The revolutionary tradition of the Fourth International and the centrist tradition of its Epigones Gerry Healy and the ”International Committee” – A Reply from the RCIT to ”Socialist Fight”
By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), October 2013, www.thecommunists.net
The British group Socialist Fight, which is part of the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International (together with the LC in Brazil and the TMB in Argentina) has published a polemic against our analysis of the degeneration of the Fourth International after World War II. (1)
The subject of this document, written by comrade Laurence Humphries, is an important book for our movement called The Death Agony of the Fourth International, which our predecessor organization Workers Power (Britain) published in 1983. (2)
We appreciate comrade Humphries’ contribution for two reasons. First it is a welcome contribution if an organization, which claims to stand in the tradition of Trotsky, deals with the history of the Fourth International. This, in itself, is not a taken-for-granted in times like the present in which the degeneration of pseudo-Trotskyism has reached such low levels that hardly any of these epigones bother to show any interests in the history of our movement. While we do not agree with the positions of Socialist Fight, we appreciate their interest in the subject of the post-WWII development of the Fourth International.
Secondly we welcome comrade Humphries’ contribution because it helps to clarify the programmatic differences between the LCFI and the RCIT which we consider to be differences between centrism and Bolshevism.
Unfortunately, there is nothing positive to add to these comments. The SF/LCFI document is politically and theoretically wrong. Despite some mild criticism, it praises the thoroughly centrist tradition of Gerry Healy and claims that he as well as his partners in the so-called ”International Committee” in the years after 1953 – Pierre Lambert, James P. Cannon, Nahuel Moreno, etc. – represent the revolutionary continuity of the Trotsky’s Fourth International. As such, the SF/LCFI concludes at the end of its document: “Workers Power has characterised the split in 1953 as a centrist split and did not break with Pablo’s method. WP are wrong theoretically. In 1953 the opposition to Pablo did fight. (…) The 1953 split was a principled defence of Trotskyism against liquidation and revisionism and was therefore a definite continuity of Trotskyism.”
In fact, as we will demonstrate below, Healy and the ”International Committee” were rather a centrist current – in rivalry with the other centrist split of the Fourth International (the so-called ”International Secretariat” of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel) – which did not restore the revolutionary continuity of Trotsky’s Fourth International. The document proves once more that central leaders of Socialist Fight – and thus the LCFI – who have been members of Healy’s organization in the past (most prominently Gerry Downing, the central leader of the SF/LCFI) still adhere to this rotten tradition. Healy’s pupils fail to break with their master.
In addition the SF/LCFI document also distorts the history of the Fourth International and confuses simple facts as well as the arguments of its opponents. It simply lacks any serious dealing with the subject as we will show.
I. Incessant Confusion of Facts and Positions
The lack of seriousness on behalf of the SF/LCFI starts already with the fact that nearly 30% of the document is a largely concealed copy-and-paste job. The author has simply incorporated, literally, sentence-for-sentence and paragraph-for-paragraph large chunks of another study to which he refers only once. With the exception of one paragraph, he presents this material as his own. The study, from which the SF/LCFI plagiarizes so extensively, is called “The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy” written by Bob Pitt, a former member of Healy’s WRP, in 1989. (3) Naturally there is nothing wrong in quoting from other publication. Quite the contrary, this assists the reader in studying original sources and in better checking the facts. However, this is, of course, not possible if an author conceals the source of nearly a third of his document which was simply copied and pasted.
In the real world, any scientist or scholar who presents the insights of others as his or her own, is immediately dismissed. In politics, we have no other sanction than contempt for such shameful tricks. Why did the LCFI conceal its extensive copying? Maybe because the original study is not only much better researched, but is a superior political analysis of the rotten tradition of Gerry Healy?!
Unsurprisingly, this vast copy-and-paste job gives the SF/LCFI a certain contradictory character since the paragraphs stolen from Bob Pitt usually contain more critical notes on Healy’s “achievements” than the paragraphs written by the SF/LCFI itself.
The LCFI could have at least minimized the damage if it would have copied more of Bob Pitt’s study and not cut out his insightful and fundamental criticism of the bankrupt tradition of Gerry Healy. But, unfortunately, the LCFI cut out precisely those critical sentences and parts of sentences which denounce the rotten methods of Gerry Healy in the paragraphs it integrated into its own article.
