David North
The Heritage We Defend

The Fourth International and the Yugoslav Revolution

Thus far, we have sought to answer and expose, in chronological sequence, point by point, Banda’s libelous diatribe against the Fourth International, the Socialist Workers Party and James P. Cannon. This has been necessary because Banda’s depiction of the Fourth International between the death of Trotsky in 1940 and the Third Congress in 1951 as an organization led by assorted political misfits and social miscreants is central to his fundamental thesis that “Pablo never destroyed the FI because the FI had not been built. The FI of Pablo, Cannon and Healy was a surrogate international, a historical accident and the misbegotten product of an unprincipled alliance shot through with opportunism and political double-talk. …”

The history of the Trotskyist movement must first of all be studied as an objective social process whose internal battles are a concentrated expression of the development of the class struggle itself. What is common to Banda and all his co-renegades inside the Workers Revolutionary Party is that while they belittle the split with Pablo and denounce Cannon’s “Open Letter,” none of them even attempts an objective study of the class forces represented in this struggle.

As for Banda, he combines a blatant falsification of the social content of the split with a wildly subjective interpretation of the origins of revisionism within the Fourth International. Cannon and Healy, he claims, “first of all deliberately created a Frankenstein Monster in the form of Pablo” and then issued the “Open Letter” “in the most arbitrary and hasty manner to give themselves an alibi for their own incredible political skulduggery.”

Banda explains everything from the standpoint of the subjective intentions of various individuals. Pablo’s rise, as well as his fall, was the product of sinister maneuvers plotted by evil conspirators operating behind the scenes. Banda never bothers to examine the actual interconnected process of changes in the objective situation and struggles within the Fourth International underlying the development of Pabloite revisionism. But such an analysis is the fundamental duty of a dialectical materialist, who, as Marx wrote, must study the “ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict [in the economic foundation of society] and fight it out.”[1]

No Frankenstein theory of history can serve as a substitute for, let alone replace, historical materialism. We propose to briefly review the actual development of the theoretical struggles which ultimately erupted in 1953 at a very crucial stage in the crisis of world Stalinism. Whatever its political limitations—which reflected the severe crisis which was then wracking the Fourth International and the SWP—Cannon’s “Open Letter” saved the Trotskyist movement from the imminent danger of complete liquidation. Banda once understood this, for he wrote in 1974: “In this tense and impossible situation a split was inevitable and Cannon’s ‘open letter’ in December [sic] 1953 which denounced the International Secretariat for its treacherous role on the East Berlin uprising of June 1953, the French General Strike and the post-Stalin manoeuvres of the Kremlin leaders, met with a unanimous response from his supporters around the world.”[2]

Now Banda refers to the “Open Letter” as an “epistle from the philistines of ‘orthodox Trotskyism,’ ” a phrase that underscores his present thoroughgoing hatred of the principles upon which the Fourth International is based. Despite all his distortions of the 1953 split, a careful analysis of Banda’s document makes clear that he has gone over entirely to theoretical and political positions which have been historically identified with Pabloite revisionism.

This is made explicit when he declares that “the most cogent proof of the world movement’s bankruptcy—Trotsky had sown dragon’s teeth and reaped fleas”—was “the total failure of the FI to appreciate: (a) The military-bureaucratic changes in E. Europe until 1950 and the defeat of fascism by the Red Army, (b) The world-historical significance of the Chinese, Yugoslav and Indo-Chinese revolutions.”

Banda never expands upon nor clarifies the political content of this attack. Aside from asserting that the defeats of imperialism in Eastern Europe and Asia provided the “most cogent proof” of the failure of the Fourth International, Banda does not explain, even in outline form, the objective significance of these events and their relation to the historical development of the Fourth International. The impression which a reader not familiar with the history of the Fourth International might draw from Banda’s sketchy remarks is that the Trotskyist movement either ignored these great post-World War II developments or was incapable of understanding them.

