In the fourth chapter of the book about Ted Grant, Alan Woods highlights Ted's defence of Marxism in the difficult years after World War Two.
Eclectics live by means of episodic thoughts and improvisations that originate under the impact of events. Marxist cadres capable of leading the proletarian revolution are trained only by the continual and successive working out of problems and disputes. (Trotsky, What Next for the German Revolution? 1932)
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. (Proverbs 26:11)
The USSR and the war
The end of the war confronted the RCP and the Fourth International with an entirely new situation, which had not been foreseen by Trotsky. The outcome of the Second World War was different than that worked out by Trotsky in 1938. The war in Europe resolved itself largely into a war between Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. Anglo-American imperialism miscalculated the perspective completely when they bet that that the USSR would be defeated by Germany.
“The war developed on different lines to what even the greatest theoretical geniuses could have expected,” Ted said on many occasions. But Trotsky was not the only one in error. The perspectives of Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and Hitler were even more mistaken.
Hitler thought he could get a quick and easy victory in Russia. In part he was intoxicated by the speed of his victory in France. But the main factor that convinced him was the wholesale destruction of the cadres of the Red Army in Stalin’s purges. This received further confirmation with the poor showing of the Red Army in the Finnish campaign of 1939-40. He overruled the objections of his generals, who thought that Germany could not fight a war on two fronts, by saying: “They do not have good generals”.
Trotsky feared that the Soviet Union could be defeated as a result of Stalin’s policies. This nearly happened at the start of the war, when millions of Soviet soldiers were encircled, captured and sent to death camps where they perished of starvation and ill-treatment. The blunders of Stalin allowed Hitler’s armies to advance right up to the outskirts of Moscow.
This convinced not only Hitler, but also Churchill, that the Soviet Union would be defeated in a matter of weeks. But things turned out very differently. Ted said that in part this was due to the peculiar nature of German fascism. The idea of racial superiority is common to all imperialist nations. Fascism is only the distilled essence of imperialism. But in this case, the distilled essence had a particularly poisonous character.
The demented racist Hitler saw Russia as a land that must be occupied by the German master race. The Soviet people were only sub-human “Untermenschen”, inferior Slavs ruled by “Jewish Bolsheviks”. He did not expect them to put up a serious fight. “All we have to do is to kick in the door and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down,” he said.
The inhuman treatment of the Soviet population, the massacres, pogroms and innumerable atrocities immediately galvanised the population against the invaders, not just the working class but also the bulk of the peasantry. That was an important factor, as Ted pointed out: “Trotsky wrote that for the USSR the biggest danger was not the guns and tanks of the enemy but the cheap commodities they would bring in their baggage. However, Hitler’s armies did not bring cheap commodities, but gas chambers.” He added: “If instead of the German army, Russia had been invaded by the Americans, things might have turned out differently.”
The turning point is often said to have been the Battle of Stalingrad, where about 800,000 German and Axis troops were either killed or captured, including the entire German Sixth Army and its commander-in-chief. That was a shattering blow to Hitler. By comparison, the British victory in the Battle of El Alamein was a puny affair.
However, Ted always said that the Battle of Kursk in July and August 1943 was really the decisive battle of World War Two. “That was the biggest tank battle in history”, he said. The Germans had about 3,000 tanks and assault guns, 2,110 aircraft and 435,000 men. It was one of the greatest concentrations of German fighting power ever assembled. But it was not enough.
The Red Army tore the guts out of the Wehrmacht. The Germans suffered irrecuperable losses and were put to flight. In the end, the Soviets defeated the Nazi invaders and advanced into the heart of Europe, in what Ted described as the greatest military advance in all history. “The main reason for the victory of the Soviet Union was the nationalised planned economy”, he explained many times. “The Russians were able to dismantle all their industries in the West—1,500 factories—put them on trains and ship them east of the Urals where they were beyond the reach of the Germans. In a matter of months, the Soviet Union was out-producing the Germans in tanks, guns and airplanes.”
Alarmed by the swift advance of the Red Army, which was sweeping all before it, Churchill and Roosevelt rushed to open a second front in Europe, after dragging their feet for two years, expecting the Soviet Union to be defeated. “If they had not organized the Normandy landings in 1944, they would have met the Red Army, not in the middle of Germany but on the English Channel”, Ted said.
Ted never tired of praising the fighting spirit and military prowess of the Red Army, and the courage of the Soviet workers and peasants who succeeded in defeating the armies of Hitler, despite having all the resources of Europe at their disposal. He always spoke of this with the greatest enthusiasm, as if it were his own personal victory, so fully did he identify himself with the land of October, its people, their victories and their sufferings.
This great victory, despite all the mythology that was subsequently created about Stalin the “Great War Leader”, was in spite of Stalin and the bureaucracy. They had brought the Soviet Union to the very brink of catastrophe. Just one example will illustrate this. Ted said:
Tukhachevsky, the hero of the Civil War, was a military genius. He was the first to understand that the Second World War would be fought with tanks and aeroplanes. His theories were actually put into practice by the Germans with their Blitzkrieg [lightning war]. By contrast, the British and French strategists were still working on the assumption that the next war would be, like the First World War, based on trench warfare. The bankruptcy of this strategy was immediately exposed in 1940, with the fiasco of the Maginot Line. Yet Stalin replaced Tukhachevsky with men like Budyonny who believed that the Second World War would be fought with cavalry.
Only the superhuman determination of the Soviet workers and soldiers to defend the USSR and the gains of the October Revolution, and the striking superiority of the nationalized planned economy saved the day. Yet, despite all their crimes and blunders, it was Stalin and the bureaucracy who gained most from the victory of the USSR in the war. Far from being undermined by war, the Stalinist bureaucracy emerged enormously strengthened. Their authority and prestige were boosted, and the regime was enabled to survive for decades longer. The historic victory of the Red Army fundamentally changed the balance of forces in Europe and on a world scale.
Moreover, the hold of the Moscow bureaucracy over the Communist Parties of Europe and the world was stronger than ever. And for the Fourth International, the road to the Communist workers was closed. This had very serious consequences for the perspectives of socialist revolution in Europe.
The war was moving inexorably to a close. The workers returned from the battlefields determined never to return to the poverty and mass unemployment of the pre-war period. They were confident and militant—and they were still carrying guns. In the 1945 general election, Labour swept to power with a big majority. Churchill was humiliated. The newly elected Labour MPs, elated by their success, sang the Red Flag in the Mother of Parliaments. Alarmed, Churchill demanded the immediate demobilisation of the army. When that was done, he then launched a campaign against Labour for leaving the country disarmed. There was a general ferment in society, but the beneficiaries were the Labour leaders, who were actually delivering on their promise of reforms, not the Fourth International.
Conflicts with the leadership of the International
Ted was always in conflict with the so-called leaders of the Fourth International. His colossal admiration for the Old Man was equalled by his poor opinion of these people, whom he saw as the epigones of Trotsky. Once he said to me: “We thought that at least these people would be manure for the future, but they were not even that.” He recalled what Marx had written in The German Ideology: “How right was Heine when he said about his imitators: ‘I have sown dragon’s teeth and harvested fleas’.”
Trotsky himself was doubtful about the calibre of the leaders of his own movement. The old generation of Bolshevik cadres had been decimated by Stalin. One by one, they were either murdered or else capitulated to Stalin. Trotsky’s old friend and comrade in arms, the outstanding Balkan Marxist, Christian Rakovsky was the last to break under the unbearable pressure. This was a terrible blow to Trotsky. After Rakovsky capitulated, he felt completely alone, in the sense that there was nobody he felt he could exchange ideas and discuss problems with.
In his Diary in Exile, written in 1935, he wrote:
Rakovsky was virtually my last contact with the old revolutionary generation. After his capitulation there is nobody left. Even though my correspondence with Rakovsky stopped, for reasons of censorship, at the time of my deportation, nevertheless the image of Rakovsky has remained a symbolic link with my old comrades-in-arms. Now nobody remains. For a long time now I have not been able to satisfy my need to exchange ideas and discuss problems with someone else. I am reduced to carrying on a dialogue with the newspapers, or rather through the newspapers with facts and opinions. (Trotsky, Diary in Exile, 1935, p. 53)
Trotsky was under no illusions about the leaders of the Trotskyist movement, as his earlier quoted comments to Fred Zeller clearly show. He placed all his hopes in the new generation that would be forged in the fire of events. But events turned out differently to what he had anticipated.
During the war, the SWP (in the USA) and the WIL/RCP (in Britain) were the main groups able to keep a legal structure. The Opposition in the USSR had been long liquidated; the European sections were unable to keep up regular contact, if any, during the war, and barely survived. The SWP became the main point of reference after Trotsky’s death, but the structures of the IS (International Secretariat) of the Fourth were almost nonexistent and depended on the SWP for money.
Cannon, as far as I know was not directly involved in the IS, but of course he was regarded as a political heavyweight. His contacts with Trotsky gave him great authority in the eyes of the sections of the Fourth, which tended to look up to the American comrades for guidance and inspiration.
