International Committee of the Fourth International
The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International: Perspectives Resolution of the ICFI

Opportunism and the Fourth International

It is not enough, however, to indict the Stalinists and social democrats for their betrayals of the working class. The question must be raised: what was the role of the Fourth International during this period? Why was it not able to wrest from the Stalinists and social democrats the leadership of the working class and lead it to victory?

The answer to this question lies in an analysis of the history of the Fourth International since 1953. This examination shows that during the 15 years preceding the eruption of the French general strike of May-June 1968, the Fourth International had been gravely weakened by the growth of Pabloite opportunism.

As early as 1951, at the Third World Congress, Pablo, who was then secretary of the Fourth International, advanced a perspective which not only challenged Trotsky’s fundamental assessment of the irrevocably counterrevolutionary nature of Stalinism and advanced in its place the eclectic theory of bureaucratic self-reform. He also, with the support of his close associate Ernest Mandel, proposed the repudiation of a central world revolutionary strategy based on the independent and leading role of the proletariat. Instead, he sought the fragmentation of the Fourth International into a collection of national parties guided by opportunist tactics determined by prevailing national conditions. In practice, Pablo’s perspective meant the political subordination of the sections of the Fourth International to whatever political forces—Stalinist, social democratic, bourgeois nationalist or petty-bourgeois radical—that dominated the labor movement of any given country. Pablo insisted upon “the necessity of subordinating all organizational considerations, of formal independence or otherwise, to real integration into the mass movement wherever it expresses itself in each country, or to integration in an important current of this movement which can be influenced.”

The International Committee was founded at the initiative of James P. Cannon, the founder of the Socialist Workers Party, to defeat this opportunism, which threatened the political and organizational liquidation of the Fourth International. The “Open Letter” issued by Cannon in November 1953, with the support of the Trotskyists in Britain and France, called for the expulsion of the Pabloites.

The objective implications of the struggle against the Pabloites were revealed in the development of the class struggle, especially in the mounting crisis of Stalinism between the death of the murderous dictator in 1953 and Khrushchev’s exposure of some of Stalin’s crimes in February 1956. With the subsequent crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in November 1956, Pablo’s theory of bureaucratic self-reform was completely exposed. Despite the vindication of the struggle against Pabloism, Cannon and the SWP began in 1957 to orient toward an unprincipled reunification with the Pabloites. This development, reflecting the SWP’s ever more open adaptation to middle class radicalism in the United States and abandonment of its traditional proletarian orientation, constituted a historic betrayal of Trotskyism and gravely undermined the struggle of the International Committee against opportunism.

The SWP’s embrace of Castro’s petty-bourgeois July 26 Movement as a substitute for Trotskyism and its proclamation that a workers’ state had been established in Cuba led to the reunification with the Pabloites and the establishment of the United Secretariat. Central to the SWP’s adulation of Castro was the claim that the completion of the democratic revolutions in the backward countries did not require the socialist revolution and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship. The corollary of this position was that the construction of sections of the Fourth International in the backward countries to establish the political independence of the proletariat from all sections of the national bourgeoisie and to fight for the hegemony of the working class in the democratic revolution was not necessary. This betrayal was resisted by the British and French Trotskyists, who rejected reunification and defended the banner of the International Committee. However, the International Committee comprised only a small minority of what had been the Fourth International. The victory of opportunism in the organizations all over the world which followed the lead of Pablo, Mandel and Hansen had disastrous consequences for the international working class.

