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 distant from real position of WP(B)/RCIT. We are fully aware of the difficult objective conditions for the Fourth International and stated this unmistakable in our book:
“On the one hand, the openly bourgeois parties and social democracy were revivified due to the victory of the "democracies". On the other hand, the Stalinist parties with the weight of Russian victory and their own partisan struggles were likewise strengthened. Far from these forces facing the loss of their material basis, or suffering political demise and organisational disintegration, they emerged from the war much stronger than they were in the late 1930s.
Moreover, the politics of class collaboration - established via the Popular Front before the war, and having behind it the prestige of the Second and Third Internationals, were not disrupted until 1946/7, when the post-war crisis had been overcome. The whole weight of bourgeois democracy and Stalinism was thrown into the scales against proletarian revolution.
Once the immediate potentially revolutionary situations were weathered, the enormous economic power of the USA was brought to bear in the West through Marshall Aid, and the Kremlin bureaucracy sealed off its East European glacis and began the process of transforming them into degenerate workers' states, having expropriated the proletariat politically in advance. In Germany the working class upsurge was very weak and was suppressed immediately by Allied and Russian military means. In Italy and France the Stalinists demobilised the partisan militias. In Central and Eastern Europe a varied combination of Soviet forces and indigenous Stalinists and their popular frontist allies were able to prevent any revolutionary upsurge from occurring.
Thus not only were the Trotskyists weak and disorganised, but the conditions for them to emerge from the situation of marginalised propaganda groups did not materialise. Instead, the counter-revolutionary social democracy and Stalinist parties grew in strength, isolating the Trotskyists yet again. Thus social democracy and Stalinism exerted tremendous pressure on the tiny and disoriented forces of the Fourth International.” (11)
Does SF/LCFI Defend Healy’s Notorious ”Security and the Fourth International” Campaign?
However, in the third paragraph, the LCFI comrades add to the difficulties for the Fourth International the penetration of the Trotskyist movement by Stalinist Agents. While this certainly was a problem for the Fourth International until the Stalinists assassinated Trotsky in August 1940, one can hardly claim that the political failures of Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel, Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert, Nahuel Moreno and James P. Cannon are related in any way to Stalinist Agents. Or maybe the LCFI believes that there were Stalinist Agents in the Fourth International’s leadership after World War II?! Well, maybe the LCFI indeed believes so, since it positively refers in its article (in the same paragraph) to the Healyite’s “International Committees investigation into the role of the GPU and their agencies inside the movement.” This “investigation” was particularly shameful and notorious, since Gerry Healy and his lackeys accused the SWP(US) veteran leaders George Novack and Joseph Hansen of being agents of the GPU and/or the FBI, i.e. of the US or USSR secret services! (12) George Novack was a long-standing leading theoretician of the SWP and Joseph Hansen was an important leader who worked as a secretary for Trotsky in 1937-40 in Mexico and was central in preventing the Stalinist agent Ramón Mercader, who killed Trotsky, from fleeing. Later the Healy/WRP leadership accused the entire SWP leadership of working for the FBI. The Peruvian group of Healy’s ICFI went on to attack Hugo Blanco as a supporter of CIA agents (i.e., the SWP leadership). Hugo Blanco was the famous leader of the Peruvian Mandelite USec section who played a central role in the early 1960s in the Quechua peasant uprising in the Cuzco region of Peru and spent many years in prison and exile.
This slanderous accusations were not only condemned by all other forces who claim to stand in the tradition of Trotskyism – irrespective if they were supporters or opponents of the SWP(US) – but was later also repudiated by the WRP leadership around Cliff Slaughter itself after it got rid of Gerry Healy in 1985. Do the LCFI comrades now really want to praise the insane and extremely slandering “International Committees investigation”?! (13)
Our suspicion that the LCFI comrades share the Healyite criminal idiocy of seeing the cause for political faction struggles in conspiracies of imperialist and/or Stalinist secret services is strengthened by another claim in the next paragraph. Here the comrades charge: “WP accuses the IKD, the German section: “The German section veered in a Menshevik direction”. Of course it would adopt this position Stalinist agents were in control of the organisation and created splits and factional activity. While else would they adopt these positions?” So unbelievable the LCFI explains the political right-wing degeneration of the German Trotskyist leadership by claiming that they were Stalinist agents! What complete nonsense, unsubstantiated by facts!