This was further enhanced by the famous trial of 28 members of the SWP and Teamsters’ Union, Local 544, that had begun on October 27, 1941. Eighteen were found guilty of “advocating the desirability of overthrowing the government by force and violence”, which resulted in the imprisonment of Cannon and other SWP leaders. The WIL, despite being officially kept outside the International, regularly reproduced material and news from the American SWP.
The emergence of the European Secretariat towards the end of the war then switched the centre of gravity of the Fourth back towards Europe. In February 1944, a European Conference of the Fourth International appointed a new European Secretariat and elected Michel Raptis, a Greek Trotskyist living in France, as the organisational secretary of its European Bureau. He is better known as Michel Pablo.
Among the new European leaders was Pierre Frank. He had played a very bad role before the war in the French section, when he was a member of the faction of the adventurer Raymond Molinier and was expelled. When in 1940, Frank and Molinier tried to get back into the Fourth International they wrote to Trotsky, who was extremely sceptical about allowing them back. “I am ten times more cautious than before. Unfortunately your letter doesn’t dissipate my doubts,” he wrote on the 1st of July, 1940. This was written less than two months before his death.
It was very unusual for the Old Man to say such a thing about anybody and it showed his complete distrust of Frank. But Trotsky was not present to raise any objections. Despite Trotsky’s misgivings, Frank wormed his way back into the International by joining the reunified French section, then becoming a delegate to the 1946 international conference. There he was not only accepted back without any questions asked, but was given a leading position on the IS. Later on, they tried to conceal Frank’s past clashes with Trotsky. In his obituary of Frank, Mandel did not even mention them. The same goes for Frank’s so-called history of the Fourth (The Fourth International: The Long March of the Trotskyists). In this way, the history of the Fourth International has been systematically rewritten and falsified.
Pablo, Frank, Mandel and other leaders had an entirely false perspective, which was shared by Cannon and the SWP. Shortly before his death, I interviewed Ted and asked him what the basis of the disagreements was. He answered as follows:
There were a whole series of disagreements of a fundamental character. After the death of the Old Man, the leaders of the Fourth International were completely out of their depth. Mandel, Pablo, Frank, Hansen and the others had a completely ultra-left position. They repeated what Trotsky had said in 1938 without understanding Trotsky’s method. As a result they landed in a mess.
The reason for this was their failure to understand that the Second World War developed in a way that was not foreseen by Trotsky in 1938. That could not have been foreseen even by the greatest Marxist. Not only Trotsky, but also Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had not foreseen what happened. The Second World War in Europe was really a gigantic battle between the Red Army and Hitler, with all the resources of Europe behind him. The victory of the USSR strengthened Stalinism for a whole historical period. At the same time the reformists and Stalinists saved capitalism in Europe.
This provided the basis for a recovery of capitalism that developed later into an enormous economic upswing. This meant that the forces of Trotskyism were in a difficult position, because reformism and Stalinism were strengthened. The illusions in Stalinism were further strengthened by the victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, and the overthrow of capitalism in Eastern Europe, albeit in a distorted, bureaucratic way.
On the other hand, the road to the reformist workers was also closed to us. The economic upswing allowed the reformist leaders to carry out far-reaching reforms. The Labour government in Britain was the only Labour government in history that actually carried out its programme. There were enormous illusions among the workers. We were isolated. (The theoretical origins of the degeneration of the Fourth, Interview with Ted Grant, October 2004)
The leadership of the British section of the Fourth International (the Revolutionary Communist Party) had already concluded that because of these developments, the perspectives that Trotsky had outlined in 1938 had been falsified by history. It was necessary to work out a new perspective, taking into account all these developments. The British RCP disagreed with the idea that capitalism was heading immediately for a deep slump, and pointed out that an upturn in the economy was already underway. But the so-called leaders of the Fourth were blind to all this.
The British comrades did get a certain echo, but the leaders had the majority. They did not like the RCP because the British leadership thought for themselves and would take no nonsense from them. Ted said: “They could never beat us in a political argument, so they resorted to organizational intrigues and manoeuvres against us. This is death for a revolutionary organization.”
Conflicts in the SWP
A ferocious conflict erupted in the American SWP over the policy to be adopted towards the European revolution. It was a struggle between the followers of James Cannon, and a minority led by Felix Morrow, the author of a very good book, Revolution and Counter-revolution in Spain. Morrow formed a bloc with Albert Goldman which challenged the Cannon leadership over their perspective for Europe. Morrow explained that rather than dictatorship in Europe, propped up by American bayonets, the bourgeoisie would rest on the Stalinists and reformists to save the situation and introduce a prolonged period of bourgeois democracy.
Under these circumstances, Morrow felt that the revolutionary party would need to stress democratic and transitional demands. While Morrow and Goldman certainly held a more correct appraisal than the SWP leadership, criticising their perspective of immediate slump and war, and tentatively raising the possibility of a counter-revolution in a democratic form, their over-emphasis on democratic demands betrayed a great deal of confusion. As usual with Cannon, the battle was fought with organizational measures and “no holds barred”.
Morrow had been removed as editor of the monthly journal Fourth International because he refused to allow it to be used as a vehicle for Cannon’s views. This factional struggle was carried over into the International Secretariat. Morrow’s writings and speeches were circulated in internal bulletins by the WIL/RCP leadership. The RCP had some sympathy with them in contrast with Cannon’s false perspectives. Ever since 1943, Ted had raised the possibility that the Stalinists and reformists would be able to divert the revolution into popular front channels. He had foreseen, given the failure of the revolutionary wave, the possibility of a counter-revolution in a democratic form, which is what eventually happened.
However, Ted and Haston did not support all of Morrow’s political positions, especially his exaggerated emphasis on democratic demands. They were certainly not involved in a factional sense. They were keeping an open mind to the arguments, while Cannon was demanding support based on blind loyalty. Cannon, however, was convinced that the RCP was actively backing Morrow’s faction, and he again manoeuvred against the British leadership. This was untrue, but Cannon judged everyone by his own standards and methods. So for him it was quite natural to set up and back Gerry Healy’s faction against the leadership of the British section.
When I asked Ted why they did not support Morrow, who appeared to have a better position than Cannon, he merely shrugged his shoulders and said that they did not agree with either side. He said: “They had a better position than Cannon and Hansen. But they also made some mistakes, so we did not support them. But Cannon accused us of supporting them and of interfering in the internal affairs of the SWP. This was rich coming from Cannon, who had always been interfering in the affairs of the British section!”
To give a flavour of the methods with which Cannon dealt with internal opposition, I quote from a speech made by Cannon in October 1945 about the so-called bloc of Morrow and the RCP. He said:
You talk about the regime in our party. You have got a bloc partner in England called the leadership of the RCP. You know what kind of regime they have got? Jock Haston stood up in the last Conference of the RCP and defended Morrow and Goldman against the methods of Cannon...
That is the regime in the RCP who are supporting Goldman and Morrow against our regime, and with whom they have concluded a bloc. And I challenge them to deny it. Talk about unprincipledness. You will deny it and we will prove it because we have the dope on you. You are helping Haston and [Ted] Grant to fight Healy right now. You are sending personal letters to Haston to help them in the fight against Healy—to utilise against Healy. You are in a bloc and you are already ashamed of it openly, but we will expose that bloc and all the rest of it. And we will take the fight on the international field. You go ahead and line up your bloc. We will work with those people who believe in the same principles, the same programme and methods that we do. And we will fight it out and see what happens in the International. (October 7, 1945, from Cannon, Writings and Speeches, 1945-47, p. 183)
This speech is sufficient to expose the bullying tone of Cannon and his way of dealing with political opponents. Morrow was eventually expelled from the SWP in 1946 for “unauthorized collaboration” with the Shachtmanites. He eventually moved to the right and drifted out of politics. The same thing happened to Haston later. One might say of them what Lenin was supposed to have said about Paul Levi: “He lost his head. But he had a head to lose.”
Their conduct contrasts sharply with Ted’s stamina and persistence in defending and developing the position in spite of all difficulties. But the manoeuvres of the leadership of the Fourth against the British leadership went on ceaselessly. This is documented in the strong protest issued by the RCP political bureau against Stuart (Sam Gordon) and Cooper’s actions and reports.7
Trotsky’s prognosis falsified
Behind the superficial questions of prestige, petty ambitions, and rivalry within the leadership of the Fourth International, there were very serious political differences, which soon came to the fore. When Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent in 1940, the weak forces of the Fourth International were deprived of its leading spirit. The untested leaders of the International proved to be unequal to the tasks posed by history. They buckled under the pressure and abandoned the ideas and methods of the Old Man, but Ted and his comrades in the leadership of the RCP in Britain were the only ones capable of reassessing the situation.
Trotsky’s calculation proved correct in the sense that the Second World War was succeeded by a revolutionary wave in Greece, Italy, France and other countries, but the masses remained under the influence of the Communist Parties and, in some cases (Britain, Germany) the Social Democracy. The Stalinists and Social Democrats succeeded in heading off the revolution and saving capitalism. This was the political premise for the post-war economic upswing. The reasons for the post-war economic upswing were explained by Ted Grant in much detail in Will There be a Slump? (1960). Here we can only give a brief outline of those reasons.
