The American Socialist Workers Party and the European Pabloists travelled at different rates along different paths to revisionism, to converge in uneasy alliance in the early 1960’s in an unprincipled “reunification,” which has now broken down as the American SWP has completed the transition from Pabloist centrism to outright reformism. The “United Secretariat” which issued out of the 1963 “reunification” teeters on the edge of an open split; the “anti-revisionist” “International Committee” fractured last year. The collapse of the various competing pretenders to the mantle of the Fourth International provides a crucial opportunity for the reemergence of an authentic Trotskyist international tendency. Key to the task of reconstructing the Fourth International through a process of splits and fusions is an understanding of the characteristics and causes of Pabloist revisionism and the flawed response of the anti-Pabloists who fought, too little and too late, on national terrain while in practice abandoning the world movement.
World War II: U.S. and France
Before the onset of the war, Trotsky and the Fourth International had believed that decaying capitalism and the rise of fascism removed the possibility for reformism and therefore for bourgeois-democratic illusions among the masses. Yet they could not but become increasingly aware that the revulsion of the working class against fascism and the threat of fascist occupation gave rise to social chauvinism and a renewal of confidence in the “democratic” bourgeoisie permeating the proletarian masses throughout Europe and the U.S. Faced with such a contradiction, the powerful pressures of nationalist backwardness and democratic illusions in the working class tended to pull the sections of the Fourth International apart, some adopting a sectarian stance, others capitulating to the social patriotism which was rampant among the masses. The SWP briefly adopted the “Proletarian Military Policy” which called for military training under trade union control, implicitly posing the utopian idea that U.S. workers could fight German fascism without the existence of a workers state in the U.S., through “controlling” U.S. imperialism’s army. British Trotskyist Ted Grant went even further, in one speech referring to British imperialism’s armed forces as “our Eighth Army.” The German IKD returned to outright Menshevism with the theory that fascism had brought about the need for “an intermediate stage fundamentally equivalent to a democratic revolution.” (“Three Theses,” 19 October 1941)
The French Trotskyist movement, fragmented during the course of the war, was the best example of the contradiction. One of its fragments subordinated the mobilization of the working class to the political appetites of the Gaullist wing of the imperialist bourgeoisie; another grouping renounced any struggle within the resistance movement in favor of work exclusively at the point of production and, not recognizing the existing level of reformist consciousness among the workers, adventurously attempted to seize the factories during the “liberation” of Paris while the working masses were out on the streets. The February 1944 European Conference document which was the basis for a fusion between two French groupings to form the Parti Communiste Internationaliste characterized the two groups:
“Instead of distinguishing between the nationalism of the defeated bourgeoisie which remains an expression of its imperialist preoccupations, and the ‘nationalism’ of the masses which is only a reactionary expression of their resistance against exploitation by the occupying imperialism, the leadership of the POI considered as progressive the struggle of its own bourgeoisie….”
“the CCI…under the pretext of guarding intact the heritage of Marxism-Leninism, refused obstinately to distinguish the nationalism of the bourgeoisie from the resistance movement of the masses.”
European Trotskyism and American Trotskyism responded in initially different ways to different tasks and problems following World War II. The precarious internationalism of the American SWP, maintained through intimate collaboration with Trotsky during his exile in Mexico, did not survive the assassination of Trotsky in 1940 and the onset of world war. The American Trotskyists retreated into an isolation only partially forced upon them by the disintegration of the European sections under conditions of fascist triumph and illegalization.
Anticipating the difficulties of international coordination during the war, a resident International Executive Committee had been set up in New York. Its only notable achievement, however, appears to have been the convening of an “Emergency Conference” of the International, held 19-26 May 1940 “somewhere in the Western Hemisphere,” “on the initiative of its U.S., Mexican and Canadian sections.” A rump conference attended by less than half of the sections, the “Emergency Conference” was called for the purpose of dealing with the international ramifications of the Shachtman split in the U.S. section, which had resulted in the defection of a majority of the resident IEC. The meeting solidarized with the SWP in the faction fight and reaffirmed its status as the one U.S. section of the Fourth International. The conference also adopted a “Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution” written by Trotsky. Following Trotsky’s death, however, the resident IEC lapsed into oblivion.
At least in hindsight, the American section of the Fourth International should have initiated a clandestine secretariat in a neutral country in Europe, staffed by qualified SWPers and emigres from other sections, to centralize and directly supervise the work of Trotskyists in fascist-occupied countries. But the SWP was content to limit its international activities during the war to the publication in its internal bulletins of letters and factional documents from European Trotskyists. The passage of the Voorhis Act in 1941 inhibiting U.S. groups from affiliation with international political organizations—a law which to this day has never been tested—also gave the SWP a rationalization for downplaying its international responsibilities.
