David North
The Heritage We Defend

The Fourth International After the War

Some of Banda’s assertions are so fantastic that one would not be surprised to learn that he wrote parts of his “27 Reasons” under the influence of drugs. Out of the blue he claims, “The Second Congress of 1948 was noted for its myopic insistence that imperialism was still stable and Stalinism unshaken.” By whom was this noted?

This is the type of “one-liner” in which Banda specializes. A bizarre and provocative condemnation of the proceedings of an entire World Congress is pronounced without so much as an analysis of even a single contemporary document. We have already established that the preceding four years were dominated by a struggle against those revisionist elements within the Fourth International who rejected any perspective for socialist revolution.

A brief review of the “Manifesto of the Second Congress of the Fourth International” shows how it expressed its confidence in the “stability” of imperialism and “unshaken” strength of Stalinism: “Beneath its leaden crust, all the forces of decomposition within capitalism are continually at work. The system reels from social explosions which are leading to an international conflagration. The ‘highest’ stage of capitalist organization is revealed as the organization of bloody chaos, which places the communist revolution on the order of the day.”[1]

The document explained that

the power and wealth of the United States are carved out of the stagnation and decline of the rest of the capitalist world, this decline in turn reacts irrevocably against the United States. …

American economy, politics and culture show all the signs of an approaching crisis. The terrible burden of public debt devours the nation’s reserves. A raging fever of inflation, speculation, and unproductive investments, which always precedes a severe financial crisis, has gripped the nation.[2]

In a prophetic analysis of the world role of the United States, the “Manifesto” declared:

Just emerging from their provincialism, the American imperialists find themselves confronted with the task of protecting capital throughout the five continents. … British imperialism was able to maintain world supremacy through economic power alone. American imperialism is today obliged to equip mercenary armies in every country. The British capitalists, in their period of ascendancy, were able to corrupt their own working class movement with crumbs from their world profits. But Yankee imperialism in the period of capitalist decline cannot establish world domination without completely militarizing its own country and housebreaking its own proletariat. That is why the world offensive of American imperialism serves, at the same time, to educate the American proletariat in world politics. The forces liberated by the American crisis will line up in direct opposition to Wall Street’s imperialist policy. The American working class will find itself for the first time face to face with its communist destiny.[3]

On the question of Stalinism, the congress was obliged to make its first accounting of the implications of the extension of Soviet influence into Eastern Europe. This issue soon provided the impulse for a controversy within the Fourth International out of which Pablo’s fundamental revisions of Trotskyism arose.

In retrospect, it is now possible to detect in certain formulations faint signals of the developing differences which were to erupt five years later. (Similarly, following the outbreak of World War I and the betrayal of the Second International, Lenin retrospectively appreciated the revisionist implications of certain formulations employed by Kautsky in documents whose orthodoxy had been previously accepted by the Bolsheviks.)

However, the delegates to the Second Congress were equipped neither with crystal balls nor Geiger counters. The analysis of Stalinism was fundamentally correct. The “Manifesto” stressed the contradictions underlying the growth of Stalinist influence in the period following the war.

Viewing the results of the bureaucracy’s expansion, some short-sighted petty bourgeois “theoreticians,” who have long ago lost all faith in the proletarian revolution, marvel at the “successes” of “Stalinist realism.” “Haven’t the nationalizations been extended to all of Eastern Europe?” they say.

Others, mortally frightened by the “increasing strength” of Stalinism, see in it the representative of a new monstrous exploiting society headed for world domination. The hysteria of both sides is strangely in harmony with Stalinist propaganda, the product of the most vulgar impressionism.

Stalin’s “socialist conquests” in Eastern Europe were in reality conceded to him at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam. In exchange for these “conquests” Stalin betrayed the August 1942 uprising in India, ordered the disarming of the partisans in Greece, delivered the mass movement in France to de Gaulle, returned the tottering bourgeoisie to power in all the countries of Western Europe and helped crush the German proletariat.

By his infamous practices of dismantling, looting, deportation and terror, Stalin succeeded in arousing even within the world labor movement, deep feelings of hostility toward the Soviet Union such as Hitler had never been able to produce. This is the impressive balance sheet of Stalinist “victories.”…

Stalin has utilized the breathing spell he gained for the most abominable crimes. Whatever may be his further successes, he is rushing headlong to his ruin.[4]

Rejecting the claim that the sole alternative to imperialism is Stalinism, the “Manifesto” asserted:

The power of Stalinism in the working class is a product of the material power of its apparatus combined with the revolutionary tradition of the past which it still represents in the eyes of the broad masses. As Engels pointed out a century ago, tradition represents one of the greatest forces for inertia in history, to wrest from Stalinism the leadership of the working class, it is necessary to begin where the Social Democracy and the Communist Party left off. It is necessary to build powerful workers’ organizations. It is necessary to educate a new generation of revolutionary worker cadres, who through numerous successive experiences in struggle, will succeed in rooting themselves in the working class and gaining its respect and confidence. It is necessary to build a genuine party which, through ever wider activities, will eventually appear in all mass movements as the real alternative to the bankrupt leaderships. By relying firmly on its revolutionary program, by orienting itself toward the most exploited layers of society, by maintaining complete confidence in the profoundly revolutionary combat power of the proletariat—that is how the Fourth International will finally destroy the obstacle of Stalinism within the working class movement.[5]

This perspective was a far cry from the revisionist program with which Pablo later sought to liquidate the cadre of the Fourth International into the Stalinist machine. The scope of the political transformation that was to occur in the line of the Fourth International, and the speed with which it developed, demonstrates the necessity of a historical materialist analysis of objective changes in social relations on a world scale and their political reflection inside the Trotskyist movement.

In another reference to the Second Congress, Banda makes the extraordinary claim, “On the central issue of Israel the FI did not oppose the creation of the Zionist enclave and call for its overthrow but—bowing to Mandel’s Zionist proclivities—called disarmingly for the restriction of immigration, a demand readily supported by Stalinists and Labour Lefts.”

In fact, the Fourth International consistently opposed the formation of a Zionist state in the Middle East. This was one of the issues which divided the SWP from the Shachtmanites and Felix Morrow. Though it had tirelessly campaigned for the unlimited entry of Jews into the United States during World War II, the SWP opposed Jewish emigration to Arab Palestine, on the grounds that it would be used to create an anti-Arab imperialist beachhead. Morrow denounced the position of the SWP, echoing the concessions made by Shachtman to Zionism.

A resolution passed at the Second Congress declared:

The Fourth International rejects as utopian and reactionary the “Zionist solution,” of the Jewish question. It declares that a total renunciation of Zionism is the sine qua non condition for the merging of Jewish workers’ struggles with the social, national and liberationist struggles of the Arab toilers. It declares that to demand Jewish immigration into Palestine is thoroughly reactionary just as it is reactionary to call for immigration of any oppressor people into colonial countries in general. It holds that the question of immigration as well as the relations between Jews and Arabs can be decided adequately only after imperialism has been ousted by a freely elected Constituent Assembly with full rights for the Jews as a national minority.[6]

There are innumerable articles to be found in the pages of The Militant and other publications of the Fourth International specifically condemning Zionism and the goal of a Jewish state in Palestine. Moreover, the Fourth International’s rejection of Jewish immigration in April 1948—just one month before the proclamation of the state of Israel—placed it in unambiguous opposition to the central demand of the Zionists as they completed plans to establish a beachhead for US imperialism in the Middle East.

The reference to Mandel’s “Zionist proclivities” in 1948 has no factual basis, unless Banda is deducing these “proclivities” from Mandel’s family ancestry. It is a libel to suggest that the Fourth International would base its political line on such personal “proclivities,” were one even to assume that they existed.

Banda then attempts to make a meal out of the entry of the Johnson-Forrest tendency into the SWP, after it had broken with Shachtman’s Workers Party: “State capitalism, again on Mandel’s insistence, was declared to be compatible with Trotskyism. This was an outrageous repudiation of Trotsky’s crucial struggle against Burnham-Shachtman.”

It was no such thing. Like any other event in the history of the Fourth International, this particular episode cannot be understood outside of its political context. As anyone who has read the documents of the 1939–40 struggle knows, Trotsky explicitly opposed making a splitting issue out of Shachtman’s position on the class nature of the USSR. He insisted that a minority could hold such a position within the Fourth International as long as it was prepared to abide by the democratic-centralist discipline of the organization. Shachtman refused to accept this condition and split from the SWP.

As we have already noted, that split was of a fundamental character. The opposing class tendencies and their irreconcilable differences on theoretical, political and organizational issues were brought out into the open. However, the split in 1940 did not simply settle for all time the problem of Shachtmanism in the labor movement, especially in the United States. The Shachtmanites continued to insist that they adhered to the Fourth International. The abortive “unity discussions” between 1945 and 1948 were decisive in establishing that Shachtman, despite his claims to the contrary, represented a tendency hostile to Trotskyism.

During the maneuvering which accompanied those discussions, there is no question that the SWP made a number of tactical errors which no doubt reflected a degree of theoretical confusion within its leadership. There was a potentially dangerous tendency to place too much credibility on the claims made by Shachtman that unity could be achieved once outstanding organizational problems were resolved.