In fact, not only were all these events exhaustively analyzed by the Fourth International, they provided the objective ground out of which the political and theoretical divisions which led ultimately to the split in 1953 arose. The basic claim of Pabloite revisionism, now echoed by Banda, was that the theoretical premises of Trotskyism had been irrevocably shattered by the revolutionary role supposedly played by Stalinism in Eastern Europe and Asia. The very fact that Banda says so little on this subject can only mean that he takes for granted, and assumes that everyone else does, that Trotskyism was refuted by Stalinism and its offshoots, Titoism and Maoism, in the 1940s.

Banda never states what it was that the Fourth International failed to appreciate in its analysis of the postwar social transformations in Eastern Europe and Asia. Based on the “successes” of Stalinism during this period—the conquest of power in Yugoslavia and the bureaucratic liquidation of capitalism in Eastern Europe—Pablo endowed the Soviet bureaucracy with the decisive historical role in the ultimate victory of socialism. Pablo rejected Trotsky’s conception of Stalinism as a parasitic excrescence of the first workers’ state: a historically-transient aberration produced by a specific combination of economic and political circumstances, rooted in the backwardness of Russia, that arose after the 1917 revolution. He elevated Stalinism to the level of a historical necessity, destined to fulfill its role as the revolutionary midwife of socialism over a period of centuries!

Pablo did not produce his revisions of Trotskyism overnight. They emerged gradually over a number of years, reflecting changes in the relations between class forces on a world scale and his own increasingly impressionistic response to these developments. Banda’s reference to the Trotskyist movement’s supposed inability to appreciate the significance of developments in Eastern Europe “until 1950” repeats the Pabloite allegation that the Fourth International, blinded by “orthodoxy” (what Banda refers to as “the dogmatizing of Trotskyism by the SWP”), was unable to recognize or admit that Stalinism was capable of overthrowing capitalism and creating workers’ states.

In studying the response of the Fourth International to the upheavals in Eastern Europe and Asia, it must be remembered that the conclusion of the second imperialist war in 1945 set into motion a protracted process of social transformations that did not permit immediate and definitive evaluations. The fact that the Fourth International did not arrive at the conclusion that deformed workers’ states had been established in Eastern Europe until 1950–51 is no cause for an indictment headed by the words, “The Fourth International failed to appreciate. …”

There existed no grounds for concluding, prior to 1948, that workers’ states of any sort had been established in Eastern Europe. Not until the implementation of the Marshall Plan and the exertion of immense pressure by US imperialism against the Soviet Union did the Kremlin take the first steps toward liquidating the bourgeoisie in Eastern Europe.

When the Fourth International held its Second Congress in April 1948, in the midst of changes whose outcome was not yet clear, it correctly maintained that capitalism had not been destroyed in the “buffer zone.” The resolution of the Second Congress, “The World Situation and the Tasks of the Fourth International,” stated:

24. In the “buffer” countries the state remains bourgeois:

a) Because the state structure remains bourgeois; nowhere has the old bureaucratic state machine been destroyed. The Stalinists have merely taken the place of the decisive layers in the bourgeois state apparatus.

b) Because the function of the state remains bourgeois. Whereas the workers’ state defends the collective ownership of the means of production, arising from a victorious socialist revolution, the state of the “buffer” countries defends property which, despite its diverse and hybrid forms, remains fundamentally bourgeois in character. …

Thus, while maintaining bourgeois function and structure, the state of the “buffer” countries represents at the same time an extreme form of Bonapartism. The Stalinist state apparatus has acquired a great degree of independence in relation to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, not alone owing to the balance between and the growing prostration of both these classes; but, above all, owing to its intimate ties with the Soviet state apparatus and the overwhelming weight of the latter in Eastern Europe, amid the existing world relation of forces.[3]

The FI declared its opposition to any attempt by the bourgeoisie and the imperialists to restore the old regime: “In the case of any reactionary restorationist coups d’etat, led by imperialist agents, they must mobilize the proletariat in order to resort to action and crush the forces which can only establish a bloody fascist dictatorship in the country (as in Greece). …

“In the event of an armed attack of bourgeois reaction against the present regime, it will mobilize the working class against the bourgeoisie.”[4]

Within a few months of the congress, the crisis of Stalinism erupted with the open breach between Tito and Stalin. The Fourth International and the Socialist Workers Party had been carefully studying the development of the Yugoslav revolution since 1942, attempting to analyze the objective significance of each stage of its development.