There were many different factors, such as post-war reconstruction, the discovery of new industries during the war, and to some extent the increased involvement of the state (“state capitalism”) through arms expenditure, deficit financing and nationalisation, which, for a temporary period partially mitigated the central contradiction of private ownership of the means of production.
However, the main factor which acted as a motor-force driving the world economy, was the unprecedented expansion of world trade. The Financial Times (December 16, 1993) pointed out: “Over the whole period between 1950 and 1991, the volume of total world exports grew twelve times, while world output grew six times. More startlingly still, the volume of world exports of manufactures rose twenty three times, partly because this is where trade liberalisation was concentrated, while output grew eight times.”
These figures clearly show how the rapid expansion of world trade in the post-war period acted as a powerful motor-force which drove the growth in output. This is the secret of the capitalist upswing from 1948 to 1974. It means that, for a whole historical period, capitalism was able partially to overcome its other fundamental problem—the contradiction between the narrowness of the national market and the tendency of the means of production to develop on a global scale.
From a Marxist point of view, this was a historically progressive development, because it creates the material basis for a socialist society. The strengthening of the working class and the squeezing out of the peasantry in Western Europe, Japan and the United States also changed the class balance of forces within society to the advantage of the proletariat.
The leadership of the Fourth International, on the other hand, understood nothing. Mandel, who was supposed to be an economist, steadfastly denied any possibility that the economy would revive. Later, when the reality was carved on his nose, he was obliged to revise his opinion. He dedicated his PhD dissertation to the theory of “late capitalism”, based on the idea of a “third age” of capitalist development—a complete capitulation to Keynesianism.
But in 1946, together with Pablo, Cannon and all the others, he had a perspective of immediate economic slump, of war and revolutions, and Bonapartist dictatorships everywhere. They even held the position that the Second World War had not ended. This was entirely false and ultra-left. Ted predicted a period of bourgeois democracy in Europe, not Bonapartism or fascism, but counter-revolution in a democratic form, and urged the Fourth International to draw the conclusions and act accordingly. But the leaders were deaf to all these arguments and they made every imaginable mistake because of it.
They merely regurgitated the half-digested words of Trotsky from 1938 without the slightest understanding of his method. They were hopelessly out of touch. The Fourth International refused to accept that the revolutionary wave had been defeated for the time being. Instead, they took refuge in false optimism, platitudes, and meaningless generalisations, like those we find in the resolutions of April 1946:
Under these conditions partial defeats like those in Greece, temporary periods of retreat like those in France and Belgium, do not demoralize the proletariat. On the contrary, in the course of the coming economic struggles, the treacherous character of its leaders is revealed anew by the experiences. The repeated demonstration by the bourgeoisie of its inability to re-establish an economic and political regime of the slightest stability offers the workers new opportunities to go over to ever higher stages of struggle.
On the other hand, the swelling of the ranks of the traditional organizations in Europe, above all the Stalinist parties, reflected the first stage of radicalisation of the masses, and has reached its peak almost everywhere. The phase of decline is beginning.8
The revolutionary party is above all its ideas, perspectives, methods and traditions. With these completely erroneous perspectives, it is no wonder the Fourth International went into a deep crisis. If they had listened to the British comrades, things would have been different. We would still have had to fight against the stream for a long time, but we would have preserved the cadres, kept the movement together, and prepared for new advances when the situation began to change, as it did change, and is changing now.
The 1946 Conference
In April 1946, delegates from the principal European sections, and a number of others, attended a “Second International Conference”. This set about rebuilding the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. Michel Raptis (Pablo) was appointed Secretary and Ernest Germaine, a Belgian intellectual whose real name was Ernest Mandel, began to play a leading role.
Although he was a member of the IEC, Ted was unable to go because he did not have a British passport. But he admitted to me that he was not particularly enthusiastic about going anyway, “because I knew what it would be like”. The RCP moved a series of detailed amendments to the Manifesto of the Fourth International, which were written by Ted and defended in Paris by Jock Haston and Jimmy Deane.
When they came back to London they reported that it was a mixture of ultra-leftism and opportunism. They were bitterly disappointed by the leaders of the Fourth—Pablo, Mandel, Pierre Frank and the others. Ted had already clashed with Frank in 1945, when he attended the RCP congress, where he was advocating the setting up of factions on each and every question, no matter how petty. He understood nothing on this or any other question, as Trotsky knew very well.
They could never convince either the leadership or the rank and file of the RCP through a democratic discussion and political argument. So they used a stooge to do the dirty work for them. This was Gerry Healy. He had no ideas of his own, but acted like a complete zombie, carrying out the orders from Paris, and gathering a small clique around him.
Healy was always 101 percent behind the International leadership. In fact, he was the original “Pabloite”, completely following Pablo’s line. But there is a law that if someone supports you 101 percent today, he will be 101 percent against you tomorrow. And that happened with Healy. Later he broke with Pablo and supported Cannon, until he broke with him too. In the end he fell out with them on every issue. That is how it goes with these people.
It is always a political question in the end. In 1946, the leadership of the Fourth was politically ultra-left (although with these types ultra-leftism is always combined with elements of opportunism). Later they became complete opportunists. This is what happens to people who do not take a dialectical position. These people started by saying that every word of Trotsky was correct, without understanding the Old Man’s method.
One of them, Sam Gordon (alias Stuart), was back in Britain in 1947, and the comrades challenged him about what Trotsky had written in 1938, when he said that within ten years “not one stone upon another” would be left of the old Internationals (that is, the Social Democracy and the Stalinists), and the Fourth International would become the decisive force on the planet. He replied: “Don’t worry. There is still one year to go.” That was the extent of their understanding. Later they performed a 180 degree somersault over our heads and took the opposite position—that Trotsky was completely wrong. They naturally ended up with a completely revisionist position. The result was a complete mess.
Eastern Europe: the Marxist theory of the state
After the war, Ted and the other leaders of the RCP reconsidered the situation in Russia. As a part of the discussion on the class nature of the Soviet Union, they even considered the various theories of bureaucratic collectivism, which had been advanced by people like the American Trotskyist Max Shachtman, as a possible explanation of what was happening in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Shachtman said that the Stalinist bureaucracy was a new class and that Soviet Russia was a new kind of slavery. As a result of careful consideration, in which Ted conscientiously re-read the basic Marxist writings on the state, he came to the conclusion that the theory was wrong and decisively rejected it. Ted came down firmly on the side of Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union, as outlined in works like The Revolution Betrayed and In Defence of Marxism.
He defended the view that the Soviet Union was a deformed workers’ state—one in which private property and capitalism had been abolished, yet where the workers did not hold political power. Before (and after) the war, Shachtman argued that the working class must be the owners of the state in the transitional period, but that that was not the case in Stalin’s Russia. In a speech he made in 2000, Ted summarized his answer to those arguments. I am quoting from notes I made of that meeting:
One must be careful before inventing a new theory. First we must try to explain things on the basis of the old theory. Trotsky’s theories have stood the test of time. We cannot just invent a new class. It must be given a role in production. Where is it? It does not exist: it is just the old bureaucracy grafted onto a workers’ state.
If there is a new slave class, as Shachtman argued, then Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky were all wrong. We would have to invent an entirely new social formation—state capitalism or bureaucratic collectivism—which was entirely unknown to Marx and was not predicted by him. Moreover, this entirely new form of class society, based on a kind of slavery, has the ability to develop the means of production to an unheard-of degree.
If we say that the bureaucracy is a new class, certain things flow from this. This would require us to completely revise Marxism. But that is not necessary. In reality, a workers’ state can assume different forms according to the concrete conditions. In the same way, there can be all kinds of aberrations in history: the bourgeois state can be democratic, fascist or Bonapartist. But the essence of capitalism remains the same: the central contradiction of wage labour and capital stays the same (wage slavery).
If there is a new ruling class that never existed before, what is its role historically? Marx referred to slavery, feudalism and capitalism. If there is a new ruling class, there must be a new working class also. There cannot be one without the other. As we explained to Shachtman, there must be a new slave class. But it is the same with the working class.
The Soviet working class was not the same working class as under capitalism. They had a different consciousness because of social ownership of the means of production. The workers looked upon state property as “our property”. Even under the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy that was the case to some extent.
In Britain, the theories of bureaucratic collectivism never got much support. However, Tony Cliff, who came to Britain from Palestine in 1947, put forward the idea that, not only the regimes in Eastern Europe, but also Russia itself were state capitalist. In two long documents in reply to Cliff, Ted demolished the argument that Russia was state capitalist, pointing out that the theory of state capitalism leads to one contradiction after another and ultimately to a break with Marxism:
“If Russia was capitalist in any sense that Marxism would understand, it must have the law of motion of capitalism, that is, booms and slumps,” he said. “At first Cliff tried to show that there were booms and slumps in Russia. When he could not find any, he said: ‘OK, so there are no slumps in Russia. But there are also no slumps in the West either’.” At the time, capitalism was in a period of economic upswing. From this, and using the method of shallow empiricism that was always his trade mark, Cliff concluded that capitalism could avoid slumps by means of what he called the “permanent arms economy”. This was a variant of bourgeois Keynesian economics and marked a complete revision of Marxism. As usual, one theoretical error led to another. In all of this there is not a trace of dialectical thinking.
