David North
The Heritage We Defend

The SLL Defends the International Committee

Banda has virtually nothing to say about the political content of the struggle waged by the International Committee against the reunification of the Socialist Workers Party and the Pabloite International Secretariat. His reference to this decisive episode in the history of the Fourth International is confined to the following two paragraphs:

Another fallacy which must be exposed is the legend that the discussion on Cuba proved the “orthodox” credentials of the IC. If this were so then indeed one would not have the crisis of today. Indubitably some important contributions on the method of pragmatism, the theory of knowledge and dialectics as well as the question of base and superstructure, etc., were made in the controversy with the SWP. But this did not alter the framework of the discussion which was entirely suspect.

Healy made no contribution at all to this struggle. The theoretical work was done entirely by Cdes. Slaughter, Banda and Kemp.

Because Banda now opposes Trotskyism, he rejects the political legitimacy of the struggle waged in the early 1960s by the Socialist Labour League in defense of the programmatic heritage of the Fourth International. The “framework” of the 1961–63 struggle against the unprincipled reunification was the legacy of Cannon’s 1953 “Open Letter” and the establishment of the International Committee in opposition to Pabloite revisionism. The task of defending the principles articulated by Cannon in the formation of the ICFI fell to the British section under conditions in which the SWP, whose political weaknesses in the aftermath of 1953 had prevented it from developing the struggle against opportunism, had gone over to the liquidationist perspective of the Pabloites.

Regardless of the magnitude of Healy’s personal contribution to the 1961–63 struggle, which was hardly as minimal as Banda claims two decades later, the documents submitted by the British Trotskyists represented a politically decisive contribution to the theoretical development of the Fourth International. The present betrayals of Healy, Banda and Slaughter do not cancel out their past achievements. In fact, Banda has it completely wrong: the crisis which shattered the WRP in 1985–86 was the outcome of the rejection by Banda, Healy and Slaughter of the principles which they had defended in 1961–63.

Banda’s procedure in relation to the struggle against reunification is the same that he employed in relation to the “Open Letter” of 1953. Rather than dealing with the actual content of the fight waged by the ICFI, he finds a subjective criterion for denouncing it. In the case of the “Open Letter,” he attacked it as an “undignified manoeuvre.” In attempting to dismiss the fight against reunification, he denounces the suspect framework of the discussion. But he refuses to say precisely what it is that he opposed. He never even states whether or not he now rejects the position adopted in relation to Cuba. Nor does Banda state whether the ICFI was wrong in rejecting reunification. And, as always, he never even attempts to analyze the class forces expressed in the opposed positions.

The significance of the struggle waged by the Socialist Labour League between 1961–63 is that it established the unbridgeable class gulf between Trotskyism and Pabloism. It demonstrated that Pabloism was not simply, as the SWP claimed, a term denoting false organizational practices, excessive centralism, etc. Rather, in the course of an exhaustive analysis of the political evolution of Pabloism, the SLL demonstrated that it is an expression of the pressure of imperialism upon the revolutionary vanguard, a petty-bourgeois opportunist trend that is irreconcilably hostile to the programmatic foundations and revolutionary tasks of the Fourth International. It proved that the reunification proposed by the SWP, if unopposed, would lead inexorably to the political liquidation of the Trotskyist movement, in the sense of transforming it into an appendage of Stalinism, social democracy and bourgeois nationalism. From this standpoint, the SLL explained that Cuba was an aspect of the discussion, but not its essence. The question of defining the class nature of the Cuban state could be tackled only in relation to the elaboration of the historical perspective of the Fourth International.

In opposing reunification with the Pabloites without prior joint discussion of the significance of the 1953 split for the world perspectives of the Fourth International, and in rejecting the characterization of Cuba as a workers’ state, the Socialist Labour League defended: (1) the Leninist theory of the party as the vanguard of the working class and the essential weapon for the organization of the proletarian revolution; (2) the theory of permanent revolution, which establishes the hegemony of the working class in the anti-imperialist and democratic struggles of the backward countries and its complete independence from the organizations of the bourgeois nationalists; (3) the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution; (4) dialectical and historical materialism as the theoretical foundation of the revolutionary program of Marxism.

