Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
How the WRP Betrayed Trotskyism

Internationalism and the Fight for Trotskyism in Britain

The precondition for the development of a Trotskyist party in Britain was the struggle against a nationalist outlook which expressed the pressure of imperialism and its ideology on the oldest working class in the world. Prior to the founding congress of the Fourth International, Trotsky intransigently opposed the attempt by the British ILP to preserve its national autonomy and later chastized the Workers Internationalist League, of which Healy was then a member, for refusing to subordinate its factional differences in Britain to the interests of the international proletariat and work within the discipline of its world party. He warned the WIL leaders:

“It is possible to maintain and develop a revolutionary political grouping of serious importance only on the basis of great principles. The Fourth International alone embodies and represents these principles. It is possible for a national group to maintain a constant revolutionary course only if it is firmly connected in one organization with co-thinkers throughout the world and maintains a constant political and theoretical collaboration with them. The Fourth International alone is such an organization. All purely national groupings, all those who reject international organization, control, and discipline are in their essence reactionary.” (Documents of the Fourth International, Pathfinder, p. 270)

This warning was not originally heeded by the WIL and valuable time was lost until its leaders finally recognized that the development of their organization was not possible without accepting the political authority of the Fourth International. In 1944, the WIL accepted unification with the existing British section. The development of the Revolutionary Communist Party proceeded through a sharp internal struggle against a petty-bourgeois clique within the leadership that was headed by Jock Haston. This was part of an international struggle against a petty-bourgeois tendency that was sympathetic to Shachtman and which was represented by Felix Morrow and Albert Goldman inside the Socialist Workers Party. It was in the course of that struggle that Healy emerged as the leader of the British section.

In 1953 the British section was split as a result of the growth of an international revisionist tendency led by Pablo and Mandel that proposed to liquidate the Trotskyist movement into Stalinism. The very existence of the Fourth International, which had been theoretically undermined by the revisionist conceptions that permeated the documents of the 1951 Third Congress, was placed in danger. Despite the previous retreats on critical theoretical and political questions that had been made by the leaderships in Britain and the United States, those forces within the Fourth International who based themselves on the working class rallied to defeat the revisionists. The high-point of this struggle was the issuing of the Open Letter by SWP leader James P. Cannon in November 1953, which established the International Committee of the Fourth International to mobilize and lead the orthodox Trotskyists against the Pabloite liquidators in the International Secretariat. Healy, having collaborated closely with Cannon in the fight against Pablo and his representative in Britain, John Lawrence, endorsed the issuing of the Open Letter.

This historic document denounced the Pabloites for “working consciously and deliberately to disrupt, split, and break up the historically-created cadres of Trotskyism in the various countries and to liquidate the Fourth International.” (The Militant, December 21, 1953)

The letter then restated the historic principles upon which Trotskyism was based:

“(1) The death agony of the capitalist system threatens the destruction of civilization through worsening depressions, world wars and barbaric manifestations like fascism. The development of atomic weapons today underlines the danger in the gravest possible way.

“(2) The descent into the abyss can be avoided only by replacing capitalism with a planned economy of socialism on a world scale and thus resuming the spiral of progress opened up by capitalism in its early days.

“(3) This can be accomplished only under the leadership of the working class as the only truly revolutionary class in society. But the working class itself faces a crisis of leadership although the world relationship of social forces was never so favorable as today for the workers to take the road to power.

“(4) To organize itself for carrying out these world-historic aims the working class in each country must construct a revolutionary party in the pattern developed by Lenin; that is, a combat party capable of dialectically combining democracy and centralism—democracy in arriving at decisions, centralism in carrying them out; a leadership controlled by the ranks, ranks able to carry forward under fire in disciplined fashion.

“(5) The main obstacle to this is Stalinism, which attracts workers through exploiting the prestige of the October 1917 revolution in Russia, only later, as it betrays their confidence, to hurl them either into the arms of the Social Democracy, into apathy, or back to illusions in capitalism. The penalty for these betrayals is paid by the working people in the form of consolidation of fascist and monarchist forces, and new outbreaks of wars fostered and prepared by capitalism. From its inception, the Fourth International set as one of its major tasks the revolutionary overthrow of Stalinism inside and outside the USSR.