Jimmy Deane wrote to Ted from Liverpool on September 16, 1948. The first part is a lengthy report of Jimmy’s stay in Coventry. It shows the bad state of the RCP branch there, with personal conflicts, bitterness towards the leadership, etc. This is already a sign that the difficult objective situation was beginning to affect the morale of the comrades. It was therefore imperative that the leadership provide the necessary theoretical material to rearm the movement. The question of the class nature of the regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe was a fundamental part of this ideological rearmament.
There is an urgent note in this letter that shows the deep concern felt by Jimmy at this time:
When can we expect the publication of the reply to Cliff? I’m looking forward to it. I think you should introduce plenty of factual material (perhaps in the form of an appendix) proving your thesis on Eastern Europe. If the document is long, so much the better. A full and clear exposition of ideas on these questions is just what both our party and the International need. (Jimmy Deane to Ted Grant, September 16, 1948, in the Ted Grant archives)
I am sure that Jimmy’s expectations were satisfied to the full. When Ted finally finished his document, it was well worth the wait. In complete contrast to Cliff’s superficial empiricism, The Marxist Theory of the State, Reply to Tony Cliff, displayed a masterly grasp of the Marxist dialectical method. In my view, this work, and other works of this period, constitute the only really new contribution in the post-war period to Trotsky’s theories, on which they are firmly rooted. Ted found the answer in Trotsky’s last writings on Poland and Finland. On the other hand, it was necessary to apply Trotsky’s dialectical method to the new situations that were opening up in Eastern Europe and China.
In 1940, shortly before he was assassinated, the Old Man had explained that when the Red Army entered Poland and Finland, they would be forced to introduce a nationalised planned system on the lines of Stalinist Russia. Once in power, the Stalinists would lean on the working class to expropriate the landowners and capitalists. We would have to support this as a historically progressive measure. But the working class would soon find itself under a new kind of subjugation and would have to pay for this by a new, political, revolution against the bureaucracy.
Ted explained the precise mechanism by which the Stalinists destroyed the old bourgeois state in Eastern Europe and installed themselves in power without the direct participation of the working class. After 1944-45, the bourgeois fled from Eastern Europe before the irresistible advance of the Red Army. Before the war, in his polemics with Shachtman and Burnham, Trotsky explained in advance what would happen when the bureaucracy entered Poland and the Baltic States. They immediately nationalised the economy. Indirectly, they based themselves on the proletariat. They leaned on the workers to expropriate the capitalists.
Using the analogy with what Trotsky had written about Poland and Finland, Ted argued that the so-called communist countries of Eastern Europe were in fact run on the same lines as the Soviet Union, and he used the term proletarian Bonapartism to describe them (Trotsky had previously used the term soviet or proletarian Bonapartism in his writings). As he later explained in an Open Letter to the British Section Fourth International, September-October 1950:
The collapse of capitalism in Eastern Europe enabled Stalinism as a Bonapartist tendency to manipulate the workers and manoeuvre between the classes—establishing deformed workers’ states of a Bonapartist character with more or less mass support. Stalinism in the present peculiar relationship of class forces, basing itself in the last analysis on the proletariat—in the sense of standing for the defence of the new economic form of society—is Bonapartism of a new type manoeuvring between other classes in order to establish a regime on the pattern of Moscow.
Ted and the RCP welcomed these revolutions because they led to the abolition of landlordism and capitalism. Yet it was not enough simply to characterise these states as workers’ states without more qualification. It was necessary to explain the concrete conditions in which they arose, which determined their character as deformed workers’ states. While defending the nationalised property forms, Ted pointed out that the working class would have to overturn the bureaucratic deformations with a political revolution in the future, replacing the totalitarian bureaucracy with workers’ democracy.
The leaders of the Fourth failed to understand these developments. At first, they tried to argue that, while the USSR was a degenerated workers’ state, the regimes in Eastern Europe were capitalist. Then, at the time of Tito’s split with Stalin, they performed a 180 degree about-face and proclaimed Yugoslavia to be a healthy workers’ state. They proclaimed Tito to be an unconscious Trotskyist. He was the first of many such “unconscious Trotskyists”.
The Chinese Revolution
The leaders of the Fourth equally had no understanding of what was happening in China. Cannon was predicting that Mao Zedong would capitulate to Chiang Kai-shek. This was at a time when the Chinese Red Army was advancing rapidly, sweeping all before it, and Chiang’s army had the biggest rate of desertion of any army in history. Ted said that Shachtman had his followers rolling in the aisles with laughter when he ridiculed the SWP’s position on China. Shachtman quipped: “Mao is trying to capitulate to Chiang Kai-shek. The problem is he can’t catch up with him!”
It is astonishing that Ted not only predicted the victory of Mao Zedong, but also explained what programme Mao would carry out—before Mao himself put it forward. At a time when Mao was still writing about a long period of capitalism in China, Ted explained that he would have to nationalise the means of production and set up a state in the image of Stalin’s Russia. In other words, Mao would come to power and set up a deformed workers’ state (proletarian Bonapartism). That was precisely what happened.
Even more astonishing was Ted’s prediction that Mao’s China would inevitably come into conflict with Stalinist Russia. He made this prediction in the late 1940s in a document called Reply to David James, when there was not the slightest indication of any conflict between Moscow and Beijing. It took over a decade for the prediction to come true, in the shape of the Sino-Soviet dispute, but it came true nonetheless.
Later, Ted wrote a long document on China in which he went through the entire history of that country. He made the mistake of sending this document to Pierre Frank in Paris, and never saw it again. Unfortunately, there was no copy and Ted was forever lamenting its loss. Nevertheless, he left plenty of other valuable documents on China, from which his views can be clearly understood. A careful reading of these works is completely indispensable for an understanding not only of the Chinese Revolution, but of the colonial revolution in general.
Every revolution has common features, but also important differences that reflect the peculiarities of national development. In the case of China, Ted showed that for thousands of years, there had been a history of peasant wars, which would eventually overthrow the ruling dynasty. But all that would happen was that the heads of the peasants would fuse with the Mandarin ruling class to form a new dynasty. Social relations would remain untouched and the endless cycle of Chinese history would continue uninterrupted.
Before the war, Trotsky posed the question of what would happen when the Chinese Red Army entered the towns. He tentatively suggested that the same thing would happen, but with a difference. He thought it likely that the leaders of the Red Army would fuse with the bourgeoisie, preparing the way for the development of capitalism in China. But because of the peculiar development of the Second World War, things worked out differently. As with all of Trotsky’s pre-war predictions, he would undoubtedly have modified this perspective, had he not been cut down by a Stalinist assassin. Marxist perspectives are conditional by nature, and must be developed and updated on the basis of changing conditions – something the leaders of the Fourth were woefully incapable of doing.
Trotsky’s prediction was a very reasonable hypothesis, given the policy of popular frontism that every Stalinist party in the world accepted, including the Chinese. As late as 1949, Mao was still putting forward the idea of a “hundred years of capitalism”. He insisted that he would only expropriate “bureaucratic-capital”.
In the first stages, Mao did everything to prevent the workers from taking power, and to crush whatever elements of an independent workers’ movement had emerged. When the Red Army entered the cities, they called on workers not to strike or demonstrate. As in Spain in 1936, Mao did not form a coalition with the bourgeoisie, but with the mere shadow of the bourgeoisie. But whereas in Spain, the shadow was allowed to take on substance, in China it was snuffed out.
Mao’s original idea was to form a coalition government with the representatives of the workers, peasants, the intelligentsia, the national bourgeoisie and even progressive landowners. However, there was a slight problem. The bourgeoisie had fled to Formosa (Taiwan) with Chiang Kai-shek. Formally speaking, this was a popular front government. But there was a fundamental difference between this government and the popular front in Spain in 1936. That difference was the People’s Liberation Army, the peasant army controlled by the Chinese Stalinists.
Engels explained that the state, in the last analysis, is armed bodies of men. The old bourgeois state had been smashed by the Red Army. Having used the peasant Red Army to smash the old state, Mao balanced Bonapartist-fashion between the bourgeoisie, and the workers and peasants, in order to consolidate the new state and concentrate power into his hands.
In spite of his stated perspective of a prolonged period of capitalist development, having taken power, Mao very soon realised that the rotten and corrupt Chinese bourgeoisie was incapable of playing any progressive role. Thus, leaning on the working class, he proceeded to nationalise the banks and all large-scale industry and to expropriate the landlords and capitalists.