These four aspects were component elements of a theoretically-unified defense of the political heritage of Trotskyism. It should be especially stressed that the ability of the SLL to extend the struggle against Pabloite revisionism to the level of its underlying idealist methodology, and to show that its attack on the program of the Fourth International was inseparably linked with its anti-dialectical objectivism, marked a decisive gain for the Fourth International, a renewal of the line of struggle developed by Trotsky in the crucial battle against Burnham and Shachtman in 1939–40. This, too, is an achievement that retains its validity, despite Healy’s later abuse and distortion of the dialectical method.

The SLL initiated the struggle against the SWP’s turn toward reunification with a letter from its National Committee, January 2, 1961, to the National Committee of the SWP. In this first document, the significance of Pabloism was correctly explained:

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. In Pabloism the advanced working class is no longer the vanguard of history, the centre of all Marxist theory and strategy in the epoch of imperialism, but the plaything of “world-historical factors,” surveyed and assessed in abstract fashion. … Here all historical responsibility of the revolutionary movement is denied, all is subordinated to panoramic forces; the questions of the role of the Soviet bureaucracy and of the class forces in the colonial revolution are left unresolved. That is natural, because the key to these problems is the role of the working class in the advanced countries and the crisis of leadership in their Labour movements. …

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. We want the SWP to go forward with us in this spirit.[1]

While not rejecting the possibility of unification with the International Secretariat, the SLL insisted that no political concessions could be made to the Pabloite outlook and that organizational steps had to be preceded by the elaboration of world perspectives and the most searching analysis of the evolution of Pabloism:

What is needed in the international movement today is a political statement by the orthodox Trotskyists of where we stand on the great problems of the day. Without this international political declaration, it will be impossible to rebuild the international movement. This can be clearly seen from the crisis which exists in Ceylon and in our own movement in the Argentine. The development of a most promising movement in Japan can only be continued on the basis of such an international reaffirmation of principles. …

This international document must be followed up by a series of articles analysing the revisionist course of Pabloism. It is a vital pre-condition for the development of the Fourth International that we break finally from all traces of such revisionism. If we do not make this break now, then our movement will, in the opinion of the SLL, suffer its most severe crisis in a period of its greatest opportunity.[2]

On May 8, 1961 the Socialist Labour League sent another document to the SWP which dealt explicitly with the drift of the American movement toward positions which were clearly of a Pabloite character, and thus contradicting the SWP’s claims that the split of 1953 was no longer of any consequence to the Trotskyist movement. The SLL took sharp exception to the claim made by Morris Stein that Stalinism was capable of playing a revolutionary role in aiding the anti-imperialist struggle, and expressed its apprehension that the positions taken by some SWP members at the January 14, 1961 meeting of the National Committee

…indicates a retreat from the position taken up against the Pabloites. The essence of the Pabloite method was to begin from a so-called “objective,” in fact a purely contemplative, standpoint and weigh up the “objective forces” (or “world reality”)—and then draw superficial and purely adaptive conclusions from this. What difference is there between Comrade Stein’s remarks above [quoted in Chapter 27] and the Pabloite revisionist theory of the Stalinist parties “projecting a revolutionary orientation”?[3]

The SLL then focused on a critical area of dispute with the Pabloites: their subordination of the proletariat to the national bourgeoisie in the backward countries:

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. In national liberation movements the workers’ organizations must follow Lenin’s slogan: “March separately, strike together” against the foreign imperialists and their immediate collaborators. Following Marx, we say: support the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parties insofar as they help strike common blows against our enemy; oppose them on every issue in which they want to stabilize their own conditions of existence and their own rule.

While it is true that the stage of “independence” reached by countries like Ghana, and the national independence movements led 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.