Unlike the Eastern European buffer states, the decisive struggle against German imperialism and its native bourgeois collaborators was waged in Yugoslavia by the mass partisan movement under the leadership of the Communist Party. The exigencies of the military struggle compelled Tito to repeatedly go beyond the limits which Stalin sought to impose upon the conduct of the war against the bourgeois collaborators.

Against the will and instructions of Stalin, Tito’s partisan war unfolded simultaneously as a savage class struggle against the bourgeoisie and its principal military forces (Mihailovich’s Chetniks). With 300,000 fighters under his command, Tito liberated huge areas of the country and established popular organs of rule. A coalition government with the bourgeoisie in 1944 (the agreement with Subasich), supported by Stalin and the imperialists, lasted only a year. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia, enjoying mass popular support, took power into its own hands and carried through vast economic transformations, over the next three years, based on the nationalization of industry and trade.

If the Fourth International did not immediately proclaim that a workers’ state had been established in Yugoslavia, there existed crucial theoretical questions which had to be clarified before such a designation could be made. The greatest pressure for leaping to political conclusions about the nature of the state in Yugoslavia and the other buffer countries came from those who eventually arrived, via new sociological definitions, at revisionist political conclusions.

Nevertheless, the Fourth International responded to the Kremlin’s attack on Tito with a powerful and principled defense of the Yugoslav revolution. The Fourth International understood the objective significance of what was occurring far more profoundly than any other tendency on the face of the earth.

An examination of the documents issued by the Fourth International on the questions raised by Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe is especially worthwhile because it illustrates the enormous concern given to such fundamental theoretical issues as the nature of state power and the content of the proletarian dictatorship—problems which were to be later ignored or handled with the crudest empiricism by Hansen in relation to Cuba. But in 1948, no one in the Fourth International, except Jock Haston, was satisfied with the yardstick of common sense (i.e., “It looks like a workers’ state, therefore it is a workers’ state”) to proclaim that the dictatorship of the proletariat existed in Yugoslavia.

On July 13, 1948, the Fourth International addressed a letter to the leadership and membership of the Yugoslav Communist Party from which we will quote at length. It examined the political alternatives available to the Tito leadership in the face of the direct threats of the Kremlin.

The first road open to you would be to consider that despite the serious injuries dealt you by the leaders of the Russian Communist Party, it is above all necessary today, in the present world situation, to maintain a complete monolithic unity with the policies and ideology of the Russian Communist Party. There are certainly members in your midst who will propose such a course and will even suggest that it is preferable, under these conditions, to make a public apology and a declaration accepting the “criticism” of the Cominform, even to change your leadership, and wait for a “better occasion” to defend your particular conceptions within the “big communist family.”

Such a decision would be in our opinion an irreparable and tragic error and would do the greatest damage not only to your own party and your own working class but to the international proletariat and communist movement, above all to the workers in the USSR. …

A second road will be certainly suggested, consisting essentially of retiring into Yugoslavia, repelling the attacks and the eventual violence and provocations of the Cominform and its agents, and attempting to “build socialism” in your own country, while concluding trade relations with the powers of Eastern Europe as well as with those of the imperialist West. We will not conceal from you, Comrades, that we consider this second road just as pernicious as the first.

It is completely utopian to think it possible to “maneuver” during a whole period between the USSR and the USA without being subject during this same period to a growing pressure from these two giants. The success of “maneuvers” depends in the final analysis on the relationship of forces, and, on the plane of economic, political and military power, the relationship of forces is obviously not in your favor. American imperialism will gladly make some advances to you for that would increase the weight of its arguments in its conversations with Moscow. But what it is looking for basically is not to support you against the USSR but to conclude a compromise with Russia, if necessary at your expense. Not only would the present leaders of the Russian Communist Party have no hesitation about accepting such a compromise, but they would even work furiously to create the greatest economic difficulties for you so as to force you to capitulate or to surrender completely to Yankee imperialism, in order thereby to “demonstrate” to world working-class opinion that every rupture with Moscow signifies going over to the “American camp.” …

