By Alan Benjamin
(document written in April 2003)
January 1933: Hitler takes power. The German Communist Party—under Stalin’s orders—refuses to unite with the Socialists to fight the fascists. The International Left Opposition concludes that it is time to build a new workers’ international.
September 1938: The founding conference of the Fourth International takes place in Paris.
1939: World War II begins. By the end of the war, a large percentage of Trotskyists are murdered by either the Gestapo, the Stalinists, or the Vichy government.
1950-53: The ‘Pabloist’ crisis hits the Fourth International. The French section is expelled for refusing to capitulate to Stalinism. The Fourth International as an organization is dislocated.
1963: The unprincipled regroupment of the United Secretariat is formed and claims to represent the Fourth International. Today the USec is in the leadership of the Brazilian government, culminating its long history of betrayals.
June 1993: After more than forty years of reconstruction, the Fourth International is reproclaimed. Forty-four sections from different countries of the world participate in the world congress.
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This text does not purport to be the official history of the Fourth International (FI) in the United States. Something of that magnitude is beyond the scope of this effort. Rather, what I have attempted to do here is highlight some of the major moments and political issues that mark the history of the FI in the United States—as a contribution to a much-needed and more complete balance sheet of our movement in this country. At the same time, this contribution is aimed at tracing the revolutionary continuity of Socialist Organizer—which represents the best traditions of the FI in the United States.
The SWP and Fourth International After the War
Unlike the majority of sections of the Fourth International—which were decimated by the war, with leading members killed on battlefields, in prison camps, or in gas chambers—the SWP emerged from the war relatively unscathed.
The SWP emerged from the war with well over 1500 members as one of the largest sections, if not the largest section, of the FI. It had deep roots in the working class and among Black workers in major cities across the country. It was the party of James P. Cannon, a historic leader of the early Socialist and Communist parties, who, in 1928, accidentally obtained a copy of Trotsky’s critique of Stalin’s program, read it, agreed with Trotsky, and went on to become a founder of the International Left Opposition and, later, the Fourth International. The SWP was the party that led the general strike in Minneapolis in 1934, and it played a central role in workers’ struggles in major cities all across the country during the Depression years.
For all these reasons and more, comrades of the FI in all countries looked to the SWP to play a leading role in building and strengthening the FI after the war. But the preparations for the Second World Congress of the FI, and the Congress itself, would reveal for the first time some major political problems in the functioning of the FI, as well as with the SWP’s attitude toward taking any direct responsibility for building the FI. The Congress was held in 1948, almost ten years after the founding congress of the FI. And these were not just any 10 years. The world had been shaken by wars and revolutions.
The mass revolutionary struggles following the war had not resulted in victorious proletarian revolutions in the advanced European countries—but the war, as Trotsky had predicted, did give way to mighty revolutionary mobilizations throughout Europe. It was only because of the role of the treacherous apparatuses of the labor movement—the Social Democrats and especially the Stalinists—that capitalism did not fall. Capitalism was rescued, but the mass workers’ struggles across Europe were able to wrest major victories for the working class—such as national public health systems, mass public education, mass public transit systems, major public services, generalized social and welfare programs. The ruling class was forced to make these concessions to preserve capitalism, which was under assault by millions of working people.
Sections of the Fourth International in Europe, by and large, were not prepared politically for this post-war revolutionary upsurge. They believed that the mass Social Democratic and Stalinist organizations had been so discredited because of their sell-out role before and during the war that the masses would bypass them and move directly to join the FI. This, of course, did not happen. The workers’ movement during this period of revolutionary upheaval swelled the ranks of the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties, seeking to advance their demands through their historic organizations. Stalinism, despite its history of betrayals, emerged from the war with great and newfound prestige—as it took the credit for the mass resistance of the Soviet workers to Hitler’s invasion, symbolized particularly in the Battle of Stalingrad.
But as Pierre Lambert, a young worker who joined the Movement for the Fourth International in 1936 in France and remains today one of the leaders of the FI, has pointed out on numerous occasions: “The sections of the FI—including the French section—were politically disoriented after the war. They had not assimilated Lenin’s and Trotsky’s Marxist methodology—particularly their admonition that the masses, in their first revolutionary movement, will always look for the most “economical” means of struggle—that is, they will always first look to their traditional organizations, seeking to imbue them with their revolutionary aspirations and demands. Failure to assimilate this fundamental lesson led to widespread demoralization among the leadership and ranks of the Fourth International. The masses hadn’t come knocking at the door of the FI in the immediate aftermath of the war, as many had predicted. Perhaps, some asked, our program no longer corresponded to the needs of the revolutionary struggle for socialism?”
The period between the first and second congresses of the Fourth International required a full and patient discussion within the FI to assimilate fully the lessons of these 10 years, and to draw a balance sheet on the basis of the program that could politically arm the sections and members to continue the difficult struggle for the FI and socialism. But there was no balance sheet. A deal was worked out between the Cannon leadership of the SWP and the leaders of the International Secretariat in Paris (Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel, and Pierre Frank, in particular) so that there would be no real balance sheet. The report on the first 10 years of the FI was presented by SWP leader Morris Stein and took only 30 minutes, translation included. Not surprisingly, there was no real discussion following the report. All the political differences between the SWP and IS leaders were brushed under the rug. No one wanted to truly discuss and draw a balance sheet. They were happy to go through the motions of holding an International Congress of the FI but their intent was not to create a genuine framework for advancing the political thinking and organizational building of the sections of the FI. The operating motto was “live and let live”—as long, of course, as no one interfered directly in the affairs of anyone else in the FI.
Quite obviously, the lack of collective political discussion and clarification, and the lack of any balance sheet of the first 10 years of the Fourth International only fueled the demoralization at all levels within the FI. It is an axiom of revolutionary politics that when demoralization sets in, there is a natural tendency to look for political substitutes for the program—in this case, the program of the FI. This quest for political substitutes for the program and sections of the FI would be clearly evidenced in the years to follow.
The 1953 Split in the Fourth International
Beginning in the early 1950s, Michel Pablo and the other central leaders of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International based in Paris began to revise Trotsky’s fundamental analysis regarding the counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism worldwide. Pablo argued that the extension of the workers’ states into Eastern Europe (and later China) following World War II demonstrated that Stalinism had a dual nature—that it could be pushed from below to become a revolutionary force in society—or, as Pablo put it, to “carry out socialism in its own way.” He developed this revision of Trotsky’s seminal analysis and formulated a new strategy for the Fourth International on the basis of this theory. It was now necessary for the Trotskyists to “dissolve” into the Stalinist parties for a prolonged period of time to help move them on a revolutionary course. This “entryism sui generis” (of a different type), as it was dubbed, was espoused by Pablo, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Frank and other core leaders of the International Secretariat.
The majority of the French section of the Fourth International did not agree with this “revision” of the FI’s analysis of Stalinism. They explained that under certain exceptional circumstances, as Trotsky himself had noted in the Transitional Program, petty-bourgeois parties—and even Stalinists—could be compelled to go further on the road to a break with capitalism than their program had presupposed. But even in those circumstances, the French majority noted, the basic program of the Fourth International (workers’ democracy, extension of the revolutions through a process of Permanent Revolution, etc.) was needed to safeguard the gains made and to move forward toward socialism—which could not be established in only one (or a series) of countries, but which required supplanting capitalism on a world scale as a system of production and social relations. And to advance that program, it was essential that the Fourth International exist as an organized political force in every country.