“(6) The need for flexible tactics facing many sections of the Fourth International, and parties or groups sympathetic to its program, makes it all the more imperative that they know how to fight imperialism and all its petty-bourgeois agencies (such as nationalist formations or trade union bureaucracies) without capitulation to Stalinism, and, conversely, know how to fight Stalinism (which in the final analysis is a petty bourgeois agency of imperialism) without capitulating to imperialism.

“These fundamental principles established by Leon Trotsky retain full validity in the increasingly complex and fluid politics of the world today. In fact the revolutionary situations opening up on every hand as Trotsky foresaw, have only now brought full concreteness to what at one time may have appeared to be somewhat remote abstractions not intimately bound up with the living reality of the time. The truth is that these principles now hold with increasing force both in political analysis and in the determination of the course of practical action.” (Ibid.)

The letter continued with a review of the main lines of Pablo’s program and his disruptive splitting actions all over the world, and then issued this call to Trotskyists all over the world:

“To sum up: The lines of cleavage between Pablo’s revisionism and orthodox Trotskyism are so deep that no compromise is possible either politically or organizationally. The Pablo faction has demonstrated that it will not permit democratic decisions truly reflecting majority opinion to be reached. They demand complete submission to their criminal policy. They are determined to drive all orthodox Trotskyists out of the Fourth International or to muzzle and handcuff them.

“Their scheme has been to inject their Stalinist conciliationism piecemeal and likewise in piecemeal fashion, get rid of those who come to see what is happening and raise objections. That is the explanation for the strange ambiguity about many of the Pabloite formulations and diplomatic evasions.

“Up to now the Pablo faction has had a certain success with this unprincipled and Machiavellian maneuverism. But the qualitative point of change has been reached. The political issues have broken through the maneuvers and the fight is now a showdown.

“If we may offer advice to the sections of the Fourth International from our enforced position outside the ranks, we think the time has come to act and to act decisively. The

time has come for the orthodox Trotskyist majority of the Fourth International to assert their will against Pablo’s usurpation of authority.” (Ibid.)

Several months later, on March 1, 1954, Cannon analyzed the historical implications of the split:

“We alone are unconditional adherents of the Lenin-Trotsky theory of the party of the conscious vanguard and its role as leader of the revolutionary struggle. This theory acquires burning actuality and dominates all others in the present epoch.

“The problem of leadership now is not limited to spontaneous manifestations of the class struggle in a long drawn-out process, nor even to the conquest of power in this or that country where capitalism is especially weak. It is a question of the development of the international revolution and the socialist transformation of society. To admit that this can happen automatically is, in effect, to abandon Marxism altogether. No, it can only be a conscious operation, and it imperatively requires the leadership of the Marxist party which represents the conscious element in the historic process. No other party will do. No other tendency in the labor movement can be recognized as a satisfactory substitute. For that reason, our attitude towards all other parties and tendencies is irreconcilably hostile.

“If the relation of forces requires the adaptation of the cadres of the vanguard to organizations dominated at the moment by such hostile tendencies—Stalinist, Social Democratic, centrist—then such adaptation must be regarded at all times as a tactical adaptation, to facilitate the struggle against them; never to effect a reconciliation with them; never to ascribe to them the decisive historical role, with the Marxists assigned to the minor chore of giving friendly advice and ‘loyal’ criticism, in the manner of the Pabloite comments on the French General Strike.” (Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Vol. 2, New Park, p. 65)

The international struggle against Pablo was decisive for the future development of the Trotskyist movement in Britain. Despite their small numbers and extreme poverty—which was exacerbated by the provocations organized against them by the openly pro-Stalinist Pabloite Lawrence group—the British Trotskyists had been immeasurably strengthened by the theoretical lessons of the struggle within the Fourth International. It proved to be the indispensible preparation of the British Trotskyists for their intervention in the crisis which erupted in 1956 inside the Communist Party following Khrushchev’s partial revelation of Stalin’s crimes and the subsequent Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Politically armed through the struggle against Pabloism, the Trotskyists were able to win important forces from the ranks of the British Communist Party—thus providing new opportunities for the expansion of the movement’s theoretical work as well as its activities inside the trade unions and the Labour Party. These gains were consolidated with the founding of the Socialist Labour League in 1959.