Comrade Hansen’s article on the Mexico conference fails, in our opinion, to take a principled stand on the character of such states. 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. Much of the current discussion on Cuba, it seems, proceeds in this way: The Cuban masses support Castro; Castro began as a petit-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. Even if Castro and his cadre were “converted” would that make the revolution a proletarian revolution? Have we forgotten Lenin’s strictures in April and May of 1917 on the need to campaign, explain, and organize the majority of the working class to take power through the Soviets? If the Bolsheviks could not lead the revolution without a conscious working-class support, can Castro do this? Quite apart from this, we 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 petit-bourgeois nationalists who stumble “naturally” or “accidentally” upon the importance of workers and peasants.[4]

The SLL emphatically rejected the claim that Castro’s petty-bourgeois July 26 Movement could serve as a surrogate for the independent mobilization of the Cuban working class:

There is no road to working-class power except the smashing of the bourgeois state and the workers’ own organs—Soviets, workers’ councils, etc.—controlling the national life. This is true in the advanced countries and in the colonial countries. This is the task not only in the USA but also in Cuba. Some comrades in the SWP NC discussion have criticized the approach of the Latin American comrades who advocated in their resolution the correct policy of workers’ and peasants’ councils, arming the workers, and so on. These criticisms suggested, for instance, that such a campaign would be seen as counterrevolutionary by the Cuban masses and by the Castro leadership. Once again, all Marxist method and all revolutionary experience are overthrown by this approach. If these comrades stop and think, surely they must agree that in a revolutionary period such as that in Cuba today, it is precisely a question of finding methods of the working class solving the problems of internal and external defence and of the economic life of the country. The tactics of a revolutionary party will be to present the road to workers’ power in terms of methods of solving these problems in a class way. Once again, Lenin’s leadership of the Bolshevik party in the period of dual power is exemplary in this respect. …

Comrade Hansen’s general remarks on the question of the Party are most disarming: It is a question, you see, of the world party, whose growth is manifest all over the world as imperialism is rolled back. It is suggested that in places this process of emancipation of the working class will be achieved without such a party. Cuba is presumably one of these places. We have the awkward phenomenon, in Comrade Hansen’s presentation, of “socialist consciousness beginning to appear” after the setting up of a workers’ state! In our opinion, the discussion of the Party at this abstract, “international” level is an evasion which avoids the concrete question of building such parties in each country.[5]

At a meeting of the International Committee held on July 28–29, 1961, Cliff Slaughter analyzed the SWP’s perspectives resolution, concentrating on its basic departure from the Marxist method:

The fundamental weakness of the SWP resolution is its substitution of “objectivism,” i.e., a false objectivity, for the Marxist method. This approach leads to similar conclusions to those of the Pabloites. From his analysis of imperialism as the final stage of capitalism, Lenin concluded that the conscious revolutionary role of the working class and its party was all-important. The protagonists of “objectivism” conclude, however, that the strength of the “objective factors” is so great that, regardless of the attainment of Marxist leadership of the proletariat in its struggle, the working-class revolution will be achieved, the power of the capitalists overthrown. It is difficult to attach any other meaning than this to the SWP resolution’s formulations about the “impatience” of the masses who cannot delay the revolution until the construction of a Marxist leadership. This means that the existing leaderships of the anti-imperialist forces will be forced “by the logic of the revolution itself” to undertake the revolutionary leadership of the proletarian struggle for power. The SWP has not fully developed this theory, but in its attitude to Cuba it accepts exactly these conclusions. In the early 1950s the basis of the Pabloite notion that the Communist Parties and the Soviet bureaucracy would “project a revolutionary orientation” followed from precisely this approach. A Marxist analysis must insist on this deviation in the SWP Resolution being thought through to the end. If the petty-bourgeois leadership in Cuba has been forced by the objective logic of events to lead the proletariat to power (the SWP says Cuba is a “workers’ state,” which can only mean the dictatorship of the proletariat) then we must demand an analysis of the present world situation which shows how this type of event has become possible, so that the Leninist theory of the relation between class, party and power, must be discarded.

Similarly with the formulation in the SWP resolution about the construction of the revolutionary party in the course of the revolution itself. Again the implications of the formula must be thought through to the end. For us, such formulae only have meaning under the aspect of the general historical perspective of class relations. The SWP must show in what way “objective factors” in the world situation make it unnecessary in some cases to prepare and construct a revolutionary leadership. The construction of such parties through periods of the blackest reaction, as well as in preparatory and pre-revolutionary periods, is the great historical work of Lenin and his followers. Even if Lenin and Trotsky were not wrong in their time to prepare such parties, does the SWP consider that in our time definite objective forces have ensured that there will be time enough for the construction of revolutionary parties in the course of the revolution itself? If so, they must describe to us exactly the qualitative change from the epoch of imperialism in which Lenin and Trotsky worked to our own era. If not, they must presumably return to the Leninist position on this question.[6]