This was not so difficult. As Trotsky remarked, to kill a tiger one needs a shotgun, but to kill a flea, a fingernail is sufficient. Mao created a new state in the image of Moscow—not the democratic workers’ state of Lenin and Trotsky, but the monstrously deformed workers’ state of Stalin. In his Reply to David James (1949) Ted wrote:
The Marxist method starts with a class analysis of society and any of its phenomena or organs, but it does not end there. It is necessary from there to analyse all the cross-currents and interactions within the given class definition. In dealing with Yugoslavia and China, it is necessary first to have the essentials firmly in mind. Without the existence of Russia as a degenerate workers’ state, without the weakening of world imperialism as a result of the war, Eastern Europe would have taken on an entirely different pattern. These events can only be explained on the basis of the survival of Russia with its nationalised property forms; the survival of Stalinism at the helm of a vastly strengthened Russia as the outcome of the war. It is this which led to the extension of the revolution in a deformed, Stalinist shape, to the other countries.
In order to explain the peculiar character of the post-war regimes in Eastern Europe, the Chinese Revolution, and the colonial revolution in general, Ted took as his starting point Trotsky’s basic thesis and applied it to the new situation. In Against the Theory of State Capitalism—Reply to Tony Cliff (1949), he explains:
Anyone who compared the Bonapartist counter-revolution with the revolution—at least in its superstructure—would have found as great a difference as between the regime of Lenin and Trotsky in Russia and that of Stalin in later years. To superficial observers the difference between the two regimes was fundamental. In fact, insofar as the superstructure was concerned, the difference was glaring. Napoleon had reintroduced many of the orders, decorations and ranks similar to those of feudalism; he had restored the Church; he even had himself crowned Emperor. Yet despite this counter-revolution, it is clear that it had nothing in common with the old regime. It was counter-revolution on the basis of the new form of property introduced by the revolution itself. Bourgeois forms of property or property relations remained the basis of the economy.
The abolition of landlordism freed China from the burden of semi-feudal relations. The liquidation of private ownership of industry, and the introduction of the state monopoly of foreign trade, gave a powerful impetus to the development of Chinese industry. However, the nationalisation of the means of production is not yet socialism, although it is the prior condition for it.
The movement towards socialism requires the conscious control, guidance and participation of the proletariat. The uncontrolled rule of a privileged elite is not compatible with genuine socialism. It will produce all sorts of new contradictions. Bureaucratic control signifies corruption, nepotism, waste, mismanagement and chaos, which eventually undermine the gains of a nationalised planned economy. The experience of both Russia and China prove this.
Once again, the leaders of the International failed to understand the nature of the processes taking place. They began by characterising Mao’s China as capitalist, and then decided it was a healthy workers’ state after all. Later they even compared the Cultural Revolution with the Paris Commune. All this confusion shows just how far they had lost their bearings.
How was it possible for Ted to anticipate these developments even before Mao had come to power? Once again he based himself on what Trotsky had written as early as 1928, in the discussions of the new Draft Programme of the Communist International, in which Stalin and his (then) ally Bukharin elaborated the anti-Leninist theory of socialism in one country, advanced for the first time in 1924 by Stalin.
A mistake in theory will sooner or later manifest itself in a disaster in practice. This was always understood by Lenin and Trotsky, and Ted always tirelessly repeated the same idea. Trotsky, with amazing foresight, warned the leaders of the international communist movement that if this false theory was accepted by the Comintern, it would be the beginning of a process that would inevitably lead to the national-reformist degeneration of every communist party in the world—whether in or out of power.
At the time, Trotsky’s warnings were ignored by the leaders of the communist parties. They considered themselves to be revolutionary internationalists and Leninists. They all stood for world revolution. How could the Comintern possibly degenerate on national-reformist lines? The very idea seemed simply preposterous!
Those haughty leaders of the communist parties who disdained Trotsky’s good advice in 1928 soon found that he was right. Under Stalin, the communist parties were subordinated to the USSR and forced to carry out a policy in the interests of Moscow’s foreign policy—that is to say, in the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.
Having followed every twist and turn dictated by the Moscow bureaucracy, the Communist International was summarily dissolved by Stalin in 1943 without even calling a congress. The history of the Comintern was traced and analysed by Ted in The Rise and fall of the Communist International (Workers’ International News, June 1943).
After the death of Stalin, the communist parties of Western Europe gradually separated themselves from Moscow and became increasingly independent. But this did not mean a return to the old position of Leninist internationalism. To the degree that the CPs became more independent of Moscow, they became more dependent on the pressures of their “own” national bourgeoisie and reformism. Under the guise of “Eurocommunism” they moved over to a position that was indistinguishable from Social Democratic reformism. They adopted in its totality the position of national reformism.
An even worse situation existed in those countries where the Stalinists had come to power. Each national bureaucracy, starting with Yugoslavia, asserted its right to follow its own national “road to socialism”. In effect, each national bureaucracy was defending its own narrow national interests against those of the Moscow bureaucracy.
An extreme case of this was the clash of interests between Moscow and Beijing. This clash had nothing to do with principled political differences, as some people imagined. It was simply dictated by the conflicting interests of the rival ruling bureaucracies of Russia and China. It did not serve the interests of the working people of either state.
Lenin would undoubtedly have advocated the formation of a socialist federation of the USSR and China, linking the immense productive potential of both countries. Such a step would have been in the interests of the peoples of both the Soviet Union and China. Instead of this, Ted pointed to the repulsive spectacle of Soviet and Chinese comrades “discussing their differences in the fraternal language of rockets and artillery”.
This was a crime against proletarian internationalism and it was the direct result of the Stalinist theory of socialism in one country. It led to the complete degeneration, disintegration and decay of the once powerful world communist movement. Years later Ted commented:
The Stalinists thought they understood everything. In reality they understood nothing. Today, over half a century later, history has punished the Stalinists for their crimes. In Britain they have been virtually liquidated as a political force. The remnants of the Stalinists have become indistinguishable from the right-wing trade union bureaucracy. But at that time they were still a force to be reckoned with in the British labour movement.
From defeat to rout
About this time, Ted received an unexpected visit, a “blast from the past”. Murray Gow Purdy, who had developed extreme ultra-left tendencies, had left South Africa and gone first to Abyssinia, and then on to India, where he established a party called the Trotskyist Mazdoor Party. Muddled politically, Purdy developed an erroneous theory that India’s untouchables caste were the proletarian vanguard. He was nevertheless fully involved in the struggle for national independence from Britain, and was sentenced in early 1946 to 10 years imprisonment as a result of a “revolutionary expropriation”.
On his early release after Independence in 1947, he was immediately deported. The following year, he attended the Second World Congress of the Fourth International in Paris, and also visited Ted in London for some discussions. As an ultra-left, Purdy was very critical of the RCP’s approach, which he considered not revolutionary enough. But disillusioned with Trotskyism, he subsequently dropped out of the movement and disappeared from the political scene, never to be heard of again.
Politically, Ted was in good spirits, but financially he was not so buoyant. His sister Rae helped him by sending him clothes from Paris. There is a letter from Jimmy Deane in Paris on this subject. But the other comrades were not much better off. As is plain from the letter that followed:
Paris. 24 June 1947
Another hasty note. I’m at Raoul’s place at the moment—he is living in great poverty. It occurred to me that you may agree to give one of your four suits to Raoul. He has hardly a cloth to his back—somewhat like my own present condition.
If you agree, please write your sister asking her to permit me to select a suit (it shall not be the best) for Raoul. Here it is impossible for a professional to find clothes, whereas in England one still has an even chance of cadging—as you well know!
You mentioned that you may give one of the suits to me, well, if you will, you can give it to Raoul instead.
Please write within a few days Ted.
The letter from Paris is no coincidence. Jimmy had been sent to France for the 1946 Conference and he later lived in Paris for some 18 months. He must have felt very lonely, as the hostility on the part of the International Secretariat towards the British party was increasing. Pablo and Cannon were infuriated at the RCP’s resistance to the demand that they immediately enter the Labour Party. This was determined by their false perspective of an imminent economic catastrophe, world war, fascism, the rapid rise of a centrist current in the Labour Party, etc.
Jimmy attempted to counteract the International leadership’s backing for the Healy minority in the RCP, and to stop them from splitting the British section. As a result, they spread poisonous rumours against him. This was mainly the work of Cannon’s representative, Sam Gordon (Stuart). Isolated and personally disappointed, he nevertheless made some friends, including the Indian representative, Kamlesh Banerjee and other Trotskyists from the Indian sub-continent, and some young members of the French section, the Parti Communiste Internationale. Finally, the financial strain of maintaining a representative in Paris became too much on the cash-strapped RCP. In the autumn of 1947, Jimmy returned to London.
The programmatic documents of the RCP in the 1940s, virtually all of which were written by Ted, show a profound grasp of the new world situation that arose after 1945. They have stood the test of time and can be read with profit by Marxists today. The British RCP characterised the regimes in Western Europe (France, Belgium, Holland, Italy) as regimes of counter-revolution in a democratic form. By contrast, people like Pablo and Frank harped on about “Bonapartism”, the “strong state”, the imminent danger of a nuclear war, fascism and so on and so forth. As we have already seen, they even argued that the Second World War had not ended.
Ted used a military analogy to characterise the situation:
In war, when an army is advancing, good generals are important. But they are a thousand times more important when an army is forced onto the defensive. With good generals the army can retreat in good order, preserving the bulk of its forces, and holding onto key positions, preparing for a new advance when conditions permit. But bad generals will turn a retreat into a rout.