In February 1947, a resolution was presented to the SWP National Committee, drafted by Cannon, Morris Stein and George Clarke, indicating that unity with the Workers Party was imminent. It accepted Shachtman’s claim that his organization was prepared, “without qualifications or conditions, to accept the decisions of the extraordinary party convention projected for the coming fall and to obey its discipline politically as well as organizationally.”[7]

Within weeks, however, it became clear that the supposed “left turn” by the Shachtmanites toward the acceptance of a principled unity had been incorrectly evaluated by the SWP. As Cannon admitted:

I consider that I and some others did make an error to this extent, that the turn made by the Shachtmanites in February was taken too much at face value and that sufficient allowance was not made for a zigzag in the other direction. … not sufficient allowance was made for the petty-bourgeois centrist nature of this group and that their turn to the left was not taken with the necessary reserves and cautions and anticipation of another zigzag to the right.[8]

At its plenum in February 1948, the SWP recorded the collapse of all unity talks with the Workers Party with a statement which declared:

The rejection of the road to unity confronts the members of the WP either with the prospect of a revisionist future without perspective or a return to the doctrines of revolutionary Marxism and the Movement. Those who wish to build a genuine revolutionary workers’ party in the country along Trotskyist lines have no choice but to quit this bankrupt petty-bourgeois group and join the ranks of the SWP.[9]

Reviewing this entire experience with the Shachtmanites, the Second World Congress of the Fourth International concluded, “The WP is at the present stage a politically hostile formation to the SWP and the International, and the impossibility of unity flows above all from the magnitude of the political differences. Not ‘unity’ with the WP but its removal from the path of the proletarian party’s progress is the task.”[10]

The manner in which the SWP approached the problem of unity with the Shachtmanites in 1945–47 was the complete opposite of the method employed by Joseph Hansen and the SWP a decade and a half later in relation to the Pabloites. The error noted and corrected by Cannon in 1947—“not sufficient allowance was made for the petty bourgeois centrist nature of this group”—was repeated and even made a virtue. In 1961–63, the SWP insisted on organizational unity prior to political discussion and clarification of the outstanding differences.

C.L.R. James (Johnson) and Raya Dunayevskaya (Forrest) broke with the Shachtmanites to join the SWP. These two leaders of a small faction had been members of the Fourth International prior to the 1940 split, and though they went with Shachtman, they later developed differences over his fervent endorsement of the IKD’s “Three Theses.”

It is true that two years later they both deserted the SWP over the Korean War, but to call this mini-mini split a “lamentable price” which proves “The entire Trotskyist heritage was being dumped three years before the arch-revisionist Pablo appeared on the scene” is absurd. Banda would have a point only if the SWP had capitulated to the Johnson-Forrest tendency with the outbreak of the Korean War. As it so happens, they made little headway with their views inside the SWP.

Moreover, the outbreak of the Korean War was the major postwar event which put the state capitalists to the test and decisively exposed them as apologists for imperialism within the workers’ movement. By 1950, the implications of Trotsky’s warnings were fully realized, above all in the fate of Shachtman himself.

Despite his personal devotion to Trotsky, the logic of his uncorrected petty-bourgeois political and methodological positions led to his transformation into an instrument of alien class forces and, ultimately, into a counterrevolutionary. Even though this evolution had been predicted and theoretically anticipated, it was still necessary for the Fourth International to pass through a series of additional experiences after 1940, just as Lenin and the Bolsheviks had to pass through many different experiences—including joint dissolution of factions, unity congresses, etc.—after the “historically-decisive” split of 1903.

Banda’s treatment of all these episodes reflects his own petty-bourgeois position. He cannot rise above subjective evaluations and anecdotal descriptions to the level of an analysis of social relations and the objective development of the class struggle, outside of which the evolution of factions, tendencies and their individual representatives cannot be understood.

There is another stunning revelation made by Banda which supposedly exposes Cannon’s diabolical betrayal, “After the Second Congress there was a systematic campaign waged by the SWP in collaboration with Healy to create a cult of Pablo and Mandel as the political executors of Trotsky—if not the greatest living political geniuses and strategists.” What is the source of this astonishing information?

In a discussion with myself and the late P.K. Roy of the Indian section, the late Farrell Dobbs candidly admitted that the SWP consciously built up Pablo as the living embodiment of Trotskyism because they feared the death of Trotsky had left a void which had to be filled up! This was the essence of the theoretical bankruptcy of the SWP—and of the whole FI leadership—and the most cogent proof of the pragmatism which had doomed the SWP. … The creation of a cult figure in Pablo was itself the corollary to the dogmatizing of Trotskyism by the SWP.