Pounding away at the disorienting objectivism of the SWP’s perspectives, Slaughter denounced as “reactionary twaddle” the claim that the actions of petty-bourgeois nationalists are “confirmations” of the theory of permanent revolution:

This amounts to one of two things (or possibly both): (a) It absolves people who call themselves Trotskyists from “confirming” precisely in practice, on the arena of working class struggle, the theory of Permanent Revolution; and (b) it covers up a capitulation to the new opportunists and their role with fine talk about confirming the theories of Trotsky.[7]

As the polemic developed, it became clear that the SWP was rejecting the necessity of constructing revolutionary parties of the proletariat in the backward countries. Extending its analysis of Cuba to the developments in Algeria, the SWP offered uncritical support to Ben Bella and denounced the SLL for opposing the independence agreement worked out between the FLN and French imperialism at Evian in 1962. According to the SWP leadership:

This judgment is utterly false. The agreement wrested from de Gaulle against OAS resistance is a major victory for the Algerian people, for the Arab and colonial revolution. It is a jolting setback to French and world imperialism. Of course, it is far from a complete and final victory. But it lifts the struggle for national independence and social liberation in that country to a higher stage and places the revolution upon firmer and more favourable grounds for the solution of its next tasks. …

Between them Cuba and Algeria encompass most of the basic problems confronting Marxists in the present stage of the colonial revolution. The disorientation displayed by the SLL in regard to these two revolutions flows from their wrong method of approach to the fundamental processes at work. The root cause of the errors in both cases is the same: a loss of Marxist objectivity, disregard and depreciation of all other factors in the situation but the character of the official leadership. The subjective method of analysis results in oversimplified and sectarian conclusions.[8]

Curiously, while Banda is very vocal about the mistakes made by Healy in relation to Messali Haj in the mid-1950s (to the extent of lying about his own role at the time), he says nothing about the Algerian controversy as it arose in 1962–63. He does not say whether or not the SLL was right or wrong to oppose the Evian agreement or whether he still stands by the SLL’s criticism of the Pabloite line on Ben Bella. In their attack on the SLL’s criticisms of the Evian agreement, the Pabloites were challenging the right of the proletariat to adopt an independent and hostile attitude to the policies of the national bourgeoisie.

In defending the Evian agreements as a necessary compromise, Hansen avoided one decisive issue: that the Evian agreement represented a settlement between the political representatives of French imperialism and the Algerian bourgeoisie. It could not be supported by the working class any more than the 1947 agreement whereby Ceylon achieved “independence” from Great Britain. In that period, the Ceylonese Trotskyists voted against the independence agreement, refusing to accept responsibility for or in any way support an arrangement which established a capitalist state, under the hegemony of the national bourgeoisie, in Ceylon. But such lessons were ignored by the SWP. In his sophistries about the inevitability of compromises in politics, Hansen dissolved fundamental principles into tactical exigencies.

While the Pabloites rejected the ICFI’s preoccupation with the class nature of the leaderships of the anti-imperialist struggles as “subjective,” their theory was one entirely concentrated on the decisive role of nationalist leaders’ individual actions. This was most clearly shown in their theory dealing with the role of political elites in the realization of socialism. By acquiring control of the state apparatus, the Pabloites argued, the new ruling stratum frees itself of the influence of the national bourgeoisie:

It is by its administration of the state that this stratum is developing and acquiring social importance, and not by the intrinsic needs of production and its role in production. Under the historical conditions prevailing in the past and up till the last war, such a stratum could have evolved only toward a comprador bourgeoisie in the service of imperialism.

But under the specific present conditions, where it inevitably is subjected to the influence of the powerful movement of the masses and of the rising power of the workers’ states, and knows that it can profit by the East-West antagonism, this stratum is taking on a Bonapartist role which it imparts to the whole state, whose economic and social structures are not yet definitively oriented toward an inevitably classic capitalist development.[9]

The perspective which flowed from this analysis placed the possibility of socialist transformation upon the subjective decisions of the ruling elites, who supposedly stood above the main classes in society and acted independently of them. Therefore, the best course of action open to the Fourth International would be to attempt to gain access to such leaders in order to influence them. Pablo put this theory into practice by actually becoming a functionary in the Ben Bella regime.