Finally, there remains the third road, the most difficult, bristling with the most obstacles, the genuine communist road for the Yugoslav party and proletariat. This road is the road of return to the Leninist conception of socialist revolution, of return to a world strategy of class struggle. It must start, in our opinion, with a clear understanding of the fact that the Yugoslav revolutionary forces can only become stronger and consolidate their positions thanks to the conscious support of the working masses of their own country and of the entire world. It means above all to understand that the decisive force on the world arena is neither imperialism with its resources and arms, nor the Russian state with its formidable apparatus. The decisive force is the immense army of workers, of poor peasants and of colonial peoples, whose revolt against their exploiters is steadily rising, and who need only a conscious leadership, a suitable program of action and an effective organization in order to bring the enormous task of world socialist revolution to a successful conclusion.

We do not presume to offer you a blueprint. We understand the tremendous difficulties which you must contend with in a poorly equipped country which has been devastated by war. We desire only to point out to you what are, in our opinion, the main lines through which to concretize this international revolutionary policy—the only policy which will enable you to hold out while waiting for new struggles of the masses, to stimulate them and to conquer with them.

To commit oneself to this road means, especially in Yugoslavia itself, to base oneself openly and completely on the revolutionary dynamics of the masses. The Front committees must be organs which are genuinely elected by the workers of city and country, arising from a tightly knit system of workers and of poor farmers.

They must become genuine state organs and must take the place of the present hybrid organs which are relics of the bourgeois state apparatus. They must be the organs of Soviet democracy, in which all workers will have the right to express their opinions and their criticisms without reservation and without fear of reprisal. The right of workers to organize other workers’ parties must be laid down as a principle, subject only to the condition that they take their place within the framework of Soviet legality. The present hybrid constitution must be revised and a new one, taking its inspiration from the Leninist constitution of 1921, must be set up by an assembly of delegates from the workers’ and poor peasants’ committees.

These decisive political changes must be conceived as the end result of a real mass mobilization, to be brought about by your party through carrying these Leninist ideas into the most distant villages of your country, explaining the differences between the Soviet state and other state forms, and the superiority of the former type. That is the way Lenin did it in 1917, with the greatest simplicity. A vast campaign of reeducation must be started, together with a period of discussion and of unhampered expression of opinion by the workers. The latter will express their criticisms of the present state of affairs in their assemblies. The party will finally know, directly, what the real aspirations of the masses are, and will obtain the constructive suggestions of the working-class masses, whose vast creative energy is the surest guarantee of socialism. Your party has nothing to fear from such a development. The confidence of the masses in it will grow enormously and it will become the effective collective expression of the interests and desires of the proletariat of its country.

It will not be enough, however, to reestablish the complete sovereignty of the committees, to change the standing army into a genuine workers’ and peasants’ militia, to replace appointed judges with those elected by the masses, to reestablish and firmly maintain the principle of payment of functionaries on the basis of the average wages of a skilled worker. The problem of the revolutionary transformation of your country is essentially an economic one, in which the question of the peasantry takes first place.

There is but one Leninist way to approach this problem: to seek support from the poor and exploited layers of the country and to be careful not to violate the laws whereby your economy functions, but on the contrary to utilize them in the interests of socialism. The land must be nationalized and a struggle waged against the concentration of income and property in the hands of the kulaks. But these measures cannot be made solely by administrative means, neither by decrees nor by force. What is necessary is that the immense majority of the peasants must view it as in their own interests. For this, a review of the Five Year Plan and the relations between agriculture and industry is necessary. …

No group of spetzes [specialists] can ascertain mathematically the real equilibrium between the needs of the workers, those of the peasants, and the capital needs of the economy, upon which equilibrium depends the harmonious planning and development of the country. It is essential that the masses be induced to participate as actively as possible in the work of planning, that the greatest heed be paid to their complaints, and that the needs expressed by them be the primary factor in planning.