The French majority argued vehemently against the “revisionism” and “liquidationism” advocated by the Pablo-Mandel-Frank majority of the International Secretariat. For expressing this political disagreement, the French majority was expelled from the Fourth International. Immediately, the French majority—this was in early 1952—appealed for help to James P. Cannon and the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. But the letters from the French majority to the SWP leadership requesting political support in the fight against “Pabloism” fell on deaf ears for more than 18 months—a period during which the International Secretariat’s “revisionism” caused great havoc and dislocation within the Fourth International.
It was only after the Mandel-Pablo majority began to interfere in the internal affairs of the SWP—seeking to fuel an internal faction against Cannon via the Clark-Cochran minority—that the Cannon leadership reacted sharply, to the point of embracing, belatedly, the political characterization of Pabloism as a “revisionist” and “liquidationist” current inside the Fourth International. The political offensive by Pablo-Mandel against the historic program of the Fourth International led to a major split in the International—a very damaging split that would dislocate the International for decades. In 1953, the Socialist Workers Party, the French majority (regrouped at the time in the PCI), the British Revolutionary Workers Party (then led by Gerry Healey) and other sections in a dozen or more countries constituted the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). They arose in opposition to the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (ISFI) of Pablo-Mandel-Frank.
For 10 years, these two formations would exist side by side, each claiming to represent the continuity and mantle of the Fourth International. Looking back many years later on this period of the International Committee, Pierre Lambert noted that the French majority was gratified the SWP had joined them in 1953 in the struggle against Pablo. But Lambert went on to add that the SWP, which was the largest and most experienced section within the International Committee, refused to assume any leadership role within the IC.
“We argued it was necessary to conduct a permanent campaign to combat Pablo’s revisionism,” Lambert noted in an interview conducted for La Vérité/The Truth (the modern theoretical magazine of the FI), “but Cannon and the SWP leadership refused to wage that fight. It’s almost as if they thought this revisionist trend would go away on its own. Nor did the SWP play any role in building the ICFI as an international current. It reminded many of us of the correspondence between Trotsky and Cannon in the late 1930s. Trotsky had criticized the Cannon leadership for not paying its international dues to the International or devoting any leadership attention to the building of an International Center in Paris. There was a certain air of ‘American self-sufficiency.’ In word and deed, the SWP subordinated the fight to build the FI as the core of the world party of socialist revolution to the central task of building the FI in the U.S. This tendency toward ‘national Trotskyism was not unique to the SWP; we have seen it emerge periodically within the ranks of the FI. It was simply more pronounced in the United States because of the particular circumstances prevailing in that country. It was evident throughout the period of the International Committee but it surfaced throughout the entire history of the SWP. It was, unfortunately, one of the main factors leading to the degeneration of the SWP in the late 1970s.”
The “Reunification” of 1963
The Cuban Revolution of 1959-1961 formed the political backdrop in which an unprincipled “reunification” took place between the International Secretariat and the SWP. If you look at the official history of the SWP, you will read that toward the end of the 1950s, there began a political convergence between the SWP leadership, on the one hand, and the central leaders of the International Secretariat in Paris, on the other. This history claims that that the French OCI (the French affiliate of the International Committee previously called the PCI) “turned its back on the Cuban Revolution,” refusing to acknowledge the revolution and the creation of a workers’ state in Cuba. This assertion is simply not true. The OCI hailed the downfall of the Batista dictatorship in Cuba under the impact of the mass revolutionary struggles of the Cuban workers and peasants. It applauded the victorious Cuban Revolution, characterizing it as a decisive blow to U.S. imperialism in its very own backyard.
But this is where the political agreement ended between the OCI and the SWP leadership, which was joined on this score by Mandel-Frank and the IS. The SWP and IS leaderships did more than just support the revolution. The SWP and IS leaders proceeded to characterize Fidel Castro as a “natural Trotskyist” and to explain that the Cuban Revolution, which had overturned capitalist property relations by early 1961, heralded the first non-Stalinist anti-capitalist revolution with a leadership to be emulated. Accordingly, there was no longer any need to build a section of the FI in Cuba.
The OCI rejected this characterization of the leadership of the Cuban Revolution, holding to the formulation in the Transitional Program according to which petty-bourgeois political formations could, under exceptional circumstances, go further in their break with the capitalists than they had initially intended. Though this “paradox” was proving to be more commonplace than expected in the post-war period, the OCI explained, this did not invalidate the central need for sections of the Fourth International in every country, including Cuba. But the debate in the early years of the Cuban Revolution between the SWP and IS leaders, on the one hand, and the French OCI, on the other, was not about the assessment of the various stages reached by the Cuban Revolution. It was not about the imperative need for Trotskyists to be the best defenders of the Cuban Revolution against imperialism; on this there was absolutely no disagreement between the OCI and the SWP.
The debate in the FI was about something far more fundamental: Had the emergence of the Castro leadership in Cuba invalidated a founding principle of the FI, according to which the FI’s program—and therefore its organizational expression, the section of the FI—was imperative in every country? Would Castro promote the extension of the Cuban Revolution to the rest of the world with an orientation rooted in Permanent Revolution? Did Castro advocate the forms of workers’ democracy—soviet democracy—ushered in by the Russian Revolution of 1917, until the revolution’s degeneration under Stalin? Had Castro embraced the FI’s historic program? The SWP and IS leaders basically replied in the affirmative to these questions—and on the basis of this “political convergence” regarding the assessment of the Castro leadership, they began political discussions aimed at a political reunification of the International Secretariat and the International Committee.
The OCI argued that they were not opposed to a reunification—but they insisted that any reunification had to be premised on a full balance sheet of the root political causes that had led to the split in the FI in 1953—namely, the political adaptation to Stalinism and the quest for political substitutes to the program and section-building of the FI. They noted, moreover, that the “political convergence” between the SWP and IS leaders around Cuba reproduced many of the same political problems that had led to the split in 1953. Without such a balance sheet of the 1953 split, and without an in depth discussion of the fundamental political issues at the heart of the discussion around Cuba, any reunification, the OCI argued, would be “unprincipled.” Without such a balance sheet, they insisted, all the political problems that had caused such dislocation in the FI—problems that were being brushed under the rug in 1963—would re-emerge with a vengeance down the road in any “reunified” FI.
The request by Lambert and the OCI for a political balance sheet and organized political discussion about the Cuban Revolution was rejected by the SWP and IS leaders. Cannon, Joe Hansen, Farrell Dobbs and other central leaders of the SWP urged Lambert to back off from this request. They urged Lambert to join them in the reunification, arguing that they—the International Committee—would be a majority in a reunified FI, as the combined membership of the IC sections far outnumbered the membership of the IS sections. The OCI turned down this plea, explaining that it would only lead to more crises down the road. “There are certain levels of activity where it is legitimate to maneuver to advance your politics,” Lambert explained. “But you cannot maneuver when it comes to the founding program and principles of the Fourth International. Such an approach inevitably leads to disaster.”
In 1963, the SWP reunited with the International Secretariat to constitute the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec.) The OCI in France, the RWP (led by Gerry Healy in England), the POR in Bolivia (led by Guillermo Lora) and a number of smaller sections in other countries refused to be part of such an unprincipled reunification, opting instead to maintain themselves as the International Committee of the Fourth International. The French OCI, however, continued to characterize the SWP as a Trotskyist organization—a label they did not apply to the International Secretariat or its sections around the world, which they called “Pabloists.” Despite the tendency toward “national Trotskyism” and the adaptation to the leadership of the Cuban Revolution, the SWP remained a Trotskyist organization in the eyes of the SWP because of its history, its roots and traditions in the American working class, and its continuity with Trotsky and the early International Left Opposition.