The disorganized and disorientated but still revolutionary Fourth International during World War II and its collapse into centrism in 1948-1951
However, this is definitely not the only defect of the LCFI document. The first few paragraphs of the document are representative for the whole article. The article starts as follows: “The Fourth International during the war years of 1940-1945 prepared for Trotsky’s prognosis on the future of Imperialism and the tasks of the Fourth International. WP maintains that the struggle inside the Fourth International that wars and revolutions were Imminent was correct. WP have argued that the FI was not a continuity during this period and neither tendency represented a serious left opposition and therefore does not constitute a continuity of Trotskyism.”
In fact, our tendency maintains quite the opposite. WP(B)/RCIT reject the opinion that the Fourth International in the war years of 1940-1945 did not represent the continuity of Trotskyism. What we say is that it was severely weakened and disorganized in this period and that it made a number of errors. It stopped following the tradition of authentic Trotskyism when it programmatically adapted to Stalinism, in particularly its Yugoslavian version, Titoism. This did however not take place, as the LCFI wrongly ascribes to us, in 1940-1945 but in 1948-1951. We made this plainly clear in our book and it is astonishing how the LCFI could miss that:
“In 1951 the centrist positions of the Third World Congress on Stalinism, on Yugoslavia, and general perspectives (the impending "civil war" perspective) proved, beyond doubt, that a programmatic collapse of the Fourth International had taken place. The fact that no section voted against the Yugoslav resolution - the cornerstone of all the errors - is a fact of enormous significance.
The FI as a whole had collapsed into centrism. From this point on, the task facing Trotskyists was the refoundation of a Leninist-Trotskyist International on the basis of a re-elaborated programme of revolutionary communism. Manoeuvres to replace the leadership of the FI were entirely insufficient. The programmatic basis of the FI had to be changed. The manner by which this could have been done in the early 1950s is a matter of tactical speculation. What is decisive for us is that it was not done. The historical continuity of Trotskyism was shattered – as was evidenced by Pablo's use of the Congress documents at the Tenth Plenum of the International Executive Committee in February 1952, to usher in "entrism sui generis" The opposition in America, Britain and France that did emerge in 1952-3 was subjectively committed to opposing Pablo. However, they have to be judged not by their impulse but by their politics. Their "orthodoxy" was both sterile and based on post-war revisionism, prompted by the Yugoslav events. It was not authentic Trotskyism.
Thus we cannot view either component of the 1953 split as the "continuators" of Trotskyism. Both were centrist.
The IC, itself developing in a rightward direction (e.g. Healy's work in the Labour Party) was distinguished from the IS by the pace of its development. It recoiled from the most blatant expressions of liquidationism issuing from the IS, but not from the right-centrist documents that underpinned that liquidationism. Therefore the IC did not constitute a "left centrist" alternative to the IS.” (4)
Cowardly SWP(US) Leadership Deviates towards Social-Patriotism
Of course Marxists have to make a number of criticisms of the leadership of the Fourth International during the war. This is particularly true for the cowardly adaption to domestic imperialist pressures by the strongest and most important section of the Fourth International, the Socialist Workers Party (USA), which – in addition to this – could also operate under relatively legal conditions. Despite their relatively advantageous conditions, the SWP – which later would become one of the key forces of the ”International Committee” split after 1953 – adapted to social-patriotism. Already before US imperialism entered World War II in December 1941, the SWP leadership stated in an Editorial of its paper “The Militant”: "As horrible as war is, we would not hesitate to urge Roosevelt to enter the war, if it were really to be a war of democracy against fascism. (…) But this is not our war. This is an imperialist war. (…) It is important to make these workers realize that Roosevelt’s war is not a war against fascism. The real solution is to transform the imperialist war into a war against fascism. (i.e. against Germany, Italy and Japan; MP). That can only be done by taking all power out of the hands of the capitalist class.” (5) And the central leader of the SWP, James P. Cannon, stated at a trial on 19/11/1941: “We consider Hitler and Hitlerism the greatest enemy of mankind.” (6) What a difference to the classic communist slogans of Lenin and Liebknecht: “The main enemy is at home” and "Turn the imperialist war into a civil war"!