The conception that socialism was not necessarily the outcome of the conscious struggle of the working class was absolutely central to Hansen’s purely economic definition of a workers’ state: He stated in June 1962:

Let me recapitulate the main concepts: a workers state is basically defined by the expropriation of the holdings of the capitalist class in the key sectors of industry, transportation and finance; the establishment of a government monopoly of foreign trade; and the introduction of a planned economy. Deviation from the norm of a healthy workers state relates fundamentally to the political sphere; i.e. the relative amount of proletarian democracy.[10]

For Hansen, the historical and political foundations of the workers’ state—all that was related to the development of the proletariat as a social force imbued with consciousness of its revolutionary mission, the seizure of power and the creation of those specific forms through which the dictatorship of the class is exercised—were not at all intrinsic to the determination of a workers’ state. Furthermore, in as much as socialism could be introduced “from above” in the backward countries and did not depend upon the proletarian revolution, the SWP inevitably drew the conclusion that the struggle to build a revolutionary party of the proletariat was not essential. Hansen wrote, “Experience has demonstrated that forces which are socialist minded but not Bolshevik can come to power and undertake a series of measures that in certain circumstances go so far as to transcend private capitalism, providing the base for a workers state.”[11]

This liquidationist position was spelled out in the programmatic resolution adopted at the Reunification Congress of the SWP and the Pabloites held in June 1963: “ ‘the weakness of the enemy in the backward countries has opened the possibility of coming to power even with a blunted instrument.’ ”[12] Revealed in these words were the full historical implications of the 1963 split. The position of the Pabloites could mean nothing else but that neither the existence of the Fourth International nor the conquest of state power by the working class was necessary for the realization of socialism.

The position that Marxist parties are not necessary in backward countries leads inexorably to the conclusion that they are not necessary anywhere in the world. If the necessity or non-necessity of a Marxist party is to be determined by the weakness of a national ruling class in a given part of the world, it follows that the establishment of “socialist” regimes in a number of backward countries would inevitably create such a devastating crisis in the United States, Europe and Japan that socialism could be established in these countries with similarly “blunted,” i.e., non-Marxist instruments. Moreover, since the building of Marxist parties is nothing else but the conscious expression of the revolutionary role of the working class as the sole bearer of new social relations, the denial of the need for such a party implies that socialism is not necessarily realized through the medium of the proletarian class struggle.

The rejection of the revolutionary role of the proletariat was central to the perspective of the Pabloites. They specifically asserted that the focus of the work of their international movement was no longer the advanced capitalist countries. Instead, they declared at their Sixth Congress that “it is necessary for the Fourth International to reorganize its activities as an International in terms of the principal sector of the world revolution, which is the colonial revolution, and carry on in this field, for a whole period, the essential part of its efforts.”[13]

The Pabloites specifically wrote off any attempt to organize the proletariat in the backward countries independently of the bourgeoisie:

Revolutionary Marxist elements who operate in these dependent countries do not always have the possibility of opposing from the outside and in a completely independent way the existing national movements with bourgeois leadership or ideology, for in this case they would run the risk of cutting themselves off from the broad masses and remaining in practice ineffective. While taking on everywhere the task of open revolutionary-Marxist publications which clarify the problems and trace out a clear perspective, they may find themselves obliged to carry on the essential part of their activity inside the existing national movements of a mass and revolutionary character, and to advocate within them a wing of a proletarian and socialist orientation.[14]

The rejection of the proletariat could not be clearer. The Pabloite formula consisted of the following: while concentrating “the essential part of its efforts” in the colonial countries, they would conduct “the essential part of their activity” inside the national movements.

