Spartacist Statement to the International Conference
[Jim Robertson's remarks and summary made during the discussion of Cliff Slaughter’s Political Report at the International Committee Conference on 6 April 1966 on behalf of the Spartacist delegation (with minor editorial corrections). First printed in Spartacist #6, June-July 1966, Transcribed from http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/icl-spartacists/1986/1966conf.htmland http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/icl-spartacists/1986/1966final.html ] .
In behalf of the Spartacist group, I greet this Conference called by the International Committee. This is the first international participation by our tendency; we are deeply appreciative of the opportunity to hear and exchange views with comrades of the world movement.
Therefore, we feel we have the responsibility to present to you our specific views where they are both relevant and distinctive, without adapting or modifying them for the sake of a false unanimity which would do us all a disservice, since we have, in our opinion, some valuable insights to offer.
We are present at this Conference on the basis of our fundamental agreement with the International Resolution of the I.C.; moreover, the report of Comrade Slaughter was for us solidly communist, unified throughout by revolutionary determination.
1. What Pabloism Is
The central point of the Conference is “The Reconstruction of the Fourth International, destroyed by Pabloism.” Therefore the issue, “What is Pabloism?” has properly been heavily discussed. We disagree that Pabloism is but the expression of organic currents of reformism and Stalinism, having no roots within our movement. We also disagree with Voix Ouvrière’s view that Pabloism can be explained simply by reference to the petty-bourgeois social composition of the F.I., any more than one could explain the specific nature of a disease by reference solely to the weakened body in which particular microbes had settled.
Pabloism is a revisionist answer to new problems posed by the post-1943 Stalinist expansions. And Pabloism has been opposed within the movement by a bad “orthodoxy” represented until the last few years by the example of Cannon. We must answer new challenges in a truly orthodox fashion: as Gramsci put it, we must develop Marxist doctrine through its own extension, not by seeking eclectic absorption of new alien elements, as Pabloism has done.
The pressure which produced Pabloism began in 1943, following the failure of Leon Trotsky’s perspective of the break-up of the Soviet bureaucracy and of new October revolutions in the aftermath of the war: this failure resulted from the inability to forge revolutionary parties. After 1950, Pabloism dominated the F.I.; only when the fruits of Pabloism were clear did a section of the F.I. pull back. In our opinion, the “orthodox” movement has still to face up to the new theoretical problems which rendered it susceptible to Pabloism in 1943-50 and gave rise to a ragged, partial split in 1952-54.
The fight against Pabloism is the specific historic form of a necessarily continual struggle against revisionism, which cannot be “finally” resolved within the framework of capitalism. Bernstein, Bukharin, and Pablo, for example, have been our antagonists in particular phases of this struggle, which is both necessary and inevitable, and cannot be “solved.”
These are some of our views about Pabloism; they are not exhaustive, for they are shaped by the particular aspects of Pabloism which have loomed large in our own struggle against it.
We take issue with the notion that the present crisis of capitalism is so sharp and deep that Trotskyist revisionism is needed to tame the workers, in a way comparable to the degeneration of the Second and Third Internationals. Such an erroneous estimation would have as its point of departure an enormous overestimation of our present significance, and would accordingly be disorienting.
We had better concentrate upon what Lenin said concerning the various, ubiquitous crises which beset imperialism (a system essentially in crisis since before 1914); Lenin pointed out that there is no impossible situation for the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to throw them out. Otherwise, “crises” are all in a day’s work for the mechanisms and agencies of imperialism in muddling through from one year to the next. Just now, in fact, their task is easier, after the terrible shattering of the Indonesian workers’ movement; add to this the other reversals which expose the revisionists’ dependence on petty-bourgeois and bureaucratic strata, like the softening of the USSR, the isolation of China, India brought to heel, Africa neatly stabilized, and Castro a captive of Russia and the U.S. The central lesson of these episodes is the necessity to build revolutionary working-class parties, i.e., our ability to intervene in struggle.
2. Anti-Pabloist Tactics
A French comrade put it well: “there is no family of Trotskyism.” There is only the correct program of revolutionary Marxism, which is not an umbrella. Nevertheless, there are now four organized international currents all claiming to be Trotskyist, and spoken of as “Trotskyist” in some conventional sense. This state of affairs must be resolved through splits and fusions. The reason for the present appearance of a “family” is that each of the four tendencies—“United Secretariat,” Pablo’s personal “Revolutionary Marxist Tendency,” Posadas’ “Fourth International,” and the International Committee—is in some countries the sole organized group claiming the banner of Trotskyism. Hence, they draw in all would-be Trotskyists in their areas and suppress polarization; there is no struggle and differentiation, winning over some and driving others to vacate their pretense as revolutionists and Trotskyists. Thus, when several Spartacist comrades visited Cuba, we found that the Trotskyist group there, part of the Posadas international, were in the main excellent comrades struggling with valor under difficult conditions. The speeches here of the Danish and Ceylonese comrades, representing left-wing sections of the United Secretariat, reflect such problems.