The SWP propaganda disorientated the US-American workers’ vanguard because it told them that their main enemy is not their domestic ruling class but the German fascists. They criticised the Roosevelt government for not seriously fighting Hitler. The SWP leadership called the workers to oppose the US government’s war because it was suspected of not really fighting against fascism. When however it turned out that the US bourgeoisie did fight and indeed smash German fascism – naturally for their own imperialist interests of world domination – the SWP propaganda left the vanguard workers’ politically unarmed, since their main enemy was supposed to be Hitler and not Roosevelt. When faced with its biggest test in history, the future central force of the co-called “orthodox Trotskyist” International Committee turned out to replace the Bolshevik-Leninist attitude to imperialist war with centristic deviations towards social-patriotism.
This cowardly opportunist deviation of the SWP leadership however cannot remove the fact that many Trotskyist leaders and members fought heroically during the imperialist war for a revolutionary program. From 1943 onwards the Fourth International reorganized in Europe under a new leadership (around Pablo and Mandel) and elaborated – despite some weaknesses – a revolutionary programmatic response to the challenges of the beginning revolutionary phase.
“In 1944 several of the European sections of the FI regrouped at a conference held inside Nazi-occupied Europe. They adopted the "Theses on the Liquidation of World War 2 and the Revolutionary Upsurge". These testified to the continuing revolutionary potential of the sections of the Fourth International. The theses, written at a time when anti-German chauvinism and pro-allied sentiments were growing rapidly in Europe, espoused a defeatist position in the war. They indicated that the reconstruction of the FI on a revolutionary basis was a real possibility. However, severe disorientation over the crucial question of perspectives obstructed this development from taking final shape.” (7)
We clearly stated our view on the timeline of the Fourth International’s degeneration also in another document, from which the LCFI quotes and hence should be aware of. Thus we wrote in “The Trotskyist Manifesto” in 1989:
“As a re-elaborated programme, it has had to confront the fact that the continuity of the revolutionary Marxist movement was broken in 1951 with the degeneration of the Fourth International into centrism.” (8)
“In 1951 the FI ceased to exist as a revolutionary organisation. In 1953 it ceased to exist as a united organisation when it split into warring centrist factions, none of which represented a political continuity with the revolutionary Fourth International of 1938-48.” (9)
And in another article on the history of the Fourth International we wrote:
“In March 1946 some 30 delegates from various sections of the Fourth International (FI) assembled in Paris. A police raid and arrests on the third day forced proceedings to move to a jail, but the disruption could not prevent the conference registering its fundamental achievement: the FI had survived the war.
Looking back on the war years, the delegates had reason to be proud of what Trotsky had dubbed "the only revolutionary force on the planet worthy of the name". They had taken many blows. The murderous hostility of the Stalinists had been unremitting. In the Soviet Union itself, several thousand Trotskyists were brutally killed between 1938 and 1941. Defiant to the end, they faced the firing squads with the Internationale on their lips. Internationally, Stalin's GPU had murdered dozens of key FI leaders, including Trotsky himself. (…)
The international leadership under van Heijenhoort managed to remain true to the positions adopted under Trotsky's guidance and even to develop them. This was of central importance to the fate of the FI. As a small, persecuted international of propaganda groups, its foremost strength lay in its programme, and its most important task was to defend it and win small layers of the vanguard to it, thus preparing the nuclei for future mass struggles. (…)
Nonetheless, by the time of the March 1946 World Conference in Paris, the Fl's cadre and sections had weathered the worst of the repression. Sections had certainly made errors in the name of the International but they had also shown the capacity to correct them in the course of collective discussions. The task now was to re-establish the organisation and re-orient the sections in the post-war world.” (10)
The Objective Difficulties for the Fourth International
However, the distortions continue. In the second paragraph of its article the LCFI writes: “What WP fails to appreciate is the objective situation for Trotskyism. It had come through the war very much weakened. Stalinism was much stronger and this period represented a growth of Stalinism particularly the victory in China and the satellite countries of Eastern Europe.”
Again, nothing could be more dist