This political characterization would lead the OCI, ten years later, to re-establish political contact with the SWP at a time when a new and major crisis developed in the USec, (as the OCI had predicted)—this time over the orientation toward “guerrilla warfare” espoused by the USFI leadership of Mandel, Frank, and Livio Maitan. That crisis would witness the formation, at the initiative of the SWP, of the Leninist Trotskyist Faction (LTF) in the USec. The LTF was created to combat the petty-bourgeois “guerrilla warfare” orientation of the USec leadership—the latest form of their longstanding tendency to abandon the program of the FI in search of political substitutes.
The 1960s: The Antiwar Movement, the Labor Party and “Sectoralism”
The 1960s witnessed the spectacular growth of the SWP. The SWP began as a small minority in the fledgling antiwar movement of the early 1960s. They had to take on the Communist Party, which advocated support for “pro-peace” Democrats (from Eugene McCarthy to George McGovern) to derail the development of a mass movement in the streets against the war. They had to contend with the CP and the liberals, who promoted support for the Paris “Peace Talks” with the Vietnamese National Liberation Front—much like these same folks are doing today when they advocate UN troops in Iraq, to replace the U.S. troops (combined with their “Dump Bush”/Support Any Democratic candidate politics). But the SWP also had to contest for leadership in the youth movement with the Maoists and other ultraleftists, and with the left-Social Democratic leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The ultraleft groups, which succeeded in taking over SDS, advocated exemplary “minority actions” in direct counterposition to a mass-action strategy. And they advocated political support for the Vietnamese CP and NLF—marching with chants such as “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!”—referring to the Stalinist leader of the VCP.
The SWP and YSA advocated “U.S. Troops Out Now!” and “Bring Our Boys Home Now!” (There were no women in combat in those days.) With these united front slogans, and advocating mass action in the streets and democratically run mass antiwar conferences (with one person-one vote), the SWP and YSA were propelled into the leadership of the antiwar movement. Without a doubt, this was one of the proudest moments in the entire history of the SWP.
Also very important, the SWP oriented to the developing Black liberation struggle, and to Malcolm X in particular. In fact, Malcolm—after he broke with the Nation of Islam—spoke at various Forums organized by the SWP. The SWP published numerous pamphlets on the Black question and recruited for the first time since the immediate postwar period a significant layer of Black activists. But as the excellent article by Daniel Gluckstein titled, “Strengths and Weaknesses of Cannonism” (reprinted from La Vérité/The Truth) points out, the SWP in embracing the Black struggle went overboard and adapted to the political weaknesses of Malcolm and the Black nationalist movement—divorcing the struggle for independent Black political action from the struggle for independent working class politics as a whole; i.e., the Labor Party. This was linked, Gluckstein argues, to two political weaknesses on the part of the SWP:
- The first weakness was the SWP leadership’s failure to fully assimilate the methodology Trotsky had proposed to the SWP in relation to how to advance the struggle for the Labor Party. In his discussions with SWP leaders in July 1938 in Coyoacán, Mexico, Trotsky insisted that it was not sufficient to carry out abstract propaganda for a Labor Party. What was necessary, Trotsky argued, was to “show concrete examples of success, and not limit ourselves to giving good theoretical advice in favor of a Labor Party.”
- The second weakness was an adaptation to what the SWP itself, in a rare balance sheet conducted in the mid-1970s, characterized as their “sectoralism” of the 1960s. By this the SWP meant that during the 1960s, the SWP oriented to—and adapted politically to—all sorts of important social or “sectoral” movements of the working class (from the Chicano movement and La Raza Unida Party, to the Black nationalists, to the environmental movement, to the women’s movement, to the student movement) without tying these struggles together through a consistent orientation to the overall U.S. working class and its main battalions in the trade union movement. In other words, the SWP compartmentalized the working class into various, semi-autonomous or independent “sectors.”
Such a unifying political perspective, as Gluckstein pointed out in his article, would have been the fight for the Labor Party. But at no point during this period did the SWP seriously raise the perspective of the Labor Party. In fact, even during the 1946-48 period, when significant Labor Party movements were developing across the Midwestern states, many of them running local union-based LP candidates for public office, the SWP never oriented to these movements—let alone offer them a centralizing perspective of building a nationwide Labor Party. This orientation also predisposed the SWP to be extremely wary of, if not outwardly hostile to, any motion by a sector of the labor movement to talk about, or seek to move in the direction of, the Labor Party. Any such movement was viewed as a “maneuver” and therefore an obstacle to any real Labor Party. This attitude, in fact, was first expressed during Trotsky’s lifetime around the formation of the Labor Non Partisan League (LNPL) on the East Coast.
Trotsky told the SWP leaders in Coyoacán, Mexico, in 1938 that he felt the SWP should give critical support to the LNPL candidates in the 1940 elections. But Cannon and the SWP leaders strongly disagreed. Though the LNPL was led by the Stalinists with the very clear and conscious aim of channeling the mass Labor Party sentiment of the late 1930s back into the Democratic Party, Trotsky explained, they had to do so through what appeared to be an independent, non-partisan political instrument. The LNPL, moreover, had very strong trade union support, among the officialdom but also among the rank and file.
Trotsky argued that it would be far more effective for the SWP to involve itself in the fight for a Labor Party—that is, the fight to prevent the LNPL from supporting Democrats and for the LNPL unions to break with the Democrats—from within the movement. The call for the LNPL to break with the Democrats would find a positive response among the ranks of the LNPL, whose healthy sentiment was being misdirected by the Stalinists back into safe channels for the ruling class. The SWP’s objectives, Trotsky explained, would be better served through a policy of critical support and active involvement in the LNPL campaign. But Cannon and the SWP leadership disagreed, arguing that any involvement with this effort would only help the Stalinist misleaders in their drive to derail the fight for independent politics. This effort had to be denounced and exposed from outside, the SWP leaders contended.
This same approach is what would frame many years later Socialist Action’s—as well as many other radical organizations’—approach to Labor Party Advocates (1991) and the Labor Party (1996). This was not a real movement for a Labor Party, they argued. This was a “rump Labor Party.” While the Labor Party formed by Tony Mazzocchi has degenerated dramatically since its founding in 1996, the same question Trotsky brought up with the SWP leaders in 1938 still holds true: Was it better to attempt to build the Labor Party from inside this process—seeking to get the LP to launch its own LP candidates against the Democrats, seeking to push it step by step on an independent course—or was it better to sit back and denounce the process from the outside?
We in Socialist Organizer answered this question on the basis of Trotsky’s teachings: One had to fight for the LP from inside this process. (Socialist Action answered in the negative, much like Cannon did in relation to the LNPL.) While Socialist Organizer was not a large political formation and was not able to prevent the degeneration of the LP). We played a role we should be proud of. In fact, much of the work done by the LP helped pave the way for the formation of US Labor Against the War (USLAW).