It is hard to imagine worse “generals” than the ones who stood at the head of the Fourth International after Trotsky’s death. Pablo, Mandel, Cannon, Hansen, Frank, Maitan and the others made every conceivable mistake and a few more besides. It was of people like this that Ted commented: “Among the cadres of the Fourth International, there are comrades who have not sufficiently understood this lesson. They continue to live on the ‘revenue from a few ready-made abstractions’ instead of concretising or partially rectifying previous generalisations.”
James Cannon was probably the best of them. At least, Ted used to say, he had roots in the workers’ movement. He undoubtedly possessed talent, but it was the talent of an agitator and an organiser. He was never a theoretician. His writings are all agitational and his understanding of Marxism was quite shallow. The one book that could claim to have a theoretical character was The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, and that was, in effect, dictated by Trotsky. Trotsky’s reservations about him were clear during the struggle with Shachtman and Burnham before the war. Ted often said that there is nothing more dangerous in revolutionary politics than a person who is theoretically weak, but who imagines him or herself to be a great theoretician. Such people will inevitably resort to organizational manoeuvres in order to compensate for their political shortcomings.
Ted once said: “Trotsky never approved of Cannon’s organizational methods”. I asked him how he knew this, and he answered: “It was common knowledge. Everybody knew about it at that time.” This is confirmed by somebody who was very close to Trotsky at that time, his secretary, Jean van Heijenoort. In his book With Trotsky in Exile we read the following:
I had had my last conversation with Trotsky. We spoke about the situation in the American Trotskyite group, which was undergoing a serious crisis… Trotsky feared that Cannon, with whom he was politically allied, would tend to replace the discussion of political differences with organisational measures, thereby precipitating the expulsion of the minority. “Cannon has to be held back on the organisational plane and pushed forward on the ideological plane”, he told me. (Jean van Heijenoort, With Trotsky in Exile, p.145-6)
As we have seen, the relations of the British section with Cannon were bad even before the war. Cannon thought the British Trotskyists ought to accept the leadership of the Americans. He was convinced that his personal relations with Trotsky ought to give him a borrowed authority, not understanding that the only authority a genuine revolutionary leader can ask for is a political and a moral authority. He was guided by prestige politics—a very dangerous disease, with results that are invariably fatal.
When Cannon came to Britain before the war to unite the Trotskyist groups prior to the founding Conference of the Fourth International, he expected to be obeyed. But to his chagrin, he found that Ted and his comrades were not prepared to be bullied or pushed into a fusion that they regarded (correctly) as unprincipled.
After the war, the Revolutionary Communist Party was in a much stronger position, after having successfully built up a sizeable force. But by expressing differences with the Americans, they were asking for trouble with the International Secretariat. Relations with the IS had indeed been strained for some time. This was motivated by petty considerations such as Cannon’s jealousy of the rising importance of the British section.
I believe that one of the main problems the leaders of the International had with the British comrades from the very start was that they knew they did not have a shred of authority with them. Worse still, the British leaders simply did not take them seriously. People who are obsessed with personal prestige take themselves very seriously indeed. They can put up with attacks and insults, but the one thing they cannot stand is not being taken seriously.
Cannon, Pablo and Healy
Following Trotsky’s assassination in 1940, Cannon was effectively in control of the Fourth International. But he lacked Trotsky’s moral and political authority. However, he was well-schooled in the gentle art of manoeuvring and used this to further his ends, with disastrous results. It is no accident that Cannon was initially an enthusiastic supporter of Zinoviev and his methods.
The International leadership could not win in a battle of ideas, so they resorted to other methods. With the backing of Sam Gordon (Stuart), Cannon, and then Pablo, Healy was continually manoeuvring against Ted Grant and the other RCP leaders to gain control of the organisation from 1943 onwards.
We have already mentioned how Healy was won over to Trotskyism by Jock Haston when, as part of a group of Stalinists, he tried to disrupt the WIL’s activities at Speaker’s Corner. After he joined the WIL, Healy’s characteristic activism was regarded by Ted and Haston as an important resource. However, he immediately displayed total disregard for discipline (as it was apparent from the Irish episode which was referred to earlier), and was prone to intrigue. As his responsibilities within the WIL increased (including leading responsibilities in the EC), Healy periodically exploded at meetings and openly blackmailed the rest of the leadership by threatening his resignation in order to force through a particular decision. Ted and Jock Haston had to confront Healy several times, but always accepted him back into the organisation, in the hope that he would put his organisational skills at the service of the movement.
In February 1943, things came to a head, and Healy was expelled from the WIL:
The expulsion of Comrade G. Healy from our organisation will no doubt come as a shock to many of our members. The apparent suddenness of the action has made it necessary for the PB [Political Bureau] to explain the background of his expulsion from WIL.
At the conclusion of his industrial report on the second day of the National Central Committee meeting of February 6th and 7th, which was attended by provincial delegates, as well as the officials of the London District Committee, Comrade Healy stated that he was resigning from the organisation and joining the ILP on the following day; his action was not motivated by political differences but his personal inability to continue further work in our organisation with J. Haston, M. Lee and E. Grant.
He then left the meeting and was thereupon unanimously expelled from WIL by the Central Committee.
The same afternoon he discussed the question of entering the ILP with two leading London [ILP] members, who imparted the information to Fenner Brockway.
His action came as a complete surprise to the Central Committee since he had not intimated his intentions in the course of the previous sitting of the CC or in his industrial report. While many of the comrades present witnessed this scene for the first time, the majority of London CC members had witnessed a similar occurrence on numerous occasions since the beginning of 1939. In the first stages of these ultimatums in the form of “resignations” from our organisation, there was no political issue whatsoever bound up with his actions. But in the latter stages it was usually linked up to political issues which were the subject of controversy between the EC, the PB and G. Healy.
The first “resignation” was made to the organisation when Youth for Socialism was, for purely technical reasons, changed from a duplicated journal to a printed one at the beginning of 1939. Comrade Healy, who was then the formal publisher of Youth for Socialism, took strong objection because the decision had been taken in his absence! Later, in 1939, he again “resigned” on a similar insignificant issue on the same basis of personal pique.
At the end of 1939 when he was in the Irish Republic as a member of a delegation of comrades sent there by our centre, as the result of a controversy over secondary tactical issues relating to local activity, he “resigned” from the local and stated that he intended to join the Irish Labour Party to fight our organisation. For this action he was expelled by the Irish Group. After some discussion between the National Organiser and G. Healy, and between the NC and the Irish Group, it was conceded that he be sent back to England without the publicity of denouncing him before the organisation as a whole, and thus make it possible to utilise his energy in the interest of our party in Britain.
In 1940, the first really serious breach came when his “resignation” was linked to a political issue. At that time, Comrade Healy, who was then the representative of the EC in the capacity of National Organiser, was in Scotland. The constitution of the organisation had been redrafted by the EC with the object of bringing the statutes of the organisation into line with its development from a London local into a national organisation. As a representative of the EC, he was responsible for EC policy. Having any differences with the body that elected him, it was his elementary duty to raise such differences with that body, and failing satisfaction, then taking the question up with the membership. Instead of conducting himself as a responsible official and discussing his differences with the EC, he pressed forward a series of amendments to the Constitution through a number of locals with which he had close contact in his capacity as National Organiser. These amendments were of an opportunist character, reducing the Constitution to a federal, instead of a centralised basis. When called upon by the EC to defend his policy, he failed to put up any defence whatsoever, but instead launched a slanderous and personal attack upon two of the leading comrades in the centre and “resigned” from the organisation, because of his inability to work with these comrades.
In the last instance, comrade Healy’s industrial report was to have been the subject of criticism and there is no doubt that his action was bound up with that question. Although he was invited to remain in the meeting for the political discussion on the industrial work, he refused to do this, but stated he could not work with the comrades mentioned.
On three other occasions a similar situation arose when the CC was presented with “resignations” arising out of insignificant issues.
During this period the EC made every concession to him, despite these continued disruptive acts. On each occasion, discussions were held with him in which the error of this type of ultimatum was demonstrated. During the whole of this period, the EC refrained from publicly branding these actions for what they were: crass irresponsibility, thereby allowing him to maintain a measure of authority in the organisation, and afford him the possibility of continued activity in the organisation, and afford him the possibility of continued activity in our ranks. This was done because it was believed that his undoubted organisational energy and ability could be harnessed in the interests of our party and that these concessions were to the benefit of both comrade Healy personally as well as of our organisation as a whole. (Statement of the PB on the expulsion from WIL of G. Healy, February 15, 1943, in Ted Grant, Writings, Vol. 2, p. 347-8)
Healy was then readmitted within the WIL. However, he was filled with resentment. He bore a grudge towards the rest of the leadership of the WIL and immediately started his intrigues all over again, this time joining his forces with Sam Gordon (Stuart) and later with Pablo.
Healy could never succeed in an honest political debate. At no time did he gain the support of more than a quarter of the RCP’s members, which by 1947, had already dwindled and numbered a little over 300. However, his constant factional intrigues and dishonest methods rendered a proper political debate within the RCP impossible. And in the context of a difficult objective situation, it spread demoralisation among the membership.