The SWP’s work during the war did evidence an internationalist perspective. SWP longshoremen used the opportunity of ships from Vladivostok docking on the West Coast to clandestinely distribute Trotsky’s “Letter to Russian Workers” in Russian to the Soviet seamen. The SWP concentrated its merchant marine comrades on the supply runs to Murmansk until the extremely heavy casualties compelled the party to discontinue the Murmansk concentration. (It was in response to such activities that the GPU was directed to activate the Soblen anti-Trotskyist espionage net. Testimony years afterward revealed that Cannon’s telephone was tapped by the GPU and that the business manager of the SWP’s Fourth International magazine, one “Michael Cort,” was one of the GPU agents.) But the maintenance and direction of the Fourth International was part of the SWP’s internationalist responsibility, and should have been a priority as urgent as the work which the SWP undertook on its own.
The leadership of the SWP came through the war period essentially intact, but reinforced in its insularity and ill-equipped theoretically to deal with the post-war situation.
During the later years of the war and the immediate post-war period, the SWP had registered some impressive successes in implanting its cadres in industry during the boom and in recruiting a new layer of proletarian militants drawn to the Trotskyists because of their opposition to the Communist Party’s policies of social patriotism and class peace.
Optimism and Orthodoxy
The SWP entered the post-war period with buoyant optimism about the prospects for proletarian revolution. The 1946 SWP Convention and its resolution, “The Coming American Revolution,” projected the indefinite continuation of successes for the SWP. The isolationist perspective of the Party was in evidence at the Convention. The necessarily international character of crises and revolutions is recognized, but not the concomitant international character of the vanguard party. The resolution in effect makes excuses for the political backwardness of the U.S. working class while praising its militancy and presents the following syllogism: the decisive battles of the world revolution will be fought in the advanced countries where the means of production are highly developed and the proletariat powerful—above all in the U.S.; therefore all that is necessary is to build the American revolution and world capitalism will be overthrown. Profound impressionism led the SWP to see the world through the eyes of American capitalism which had emerged from the war as the unquestioned pre-eminent capitalist world power.
The post-war stabilization of European capitalism, the emergence of the Stalinist parties as the dominant reformist workers parties in Europe, the expansion of Stalinism in Eastern Europe (apparently flying in the face of the Trotskyist analysis that Stalinism could only betray), the destruction of capitalism by peasant-based nationalist-Stalinist formations in Yugoslavia and China—all these developments posed new theoretical problems for the Trotskyist movement which the SWP, stripped of a layer of talented intellectuals by the petty-bourgeois Shachtman split and shortly thereafter deprived of Trotsky’s guidance, could not handle. The SWP’s immediate response was to retreat into a sterile “orthodoxy” stripped of real theoretical content, thus rendering its isolation more complete.
The 1950’s brought a new wave of spontaneous working-class struggles in West and East Europe, but to the SWP they brought the onset of the Cold War witchhunt: the Smith Act prosecutions of CPers and former CPers; the deadening of every aspect of social and intellectual life; the relentless purge of known “reds” and militants from the union movement, severing the SWP’s connection with the working-class movement which had taken years to build up; the dropping away of the whole layer of workers recruited to the SWP during the late 1940’s. The objective pressure to become a mere cheering section for European and colonial developments was strong but the SWP hung on to its verbal orthodox commitment to making the American revolution.
The vulnerability of the European Trotskyist movement to revisionism hinged on the historic weaknesses of the European organizations combined with the thorough shattering of their continuity to the earlier period. When Trotsky in 1934 launched the struggle to found the Fourth International, the European working class, confronted with the decisive choice of socialism or barbarism, lacked a communist leadership. The task facing the Fourth Internationalists was clear: to mobilize the class against the threat of fascism and war, to amass the cadres for the world revolutionary party which would stand for proletarian internationalism in the face of the march toward imperialist war and the social chauvinist capitulation of the Second and Third Internationals. But Trotsky had noted the immense difficulty for the conscious vanguard to go forward in a period of crushing defeat for the class and the “terrible disproportion between the tasks and the means.” (“Fighting Against the Stream,” April 1939) The weakness of the European movement was exemplified by the French section, which was repeatedly criticized by Trotsky and whose petty-bourgeois “workerist” deviation and dilettantism were the subject of a special resolution at the founding conference of the Fourth International in 1938.