During this period, the British Trotskyists began to play an increasingly active political role in the work of the International Committee, especially after Cannon evinced a weakening in his stand against the Pabloites. Healy and his closest collaborator, Mike Banda, had closely followed the evolution of the Pabloites in Europe—especially their centrist response to the invasion of Hungary—and were convinced that there existed no grounds to suggest that the political differences between the International Secretariat and the International Committee had diminished. In fact, they were convinced of the opposite. Therefore, they viewed with increasing alarm the growing conciliationism within the American SWP toward the Pabloites.

Behind the increasing political tension between the SLL and the SWP was a growing divergence in the orientation of the two sections. Since 1957, when the SWP had launched the so-called “regroupment” campaign in the United States, it was increasingly directed in its political work toward the milieu of petty-bourgeois radicalism. The line of the SWP, even in its theoretical organ, grew softer and more conciliatory to the historic enemies of Trotskyism. By 1958 Hansen was publicly repudiating the political revolution against the Kremlin bureaucracy. The SLL, on the other hand, was deepening its penetration of the mass workers’ movement on the basis of an unrelenting struggle against the right-wing Social Democratic bureaucracy. In 1958 and 1960, Healy met with Cannon and other leaders of the SWP to see whether it would be possible to restrain their precipitous moves toward reunification with the Pabloites and work for the maximum clarification of the international cadre as a prerequisite for unity discussions with the International Secretariat.

However, the political differences between the SWP and the SLL continued to widen. In 1960, more than a year after Castro had come to power, the SWP swung over to the position that a workers’ state had been created in Cuba and that the “Castro team” consisted of “unconscious Marxists” who represented an adequate substitute for a Trotskyist party of the Cuban working class.

On January 2, 1961, the National Committee of the Socialist Labour League addressed a letter to the SWP leadership in which they expressed their deep concern that the veteran Trotskyists of the United States were drifting away from the strategic goal of the Fourth International. Itstressed to the SWP the great importance of the struggle for principles:

“We are entering a period comparable in significance to 1914-1917 and it is as vital now as it was then to break sharply and clearly with all sorts of centrist tendencies within our own ranks. If we are to fulfill our revolutionary duty in the coming years as the Bolsheviks did, we have to follow the example of Lenin, not that of Luxemburg, in not merely criticizing but also uncompromisingly separating ourselves from all sorts of contemporary Kautskys; first and foremost, from the Pablo gang.” (Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Vol. Three, p. 46)

It is important to note that the SLL was insisting that the struggle against centrism and all forms of opportunism assumes the greatest significance at the very point when the objective situation brings forward an intensification of the class struggle and expands the possibilities for party building in the working class. Moreover, this attitude of theoretical intransigence came precisely when the SLL was beginning to make major gains inside the workers’ movement—especially among the youth inside the Labour Party Young Socialists, where the SLL was building its factions and training a youth cadre as Trotskyists.

It warned the SWP that the “greatest danger confronting the revolutionary movement is liquidationism, flowing from a capitulation either to the strength of imperialism or to 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 center of all Marxist theory and strategy in the epoch of imperialism, but the plaything of ‘world-historical factors,’ surveyed and assessed in abstract fashion.” (Ibid., p. 48)

The SLL took the Pabloites to task for their combination of impressionism and objectivism, and analyzed the significance of their revisionism for the Fourth International: “...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.” (Ibid. p. 49)

The British Trotskyists warned: “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. In Britain we have seen the results of Pablo’s revisionism in Pabloite actions since the formation of the Socialist Labour League and the current policy crisis in the Labour Party and we are more than ever convinced of the need to build a Leninist party absolutely free from the revisionism which Pabloism represents.”(Ibid.)

Contrary to those who claim that principles stand in the way of building a party and in direct contradiction to the claims of that flabby imposter, S. Michael, that the upsurge of the masses negates the need for theoretical irreconcilability, the SLL declared:

“It is because of the magnitude of the opportunities opening up before Trotskyism and therefore the necessity of 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.” (Ibid.)