Supporters of Socialist Organizer helped to pass a resolution for running candidates at the 1998 LP convention. SO supporters helped to put together an “electoral caucus” with Baldemar Velasquez and other respected labor activists; and SO members helped to build the LP-endorsed Robin David for MUD (public power) campaign in 2001 in SF. These are just a few of the steps forward taken by the LP with our help. What we accomplished could have been magnified a thousand fold by a party truly rooted in the trade union movement and with cadre poised to challenge the leadership of the Labor Party on the fundamental question of running independent Labor Party candidates, beginning at a local level. The demise of the SWP in the late 1970s, in that sense, became an objective barrier to the development of what has been the most promising formation toward a Labor Party in the last 70 years.
Had there existed a collective and truly functioning Fourth International during the 1960s—one rooted firmly in the founding program of the FI and committed to a fully democratic, not top-down, method of discussion of political differences—there would have been a venue to discuss and correct this SWP drift toward “sectoralism” and this failure to use the openings, which did exist, to advance the fight for both the Labor Party and Black political action. But that unified and principled Fourth International did not exist for the SWP. The Fourth International had been dislocated as an international center based on its founding program. The SWP was affiliated with the United Secretariat (or USec) of Ernest Mandel and Livio Maitan—an international construct that not only had dropped key tenets of our program but that, in the 1960s, had taken this “sectoralism” to its extreme conclusion—embracing the politics of “minority violence”—“new mass vanguardism”—and “guerrilla warfare”—all of which led thousands of young Trotskyists to their deaths and destroyed parties claiming the heritage of the FI in country after country. So bad were the politics of the USec that the SWP—which had been central to the founding of the USec in 1963—was compelled to organize its own international faction in the USec to counter the USec’s destructive influence/role the world over. This faction was the Leninist-Trotskyist Faction (or LTF). Though still wedded to the USec framework, the SWP would nonetheless undertake a struggle for Trotskyist politics through this important international formation.
The LTF of the 1970s, Its Dissolution in 1977-78 and the Break with Trotskyism
Beginning in 1979 Obviously, it is not possible in this contribution to review all the heated political debates that pitted the LTF against the International Majority Tendency (IMT) of Mandel-Krivine-Maitan. I will cover only some of the debates—particularly those that revealed the re-emergence of political convergence between the LTF and the French OCI.
A. The Fight Against Guerrilla Warfare and Cuba
The fight against guerrilla warfare was the initial and dominant debate that prompted the SWP leadership, at the initiative of SWP leader Joe Hansen, to launch the LTF in 1969-70. The USec leadership had embraced the “guerrilla warfare” strategy promoted by many of the petty-bourgeois radical groups in Europe and Latin America. This strategy held that a small “foco” (or focal spark) initiated by new revolutionary vanguards could, through exemplary actions (kidnappings of officials, urban and rural armed struggle, etc.) propel the masses into motion against the ruling-class regimes. The method of the Transitional Program and the entire quest to forge united fronts in defense of workers’ interests was thrown out the window.
According to this “foquista” strategy—as it was also called—the working class, by and large, had become “bourgeoisified” and pacified. There was now a new “radicalization” of youth and the most oppressed sectors of society that had bypassed the organized working class and its traditional organizations. The working class, to the extent there was any hope for it, needed to be awakened from its passivity by the revolutionary actions of the few and committed. According to this view, the struggle around principled working class demands that would expose the inability of the capitalists to resolve workers’ basic needs, as the Transitional Program had charted, was outdated.
The result of the implementation of these policies by sections of the USec that followed by leadership of Mandel, Maitan and Krivine was disastrous. Under the leadership of Santucho in Argentina, hundreds of Trotskyists who joined the urban guerrilla warfare movement were assassinated by the police in senseless and counterproductive “military” actions. The same orientation was implemented in Guatemala, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico—and even in various countries across Europe (although the repression in those countries was not as acute).
The SWP leadership reacted swiftly to this fundamental abandonment of Marxism. It denounced the adaptation to the “new mass vanguardism” that resulted from this impressionistic reaction to the radicalization of the 1960s. At home in the United States, the SWP also resisted the call of those who sought to lure the SWP into military actions—either via the Black Panther Party or the “radical” sectors of SDS.
The SWP during this period also produced some of its most critical articles of the leadership of the Cuban Revolution. The SWP criticized the Cuban leadership’s endorsement of this guerrilla warfare strategy and showed how, behind all the “radical” formulations of the Cuban CP, there was a consistent pattern of political support to bourgeois regimes across the Americas. (Ultraleftism and political opportunism were two sides of the same coin, the SWP explained.) Indeed, the Cuban CP and the Cuban government were among the staunchest supporters of the Mexican ruling class and PRI regime—to the point where Fidel Castro applauded the massacre of the student uprising of Tlaltelolco in October 1968 by the Mexican government—a massacre that left close to 1000 students dead or disappeared. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the Cuban government was one of the main backers of the bloody junta in Argentina, which was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of tens of thousands of youth and activists.
B. The United Front in Portugal, Spain and France
The SWP and its international co-thinkers in the Leninist Trotskyist Faction—which included large groupings in France, Spain, Chile, India, Peru, Colombia and other countries—also rejected the USec’s abandonment of the united front approach to politics in Western Europe, particularly in countries where there were still large Communist and Socialist parties in the leadership of the workers’ movement.
The SWP and LTF affirmed the traditional position of the Fourth International—first elaborated by Trotsky in relation to France in 1936—of calling on the mass bourgeois-workers’ parties—the Communist and Socialist parties—to unite on the electoral level, without any bloc with bourgeois parties, to defeat the candidates of the bosses. (The CPs and SPs were characterized as bourgeois-workers’ parties because of their pro-capitalist leaderships but their mass working class base, history and traditions.) The governmental slogan of the workers’ government was most often concretized as “For a CP-SP Government Without Bosses!”
The USec sections rejected this united-front orientation, which they called “reformist,” preferring instead to forge electoral alliances of the “Left of the Left”—or far left. The united-front orientation by the SWP and LTF meant that LTF-affiliated currents in Western Europe often found themselves in political agreement with the French OCI and its international current, now reorganized as the Organizing Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International (OCRFI). In France, Spain, and Portugal—in particular—the LTF and OCRFI found themselves advocating the same positions in the class struggle, while the USec organizations remained mired in their ultraleft/opportunist “new mass vanguard” politics.
This common program and political activity would pave the way for the LTF affiliates in most countries around the world to leave the USec and to join up with the OCRFI in 1979. Given this political convergence on so many important questions of the day between the SWP and the OCRFI, it was not surprising that the SWP leadership invited Pierre Lambert and other leaders of the French OCI to attend their national conventions in Oberlin, Ohio, in the years 1974 through 1977. Many of us in Socialist Organizer who were members of the SWP in those years remember hearing Pierre Lambert and Francois de Massot address the SWP conventions. In fact, the USec representatives repeatedly protested the invitation extended by the SWP to the OCI leaders—and went so far as to refuse to send their own representatives to those SWP conventions as long as Lambert and the French OCI were invited.
Joe Hansen, Dissolution of the LTF and the Degeneration of the SWP
Throughout much of 1976 and 1977, Joe Hansen had written Pierre Lambert to urge him and the OCRFI to rejoin the USec—so as to help the SWP and LTF become the majority of the USec on the basis of orthodox Trotskyist positions. Lambert and the French OCI continued to put forward the position they advocated in 1963. They said they were open to a political unification, provided there was a serious and organized political discussion of the balance sheet of the 1963 split and the LTF experience. They said it would be counterproductive to pursue any “reunification” while brushing under the table, as had happened in 1963, the sharp disagreements over matters of political principle that had separated the various currents claiming to represent the FI.