Complete sovereignty of the factory committees must be established in the plants, and genuine workers’ control of production must be instituted. The trade unions must be granted their real function, which is to defend the interests of the workers, even against the Soviet State if necessary, as Lenin repeatedly asserted. In a word it is necessary to give the workers and poor peasants the clear feeling that they are the masters in the country, and that the state and the progress of the economy are in direct correspondence with their own interests. …

Your possibilities for action along the road of genuine Leninism disclose themselves to be enormous. But your historical responsibility far surpasses everything which has been outlined above. …[5]

After explaining the historical background of the Fourth International and its persecution by the Russian Communist Party, the letter continued:

But all these crimes did not succeed in smashing the FOURTH INTERNATIONAL because nothing can smash genuine Leninism! Today it has sections in 35 different countries on all continents, consisting of battle-tested and experienced revolutionary Communist members who stand for what is best in their class. Although weak in material resources, its Second World Congress, held last April in Paris, demonstrated that it was strong in political cohesion, in program, and in its clear understanding of present-day reality. Today it is launching in all countries a vast campaign protesting against the bureaucratic measures which the Cominform has taken against you. It appeals to communist workers of all countries to send their delegations to Yugoslavia, in order to make a spot check of the real policy followed by your party. Tomorrow it will make your documents known in 20 different languages—for workers’ democracy is not just an idle phrase to the Fourth International, and a communist cannot permit a member to be judged without a hearing. It asks that you allow a delegation from our leadership to attend your Congress, in order to establish contact with the Yugoslav communist movement and to set up fraternal ties which can serve only the interests of the world communist revolution.[6]

This document deserves extensive quotation not only because of its prescience in evaluating the perspectives of the Yugoslav revolution. More significant is the stark contrast between the method of this document and that which was to become characteristic of Pablo’s later work. First and foremost, this open letter approached the Yugoslav developments from the standpoint of what it referred to as “a world strategy of class struggle.” In contrast to the later Pabloite claim that “objective reality consists essentially of the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world,” the 1948 document maintained, “The decisive force is the immense army of workers, of poor peasants and of colonial peoples.”

Based on this perspective, the document argued passionately for the defense of the Yugoslav revolution on the basis of proletarian internationalism. Also of great significance is the manner in which the content of the proletarian dictatorship and the struggle for socialism is conceptualized, if only in outline form, in this letter. At this point in their political work, both Mandel and Pablo were still attempting to base their analysis of the problems of the Yugoslav revolution on the theoretical conquests of Lenin and Trotsky.

Theory had not yet been degraded to the extent that a regime which carried out extensive nationalizations and expropriations was automatically designated a workers’ state. Emphasis was still placed on the political forms through which the dictatorship of the proletariat was realized and exercised.

Three weeks later, on August 3, 1948, the SWP Political Committee published its analysis of the Stalin-Tito split. The document effectively answers Banda’s claim that the Fourth International did not “appreciate” the significance of the struggles unfolding in Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe.

In reality the Yugoslav events have brought a confirmation of Trotsky’s analysis and prediction concerning the nature and ultimate fate of Stalinism, the most unstable and crisis-ridden regime in history. Stalinism lacks an independent class base of its own and, in protecting its own privileges and interests, it invariably comes into sharpest collision, in every sphere, with the interests and needs of the masses. The Stalinist regime is nothing else but a historical episode, a parasitic growth upon the workers’ state, a specific form of the degeneration of the October Revolution, a product of the isolation of the proletarian revolution in a backward country. …

The Yugoslav events provide definitive proof that the Kremlin’s expansion, far from resolving the contradictions of Stalinism, actually projects beyond the Russian frontiers the internal contradictions which convulse the regime at home. No sooner are these contradictions of the Stalinist regime projected outwardly than they tend to assume their most aggravated forms. …

The satellite countries are far from homogeneous. They have not eliminated the class struggle. From the economic standpoint, Yugoslavia does not differ radically from Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria or Albania. If Yugoslavia differs from them at all, it is in having advanced furthest along the road toward destroying capitalism. …

The most conscious proletarian elements in Yugoslavia, as in other satellite countries, are striving for a socialist solution. These socialist aspirations of the working class likewise run directly counter to the interests and policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy. …

The peculiarity of Yugoslav developments has been such as to preclude the complete handpicking of puppets, along the customary Stalinist pattern. Indeed, the Yugoslav Communist Party has undergone an independent development, even though in its internal regime and policies it hewed as closely as it could to its Russian prototype.

