Socialist Equality Party (United States)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (United States)

Pablo’s Repudiation of Trotskyism

But in the course of 1949 there were signs that Pablo was shifting his position. He began to write of the transition from capitalism to socialism taking place through “centuries” of “deformed workers’ states” along the Stalinist model. In 1951, the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International passed a resolution supporting the theory of “war-revolution.” This theory held that the eruption of war between the United States and the Soviet Union would assume the form of a global civil war, in which the Soviet bureaucracy would be compelled to serve as midwife for social revolutions. The same year, Pablo published a document arguing, “For our movement objective social reality consists essentially of the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world.”[1]

Pablo’s analysis wrote off the class conflict, the independent interests of the working class, and, therefore, the historical necessity of the Fourth International. For him, the task of the Fourth International was to function as a pressure group within the existing Stalinist organizations. Pabloism extended the false claims made on behalf of the Stalinist bureaucracy to the bourgeois nationalist movements in the semi-colonial and underdeveloped countries. In place of a class analysis, Pablo spoke of “integration into the real mass movement.” In a report delivered to the Third World Congress of the FI in August-September 1951, he drew the conclusions of this perspective by declaring, “There is not now a single Trotskyist organization, which, either as a whole or in part, does not seriously, profoundly, concretely understand the necessity of subordinating all organizational considerations, of formal independence or otherwise, to real integration into the mass movement wherever it expresses itself in each country, or to integration in an important current of this movement which can be influenced.”[2]

The theoretical foundation of Pabloism was an objectivist method that repudiated the emphasis placed by the Marxist movement on the role of the party in the development of the world revolution. As was later explained:

The standpoint of objectivism is contemplation rather than revolutionary practical activity, of observation rather than struggle; it justifies what is happening rather than explains what must be done. This method provided the theoretical underpinnings for a perspective in which Trotskyism was no longer seen as the doctrine guiding the practical activity of a party determined to conquer power and change the course of history, but rather as a general interpretation of a historical process in which socialism would ultimately be realized under the leadership of nonproletarian forces hostile to the Fourth International. Insofar as Trotskyism was to be credited with any direct role in the course of events, it was merely as a sort of subliminal mental process unconsciously guiding the activities of Stalinists, neo-Stalinists, semi-Stalinists, and, of course, petty-bourgeois nationalists of one type or another.

Pabloism, in this sense, went way beyond a set of incorrect assessments, false prognoses and programmatic revisions. It attacked the whole foundation of scientific socialism and repudiated the central lessons abstracted by Marxists from the development of the class struggle over an entire century. The greatest conquest of Marxist theory in the twentieth century—the Leninist conception of the party—was undermined as Pablo called into question the necessity of the conscious element in the struggle of the proletariat and the historic realization of the proletarian dictatorship. For Pablo and his followers, there was no need to theoretically educate the working class and make it conscious of its historical tasks. It was not necessary to wage a struggle for Marxism against the domination of bourgeois ideology over the spontaneous movement of the working class...

The adaptation to Stalinism was a central feature of the new Pabloite outlook, but it would be mistaken to see this as its essential characteristic. Pabloism was (and is) liquidationism all down the line: that is, the repudiation of the hegemony of the proletariat in the socialist revolution and the genuinely independent existence of the Fourth International as the conscious articulation of the historical role of the working class...

The practical activity of the Trotskyist movement was no longer to be centrally directed toward educating the proletariat, making it conscious of its historic tasks, and establishing its unconditional programmatic and organizational independence from all other class forces. Nor was this activity to be based upon a scientific analysis of social relations of production and class forces, grounded in a historically-based confidence in the unique revolutionary role of the proletariat. Instead, work was to be reduced to the small change of tactical expediency, in which principled positions established over decades of struggle were to be surrendered in the vain hope of influencing the leaders of the existing Stalinist, Social-Democratic and bourgeois nationalist organizations and pushing them to the left.[3]

Acting on this perspective, Pablo, with the support of Mandel, sought to exploit his position as International Secretary of the Fourth International to compel entire national sections to liquidate themselves as independent organizations and enter the ranks of the Stalinist parties, a tactic they called entryism sui generis. The revisionists concluded that the concentration that had been placed on the building of sections of the Fourth International in every country had been mistaken. This position became the hallmark of a disastrous perspective that would be repeated many times, including by innumerable opportunist tendencies today. It is not possible to build revolutionary parties, they conclude, so one must look toward some other force that happens, at any given time, to be leading mass organizations, regardless of its history, program, and class basis.

The Pabloite tendency in the United States was led by Bert Cochran. It found support principally among a section of trade unionists inside the SWP, which reflected the pressures of anticommunism on the working class and the growth of a more conservative layer of workers that was benefiting from a rise in its standard of living. The Cochranites wanted to abandon any discussion of the split between Trotskyism and Stalinism, a position expressed in their infamous slogan, “Junk the Old Trotskyism.” Opposing the basic principle that socialist consciousness is historical consciousness, Cochran wrote in 1951, “while Trotsky was, in the immediate and most direct sense, the teacher and the leader of our movement, it does not at all follow from these two propositions that we will have much success in rallying workers to our banner by trying to straighten them out on the rights and wrongs of the Stalin-Trotsky fight, which has now receded into history...”[4] This call to forget about history meant, in fact, rejecting the perspective and principles represented in that history. Most of the Cochranites would eventually take their liquidationist perspective to its logical conclusion by making their way into the trade union bureaucracy and the Democratic Party.


David North, The Heritage We Defend, p. 185.


Cited in Ibid., p 193.


Ibid., pp. 188-91.


Cited in Ibid., p. 204.