Some Other Nonsense
Unfortunately the nonsense continues. In the fourth paragraph the LCFI writes about the split in the SWP(US) in 1940: “The split with Shachtman in the SWP had left 40% of its cadre in the Workers Party which ended up justifying Stalinism.” This is an astonishing statement since the Menshevik opposition of Shachtman, Abern, and Burnham was certainly not “justifying Stalinism” but, quite the opposite, was deeply Stalinophobic and refused to defend the Soviet Union against imperialist attacks! It therefore took a neutral position during the World War II when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. How on earth can the LCFI seriously call this “justifying Stalinism”?! Is this an example of Healy’s famous caricature of “dialectical materialism”?!
A few sentences later, the LCFI author accuses “Germain” (which was the pseudonym of Ernest Mandel) that he “has remained an apologist for Stalinism ever since particularly his role during the 1968 Belgian general strike.” We are not aware that there was a general strike in Belgian in 1968, to speak nothing about a role of Mandel in such a fabrication. Can it be the case that the LCFI confuses this with the famous Belgium General Strike in 1960–1961 where Mandel indeed played a prominent (and right-wing centrist) role?!
Literally the next sentence contains yet more nonsense: “In the British Section there were two groups who were arguing for entry into the Labour party, the RCP and the WIL.” and – shortly after – “The RCP which was led by Jock Haston and Ted Grant initially opposed entry whereas Healy in the WIL received permission from the International Secretariat to enter the Labour Party in 1947.” This is simply impossible since the RCP was the result of a fusion of the WIL and the RSL in 1944. No WIL existed in 1948! Are the comrades completely ignorant of the history of British Trotskyism?! One is tempted to exclaim that it might have been better if the SF/LCFI author had copied much more of Bob Pitt’s study since it is certainly much more informed on the history of British Trotskyism!
The article becomes even stranger in the next sentence, where it credits Trotsky with advocating “entryism sui generis” while every informed historian of the Fourth International knows that the “sui generis” concept was an invention of Pablo and Healy in the later 1940s which called for a long-term entry into reformist parties and for opportunistically hiding the Trotskyist program in order to stay longer in those parties. This was the complete opposite of Trotsky’s concept which argued for an open struggle for revolutionary positions and a short-term entry tactic (more on this below).
So readers can see that already in the first four paragraphs, the SF/LCFI article contains so much nonsense and factual distortions that, were we to continue with a close examination of the rest of the article, we could fill a book. Obviously, this would not be a valuable use of either our or our readers’ time. Instead, let us now focus on the programmatic and theoretical essence of the document which, unfortunately, is consistent with the confused nature of the article as we outlined above.
II. The Supposed “Revolutionary Continuity” of Healy and the International Committee
The programmatic essence of the SF/LCFI document is its rejection of the WP/RCIT thesis that the Fourth International degenerated in the late 1940s and early 1950s into centrism, and that neither of the two splits in 1953 represented a break from, but rather a continuity of, centrism. In contrast to our position, the LCFI comrades claim that Healy and the ”International Committee” represented a continuation of the revolutionary tradition of Trotsky’s Fourth International:
“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.”
As we have shown in past documents, and will repeat here, Healy and the ”International Committee” shared the centrist capitulation of the Pablo/Mandel leadership towards Stalinism, Social Democracy, and bourgeois nationalism till the split in 1953 and after the split it was no less centrist than its rival. There was no qualitative difference between the adaption and capitulation to petty-bourgeois class forces between the centrist Pablo/Mandel wing and their counterparts Cannon/Healy/Lambert/Moreno. We will demonstrate this for a number of central issues.