Hansen and the SWP agreed initially to organize this political discussion of a balance sheet—which marked a major shift from its approach to the reunification in 1963. There was an international exchange of bulletins on this balance sheet in 1977, and there was even an organized meeting in France on such a balance sheet that involved LTF currents in various European countries and even drew in representatives from the United Secretariat. It appeared for a brief moment that a political reunification of the SWP/LTF and the OCI/OCRFI forces might be possible. But in 1977, SWP leader Joe Hansen—who was spearheading this discussion and possible reunification—became seriously ill and had to withdraw from all political activity.
With almost the entire Old Guard of the SWP out of the picture, the SWP leadership—which by now was under the full control of Jack Barnes and his clique—retreated abruptly from the traditional Trotskyist positions advocated by the SWP and LTF. To everyone’s great surprise, the Barnes leadership moved almost immediately and without any apparent political reason to disband the LTF, unilaterally and without consulting the Steering Committee of the International LTF. In the United States, the dissolution of the LTF began a process of political backpedaling and degeneration that would witness, in the matter of just two years, the renunciation by the SWP leadership of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution and the endorsement of the entire political program of the Cuban Communist Party leadership.
Many years later, Pierre Lambert was asked why he thought the LTF was dissolved and why the SWP degenerated so quickly. He answered that “An axiom of revolutionary politics is that you cannot sit on the fence indefinitely; at some point you have to take a stand and make a move, or else you will simply fall flat on your face.” The SWP had moved far during the LTF years toward upholding many of the traditional positions of the Fourth International. Joseph Hansen genuinely wanted a balance sheet discussion and a reunification with the French OCI. But the rest of the SWP leadership—particularly the new leadership around Jack Barnes—was not interested in such a balance sheet of the 1963 reunification, as they were still wedded to that reunification and to the politics of Castroism, despite the political struggle waged through the LTF.
At a certain point in the development of the LTF, there was no choice for the SWP, if it wanted to wage the struggle consistently for Trotskyist politics, but to engage in a systematic balance sheet discussion with the OCRFI aimed at a political fusion. The entire framework of the USec was one that destroyed Trotskyist organizations. Trotskyism and revisionism are incompatible. The SWP could not remain in the USec indefinitely as a Trotskyist organization. It would either have to break with the USec framework and become part of a genuine Fourth International committed to the founding principles of our movement, or it would degenerate. By the end of the 1970s, the SWP had gone as far as it could go as a Trotskyist organization within the USec. It was time to break with that unprincipled framework, or else that unprincipled framework would end up breaking the SWP. And that is what eventually occurred. With the dissolution of the LTF, the political pendulum swung back in the direction of abandonment of Trotskyism with a vengeance.”
A Watershed Moment in the SWP’s Retreat from Trotskyism
Much like occurred with the Cuban Revolution in 1959-60, the USec leadership of Mandel-Krivine-Maitan-BenSaid converged with the Barnes leadership of the SWP in supporting not just the revolution but also the government—a capitalist government—that was formed after the July 19th revolution in Nicaragua. Both the USec and Barnes leaderships embraced the Sandinista/Castroist strategy for revolution and took a major step in openly repudiating Permanent Revolution. But they did more than this: They supported the Sandinista-Chamorro government’s jailing of the Nicaraguan Trotskyists and their Colombian and Argentine Trotskyist cothinkers who had come to Nicaragua to help in the fight to overthrow the hated Somoza regime. These Trotskyists refused to give back their weapons to the bourgeois government, as demanded. They said that as long as the land had not been distributed to the peasants who made the revolution, these peasants and the fighting Sandinista brigades who had been the backbone of the revolution should keep their weapons.
The Sandinista government formed after July 19th pledged its support to a bourgeois constitution that reaffirmed the sanctity of private ownership of the means of production. It proceeded swiftly to disarm the Sandinista militias and to rebuild a traditional army under the political control of the new government. To do this, the new government arrested and imprisoned not only the Trotskyists but also leading activists and workers in other political formations. At any rate, the joint declaration in July 1979 by Peter Camejo on behalf of the Barnes leadership of the SWP and Alain Krivine on behalf of the USec in support of the Sandinista-FAO government and in support of their decision to jail the Trotskyists provoked a major split in the USec.
[Note: The Sandinista-FAO government soon became crisis-ridden. Under pressure from the revolutionary mobilizations of the masses, who demanded land for the peasants among other key demands, bourgeois figures Alfonso Robelo and Violeta Chamarro quit the government and called for an armed uprising (the contra war) against the newly constituted workers’ and farmers’ Sandinista government.]
In the fall of 1979, the organizations that still claimed the mantle of the LTF—in France the 500 militants organized in the LCI or Internationalist Communist League, for example—were expelled from the USec. They were expelled, or otherwise simply walked out of the USec, for organizing rallies together with the French OCI and OCRFI sections in other countries to demand the release from the Nicaraguan prisons of the jailed Trotskyists.
The Struggle to Defend the Legacy and Heritage of the SWP
In the United States, the period between 1979 and 1984 registered an intense political struggle inside the SWP in defense of Trotskyism. For five years—but especially from June 1982 till January 1984, when the mass expulsions of the minority supporters in the SWP took place—a wide-ranging discussion took place among the Trotskyist oppositionists about how best to fight the Barnes regime and about what common platform should be adopted to preserve the continuity of the Fourth International in the United States.
Toward the middle of 1983, when it seemed evident the Barnes leadership would not tolerate any opposition to its liquidationist course, the Fourth International Caucus drafted a series of documents and proposed them as the basis for a united opposition tendency in the SWP. The basic document, titled “28 Theses for Socialist Revolution in the United States,” reclaimed the best traditions of the SWP—the fight for a Labor Party based on the unions, the fight for united front coalitions to defeat the warmakers, the affirmation of the totally counterrevolutionary nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and much more. A conference was held of the unified opposition in Chicago in the fall of 1983. This meeting, of course, was unauthorized—as the SWP leadership had pretty much banned all possibilities for the opposition currents to express themselves inside the SWP. The conference delegates agreed to form a new organization—Socialist Action.
Socialist Action, represented the Trotskyist continuity of the Socialist Workers Party and had in its ranks many of the respected older worker militants of the SWP—such as Asher Harer and Jake Cooper amongst many others. SA published an attractive monthly newspaper and involved itself in the struggle against U.S. intervention in Central America, helping to initiate a broad, united-front antiwar coalition known as the “Mobe”—which stood for Mobilization for Peace, Jobs and Justice.
The many international currents that claimed to represent Trotskyism all understood that SA, because it sought to uphold the defense of Trotskyism in the United States, was on a collision course with the USec and could not long survive as a political tendency unless it was part of an alternative international framework. Understandably, the ICRFI sent Daniel Gluckstein to meet and discuss with the SA leadership. Gluckstein was invited regularly, beginning in 1986, to meet with the SA leadership. He was even invited to attend a convention of Socialist Action. All this occurred even though SA was formally affiliated with the USec. The SA leadership understood that the USec had become an empty shell at best, with its only role being to mislead working people on every continent in the name of the FI.
In addition, Daniel Gluckstein and the ICRFI opened a political discussion with the SA leadership about the history of the SWP and the balance sheet of the 1963 reunification and other questions such as the fight for the Labor Party. Many of these questions resonated in the minds of many SA leaders and members who were struggling to figure out the roots of the degeneration of the SWP but also were acutely concerned about how to continue the struggle to build the FI in the United States. These SA leaders and members were greatly influenced by the political texts and discussions with the ICRFI representative. They also became increasingly disenchanted with the international allies of Socialist Action in the USec—particularly the Matti tendency in France and the Hudson tendency in Britain. These two tendencies were unwilling to wage the fight against the USec as an International Public Faction.