Healy’s twists and turns over political questions were positively comical. One of the disagreements with the leadership of the Fourth was over the issue of the Red Army and Eastern Europe. The RCP put forward the slogan for the withdrawal of the Red Army from Eastern Europe.
At a Central Committee meeting in February 1946, Healy voted for an RCP resolution demanding the Red Army’s withdrawal. Two months later, pursuing what he took to be the line of the IS, he performed a 180 degree turn and launched a noisy campaign against the “revisionist” policy of the RCP leaders, and what he defined as the “anti-Internationalist leadership of the British Section”. Unfortunately for Healy, in June, the International Executive Committee of the FI came out in favour of the withdrawal, a change of line of which he was completely ignorant.
The EC had sent a telegram to Paris asking for clarification of the International’s position. The International had reconsidered their earlier position and realised it was untenable. They wrote back saying that they were for the withdrawal of the Red Army. Healy knew nothing about this letter and continued to rant and rave against the RCP’s alleged revisionism. When he was asked to attend a meeting of the Political Committee on a different matter, he was shown the letter. Healy looked completely stunned for a moment—then said, “Well, so we got agreement”! So that was it. They got agreement—by letter! The comrades looked at each other in blank disbelief. Such a complete lack of principle was unprecedented in the movement.
Unable to win a majority by democratic means, Healy began to work openly for a split. His group decided to demand that the IEC divide the RCP and allow the minority to enter the Labour Party. That was merely a ruse to blackmail the party, since Healy intended to do it anyway. Standing the truth on its head, they accused Ted and Haston of fomenting “an atmosphere of crisis and ideological terror in the ranks” and hounding “worker critics with expulsions and threats”.
In September 1947, despite the RCP’s energetic protests against “a disgraceful manoeuvre to get rid of the democratically elected leadership of a section of the Fourth International”, the IEC accepted the minority’s request, and the next month a special conference of the RCP ratified the International’s decision to split the party. It was a mortal blow to the RCP.
As a result, Healy’s group broke away from the RCP. In so doing, they were carrying out the policy dictated by FI secretary Michel Pablo, who justified it as a way of winning over “whole sections of the workers in the Labour Party and in the trade unions affiliated with it to revolutionary action”.
In vain, the RCP leaders tried to explain to the IS that there were no conditions for conducting successful revolutionary work in the Labour Party at that moment in time. As we explained above, the 1945 Labour government was the only Labour government in history that actually carried out its programme, nationalizing the railways, coal and steel, and introducing a sweeping programme of reforms that led to free education and a free health service—what is now known as the welfare state.
There were thus huge illusions in reformism. How could it be otherwise? Under these conditions, the right wing was in complete control of the Labour Party. The Labour Left was far weaker than it had been before the war. The road to the Labour workers was therefore blocked for Marxism. These were the conditions in which Healy’s group began its work inside the Labour Party. They entered the Labour Party, as Ted pointed out, at the wrong time and with the wrong methods.
However, once in, far from fighting for a Marxist programme, they engaged in the deepest of deep entrism. They formed a secret organization known as the “Club”, and in effect merged with the left reformists in such a way as to become virtually invisible. The Leninist policy of the united front is summed up in the slogan: march separately and strike together. But the first principle of the united front is: no mixing up of programmes and banners. This is precisely what Healy did, however. Far from winning over Labour workers to revolutionary ideas, as Pablo claimed, Healy was turning Trotskyists into left reformists.
His Socialist Fellowship included left MPs like Fenner Brockway and even Bessie Braddock, and Healy collaborated with them, not on immediate concrete issues, which would have been permissible, but on the basis of a common reformist programme. What we had here was not episodic agreements with the left reformists but a programmatic bloc, which was sheer liquidationist opportunism. The paper of Healy’s Club, Socialist Outlook, was in reality a left reformist paper. They had sacrificed the building of a revolutionary organization for the sake of acquiring an amorphous and fictional “influence” on the Labour Left.
The Healy group attacked the RCP for not supporting this opportunist line. “They [the RCP] opposed the central tactic of the movement around Socialist Outlook. At that time, in the Labour Party, the evident task for revolutionaries was to assist the organisation of a Left Wing”, stated the Healyites. They declared that their priority was not to build a revolutionary tendency, but rather to “build the Left” around Socialist Outlook and later Tribune.
Replying to this, the comrades stated: “Quite apart from the incorrectness of the idea of ‘organising the Left’, the ‘tactic’ of the Socialist Outlook entailed the complete subordination of Healy and Co. to those ‘Lefts’ like Bessie Braddock, who was the ‘parliamentary correspondent’ of this journal, as well as holding shares in it.”
Comrade Ted always rejected the idea of “building the Left”. In Problems of Entrism (1959) he explained:
Our job in the preparatory period, which still exists, is patiently winning the ones and twos, perhaps of small groups, but certainly not the creation of a mass revolutionary current, which is not possible at the present time. To attempt to shout louder than one’s voice merely results in hoarseness and ultimately the loss of voice altogether. We have to establish ourselves as a tendency in the Labour Movement.
Opportunism is only the other side of adventurism. Both rise out of a false assessment of objective circumstances, or of a surrender to the immediate environment. That is why, without a firm theoretical basis and collective control of the movement, it is easy to succumb to one mistake or the other (...).
While the Marxists will participate in the Left, it has never been our task to “build the left”. The Left can only be built on the basis of events. Even if we wanted to do so, our forces are far too small. The Left can only be built by the hammer blow of events and not the efforts of a tiny group. Those who have attempted to do so, have inevitably ended up in the swamp of opportunism.
This was not a new question. Every attempt to cuddle up to the Lefts has led to disaster. Even before Healy, Trotsky strongly criticised Pierre Frank and Raymond Molinier (among the leaders of the French Trotskyists) who proposed a bloc, not with reformists, but with a centrist current. Trotsky completely broke with them. He wrote: “When Molinier tried to replace the party programme by ‘four slogans’ and create a paper on that basis, I was among those who proposed his expulsion.” (Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism).
How the RCP was destroyed
Like Ted, Jock Haston was completely opposed to this opportunism. But by this time, Haston was demoralized. The party was facing growing difficulties and losing members. Under these conditions, Haston raised the idea of entry into the Labour Party. Ted and Jimmy were not at all convinced. There were many doubts in the ranks of the party. Some (the Open Party faction) were in favour of maintaining the RCP as an open party. Ted agreed that the conditions for entry laid down by Trotsky did not exist, but he argued that, in the given objective conditions, only modest gains could be made regardless, whether inside or outside the Labour Party. On the other hand, he expected that the conditions for entry would mature at some point, and preparatory work could be conducted, and certain gains could be made. But mainly in order to save Haston and maintain the unity of the leadership, Ted and Jimmy assented. That was a big mistake.
The RCP approached the International in Paris, but were told in so many words: don’t ask us, speak to our British section in the Labour Party. Negotiations were opened with Healy, who agreed to unity, but only on certain conditions. Allegedly in order to facilitate unification, there was to be no discussion of the disputed questions for the initial period of six months. Meanwhile, all the property, offices, etc., was to be handed over to the “united” leadership—that is, to Healy.
Ted opposed these conditions, but the majority of the leadership disastrously acquiesced and the “unification” was accepted. In July 1949, the RCP formally dissolved itself, and its members joined the Labour Party individually. By the edict of the IS, they were placed under the leadership of Healy, on the absurd grounds that his utterly false political perspectives had been proved correct.
The former members of the RCP majority far outnumbered Healy’s 80 or so supporters, and would certainly have deposed him at the Club’s 1950 conference, if there had been a minimum of democracy in the group. But there was not. The decision to halt discussion on the disputed issues was a manoeuvre aimed at paralysing the comrades who disagreed with Healy. Once the fusion took place, Healy acted in a dictatorial fashion, expelling people on the most trivial pretexts up and down the country.
Ted recalled: “The atmosphere was really terrible. The theoretical level was abysmally low. It was really ignorant.” Haston was shattered. In February 1950, he resigned, unable to stand the poisonous atmosphere any longer. Most of the few assets the RCP had were in the name of Haston, but, according to Ted, by this stage Haston was too demoralized to take legal action, and therefore all the assets of the RCP ended up in Healy’s hands. For this reason, Ted always insisted that the property of the organization should never be in the name of one individual, no matter how trustworthy.
Charlie Van Gelderen wrote to Ted on the Haston situation in a letter dated May 8, 1950. In it, Van Gelderen writes about an EC resolution against Jock Haston. Apparently, in spite of Haston having resigned, the EC (that is to say, Healy) was insisting on expelling him, together with his wife Millie. Ted opposed that decision and Van Gelderen seems to agree with him, but decided not to defend that position and to state differences on the procedure—a rather cowardly attitude—but one that was dictated by Van Gelderen’s own demoralisation and complete subordination to the leadership of the International. He writes:
After turning the matter over in my mind over and over again, I have come to the conclusion that this is not an issue which would justify defiance of [the] Club decision—though I am still hoping that the EC will be shifted from their position. If Jock had issued some sort of statement which would have contained some rebuttal of the EC’s political charges against him, we could have used that as a basis for a fight against the EC resolution, but he has behaved in a completely irresponsible manner, both before and after his resignation, leaving high and dry those who were closest to him. We just haven’t a leg to stand on.