The British and French sections of the International Committee refused to send delegations to the Pabloite Reunification Congress in June, which set up the United Secretariat. Instead, the ICFI met in September 1963 to draw the political balance sheet of the struggle against Pabloism. The principal report was given by Cliff Slaughter:

The fight against revisionism in the Trotskyist movement, particularly in the Socialist Workers Party, has revealed a basic difference in method. The Socialist Workers Party leaders have abandoned Marxism for empiricism, they have abandoned that method which starts from the point of view of changing the world, as against interpreting or contemplating it. The far greater part of the work in the struggle against this revisionism remains still to be done on our part. It is not enough to be able to demonstrate the descent into empiricism by the revisionists—our problem is to build around this fight against revisionism, sections of the Fourth International able to lead the advance guard of the working class. Looking at the world from the point of view of changing it, means today, starting from the point of view of the construction of disciplined revolutionary parties able to intervene in the struggles of the working class, able to build the Fourth International out of their interventions. These parties are proletarian parties, whose work and methods correspond to the general interests of the working class. In the advanced countries, such parties are only built in implacable opposition to the petty-bourgeois circles who have dominated “official” left politics during the comparative prosperity since 1945. Inside our movement this means a constant fight to build a cadre consciously opposed to the way of life of the centrist propaganda circles who provide a left cover for the bureaucracy. This is the direct opposite of the Pabloite theory and practice of support for the bureaucracy, which takes the form of supporting supposedly “left” trends inside the Stalinist bureaucracy, believing even that they will be forced to take the power in the capitalist countries or to carry out the political revolution in the workers’ states. Alternatively it leads to “deep entry” in the Social-Democracy, justified by the hoped-for emergence of mass “left centrist” parties.

In the backward countries, fighting to resolve the crisis of leadership means fighting for the construction of proletarian parties, with the aim of proletarian dictatorship. It is especially necessary to stress the proletarian character of the leadership in countries with a large petty-bourgeoisie or peasantry. On this question, the revisionists take the opposite road to Lenin and Trotsky, justifying their capitulation to petty-bourgeois, nationalist leaderships by speculation about a new type of peasantry. In recent years, the Pabloites have declared that the character of the new states in Africa will be determined by the social character and decisions of the elite which occupies state power, rather than by the class struggle as we have understood it. More recently, Pablo and others have discovered “the revolutionary role of the peasantry.” These are only thin disguises for capitulation to the petty-bourgeois leadership of the FLN in Algeria and of Castro in Cuba. Above all, the “theory” that the “epicentre of the world revolution” has shifted to the colonial and semi-colonial countries, for all its revolutionary appearance, is used to justify this capitulation.[15]

Slaughter was especially scathing in his denunciation of the Pabloite conception of an “International” whose leaders saw their main role as that of semi-official advisers of those in charge of bourgeois national movements. Slaughter hardly could have suspected then that within little more than a decade Healy, Banda and he would be playing precisely such a role in relation to nationalist movements in the Middle East. In a passage which was in 1963 a devastating indictment of Pabloism, but which reads today like a prophetic analysis of the demise of the Workers Revolutionary Party, Slaughter explained:

Such orientation produces a particular type of national section and a particular type of leadership within the Pabloite International. Around the publications of this group there gather numbers of petty-bourgeois intellectuals who very easily accept a standpoint of “principled” but quite abstract avowals of Marxism, divorced from any struggle to construct a leadership against the enemies of Marxism and of the working class. Such groups seek constantly for “alliances” with all kinds of centrist trends, cultivating the most naive illusions about the “leftward” tendencies of these “allies” in Parliamentary and Trade Union circles, as in Britain and Belgium. The real task of Marxists, to “go deeper and deeper into the working class” to build a power which will smash the bureaucracy, is anathema to these circles. To such a political way of life, the message that it is most important to encourage the “left centrists” is a gift from heaven. The leaders of this International are, more and more, men of “influence,” men with “reputations” in petty-bourgeois circles, and not working-class leaders, not leaders familiar with the intimate and detailed problems of the working class and the revolutionary party.[16]

As he brought his report to a close, Slaughter denounced the passage in the Reunification Resolution which spoke about “building revolutionary parties in the process of the revolution itself,” declaring that

this is only the most extreme of the hypocritical formulae in which the Resolution abounds. It is precisely in the revolutionary situations of Algeria and Cuba that the building of the independent party had been most blatantly abandoned, on the assumption that the petty-bourgeois leaders themselves will become revolutionary Marxists. Even if the formulation were taken seriously as a contribution to theory, it would have to be immediately rejected as false. The task of revolutionaries is never to speculate about whether there is “time” for the party to be constructed, but work in all the stages of development of the class struggle, guided by the long-term, revolutionary interests of the working class, to steel the revolutionary party in struggle against every arm of the capitalist class and its state, to develop a Bolshevik cadre with bonds of steel uniting it with every section of the proletariat. This constant struggle, through periods of black reaction as well as in times of revolutionary upsurge, is the only guarantee of preparedness in the struggle for power. Even such a party, when the revolution occurs, will find it necessary to overcome internal conflict, hesitations, even desertions, as Lenin found in 1917. Such a perspective is absolutely alien to the facile notion of “building parties in the process of revolution itself.”[17]