In light of all these developments—the successes of the initiatives undertaken in common between SA and the ICRFI, the deepening anti-Trotskyist evolution of the USec (which, today, has culminated with the participation of the USec in the capitalist government of Brazil)—many SA leaders and activists proposed that SA as an organization take the next in collaborating with the ICRFI by participating as observers in the Open World Conference of Barcelona in 1991. This conference was launched by the ICRFI with the purpose of constituting an International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples for a Workers’ International (ILC). Such a principled international class-struggle regroupment would permit the Trotskyists to break out of their relative isolation from the working class and build FI sections in the very process of building working class resistance to the ruling class drive toward heightened exploitation and war.
The aim of these SA leaders and activists was stated openly: As it became increasingly clear that the USec was a destructive center and that there were few, if any salvageable currents within it after so many decades of political miseducation and abandonment of the FI’s founding program, it was now necessary for SA to deepen its collaboration with the ICRFI—a political current that, indeed, represented the continuity of the Fourth International and stood firmly in support of the best traditions of the SWP itself. The SA minority argued, moreover, that to the extent SA remained wedded to the USec, it was bound to degenerate politically. It could not be otherwise. To believe it is possible to build a Trotskyist organization anywhere in the world divorced from the struggle to build the FI on an international scale is the worst form of “national Trotskyism.”
In January 1991, nine members of Socialist Action—including two National Committee members—traveled to Barcelona to Spain to participate as observers in the Open World Conference. Their trip to Barcelona was not authorized by the SA leadership. In fact, for making this trip to Barcelona, these SA members were expelled from the organization. The SA leadership argued that the struggle within the USec had not been concluded, and that it was adventurous to move away from the USec tradition to seek affiliation with the ICRFI. Not surprisingly, SA would undergo a series of damaging splits in the years to come that would leave the remnants of the old SA splintered, largely demoralized, and with no real political life or perspectives for building the FI in the United States or anywhere else. In February 1991, the expelled nine members and their supporters in SA went on to constitute a new organization: Socialist Organizer. In March of that year, the first issue of The Organizer newspaper was published.
The ILC and the Reproclamation of the Fourth International
A few brief points on the history of the struggle against revisionism should be made in order to understand the context of the reproclamation of the Fourth International in 1993:
- After being expelled by Pablo in 1952, the French section was able to become the pole for the defense of FI’s program because it never fell into the trap of “national Trotskyism.” Because Lambert and the OCI always put the long and difficult struggle against Pabloism in a international perspective, they were able to not only group together all the defenders of the FI program in the International Committee and then the ICRFI, but were also able to escape the fate of turning into a sect. The evidence of the destructive influence of “national Trotskyism” can be seen in the degeneration of Healy’s RWP, Moreno’s MAS, and the SWP itself.
- The validity of the IC and the ICRFI’s assessment of the incompatibility of Trotskyism and revisionism was proven by the evolution of the SWP: not only was the SWP never ever able to “take back” the USec from the revisionists, but the fact that the SWP remained in the framework of the USec was a principal cause of its own demise.
- The Pabloist belief that substitutes existed for the FI in the fight for socialism was conclusively proven wrong by the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as the political demise of all the USec’s so-called “natural Trotskyists.” Though the struggle to build a mass International capable of leading the emancipation of the workers was largely derailed by the crisis of 1953, the need for world revolution—and thus of the FI itself—was more acute than ever to keep humanity from sinking into barbarism.
Thus, the issue of reproclaiming the FI was brought to the fore in 1992 insofar as all of the healthy elements inside the USec had by now joined with the ICRFI and the Trotskyist program had been confirmed by events. In addition, the principled regroupment process initiated at the ILC conference in Barcelona one year earlier—a process that far exceeded the expectations of the ICRFI—required a reproclaimed and democratically centralized FI to meet the new challenges and opportunities.
In June 1993, Socialist Organizer took part in the World Conference of Sections of the Fourth International/ICR—at which sections from 44 countries voted to reproclaim the Fourth International on the basis of its founding text: the Transitional Program. The conference asserted that the building of the FI was inseparable from the campaigns of the ILC, which provide an international united working class front against war, privatization, and deregulation—and for the independence of the working class and its organizations. A resolution from the reproclamation conference explained:
“We do not see the building of the Fourth International as a linear development that would result from the simple arithmetic growth of each of its sections. Rather we view this task in a far more dynamic way. We see the need to constitute a flexible yet principled framework for common action—the ILC—within which individuals, political currents, and even parties can get to know the Fourth International, interact with it, and consider affiliating with it following a protracted period of political collaboration. The only precondition for working together is the intransigent defense of the independence of the working class and the need to promote working class internationalism. It is precisely this principled framework that provides the terrain to recruit to the Fourth International.”
This is the transitional method: approaching the masses at their level of political awareness and understanding, whatever it may be, and helping draw them through progressive struggles and clarification to a point where their level of thought and action is more astute—that is, in the direction of socialist revolution.
The united-front campaigns and conferences of ILC—which have been waged in 92 countries—have been hugely successful in the United States. The high points include the Open World Conference in Defense of Trade Union Independence and Democratic Rights that took place in the year 2000, with the participation of 550 unionists from over 53 countries, as well as the current International Campaign Against the Occupation and for Labor Rights in Iraq, which the ILC is co-organizing with US Labor Against the War and the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions.
The ILC has provided a framework for the FI to link up with and gain influence in the fighting sectors of the labor movement, but what remains to be done in the U.S., which is true as well in the rest of the world, is to build the section of the FI into a mass party in this process of promoting the campaigns of the ILC.
Socialist Organizer: The Continuity of the Fourth International in the United States
It is not the purpose of this contribution to undertake a political balance sheet of the 12 years of Socialist Organizer. Without a doubt, SO has made a mark on the political life of the United States with its active participation in the fight for a real Labor Party; the fight against labor-management cooperation schemes in Decatur, Illinois; the countless campaigns conducted through the International Liaison Committee and the Open World Conference; the fight against NAFTA and the FTAA; and, most recently, the struggle to build US Labor Against the War—to name only some of its most important activities.
Socialist Organizer began the daunting task of rebuilding a section of the Fourth International in the United States in the aftermath of an extremely debilitating and lengthy crisis of the SWP. And in many ways, the American Trotskyist movement has come full circle; after all, our movement began in 1928 with only a little more than a handful of activists. And while it’s true that the struggle to reconstruct the FI in the U.S. will be not be an easy one, there is one simple reason to remain optimistic: we have learned some important lessons from our past.
We’ve learned that the fight to build the American section of the Fourth International cannot be separated from the struggle for a real Labor Party. We’ve learned that there’s no substitute for the Fourth International in the fight for the emancipation of humanity from capitalism. And perhaps most important, we’ve learned of the dangers of “national Trotskyism.” Our link with a real, functioning International—which now has sections in 44 countries—has provided the political and organizational basis for S.O. to rebuild the American Trotskyist movement.
Without a doubt, S.O. has played a pivotal role in ensuring the continuity of the Fourth International and its program in the United States. This is a credit to the organization and to the reproclaimed Fourth International, which has assisted every step of the way in building the section of the FI in the United States.