(Leon Trotsky, “The Defense of the Soviet Union
and the Opposition,” 7 September 1929)
“We stand not for democracy in general but for centralist democracy. It is precisely for this reason that we place national leadership above local leadership and international leadership above national leadership.”
(Leon Trotsky, “An Open Letter to All Members
of the Leninbund,” 6 February 1930)
Trotskyist Cadres Decimated
In August 1943 an attempt was made to reestablish the rudiments of organization in Europe. The European Secretariat set up at this meeting in Belgium included exactly one surviving member of the pre-war leadership and largely as a result of the nonexistence of tested cadres, Michel Pablo (Raptis), a skilled clandestine organizer not known for ability as a political leader or theoretician, emerged as the head of the International. When in June 1945 a European Executive Committee met to prepare for the holding of a World Congress, the experienced leading cadres and the most promising of the young Trotskyists (A. Leon, L. Lesoil, W. Held) had been killed at the hands of the Nazis or the GPU. The continuity of Trotskyism in Europe had been broken. This tragic process was duplicated elsewhere with the imprisonment and eventual execution of Ta Thu-tau and the Vietnamese Trotskyists, the virtual extinction of the Chinese Trotskyists and the liquidation of the remaining Russian Trotskyists (including, besides Trotsky, Ignace Reiss, Rudolf Klement and Leon Sedov). The Europeans were apparently so starved for experienced leading cadres that Pierre Frank (leading member of the Molinier group which Trotsky denounced as “demoralized centrists” in 1935 and expelled in 1938 for refusing to break with the French social-democracy after the “French Turn”) was enabled to become a leader of the post-war French section.
At this crucial juncture the intervention and leadership of a truly internationalist American Trotskyist party might have made a great difference. But the SWP, which should have assumed leadership in the International throughout the war years, was sunk in its own national preoccupations. Cannon noted later that the SWP leadership had deliberately built up Pablo’s authority, even going “so far as to soft-pedal a lot of our differences” (June 1953). The urgent responsibility of the SWP, which whatever its deficiencies was the strongest and most experienced Trotskyist organization, was precisely the opposite.
The immediate task facing the Trotskyists after the war was to reorient its cadres and reassess the situation of the vanguard and the class in light of previous projections. The Trotskyists’ expectations of tottering West European capitalist regimes and the renewal of violent class struggle throughout Europe, and especially in Germany where the collapse of Nazi state power left a vacuum, had been confirmed. However the reformists, particularly the Stalinist parties, reasserted themselves to contain the spontaneous working-class upsurges. Control of the French working class through the CGT passed from the social democracy (SFIO) which had controlled the CGT before the war to the French Stalinists. Thus despite the manifest revolutionary spirit of the European working class and the great waves of general strikes, especially in France, Belgium, Greece and Italy, throughout West Europe, the proletariat did not take power and the Stalinist apparatus emerged with new strength and solidity.
The Fourth International responded by falling back on sterile orthodoxy and stubborn refusal to believe that these struggles had been defeated for the immediate period:
“Under these conditions partial defeats… temporary periods of retreat…do not demoralize the proletariat…. The repeated demonstration by the bourgeoisie of its inability to restabilize an economy and political regime of the slightest stability offers the workers new opportunities to go over to even higher stages of struggle.
“The swelling of the ranks of the traditional organizations in Europe, above all the Stalinist parties…has reached its peak almost everywhere. The phase of decline is beginning.”
(European Executive Committee, April 1946)
Right-opportunist critics in the Trotskyist movement (the German IKD, the SWP’s Goldman-Morrow faction) were correct in noting the over-optimism of such an analysis and in pointing out that the traditional reformist leaderships of the working class are always the first inheritors of a renewal of militancy and struggle. Their “solution,” however, was to argue for a limitation of the Trotskyist program to bourgeois-democratic demands, and such measures as critical support to the post-war French bourgeois Constitution. Their advocacy of an entrist policy toward the European reformist parties was dismissed out of hand by the majority, which expected the workers to more or less spontaneously regroup under the Trotskyist banner. This attitude prepared the way for a sharp reversal on the entrism question when the implicit position of ignoring the reformists’ influence could no longer be maintained.
The Fourth International’s immediate post-war perspective was summed up by Ernest Germain (Mandel) in an article called “The First Phase of the European Revolution” (Fourth International, August 1946). The title already implies the outlook: “the revolution” was implicitly redefined as a metaphysical process enduring continuously and progressing inevitably toward victory, rather than a sharp and necessarily time-limited confrontation over the question of state power, the outcome of which will shape the entire subsequent period.