These words are as correct today as they were in 1963. Slaughter has since rejected them—going so far as to vote against a resolution, introduced by the International Committee in December 1985, which reaffirmed the stand that was taken by the British Trotskyists in the struggle against the SWP-Pabloite reunification. The fact that Slaughter repudiates his own words does not invalidate the past struggle or his own role in it. He has not simply changed his mind; rather, he has changed his class position. What he once accomplished remains part of the heritage of the Trotskyist movement, and we quote against him today the very words with which he concluded his 1963 report:

Our fight against revisionism in the Fourth International is a vitally necessary part of our revolutionary political work in the working class. It is the revolutionary practice which will surely enable the Fourth International to provide the leadership of all those communists who come to take their place in the coming final battles of the working class to overthrow the power of world capital.[18]

The Socialist Labour League’s struggle against reunification enriched the Trotskyist movement’s understanding of the nature of Pabloite revisionism. The truth of Slaughter’s statement—that the struggle against revisionism was at the heart of building the Fourth International—was demonstrated in the very process of the SLL’s defense of the International Committee. The documents produced by the SLL represented a renewal of the historical perspective upon which the Fourth International had been based. The Pabloites found it was nothing less than shocking that the SLL should claim that the task of organizing the world socialist revolution, of rebuilding within the workers’ movement that once mighty socialist culture which had been virtually destroyed by the betrayals of social democracy and Stalinism, fell to the Trotskyist movement; and that the Castros, the Ben Bellas, and the Nassers, far from representing the road to power, were obstacles on that road, whose authority over the mass movement in their countries reflected the unresolved problems of the proletarian leadership.

Against the “fashionable opportunism” of the Pabloites—Hansen actually told the SLL that its critical line toward Castro meant political suicide in Latin America—the British Trotskyists defended the line of building revolutionary parties based on the international proletariat. A clear orientation to the working class, in opposition to the bureaucracies and petty-bourgeois leaderships which dominated the mass movement in any given country, was provided by the SLL. It told Trotskyists all over the world that the Fourth International had to construct the revolutionary parties of the proletariat in merciless struggle against all other tendencies, no matter how big, powerful or popular they appeared to be.

The subsequent degeneration of Healy, Banda and Slaughter in no way detracts from the historical significance of the SLL’s struggle against reunification. The stand taken by the SLL in defense of the International Committee in 1961–63, against the betrayal of the Socialist Workers Party, maintained the revolutionary continuity of Trotskyism and prevented the liquidation of the Fourth International. It carried forward the entire programmatic heritage of the Fourth International and reestablished the foundation for the building of the Trotskyist movement as the world party of socialist revolution.


Cliff Slaughter, ed., Trotskyism Versus Revisionism: A Documentary History (London: New Park Publications, 1974), vol. 3, The Socialist Workers Party’s Road Back to Pabloism, pp. 48–49.


Ibid., p. 54.


Ibid., p. 63.


Ibid., pp. 64–66.


Ibid., pp. 66–67.


Ibid., pp. 161–162.


Ibid., p. 167.


Ibid., pp. 217–218.


Sixth World Congress of the Fourth International, “The Colonial Revolution: Its Balance-Sheet, Its Problems, and Its Prospects,” Fourth International, no. 12, Winter 1960–61, p. 42.


Slaughter, ed., Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, vol. 3, p. 272.


Cliff Slaughter, ed., Trotskyism Versus Revisionism: A Documentary History (London: New Park Publications, 1974), vol. 4, The International Committee Against Liquidationism, p. 58.


Ibid., p. 199.


Fourth International, Winter 1960–61, p. 47.


Ibid., p. 37.


Slaughter, ed., Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, vol. 4, pp. 187–188.


Ibid., p. 218.


Ibid., pp. 220–221.


Ibid., p. 221.