The partial break-up and gross exposure of the United Secretariat forces—the expulsion of Pablo, the Ceylonese betrayal, the SWP’s class-collaborationist line on the Vietnamese war, Mandel’s crawling before the Belgian Social-Democratic heritage—prove that the time has passed when the struggle against Pabloism could be waged on an international plane within a common organizational framework. And the particular experience of our groups in the United States, which were expelled merely for the views they held, with no right of appeal, demonstrates that the United Secretariat lies when it claims Trotskyist all-inclusiveness.
We Must Do Better
Up to now, we have not done very well, in our opinion, in smashing the Pabloites; the impact of events alone, no matter how favorable objectively or devastating to revisionist doctrines, will not do the job. In the U.S., the break-up of the SWP left wing over its five-year history has been a great gift to the revisionist leadership of the SWP.
At present, our struggle with the Pabloites must be preponderantly from outside their organizations; nevertheless, in many countries a period of united fronts and organizational penetration into revisionist groupings remains necessary in order to consummate the struggle for the actual reconstruction of the F.I., culminating in a world congress to re-found it.
3. Theoretical Clarification
The experiences of the Algerian and Cuban struggles, each from its own side, are very important for the light they shed on the decisive distinction between the winning of national independence on a bourgeois basis, and revolutions of the Chinese sort, which lead to a real break from capitalism, yet confined within the limits of a bureaucratic ruling stratum.
Two decisive elements have been common to the whole series of upheavals under Stalinist-type leaderships, as in Yugoslavia, China, Cuba, Vietnam: 1) a civil war of the peasant-guerrilla variety, which first wrenches the peasant movement from the immediate control of imperialism and substitutes a petty-bourgeois leadership; and then, if victorious, seizes the urban centers and on its own momentum smashes capitalist property relations, nationalizing industry under the newly consolidating Bonapartist leadership; 2) the absence of the working class as a contender for social power, in particular, the absence of its revolutionary vanguard: this permits an exceptionally independent role for the petty-bourgeois sections of society which are thus denied the polarization which occurred in the October Revolution, in which the most militant petty-bourgeois sections were drawn into the wake of the revolutionary working class.
However it is apparent that supplemental political revolution is necessary to open the road to socialist development, or, in the earlier stages, as in Vietnam today, the active intervention of the working class to take hegemony of the national-social struggle. Only those such as the Pabloists who believe that (at least some) Stalinist bureaucracies (e.g., Yugoslavia or China or Cuba) can be a revolutionary socialist leadership need see in this understanding a denial of the proletarian basis for social revolution.
On the contrary, precisely, the petty-bourgeois peasantry under the most favorable historic circumstances conceivable could achieve no third road, neither capitalist, nor working class. Instead all that has come out of China and Cuba was a state of the same order as that issuing out of the political counter-revolution of Stalin in the Soviet Union, the degeneration of the October. That is why we are led to define states such as these as deformed workers states. And the experience since the Second World War, properly understood, offers not a basis for revisionist turning away from the perspective and necessity of revolutionary working-class power, but rather it is a great vindication of Marxian theory and conclusions under new and not previously expected circumstances.
Weakness and Confusion
Many statements and positions of the I.C. show theoretical weakness or confusion on this question. Thus, the I.C. Statement on the fall of Ben Bella declared:
“Where the state takes a bonapartist form on behalf of a weak bourgeoisie, as in Algeria or Cuba, then the type of revolt occurring on June 19-20 in Algiers is on the agenda.”
—Newsletter, 26 June 1965.
While the nationalization in Algeria now amounts to some 15 per cent of the economy, the Cuban economy is, in essence, entirely nationalized; China probably has more vestiges of its bourgeoisie. If the Cuban bourgeoisie is indeed “weak,” as the I.C. affirms, one can only observe that it must be tired from its long swim to Miami, Florida.
The current I.C. resolution, “Rebuilding the Fourth International,” however, puts the matter very well:
“In the same way, the International and its parties are the key to the problem of the class struggle in the colonial countries. The petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders and their Stalinist collaborators restrict the struggle to the level of national liberation, or, at best, to a version of ‘socialism in one country,’ sustained by subordination to the co-existence policies of the Soviet bureaucracy. In this way, all the gains of the struggle of the workers and peasants, not only in the Arab world, India, South East Asia, etc., but also in China and Cuba [our emphasis: Spartacist], are confined within the limits of imperialist domination, or exposed to counter-revolution (the line-up against China, the Cuban missiles crisis, the Vietnam war, etc.).”
Here Cuba is plainly equated with China, not with Algeria.
The document offered by the French section of the I.C. several years ago on the Cuban revolution suffers, in our view, from one central weakness. It sees the Cuban revolution as analogous to the Spanish experience of the 1930’s. This analogy is not merely defective: it emphasizes precisely what is not common to the struggles in Spain and in Cuba, that is, the bona fide workers’ revolution in Spain which was smashed by the Stalinists.