The later, Pabloist, capitulation to Stalinism was prepared by impressionistic overstatement of its opposite: Stalinophobia. In November 1947 Pablo’s International Secretariat wrote that the Soviet Union had become:
“a workers state degenerated to the point where all progressive manifestations of the remains of the October conquest are more and more neutralized by the disastrous effects of the Stalinist dictatorship.”
“What remains of the conquests of October is more and more losing its historic value as a premise for socialist development.”
“…from the Russian occupation forces or from pro-Stalinist governments, which are completely reactionary, we do not demand the expropriation of the bourgeoisie….”
Within the SWP, the rumor circulated that Cannon was flirting with the characterization that the Soviet Union had become a totally degenerated workers state, i.e., a “state capitalist” regime—a position which Natalia Trotsky shortly embraced.
On the question of the Stalinist expansion into East Europe, the Fourth International was united in simple-minded orthodoxy. An extensive discussion of “The Kremlin in Eastern Europe” (Fourth International, November 1946) by E. R. Frank (Bert Cochran) was shrill in anti-Stalinist tone and tended toward the view that the countries occupied by the Red Army would be deliberately maintained as capitalist states. A polemic against Shachtman by Germain dated 15 November 1946 was still more categorical: the theory of “a degenerated workers state being installed in a country where there has not yet previously been a proletarian revolution” is dismissed, simply, as “absurd.” And Germain rhetorically queries, “Does [Shachtman] really think that the Stalinist bureaucracy has succeeded in overthrowing capitalism in half of our continent?” (Fourth International, February 1947)
The methodology here is the same as that pursued, more cynically, by the “International Committee” in later years over the question of Cuba (perplexed? then deny reality!) with the difference that the class character of East Europe, with capitalist economic institutions but the state power held by the occupying army of a degenerated workers state, was far more difficult to understand. Empiricists and renegades, of course, had no difficulty in characterizing the East European states:
“Everyone knows that in the countries where the Stalinists have taken power they have proceeded, at one or another rate of speed, to establish exactly the same economic, political, social regime as exists in Russia. Everyone knows that the bourgeoisie has been or is rapidly being expropriated, deprived of all its economic power, and in many cases deprived of mortal existence…. Everyone knows that what remnants of capitalism remain in those countries will not even be remnants tomorrow, that the whole tendency is to establish a social system identical with that of Stalinist Russia.”
(Max Shachtman, “The Congress of the Fourth International,” October 1948 New International)
Excruciating as this ridicule must have been for them, however, the orthodox Trotskyists were trapped in their analysis because they could not construct a theory to explain the East Europe transformation without embracing non-revolutionary conclusions.
Germain, as was typical for him in those years, at least posed the theoretical dilemma clearly: is the Trotskyist understanding of Stalinism correct if Stalinism shows itself willing in some cases to accomplish any sort of anti-capitalist social transformation? Clinging to orthodoxy, the Trotskyists had lost a real grasp of theory and suppressed part of Trotsky’s dialectical understanding of Stalinism as a parasitic and counter-revolutionary caste sitting atop the gains of the October Revolution, a kind of treacherous middle-man poised between the victorious Russian proletariat and world imperialism. Having thus reduced dialectical materialism to static dogma, their disorientation was complete when it became necessary to answer Germain’s question in the affirmative, and the way was prepared for Pabloist revisionism to leap into the theoretical void.
Fourth International Flirts with Tito
Virtually without exception the Fourth International was disoriented by the Yugoslav revolution. After some twenty years of Stalinist monolithism, the Trotskyists were perhaps ill-disposed to scrutinize the anti-Stalin Yugoslav CP too carefully. The Yugoslav Titoists were described as “comrades” and “left centrists,” and Yugoslavia as “a workers state established by a proletarian revolution.” In one of several “Open Letters” to Tito, the SWP wrote: “The confidence of the masses in it [“your party”] will grow enormously and it will become the effective collective expression of the interests and desires of the proletariat of its country.” The Yugoslav revolution posed a new problem (later recapitulated by the Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese experiences): unlike East Europe, where the social transformations were accomplished by the army of a foreign degenerated workers state, the Yugoslav revolution was clearly an indigenous social revolution which, without the intervention of the working class or the direction of a Trotskyist party, succeeded in establishing a (deformed) workers state. The Fourth International avoided the theoretical problem by dubbing the revolution “proletarian” and the Titoists “left centrists.” (The SWP avoided the question of China by refusing to unambiguously characterize the Maoist regime as a deformed workers state until 1955. As late as 1954 two articles by the Phillips tendency, characterizing China as state capitalist, were published in the SWP’s Fourth International.)