To cite two outstanding features of Yugoslav developments: 1. Unlike the native Russian bureaucracy or most of the other Stalinist leaderships in Europe, the Yugoslav CP actually led a successful civil war, applying class struggle methods, even if in a highly distorted form. 2. Under Tito, the leading Yugoslav cadres gained domination not with the aid of Russian bayonets, but through the mobilization of the Yugoslav masses around a program of social demands, in many instances of a revolutionary character.

This independent course of the Yugoslav development is one of the root sources of the long friction—and now the open break—between the Kremlin and Tito.

Revolutionists can only hail this development—this first rift in the ranks of world Stalinism which must unfold in open view of the world working class.

It is especially welcome to us because it throws into the full limelight the reactionary nature of Stalin’s regime, illuminating it in a manner which can be most easily understood by workers throughout the world, and in particular by the militants who are in the ranks of the Stalinist parties everywhere.

It brings out of the shadows and into the light of day the terrible internal contradictions of the Kremlin regime which are bound to lead to its downfall.

What is more, it confronts the rank and file of the Yugoslav CP and of Stalinist parties elsewhere with the need of reexamining the ideas and methods of Stalinism. Having said A, they must go on to say B. That is to say, they are bound by the logic of the situation to review and reexamine the entire past history of Stalinism, in the first instance, and of the quarter of a century of the life-and-death struggle of Trotskyism against Stalinism. …

The alternatives facing Yugoslavia, let alone the Tito regime, are to capitulate either to Washington or to the Kremlin—or to strike out on an independent road. This road can be only that of an Independent Workers and Peasants Socialist Yugoslavia, as the first step toward a Socialist Federation of the Balkan Nations. It can be achieved only through an appeal to and unity with the international working class. That is to say, it can be achieved only by Yugoslavia’s rallying to the banner of the European Socialist Revolution, and calling upon the international working class to aid her in the struggle against both the Kremlin oligarchy and American imperialism.

For revolutionists, however, it is not enough to welcome a great opportunity. This is only the beginning for the next step, namely their seizing the opportunity and intervening, above all, in order to raise the conscious level of the world working-class militants.

The logic of the Stalin-Tito struggle is such that it is bound to impel the militants in Yugoslavia and elsewhere—not to the right but to the left. This will happen independently of whether Tito himself moves to the right, or whether he seeks to straddle the fence somewhere between the Kremlin and imperialism.

But the precondition for how far the masses will move to the left lies not in their own wishes or their spontaneous movements but in how ably and effectively the conscious revolutionary vanguard, the world Trotskyists, will intervene as a dynamic factor into the situation.

To intervene effectively, we must BEGIN by patiently explaining the political meaning of the Stalin-Tito rift; we must lay bare the root causes of Stalinism, its origin, its reactionary nature, its naked brutality. In this way, by introducing the maximum of political clarity into the situation, revolutionists will be able to intervene most swiftly and effectively and help the militant workers and peasants in Yugoslavia.

Far more than Yugoslavia itself is involved here. The Yugoslav events are only a component part of the unfolding international crisis of Stalinism. This is evidenced by the tremors already produced in Stalinist parties the world over as a consequence of the Tito-Stalin rift. These repercussions are only the beginning. …[7]


Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), p. 21.


Michael Banda, James P. Cannon: A Critical Assessment (London: New Park Publications, 1975), p. 40.


Second World Congress of the Fourth International, “The USSR and Stalinism,” Fourth International, June 1948, no. 4, p. 119.


Ibid., p. 120.


International Secretariat of the Fourth International, “An Open Letter to the Congress, Central Committee and Members of the Yugoslav Communist Party,” Fourth International, August 1948, pp. 178–81.


Ibid., p. 181.


Socialist Workers Party Political Committee, “Yugoslav Events and the World Crisis of Stalinism,” Fourth International, August 1948, pp. 174–76.