The SWP responded with hostility to the proposals of the SLL. Cannon, who had given up on the American working class and reconciled himself to serving as the national chairman emeritus of an increasingly middle-class organization, wrote to Farrell Dobbs on May 12, 1961: “The breach between us and Gerry is obviously widening. It is easier to recognize that than to see how the recent trend can be reversed. In my opinion, Gerry is heading toward disaster and taking his whole organization with him.” (Ibid., p. 71)

In the course of the next two years, the SLL forced a discussion on the most fundamental problems of Marxist program and method despite all the attempts of Hansen to prevent any clarification of the historical implications of the 1953 split. The documents produced by the leaders of the SLL, especially Cliff Slaughter, were among the most important contributions to the development of Trotskyism since the great struggle against the petty-bourgeois opposition in 1939-40. To the ever-lasting historical credit of those who led this fight, the SLL courageously challenged the liquidationist wave that was engulfing large sections of the Trotskyist movement. Against the seemingly irreversible tide of adaptation to various petty-bourgeois leaders temporarily dominating the anti-imperialist struggle in the semicolonial countries, the SLL dared to stand up for principles that were being derided as out-of-date and irrelevant. It defended the perspective of the proletarian dictatorship and fought back against the debasement of Marxist theory by pragmatists and impressionists looking for the easy way out of building the Fourth International. It did not merely defend the Open Letter: the SLL fought to extract the essence of Trotsky’s teachings and their historical relation to Lenin’s life-long struggle to build a genuine proletarian party. Working in a country whose theoretical traditions were dominated by empiricism, the British Trotskyists became the champions of a renaissance of Marxist theory and exposed the bankrupt objectivism which constituted the anti-dialectical underpinnings of the Pabloite attack on Trotskyism.

As the word began to get around that the SLL was not going to play ball with Hansen’s scheme to liquidate Trotskyism under the cover of reunification, the slanderers set to work in order to frame the SLL and its national secretary, Gerry Healy, as “ultra-left” sectarians. But despite the calumny and falsifications, the SLL began to forge links with Trotskyists in different parts of the world. With extraordinary patience, its leaders undertook to train a Trotskyist faction within the SWP, impressing upon its members again and again that there existed no way to defend the Fourth International and build its sections all over the world except through the most exhaustive and thorough-going struggle against revisionism. Above all, they stressed that nothing could be built anywhere in the world, including Britain, unless the fight for the Fourth International was placed at the center of the work in each country.

In June 1963, as the SWP was carrying through its unprincipled reunification with the Pabloites—an action which was to destroy countless sections and cost hundreds of Trotskyists in Latin America their lives as a result of the catastrophic errors which followed—Healy addressed a final letter to the party with which he had closely collaborated for more than 20 years. He denounced with indignation their cover-up of the betrayals of the LSSP in Sri Lanka and their publicity build-up of various bourgeois nationalists like Ben Bella. And he poured scorn on those who justified their abandonment of principles with the claim that they had broken out of “isolation.”

“Of course you have no time for the ‘sectarian SLL.’ Our comrades in the ranks and in the leadership fight day in and day out against reformism and Stalinism in the best traditions of the Trotskyist movement. But they do not yet speak to tens of thousands at public meetings like Ben Bella, Castro and the so-called Ceylon May Day meeting. In your eyes we are merely small, ‘ultra-left fry.’

“Our comrades took the leadership in the recent campaign against unemployment, organized and spoke to a mass meeting of 1,300, but this is small stuff. When our comrades deal powerful blows against the Social Democrats in the youth movement in the teeth of a violent witch-hunt, your correspondent T.J. Peters (a one-time leading SWP supporter who now writes like a retired liberal) speaks only of the great future before ‘British Labour.’

“We old-fashioned ‘sectarians’ believe that the Fourth International of which our organization has always been an integral part, offers the only alternative to the corrupt leadership of so-called ‘British Labour.’ But Peters has no time for us. He, like you, has really seen the light.

“It took you some time. (As the saying goes ‘Those who come late to Christ come hardest.’) It is approximately 12 years since George Clarke joined forces with Pablo and published the message of the infamous Third Congress in The Militant and what was at that time the magazine Fourth International. You failed to understand Pablo at that time, and then we had the split of 1953. Cannon hailed this split with the words that we were ‘never going back to Pabloism.’ But at last you have made it. You now have allies all over the place, from Fidel Castro, to Philip Gunawardene and Pablo.