But the fact remains that Socialist Organizer has only begun the process toward rebuilding a party which can lead the American workers and youth out of the chains of capitalism. In the next period, the principal task of S.O. is to grow. Undoubtedly, the majority of the activists we recruit will be youth won to Trotskyist politics through our intervention in Revolution Youth, and a proper focus on youth work is a precondition for transforming S.O. into an organization capable of fulfilling its historic tasks. Hopefully, this text will enable many of these new activists to understand the history of our movement, our political traditions, and, therefore, why they should join S.O.
The Theoretical Underpinnings of Our Advocacy of a Black Workers Party in the U.S.
By Alan Benjamin
The advocacy of an independent Black Party in the United States is rooted in the history and traditions of the Socialist Workers Party going all the way back to the discussions between Leon Trotsky and leaders of the SWP in 1938.
The political rationale for such a position was put forward in various SWP texts. This is how it was motivated:
“The coming American revolution will have a combined character. It will be a socialist revolution by the working class and its allies against the bourgeoisie. At the same time, it will be a revolution of national liberation by Blacks and other oppressed nationalities. Only through the establishment of workers’ power in this country will this combined struggle be brought to a successful conclusion.
Only a government based on the working class and all the oppressed will guarantee the democratic rights of all oppressed nationalities. There can be no solution to the national democratic demands of the oppressed nationalities apart from the solution to capitalist exploitation by the workers. The revolution, if it is to be victorious, must combine the uncompleted tasks of the democratic revolution—including the right to self-determination of all oppressed nationalities—with the socialist revolution.
The revolutionary party supports the independent organization of Blacks and other oppressed nationalities. This will advance both their own struggles for self-determination and the struggle of the working class as a whole.”
Blacks are a constituent part of the American nation. The struggle for their emancipation was at the heart of the Second American Revolution—the Civil War. But the failure, or rather, the limitations of the post-war Radical Reconstruction period, enabled the struggle for Black freedom to retreat into the abyss of Jim Crow and segregation.
One of the most solid presentations by the SWP of the Black Party question and how the Black Party would tie into the overall struggle for independent working-class political action is contained in the resolution adopted by the 1963 convention of the SWP titled, “Freedom Now: The New Stage in the Struggle for Negro Emancipation and the Tasks of the SWP”. Unfortunately, though, the political orientation contained in this text would soon be abandoned under the “sectoralist” pressures of the movements of the 1960s.
The section on “Independent Political Action” (section VII) in this 1963 resolution correctly articulated the struggle for a Black Party and the struggle for a Labor Party in its treatment of the “Labor-Negro Alliance.” Basing itself firmly on what Trotsky, in his discussions with Curtis and C.L.R. James, described as the “dialectic development of the Negro struggle for self-determination,” the resolution stated that Blacks as such would have to “divide” from the whites and form their own independent political party in order to then “unite with the white working class in the overall struggle against capitalism.”
The resolution noted that “while the Negro community is predominantly proletarian, the Negro people are more than just another more heavily exploited section of the working class, and the Negro movement is more than just a part of the general working-class movement. As an oppressed minority … their position in society is special, their consciousness is influenced by racial and national as well as class factors.”
The 1963 resolution goes on to note that “the labor and Negro movements march along their own paths” but went on to underline the fact that “they [the Negro and labor movements] do march to a common destination, and the freedom of the Negroes from oppression and of the workers from exploitation can be achieved only through the victory of their common struggle against capitalism. … Negroes cannot win their goal of equality without an alliance with the working class.”
Noting further on that “the tempos of development of the two movements are uneven,” the resolution stressed the need for “Negroes to … first unite [in their own party]” in order than they could be able to “bring about an alliance of equals, where they [the Negroes] can be reasonably sure that their demands and needs cannot be neglected or betrayed by their allies.”
Finally, the resolution pointed out that there is no contradiction between advocating a Black Party and advocating a Labor Party: “Our support of such a [Black] Party in no way conflicts with our … continued advocacy of a labor party. On the contrary, we believe that a Negro party … and a labor party would find much in common from the very beginning, would work together for common ends, and would tend in the course of common activity to establish close organizational ties or even merge into a single or federated party.”
In fact, the resolution states elsewhere, if a Black Party were to be formed first, it would be a major spur for the development of a Labor Party: “The creation of a Negro party running its own candidates would rock the whole political structure to its foundation. … Advocates of a labor break with the old parties would get a bigger and better hearing from the ranks. Thus the creation of a Negro party would benefit not only the Negro but his present and potential allies.”
In the late 1960’s and early ’70s, the SWP broke from the method contained in its 1963 resolution, which consisted in linking the issues of the Black Party and the Labor Party. The struggle for a Black Party became detached from the struggle for independent political action by the working class as a whole.
An orientation to the labor movement and to the fight to build a Labor Party based on the unions took a back seat. In its place, as I pointed out above, arose a “sectoralist approach” wherein all the various sectors in political motion at the time were seen as present or potential allies of a Black Party—but not the organized working class as such.
The SWP would later criticize its “sectoralist” approach, referring to it as an impressionistic adaptation to the social movements that were active at the time. This was most clearly spelled out in the SWP’s 1975 resolution—but not all the lessons were drawn concerning how this “sectoralism” had detached the struggle for a Black Party from the struggle for a Labor Party.
One example among many to show the effects of this sectoralist approach on the Black Party orientation is contained in the resolution adopted by the SWP in 1967 titled, “The Case for a Black Party.” That resolution states, in part:
“Once an independent Black Party has the power and acquires the skill to seek and make alliances on its own terms, then it will also be possible to create useful alliances with domestic forces. Among these will be the rebel youth, especially among the students; the antiwar movement; the Spanish-speaking people (Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans); the American Indians whose plight has been neglected by almost all the forces in the country; poor white workers; and radical opponents of both capitalism and the trade union bureaucracies. … [T]hose who are enemies of the enemies of Black people at home can become partners on certain issues and for certain stretches of the road, whatever their staying power in the long run.”
Not only is the working class dropped from the picture in the SWP’s 1967 resolution (poor white workers becoming just another sector along with rebel youth and antiwar activists), the understanding that Black equality cannot be attained without a fusion with the working class is also abandoned. This “sectoralist” approach to the Black Party would guide the SWP’s advocacy of and involvement with Black Party movements from that point on—even though a formal rejection of sectoralism was contained in the SWP’s 1975 resolution. The continuity with the method of the 1963 resolution was broken.
The Origins of the Fourth International
The roots of the Fourth International lie in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, due to its isolation in a poor, peasant country. By 1923, with the defeat of the revolutionary wave in Germany and throughout Europe, a dictatorial bureaucracy headed by Stalin had taken control of the Russian Communist Party and the Soviet state.
The Stalinist bureaucracy proclaimed the need to build “socialism in one country” and quickly transformed the Communist International — founded in 1919 as an instrument for world revolution — into a tool to preserve its specific interests. Stalin was scared that successful revolutions in other countries would arouse the Russian workers and threaten his rule and thus ordered the Communists Parties throughout the world to protect the bourgeois state and the private ownership of the means of production.
Opposition to this degeneration was led by Leon Trotsky, who together with Lenin had organized the October Revolution of 1917. From 1923 to 1933, the Left Opposition in Russia fought to return the Communist Party and state to their democratic origins. The International Left Opposition fought to reform the Communist International, to return it to its revolutionary roots. In Russia, thousands of Trotskyists were murdered or sent to labor camps. Throughout the world, thousands of Trotskyists were expelled from the Communist Parties.