Again orthodoxy is maintained but robbed of its content. The impulse, resisted until Pablo was to give it consistent expression, was that the ability of non-proletarian, non-Trotskyist forces to accomplish any form of social overturn robbed the Fourth International of its reason for existence. The crucial qualitative distinction between a workers state and a deformed workers state—demarcated in blood in the need for political revolution to open the road to socialist development and the extension of the revolution abroad—had been lost.
The numerically weak, socially isolated, theoretically unarmed and inexperienced cadres of the post-war Fourth International were easy prey for disorientation and impatience in a situation of repeated pre-revolutionary upsurges whose course they could not influence. Beginning in early 1951 a new revisionism, Pabloism, began to assert itself, responding to the frustrating objective situation by posing an ersatz way out of the isolation of the Fourth International from the main motion of the working class. Pabloism was the generalization of this impulse in a revisionist body of theory offering impressionistic answers which were more consistent than the one-sided orthodoxy of the early post-war Fourth International.
It is crucial that the organizational weakness, lack of deep roots in the proletariat and theoretical incapacity and disorientation which were the precondition for the revisionist degeneration of the Fourth International not be simply equated with the consolidation and victory of that revisionism. Despite grave political errors, the Fourth International in the immediate post-war period was still revolutionary. The SWP and the International clung to sterile orthodoxy as a talisman to ward off non-revolutionary conclusions from world events which they could no longer comprehend. History had demonstrated that at crucial junctures revolutionary Marxists have been able to transcend an inadequate theory: Lenin before April 1917 was theoretically unequipped to project a proletarian revolution in a backward country like Russia; Trotsky until 1933 had equated the Russian Thermidor with a return to capitalism. Pabloism was more than a symmetrical false theory, more than simply an impressionistic over-reaction against orthodoxy; it was a theoretical justification for a non-revolutionary impulse based on giving up a perspective for the construction of a proletarian vanguard in the advanced or the colonial countries.
In January 1951 Pablo ventured into the realm of theory with a document called “Where Are We Going?” Despite whole paragraphs of confused crackpotism and virtually meaningless bombast, the whole revisionist structure emerges:
“The relation of forces on the international chess-board is now evolving to the disadvantage of imperialism.
“An epoch of transition between capitalism and socialism, an epoch which has already begun and is quite advanced…. This transformation will probably take an entire period of several centuries and will in the meantime be filled with forms and regimes transitional between capitalism and socialism and necessarily deviating from ‘pure’ forms and norms.
“The objective process is in the final analysis the sole determining factor, overriding all obstacles of a subjective order.
“The Communist Parties retain the possibility in certain circumstances of roughly outlining a revolutionary orientation.”
Pablo’s elevation of the “objective process” to “the sole determining factor” reducing the subjective factor (the consciousness and organization of the vanguard party) to irrelevance, the discussion of “several centuries” of “transition” (later characterized by Pablo’s opponents as “centuries of deformed workers states”) and the suggestion that revolutionary leadership might be provided by the Stalinist parties rather than the Fourth International—the whole analytic structure of Pabloist revisionism emerged.
In another document, “The Coming War,” Pablo put forward his policy of “entrism sui generis” (entrism of its own kind):
“In order to integrate ourselves into the real mass movement, to work and to remain in the masses’ trade unions for example, ‘ruses’ and ‘capitulations’ are not only acceptable but necessary.”
In essence, the Trotskyists were to abandon the perspective of short-term entrism whose purpose had always been to split the working-class organizations on a hard programmatic basis as a tactic for building the Trotskyist party. The new entrist policy flowed directly from Pablo’s analysis. Since the asserted shift in the world relationship of forces in favor of the advance of the revolution would compel the Stalinist parties to play a revolutionary role, it was only logical that the Trotskyists should be a part of such parties pursuing essentially a policy of pressuring the Stalinist apparatus.
All this should have exploded a bomb in the heads of the international Trotskyist cadres. Pablo was after all the head of the International Secretariat, the resident political body of the Fourth International! But there is little evidence of even alarm, let alone the formation of the international anti-revisionist faction which was required. One long document by Ernest Germain (“Ten Theses”), and perhaps some subterranean rumbling, did force Pablo to produce an attempt at orthodoxy on the question of the “transitional period” but no other literary notice was taken of Pablo’s most overt assault against the program of Trotskyism.