The two interlocutors mentioned by Banda are conveniently dead and cannot contradict his version of events. But it is so ludicrous as not to even merit serious attention. Cheap psychology is offered as a substitute for political analysis: Cannon “built up” Pablo to fill the “void” left by Trotsky. We know of no documents, not to mention monuments and icons, which substantiate the existence of this peculiar equivalent of the “cult of the personality” inside the Fourth International. In fact, it never existed. We cannot deal with the content of Banda’s supposed discussion with men who are no longer among the living. The history of the Trotskyist movement must be based on a study of the written record, and not upon some sort of oral tradition and factionally-tainted recollections.

On several occasions, Cannon spoke directly of the significance of Trotsky’s death, always to oppose those, like Felix Morrow and other right-wingers and open enemies of the movement, who suggested that the fate of the Fourth International rested upon one man, even if that man was a genius like Trotsky. His most direct statement on this subject came at an SWP plenum in May 1946:

We have seen a conception grow in our party, and not only in our party, since the death of Trotsky, that what can save the Fourth International, the only thing that can save it, is to find a messiah somewhere. That is, collective work, in the process of which mistakes are corrected and the right answers are found, that the strict adherence to the program and the collaboration between party members, the election of functioning leadership in parties and the collaboration between the leaders of one party and another in an international center, that that cannot suffice. We must have somebody who stands above that and leads in his personal capacity as an individual. That is the messianic complex. That has been at the bottom of all the grumbling we have heard for years, ever since the death of Trotsky.

We heard it for the first time openly in the Fifteenth Anniversary Plenum, two and one-half years ago. “Cannon does not replace Trotsky”—which is hardly an exaggerated statement. But behind that statement—“Cannon does not take the place of Trotsky”—lurks the feeling, somebody must take the place of Trotsky. We said, the International on an international scale must take the place of Trotsky because Trotskys don’t grow on trees. And at the bottom of this assertion of self-misled individuals there lurks a feeling that perhaps they have been touched by the holy fire, there lurks a lack of confidence in the collective ability of the party to lead itself and to forge its leadership. That is wrong from beginning to end.

And the pretensions of these people who set themselves up above the party, above the international leadership appointed by the conference—their pretensions do not accord with reality. We are living in a different stage of the development of the Fourth International. We are living in the post-Trotsky stage. Five years, six years nearly now, since the death of Trotsky, and the whole thing, the whole international movement, has readjusted itself to the necessities of this new period. What do we have? We have the ideas of Trotsky and we have the cadres that were created by these ideas, and with that we are working and living with confidence in the future.[11]

Cannon did not “build up” Pablo to fill a void—because he did not believe that a void existed in the Fourth International. In the 1940s and into the 1950s, Cannon still had confidence in the power of the ideas which had been left behind by Trotsky, and he was convinced that the “men of common clay” who worked with these ideas could build the Fourth International and lead, under its banner, the world socialist revolution.

It is, of course, true that Cannon sought to encourage Pablo in the late 1940s, as he himself had been encouraged by Trotsky. Cannon often spoke and wrote of Trotsky’s exceptional tact and patience in his dealings with the international movement. This approach, for which there is a great deal to be said, undoubtedly influenced Cannon.

There is also evidence that he was inclined to forgive certain errors committed by Pablo in the 1940s, such as his unfortunate intervention in the early stages of the Morrow-Goldman faction fight, which Cannon initially attributed to the younger man’s lack of experience. Somewhat later, in the 1950s, in his response to Renard’s plea over the bureaucratic actions of Pablo, with which we shall deal later on, Cannon was guilty of a serious political mistake.

But all these developments must be examined objectively, which requires, at the very least, honesty. Unfortunately, this last quality is not to be found in Banda. In the period following World War II, there existed a principled basis for collaboration between Cannon and the leadership of the IEC, represented by Pablo and Germain (Mandel). The fact that irreconcilable differences emerge out of even the oldest and closest alliances is by no means proof that the relationship was wrong from the outset and unprincipled.

In the historical evolution of every genuine revolutionary movement, political relations are constantly reevaluated and redefined. The development of Marxism does not invalidate this process, but gives to its participants the possibility of consciously evaluating these objective transformations as they occur, tracing their class origins and political implications, and, if possible, avoiding irreparable splits, or, if necessary, carrying them through with ruthless decisiveness.


The Militant, 28 June 1948.






The Militant, 5 July 1948.


The Militant, 26 July 1948.


Second World Congress of the Fourth International, “Struggles of the Colonial Peoples and the World Revolution,” Fourth International, July 1948, p. 157.


James P. Cannon, The Struggle for Socialism in the “American Century”: James P. Cannon, Writings and Speeches, 1945–47, ed. Les Evans (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977), p. 329.


Ibid., p. 421.


SWP Internal Bulletin, vol. 10, no. 3, May 1948, p. 3.


Ibid., p. 4.


Cannon, Struggle for Socialism, pp. 239–40.