The year 1933 marked a turning point in the world situation. Ever since the 1929 stock-market crash, the fascist Nazi Party — based upon the impoverished middle-class and funded by the industrialists — had been gaining strength throughout Germany. Nevertheless, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), under direct instructions from Stalin, criminally argued that the main enemy was the reformist Social-Democratic Party (SPD), which it labeled “social-fascist.” The CP even went so far as to ally itself with the Nazis during 1931.
Trotsky called on the KPD to form a united front with the reformist Social-Democratic Party against fascism. In December 193 1, Trotsky made a impassioned appeal to the ranks of the KPD:
“Worker-Communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions. You cannot leave for any place, there are not enough passports for you. Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only a fighting unity with the social democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-Communists, you have very little time left!”
Trotsky’s advice was ignored. The German working-class — the best-organized and most powerful working-class in Europe — was tragically divided and was thus unable to put up a fight in January 1933 when Hitler was appointed Chancellor.
After Hitler’s rise to power, not only did the Communist International fail to correct its suicidal course, but it actually affirmed that the policy followed by the German Communist Party “up to and at the time of Hitler’s coup d’etat was fully correct.” For Trotsky, the fact that no Communist Party in the world — except the Czech party, for a short while — spoke out against this suicidal policy demonstrated the complete bankruptcy of the Communist International.
In July, 1933, Trotsky declared the need to end the policy of trying to reform the Communist International. It was necessary now to build new independent revolutionary parties and a new revolutionary workers’ international, a Fourth International.
This was quite a daunting task. The supporters of Trotsky — the “Trotskyists,” a term which Trotsky never used, opting instead for “Bolshevik-Leninists” — were politically and physically isolated from the working class by the Communist Parties. These Stalinist parties were still seen by most workers as the inheritors of the October Revolution. They were mass parties, many with hundreds of thousands of members of members, daily newspapers, and virtual control of the labor movement.
Typical of the Stalinist position towards the Trotskyists was a 1937 text, written by Stalin himself, “The Measures to Be Taken to Liquidate the Two-Faced People, Trotskyites and their likes”, which declared that: “Trotskyism has become a furious and unprincipled band of sabotagers, agents of distractions, and assassins … Two-thirds of the Trotskyite IVth International is made up of spies and agents.” Trotskyist meetings were broken up by Stalinist thugs. Activists and supporters of Trotskyist organizations were often banned from the mass trade unions controlled by the Stalinists.
From 1933 to 1938, Trotsky and his supporters, in order to break out of the isolation imposed on them, tried to regroup forces outside their ranks to form the new international. Joint conferences were held and common declarations were made with various centrist groups who had broken from the Communist and Socialist parties. Also, beginning in 1934, many Trotskyist groups throughout the world tactically entered into Socialist Parties in order to win over the new left-wings which had developed inside them; this tactical orientation came to be known as the “French turn”, because this “entryism” was proposed first in France.
These were tumultuous years. In 1936, workers’ revolutions broke out in Spain and France. Mass strikes and factory occupations swept across these countries. The Popular Fronts governments — coalition governments between workers parties (Socialist and Communist) and the bourgeoisie — did everything possible to hold the masses back. Trotsky explained, in relation to Spain, that though these Popular Fronts were supposedly created to fight fascism, they were in fact paving the way for fascism’s triumph:
“The theoreticians of the Popular Front do not essentially go beyond the first rule of arithmetic, that is, addition: ‘Communists’ plus Socialists plus Anarchists plus liberals add up to a total which is greater than their respective isolated numbers. Such is all their wisdom. However, arithmetic alone does not suffice here. … When political allies tend to pull in opposite directions, the resultant prove equal to zero.
“A bloc of divergent political groups of the working class is sometimes completely indispensable for the solution of common practical problems. … The joint force of such a bloc can prove far stronger than the sum of the forces of each of its component parts. On the contrary, the political alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, whose interests on basic questions in the present epoch diverge at an angle of 180 degrees, as a general rule is capable only of paralyzing the revolutionary force of the proletariat. … To subordinate the proletariat to the leadership of the bourgeoisie means beforehand to assure defeat in the civil war.”
Within a few years, both France and Spain would be ruled by fascists.
These were also the years in which Stalin murdered millions of Russians in the “Great Purges” supposedly against the “Trotskyite menace.” In 1936, Trotsky wrote his famous analysis of Stalinism, The Revolution Betrayed. In this work, he categorizes the Russian government as a “degenerated workers’ state” in which power had been completely usurped by the careerist Stalinist bureaucracy. Nevertheless, he argues, the social bases established by the October Revolution (the expropriation of the private ownership of the means of production, state property, and the monopoly on foreign trade) must be defended at all costs.
For Trotsky, a political — not social — revolution is needed in Russia to kick out the bureaucracy and restore workers’ democracy; likewise revolutionaries in all countries should defend the Soviet Union against imperialist attack. In this remarkable work, Trotsky also predicted that if the bureaucracy was not overthrown, then the Stalinists would eventually push the Soviet Union towards the restoration of capitalism, an analysis tragically confirmed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The Founding of the Fourth International and The Transitional Program
By 1938, it was clear that a new world war was imminent and that the revolutionaries would have to prepare themselves politically and organizationally for the inevitable pressures of the war and for the revolutionary opportunities which would arise from it. In September 1938, the founding conference of the Fourth International took place in a barn on the outskirts of Paris. Twenty-two delegates from eleven countries (USSR, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Brazil, USA, Holland and England) participated, representing approximately 5,000 members worldwide.
The conference adopted as its founding program a text which came to be known as The Transitional Program. This document sought to generalize the theoretical, strategic, and tactical lessons learned from the last century of class struggle and from the first three workers´ internationals.
The The Transitional Program begins by observing, “Mankind’s productive forces stagnate. … The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only “ripened”; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind.” In other words, the alternative facing humanity is socialism or barbarism.
But if the economic (“objective”) preconditions for world revolution have been ripe for so long, how has capitalism survived? The Transitional Program argues that the responsibility for this lies with the counter-revolutionary Socialist and Communist leaderships of the labor movement, who have done everything possible to prop up and rescue the dying capitalist system: “The multimillioned masses again and again enter the road of revolution. But each time they are blocked by their own conservative bureaucratic machines.”
The document concludes, “The crisis of the proletarian leadership, having become the crisis in mankind’s culture, can be resolved only by the Fourth International.”
In 1938, in a situation marked by the defeats in Germany and Spain, many people questioned whether it made sense to found a new workers’ international. The ex-Trotskyist intellectual Isaac Deutcher wrote: “Wasn’t it artificial to found an International during a period of ship-wreck for the international labor movement… The Fourth International only brought together small groups which struggled against the current.”
The powers-that-be, however, were less skeptical. In 1939, for example, the French ambassador in Berlin warned Hitler: “I’m scared that after the end of a war there will only be one winner: Mister Trotsky.”
In any case, Trotsky argued that the task of building revolutionary parties on a national level could not be separated from the construction of a Marxist international. In the face of an imminent world war, the necessary organizational measures had to be taken to assure the political continuity of the traditions of revolutionary Marxism.
Trotsky himself wrote that the founding of the Fourth International was “the most important work of my life — more important than 1917, more important than the period of the civil war, or any other.” Many skeptics argued that the FI would not outlive Trotsky. History would prove them wrong.