1949 peasant-based Chinese revolution had led to the emergence of sizeable Maoist tendencies. Under these conditions, Castroism was only one of a number of radical bourgeois national movements that often portrayed themselves as socialist, while relying on the Moscow or Beijing Stalinist apparatus for support. As the editorial of Labour Review, Winter 1961, explained:

“The opportunists of all varieties now rest not only upon the labour aristocracy of a few advanced countries but upon new layers of the world’s population under modern state monopoly capitalism with its particular relation to the non-capitalist world. The advanced countries have gone through a gigantic concentration of industrial and finance capital, militarization and bureaucratisation of the economy and the state, growing reliance on state intervention in the economy, and consequent creation of a new middle caste of executives, administrators, and bureaucrats of the big banks and the monopolies, the state, the military and security apparatus, ‘social services’ and the means of manipulation of ‘public opinion.’ The international needs of capital are faithfully administered by the middle caste”.[1]

152. This was the class basis for the growth of numerous intellectual currents, which employed Marxist phraseology while advocating politics based upon a repudiation of socialist revolution, and an orientation to forces hostile to the working class. It was this world situation that accounted for the difficulties faced by the orthodox Trotskyists, and which could not be resolved on the national arena. Healy’s unwarranted generalisations from the particular balance of forces in Britain would cause him to neglect the central lesson of the SWP’s capitulation to Pabloism—that the pressure of alien class tendencies can only be overcome through a consistent theoretical struggle against revisionism, in close collaboration with international co-thinkers. To the extent that focussing on the development of the work in Britain meant disregarding the theoretical and political needs of the international movement, this was to lead to the accumulation of political errors and organisational problems in which, over a period of time, Healy and the SLL became trapped.

153. Conceptions were able to take hold in the SLL that contained the danger of a shift towards a national axis for its work. These were expressed in Healy’s 1966 document, Problems of the Fourth International, where he stated:

“The Socialist Labour League now shoulders an enormous responsibility―that of constructing the mass revolutionary party which will lead the working class to power. By doing so it will inspire revolutionists in all countries to build similar parties to do the same”.[2]

154. As David North later explained:

“The idea that the Fourth International would develop only as the by-product of the conquest of power in Britain was false. On the one hand, it rejected the dialectical interaction between the world crisis of imperialism, the international class struggle and their specific expression in Britain: on the other hand, it denied that the organisation of Marxists in any country is possible only as part of the world party of socialist revolution”.[3]

155. Healy also made a false appraisal of the roots of the degeneration of the SWP—the result of a subjective reaction to Cannon’s betrayal. He claimed that its causes lay not:

“…in the difficult conditions of the Cold War and the boom under which the SWP has been operating in the United States, especially since 1949, although these have played a role, but in the origin of the early Trotskyist movement…. Its founder, Trotsky, went through all the early political experiences of the pre-revolutionary Soviet Union, the revolution itself, when he led and organised the Red Army, the post-Lenin degeneration and the growth of the Soviet bureaucracy under Stalin.

His supporters in the USA and in other countries came mainly from those who entered the Communist movement after the foundation of the Third International in 1919. Their development was conditioned by the post-war World War I defeats of the working class outside the Soviet Union and the growth of Stalinism…. This was precisely the weakness of the Cannon-Trotsky combination”.[4]

156. Healy’s minimising of the impact of the post-war boom on the SWP, and his focus on subjective political and theoretical weaknesses to explain the emergence of opportunism, were in contrast to the analysis previously made by the SLL. Moreover, in crediting the degeneration of the SWP and the growth of revisionism to the supposedly “non-revolutionary” conditions out of which the Fourth International emerged, Healy was, however unconsciously, giving succour to those centrist tendencies that had opposed its founding on the grounds that a new International could only emerge as the product of a successful socialist revolution. Under conditions in which political differences were emerging within the International Committee, these conceptions were to have a negative impact.


Cited in Fourth International, March 1987, Vol. 14, No. 1.


Problems of the Fourth International (1966), cited in Gerry Healy and his place in the History of the Fourth International, David North (1991), Labor Publications, p. 47.


ibid. p. 49.


ibid. p. 48.