“We want to say only one thing and in this our congress was unanimous. We are proud, of the stand which our organization has taken against such a disgraceful capitulation to the most reactionary forces as that to which the majority leadership of your party has fully succumbed.” (Ibid., pp. 163-64)

One year later, in June 1964, when the LSSP—which had opposed the Open Letter and then played a key role in the maneuvers which led to the reunification—entered the bourgeois coalition government of Madame Bandaranaike, the warnings of the Socialist Labour League were confirmed. Healy had travelled to Colombo to attend the LSSP conference and to campaign against the traitors who were plotting their way into the coalition government. On the day of the conference, June 6, 1964, he stood outside the gates of the Town Hall, demanding to be admitted so that he could speak to the delegates and urge them to reject the decision of N. M. Perrera, Colvin De Silva and other LSSP leaders to enter the bourgeois government. Though he succeeded in forcing a vote on the question of his admission into the conference, Healy was denied entry. He remained at the gates outside the meeting, calling on delegates to break with the LSSP leaders and support the revolutionary wing. When the conference was over, Healy went to address dock workers in Colombo port, textile workers at Wellawatta weaving mills, and a group of university students. At all these meetings he explained the historic significance of the betrayal carried out by the LSSP in collaboration with the Hansen-Mandel “United Secretariat.” His call for the defense of Trotskyism against the LSSP traitors evoked a powerful response. The work he carried out in Sri Lanka—which was further developed during subsequent trips by Michael and Tony Banda—laid the basis for the rebuilding of the Trotskyist movement in that country.

In the United States, the SLL worked to reorganize the Trotskyist movement in the aftermath of the SWFs desertion of the Fourth International. Immense political assistance was given, not only in the analysis of the split but in the development of a revolutionary perspective for the American proletariat. Fighting against tendencies to see the split simply in the context of radical politics in the United States, the SLL fought to develop a genuine Marxist party, oriented to the working class and based on internationalism. As a result of this protracted theoretical and political clarification, the petty-bourgeois radical and anti-internationalist character of the Spartacist group was exposed and the conditions were created to transform the American Committee for the Fourth International into the Workers League in November 1966.

The work conducted by the Socialist Labour League between 1961 and 1966 represented a historic contribution to the building of the Fourth International. It had assumed responsibility for leading the struggle against revisionism and reorganizing, along with the OCI in France, the world Trotskyist movement.

It was during this period of intensive theoretical work on an international front that the SLL laid the foundations for enormous political and organizational advances within Britain. In 1964 it captured the leadership of the Labour Party Young Socialists. In response to a purge by the Wilson leadership in the Labour Party, it established the YS as the independent youth organization of the Trotskyist movement.

This influx of a new generation made possible an expansion of the SLL’s political work. In 1968, the revolutionary perspective for which it had fought against the Pabloites was completely confirmed by the French General Strike of May-June. This development led to the rapid growth in the OCI in France and, under conditions of a growing conflict between the working class and the right-wing reformist Labour government, a substantial increase in the size of the Socialist Labour League. In September 1969, the first daily Trotskyist newspaper, the Workers Press was established.

In June 1970 the Labourites called an election, based on opinion polls which showed them coasting to an easy victory over the Tories. However, the treacherous record of the Government, exemplified by its abortive attempt to introduce anti-union laws, created the conditions for the victory of the Tories. This set into motion an escalation of class conflict on a scale not seen since the end of World War II. Workers, intellectuals and youth began to enter the Socialist Labour League in unprecedented numbers. The facilities and resources of the movement expanded at a tremendous speed. Actors and playwrights attended SLL lectures, joined the party and assisted in the staging of such powerful gatherings as the Alexandra Palace rally which drew an audience of 4,000. In response to the introduction of antiunion laws by the Heath government (the Industrial Relations Act) and the growth of unemployment, the SLL organized a national campaign against unemployment based on youth marches which attracted immense support in Britain and whose progress was followed with pride throughout all the sections of the International Committee.

Educational camps in Essex were held during the summers of 1970, 1971 and 1972 that attracted ever-larger international delegations. The strength of the SLL and its stature among revolutionists all over the world had grown enormously. As a result of its struggle against revisionism, it had been able to develop the first serious Marxist analysis of the post-war capitalist boom ever attempted within the Trotskyist movement and explained the explosive contradictions embodied in the Bretton Woods system of international finance based on dollar-gold convertibility. The British Trotskyists exposed the characteristic impressionism of Mandel’s theory of neo-capitalism, which attempted to transform Marx’s Capital into an apology for the subordination of the working class to middle-class protest movements.