Healy and Entryism “sui generis”: Pabloism under the Cover of “Anti-Pabloism”
As we have explained in numerous documents, both sides of the 1953 split subscribed to the centrist capitulation towards petty-bourgeois and bourgeois class forces under the cover of “entryism sui generis”. “The IC criticised Pablo for putting forward deep entryism into the Stalinist movement. However the sections of the IC would practise a much deeper entryism in the very heart of the social democratic and bourgeois nationalist movements.” (14)
Let us look more closely at Healy’s record. He called for entry into the Labour Party as early as June 1945. (15)He was soon to be supported by Michel Pablo, the new International Secretary of the Fourth International and the whole international leadership pressurized the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) – as the British section of the Fourth International was called at that time – to dissolve its organization and to enter Labour. The RCP majority around Jock Haston and Ted Grant argued for a continuation of the independent RCP work combined with continuing its faction work inside the Labour Party. (The RCP had already a number of members inside Labour and published a faction paper called “Militant”.) (16)
Here, we will not discuss whether an entry tactic into the Labour Party was sensible or not at that time. The LCFI comrades think that Healy was correct to push for entry work in the Labour Party. “As Trotskyists it was the right perspective to enter the Labour Party and carry out sustained deep entry work.”
Of course it as a tactical question and not one of principles when and if to conduct entry work in a reformist party. And it is also only of historical interest to discuss what would have been the best tactic for British Trotskyists in the later 1940s and 1950s. However we remark that we are not convinced of the Healyite/LCFI position that entry work was the correct thing to do in this period. The hard facts are that the Trotskyists lost the majority of its members during their entry period due to demoralization. Of course this was not only because of entrism but also because Healy – supported by his mentor Pablo – expelled many of them. (17)But also Healy’s group – which called itself “The Club” (surely the most apolitical name of any entryist formation in the history of Trotskyism!) – did not grow despite 11 years of entry work! (18) Quite the opposite, in 1954, “The Club” is said to have even shrunk to about 40 members. (19) After 1956/57 the Healy group did grow substantially, but not due to the Labour Party milieu, but because of the crisis in the Stalinist party after the Hungarian Revolution and the Stalinist counter-revolution. So the growth of Healy’s group in the later 1950s itself showed that its assumption – that a revolutionary force had to make entrism in the Labour Party because this was the only milieu out which it could grow – was contradicted by its own success.
The alternative position – proposed by the RCP majority around Haston and Grant – might not have completely avoided a numerical decline of the British Trotskyists, which was first and foremost a result of the end of the revolutionary post-war period and the beginning of the world-wide democratic counterrevolutionary period in the early 1950s. (20) But an independent organization would have at least improved the chances to keep the revolutionary banner and to consolidate a Trotskyist cadre. Such a cadre could have played a central role in fighting against the centrist degeneration of the Fourth International and preparing for the class struggles ahead.
However the main problem with Healy’s entryism was not a question of whether entry was correct in itself or not. The fundamental question was the programmatic and political nature of his entryism. Unfortunately, the SF/LCFI comrades fully subscribe to Healy’s (and in fact Pablo’s) understanding of “entrism sui generis”. Such they write: “It is true to say that Pablo and Cannon favoured the leadership of Healy who had entered the Labour Party on a principled basis. (…) The Workers Power document accuses Healy and his group of being Bevanite centrists or left reformists. We need to establish facts before accusations are flung around left and right. As Trotskyists it was the right perspective to enter the Labour Party and carry out sustained deep entry work.”
The truth however is that Healy’s entrism was thoroughly opportunist and had nothing to do with Trotsky’s method. It was rather the model for the liquidationist policy of which Healy, Cannon, Moreno, and Lambert would later accuse Pablo. Throughout the 11 years of its “entrism sui generis”, the Healy group never openly raised the banner of Trotskyism which makes them even worse than the arch-opportunists of CWI/Militant in the 1970s and 1980s. They just called themselves “The Club.” They never published a Trotskyist paper. Instead they launched the paper "Socialist Outlook" in an opportunist political bloc with left-reformists supporters of Labour minister Aneurin Bevan (who Minister of Health and later Minister of Labour from August 1945 till April 1951). The editorial board consisted of the two “Club” members, Healy and John