Overcoming Bad Method
The Pabloites have been strengthened against us, in our opinion, by this simplistic reflex of the I.C., which must deny the possibility of a social transformation led by the petty-bourgeoisie, in order to defend the validity and necessity of the revolutionary Marxist movement. This is a bad method: at bottom, it equates the deformed workers’ state with the road to socialism; it is the Pabloite error turned inside out, and a profound denial of the Trotskyist understanding that the bureaucratic ruling caste is an obstacle which must be overthrown by the workers if they are to move forward.
The theoretical analysis of Spartacist concerning the backward portions of the world strengthens, in our estimation, the programmatic positions which we hold in common with the comrades of the I.C. internationally.
4. Building U.S. Section
The principal aspect of our task which may be obscure to foreign comrades is the unique and critically and immediately important Negro question. Without a correct approach to the Negro young militants and workers we will be unable to translate into American conditions the rooting of our section among the masses. We have fought hard to acquire a theoretical insight in the course of our struggle in the SWP against Black Nationalist schemes which disintegrate a revolutionary perspective—defending the position that the Negroes in the U.S. are an oppressed color-caste concentrated in the main in the working class as a super-exploited layer. And we have acquired a considerable experience for our small numbers and despite a composition which is still only about 10 per cent black. We have a nucleus in Harlem, New York City. We intervened in several ways in the Black Ghetto outbursts over the summers of 1964 and 65, acquiring valuable experience.
[The balance of the remarks was not written out before delivery; it is given as reconstructed from the rough notes. The issue of propaganda and agitation was not significantly gone into in the report, but is in the Spartacist draft document on tasks assembled the night before the oral report was given, hence the relevant section of that draft is also quoted below.]
Our draft resolution before you states regarding our Southern work that, “Perhaps our most impressive achievement to date has been the building of several SL organizing committees in the deep South, including New Orleans. This is a modest enough step in absolute terms and gives us no more than a springboard for systematic work. What is impressive is that no other organization claiming to be revolutionary has any base at all in the deep South today.”
Black and White
The race question in the U.S. is different from that in England. In fact it is part way between the situation in England and that in South Africa. Thus some 2 per cent of the British population is coloured; in South Africa over 2/3rds of the people are black. In the U.S. if some 20 per cent of the population is Negro and Spanish-speaking, then within the working class, given the overwhelming concentration of whites in the upper classes, the others comprise something like 25 or 30 per cent. What this means is that in England the intensity of exploitation is spread unevenly, but rather smoothly throughout an essentially homogeneous working class. At the other extreme in South Africa, the white workers with ten times the income of the black, live in good part themselves off the blacks, thus imposing an almost insuperable barrier to common class actions (witness the European and Moslem workers’ relations in Algeria). In the U.S. the qualitatively heavier burden within the class is borne by the black workers. In quiescent times they tend to be divided from the white workers as in the lower levels of class struggle such as are now prevalent. Therefore the black youth in America are the only counterparts today to the sort of militant white working class youth found in the British Young Socialists.
Uniting the Class
However, we are well aware that at a certain point in the class struggle the main detachments of the workers, as such, i.e., black and white in common class organizations such as trade unions, become heavily involved. Every strike shows this. In preparation for the massive class struggles ahead we have begun to build fractions in certain accessible key sections of the working class. But today the winning over of young black militants is the short cut to acquiring proletarian cadres as well; virtually all such militants are part of the working class.
Finally, we know that under the specific conditions in the U.S. to build a genuinely revolutionary party will require the involvement in its ranks and leadership of a large proportion, perhaps a majority, of the most exploited and oppressed, the black workers.
A Fighting Propaganda Group
The Spartacist draft theses state: “The tactical aim of the SL in the next period is to build a sufficiently large propaganda group capable of agitational intervention in every social struggle in the U.S. as a necessary step in the building of the revolutionary party. For this intervention we seek an increase in our forces to at least tenfold. From our small force of around 100 we move toward our goal in three parallel lines of activity: splits and fusions with other groups, direct involvement in mass struggle, and the strengthening and education of our organization.”
Spartacist Delegation Final Statement
to 1966 London Conference
Comrades: We believe that it is a violation of Leninist practice to demand that a comrade affirm to his comrades what he does not believe. I have in substance said several times that if I had known of the rule I would certainly have abided by it. I wish to assure the comrades that my action was in no way intended to constitute a violation of the procedures governing the conduct of individuals participating in the Conference. However, this has been deemed not good enough. Instead, in the guise of discipline, the Spartacist organization has been subjected to a series of slanderous attacks, despite our basic political agreement on the necessity of the fight against revisionism. This is an attempt to substitute for international democratic centralism for the American section a mechanism not of consciousness and discipline but of fear and obedience. Hence an incident without significance of an unintentional violation of protocol has been uniquely singled out and inflated into an accusation of petty-bourgeois arrogance and American imperial chauvinism. If the comrades go ahead to exclude us from this Conference, we ask only what we have asked before–study of our documents, including the present draft on U.S. work before you now, and our work over the next months and years. We will do the same, and a unification of the proper Trotskyist forces will be achieved, despite this tragic setback.