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

The SLL’s Defense of Trotskyism

These developments intensified the political conflict within the International Committee. In a letter dated January 2, 1961, the Socialist Labour League, the British section of the ICFI, wrote to the SWP leadership:

The greatest danger confronting the revolutionary movement is liquidationism, flowing from a capitulation either to the strength of imperialism or of the bureaucratic apparatuses in the Labour movement, or both. Pabloism represents, even more clearly now than in 1953, this liquidationist tendency in the international Marxist movement...

Any retreat from the strategy of political independence of the working class and the construction of revolutionary parties will take on the significance of a world-historical blunder on the part of the Trotskyist movement...

It is because of the magnitude of the opportunities opening up before Trotskyism, and therefore the necessity for political and theoretical clarity, that we urgently require a drawing of the lines against revisionism in all its forms. It is time to draw to a close the period in which Pabloite revisionism was regarded as a trend within Trotskyism. Unless this is done we cannot prepare for the revolutionary struggles now beginning.[1]

In May 1961 the SLL expanded its critique of the SWP’s retreat from Trotskyism and its ever-more pronounced adaptation to the myriad bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist tendencies that dominated the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements. The line of the SWP, as the SLL documents established, represented a repudiation of the conceptions elaborated by Trotsky in his Theory of Permanent Revolution:

An essential of revolutionary Marxism in this epoch is the theory that the national bourgeoisie in under-developed countries is incapable of defeating imperialism and establishing an independent national state. This class has ties with imperialism and it is of course incapable of an independent capitalist development, for it is part of the capitalist world market and cannot compete with the products of the advanced countries...

While it is true that the stage of ‘independence’ reached by countries like Ghana, and the national independence movements led by men like Mboya of Kenya, acts as a stimulant to national liberation movements in other countries, the fact remains that Nkrumah, Mboya, Nasser, Kassem, Nehru, Soekarno, and their like, represent the national bourgeoisie of their own countries. The dominant imperialist policy-makers both in the USA and Britain recognize full well that only by handing over political ‘independence’ to leaders of this kind, or accepting their victory over feudal elements like Farouk and Nuries-Said, can the stakes of international capital and the strategic alliances be preserved in Asia, Africa, and Latin America...

It is not the job of Trotskyists to boost the role of such nationalist leaders. They can command the support of the masses only because of the betrayal of leadership by Social-Democracy and particularly Stalinism, and in this way they become buffers between imperialism and the mass of workers and peasants. The possibility of economic aid from the Soviet Union often enables them to strike a harder bargain with the imperialists, even enables more radical elements among the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaders to attack imperialist holdings and gain further support from the masses. But, for us, in every case the vital question is one of the working class in these countries gaining political independence through a Marxist party, leading the poor peasantry to the building of Soviets, and recognizing the necessary connections with the international socialist revolution. In no case, in our opinion, should Trotskyists substitute for that the hope that the nationalist leadership should become socialists. The emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves.[2]

On the question of Cuba, the SLL added:

Much of the current discussion on Cuba, it seems, proceeds in this way: The Cuban masses support Castro; Castro began as a petty-bourgeois but has become a socialist; the public pressure of imperialist attack and of popular struggle may turn him into a Marxist, and already the tasks confronting him in defending the gains of the revolution have brought him ‘naturally’ to positions indistinguishable from Trotskyism. In this approach, the fundamentals of Marxism are trampled upon...[W]e have to evaluate political tendencies on a class basis, on the way they develop in struggle in relation to the movement of classes over long periods. A proletarian party, let alone a proletarian revolution, will not be born in any backward country by the conversion of petty-bourgeois nationalists who stumble ‘naturally’ and ‘accidentally’ upon the importance of workers and peasants.[3]


Letter of the National Committee of the SLL to the National Committee of the SWP January 2, 1961, in Trotskyism Versus Revisionism Volume Three (London: New Park, 1974) pp. 48-49.


The Heritage We Defend, op. cit., pp. 377-9.


Ibid., p. 379.