This was demonstrated within one year of the reunification, in June 1964, when the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the Ceylonese section of the Pabloite International, entered into a coalition government with the country’s leading capitalist party, the SLFP of Madam Bandaranaike. In 1953 the LSSP had opposed the founding of the International Committee and subsequently played a central role in preparing the SWP’s reunification with the Pabloites. While seeking to end the struggle against opportunism within the Fourth International, the LSSP was repudiating all basic Trotskyist principles and essential tenets of the theory of permanent revolution in relation to its work in Ceylon. These betrayals were covered up by the Pabloites, who, at the Reunification Congress of June 1963, adopted a resolution which declared: “Our Ceylonese section has progressively corrected the wrong orientation adopted in 1960 of supporting the liberal-bourgeois government of the SLFP. Since the masses began to go into action, it has not hesitated to place itself at their head against its electoral allies of yesterday.” One year later, the LSSP joined the coalition government headed by the SLFP. This betrayal had tragic implications throughout Asia. It strengthened the hand of the Stalinist and Maoist parties, whose political credibility would have been shattered had the LSSP upheld the program of permanent revolution and fought for the overthrow of bourgeois rule in Sri Lanka. The betrayal of the LSSP contributed to the 1965 defeat of the Indonesian working class, which had been disarmed by the policies of the Maoist leadership of the Communist Party.

Pabloite opportunism disoriented thousands of Trotskyist cadre throughout the world and ultimately destroyed a large portion of the Fourth International. The Pabloites played the crucial role in diverting the working class from a successful challenge to the open treachery of the Stalinists and social democrats. In the United States and Europe, the Pabloites rejected the proletariat as a revolutionary force, hailed the students as the new revolutionary vanguard (Mandel’s theory of “red universities”), and opposed any political challenge to the Stalinist and social democratic leaders of the mass working class organizations.

In Latin America, the counterrevolutionary character of Pabloite centrism and opportunism was decisively established. Under conditions in which the weakness of the local Stalinist and social democratic parties provided the Trotskyist movement with a historic opportunity to win the leadership of the working class, the Pabloite’s glorification of Castroism, Peronism, and others forms of bourgeois nationalism and petty-bourgeois radicalism led to the defeats of the 1970s. The defeat of the Bolivian working class at the hands of the military in August 1971 must be attributed to the policies pursued by the centrist POR, which trusted the regime of General Torres and relied upon this bourgeois officer to distribute arms to the workers in the event of a military coup. In Chile, the policies of the Pabloites facilitated the betrayal of Allende and the Stalinists. Less than three years before the election of Allende confronted the Chilean working class with a revolutionary situation, the Pabloite leader Luis Vitale, having liquidated his party into the petty-bourgeois MIR, wrote: “The unquestionable fact is that the revolutions of the postwar period have put on the order of the day mobile and guerrilla warfare, whose epicenter is in the countryside.” These words, so characteristic of Pabloite perspectives in the 1960s, provided the theoretical justification for the abandonment of the entire programmatic heritage of Trotskyism. In Argentina, the political disorientation created by the 1963 reunification had no less tragic consequences. Under the guidance of Mandel, who at that time was hailing Ernesto Che Guevara as Trotsky’s political and theoretical equal, one faction of the Pabloite movement turned toward guerrilla warfare and was physically annihilated. And the other faction, led by Moreno and Hansen, capitulated to Peron and the bourgeois state. The combined product of the betrayals of all the Pabloite factions was the victory of General Videla in 1976.

In the assistance it rendered to Stalinism, social democracy and bourgeois nationalism, the opportunism of the Pabloite centrists played a vital role in enabling imperialism to survive the crucial years between 1968 and 1975 when its world order was shaken by economic turmoil and an international upsurge of the working class and the oppressed masses in the backward countries. It verified Trotsky’s assessment of centrism as a secondary agency of imperialism. The petty-bourgeois defeatists who pontificate on the doomed character of the proletariat while discovering new vistas for the bourgeoisie never bother to concretely analyze how decrepit capitalism survived into the 1980s. The Pabloites care least of all to examine the results of their own policies. Inasmuch as the entire petty-bourgeois fraternity of centrists, radicals and declassed intellectuals dismiss a priori the revolutionary capacities of the working class and accept its defeat as inevitable, they never even consider what the consequences of a correct Marxist policy would have been in Sri Lanka in 1964, in France in 1968, in Chile in 1973, and in Greece and Portugal in 1974.

The International Committee, on the other hand, derives from the strategical experiences of the proletariat during the postwar period the crucial lesson upon which it bases its preparation for the coming revolutionary upheavals: that the building of the Fourth International as the World Party of Socialist Revolution to ensure the victory of the international working class requires an uncompromising and unrelenting struggle against opportunism and centrism.