From my point of view, there is another factor, which follows on the views I expressed to you. I have no principled differences with the present leadership, though, of course, there is a possibility that these may develop in the course of the discussion on Eastern Europe, on which I have very definite views. For me, the FI is my only and final political home. If events should be so shaped that I am compelled to sever my connection with it, then it’s goodbye to politics for me for a long long time to come. I am certainly not prepared to start any fresh “regroupment”. You will agree, I feel sure, that the JH question is not sufficiently important for me to commit political hari-kari at this stage.
The letter is concluded by an amusing remark,
PS: By the way, as a result of your betting venture, you owe us 6/- less 1/2d so, when you can spare it, this little sum will be most welcome. (Van Gelderen to Ted Grant, May 8, 1950, in the Ted Grant archives)
Weakness invites aggression. The refusal to make a stand against the wave of expulsions only encouraged Healy to continue. Millie Kahn (now Haston’s wife), Roy Tearse, George Hanson and George Noseda, were all pushed out. At the executive in March 1950, Jimmy Deane argued that the resolution condemning Haston’s embrace of reformism should wait until he had produced a written statement, but they passed it anyway. When he subsequently informed Healy of his disagreement with the leadership’s approach, he was required “to indicate in writing political support for the EC resolution condemning Haston, without any reservations immediately.” (EC Statement on the Conduct of JD, May 24, 1950).
That was the last straw for Jimmy. He was expelled from the Club in June 1950 for failure to respond. He wrote to his brother Brian on June 4, 1950: “(…) even the Stalinists don’t conduct themselves in this way. The Club is not a Trotskyist movement but a degenerate clique.” He wrote a letter to Ted urging him to gather together all those who remained to fight to defend the genuine traditions of Trotskyism, but this plea has an almost despairing tone. It is dated May 6, 1950:
I hope Arthur has passed on to you that masterpiece of slander and evasion from Healy. I should like to have your suggestions. Personally I feel like getting down to quite a lengthy reply in which I would try to show what has really happened to the movement.
What are you doing Ted? What is your perspective? And what are you prepared to do within the present outfit to push a line?
Frankly, I think that we must try to get together the few remaining comrades capable of thought. We should organise a meeting and allocate: a) the production of a political resolution on perspectives for Trotskyism, b) a document critically analysing the work accomplished and demonstrating the lack of perspective, tactic, etc., contained in the Healy resolution of 1949. (What a stupid resolution this is!)
These are both necessary for the pre-conference discussion, presuming that we are still in at the time. (Healy has completely isolated me so far as the life of the Club goes, apart from Liverpool). In fact the Liverpool branch has received nothing from London, not even a reply to its letters, etc.
If you could afford it I would come to London to discuss with you and Harry; but I am finding it more difficult to manage. As much as you dislike writing letters couldn’t you drop a line from time to time?
I don’t know if you have thought about the question of your own political future. I suppose you have. But don’t you think you should work out a path in which you could make some real contribution. I personally feel that you could do a tremendous amount if you would (even at the expense of everything else) concentrate upon writing—we would produce it here, if other sources could not be found... You must do something Ted, you are the only one capable of defending and developing the real programme of our movement.
What position have you taken up on Jock? What do you think we should do? Please write, if not yourself dictate to Arthur—make Arthur work hard as a “secretary” (!) (By the way I’m pleased he’s got work.)
Ask Arthur to return H’s letter—I must reply to it soon.
Take care of yourself and please write me a long letter soon, very soon.
Best wishes to you, Arthur and Harry (is he still in England?)
PS. How are Jock and Millie, on what basis did Roy Tearse resign? Could you please ask Millie to send me Heaton’s [Heaton Lee] address? He’s in Birkenhead.
But it was already too late. Healy proceeded to expel all those who refused to break personal contact with Haston. Ted too was expelled, after 22 years membership of the Trotskyist movement. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Fourth International, but that made no difference to Healy or his masters in Paris. There is a note of desperation in a letter written by Jimmy Deane to a French comrade and friend, Raoul, on June 25, 1950, not long after his expulsion:
The situation of the movement in England is terrible. There has been a complete collapse. Jock, Millie [illegible] and the other leading comrades have left the movement. Healy and his supporters have gained complete control of what is left. Only recently I have been expelled because along with Ted Grant I represented a potential political opposition to Healy’s role. You know Raoul the most amazing things happen in this small group. People are expelled right and left without any serious reason. Of course I am fighting for my reintegration in the group and have just sent off an appeal to Izzie. Perhaps G. [Gabriel, i.e. Pablo] knows what is taking place here and supports it, but if he knew or understood the truth, he would be horrified.
The [Healy] grouping here has prevented any political discussion for almost a year. No political discussion has been allowed in the branches, and now on the eve of the pre-conference discussion I have been expelled and others have been threatened with expulsion. Let me repeat the charges are stupid in the extreme. No one can treat them seriously.
There is no public organ of Trotskyism. Healy combines the most ultra revolutionary phrases with the most disgusting opportunism. The paper is nothing but a vehicle through which the most barren and dangerous elements express themselves. Dangerous because, as LT [Trotsky] pointed out, they act as a left-cover for the LP bureaucracy. Instead of exposing these left demagogues it actually supports them. The paper has never attacked the Stalinists.
Things have come to a pretty pass. I see that G. [Pablo] has now come over to the position we proposed on Yugoslavia, etc. The Group here now has no position of its own on anything, but continues nevertheless, to conduct a campaign against the positions held by the ex-RCP (you know of course that we fused with Healy and entered the LP) on Britain, where we have been a hundred per cent correct, on Yugoslavia where, again, we were the only ones in the International to state that this was a workers’ state, on European recovery, where we stood bitter hostility because we said there would be recovery—so on and so on.
However we do not feel despondent. Truth comes out in the end. The fact that Joe Hansen, E.R. Frank, G. and others finally arrive at basically the same conclusions as we on Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe is only proof of this. The present period is perhaps a necessary one in the clarification and sorting out of our ideas. That is the task. To prepare patiently and seriously for the future.
Jimmy was far too optimistic about the moral scruples of Pablo and Mandel. Ted’s expulsion was ratified at the Third World Congress on the motion of Ernest Mandel who was known by his Party name, Ernest Germaine.
There was an irony to all of this. Healy was notorious in the whole movement as a gangster. An old member of the ILP I once met described him as a “horrible little monster”, and that opinion was almost universal. Healy had been expelled from the WIL on several occasions for his bad behaviour. But on each occasion, he would appeal against his expulsion and Ted and Jock would support his acceptance back into the Party, in the hope of making use of his organizational skills. But now that the boot was on the other shoe, Healy showed no such generosity.
Jock Haston was effectively driven out of the movement by Healy. But he was also a victim of the so-called leaders of the Fourth International. Soon after, Haston broke with Trotskyism altogether and moved to the right, although remaining in the Labour movement.
I only met him on one occasion, and that was in the 1970s, many years after he had been separated from the Trotskyist movement. But I had an inkling of how far he had moved. This was a time when the bosses were pushing hard to introduce productivity deals and measured day work in place of piece work, which the workers had managed to turn to their advantage on the basis of strong union organization in the workplaces.
In order to succeed, the bosses needed to involve the unions in what was really a counter-revolution on the shop floor. When I was studying this plan I was given a document published by the education department of the ETU, the electricians’ union, which was then under extreme right-wing leadership. When I read the article on measured day work I was surprised at the line of argument, which defended a reactionary position with left-sounding arguments.
The author argued that Lenin was in favour of raising labour productivity and even defended Taylorism in the 1920s. However, he conveniently failed to mention that Lenin was talking about the need to raise labour productivity in a workers’ state, not under capitalism! He even claimed that measured day work could be a step in the direction of workers’ control. The name of the author was—Jock Haston. This is conclusive proof of the old saying: “the devil can quote scripture”.
I think it was at a Labour Party Conference when Ted introduced me to Haston. He was visibly aged, and not merely by the passing of the years. Gone was the dashing, handsome, energetic revolutionary of the RCP. In his place stood an aged, broken man, attempting to conceal his apostasy from himself with a thin veneer of cynicism. He was not at all hostile, however, but came across as tired and worn out, a man with nothing left to give, a living phantom.
I have often had occasion to note the same phenomenon in people who have dropped out of the movement, especially when they have previously played a leading role. They seem to lose their bearings, not just in politics but in life. They drift aimlessly, like a rudderless ship, until they sink without trace.
I watched Ted’s face as he stood next to his old comrade-in-arms, and noticed an expression I had not seen before, and never saw afterwards. It was a pained expression of deep regret and sadness, as if to say: “Old friend, what have you done? What a terrible waste!” But Ted said nothing except a few pleasantries and they parted without ever communicating anything to each other. After all, what was there to say?
As a postscript to this sorry tale, it seems only fair to add that Gerry Healy got his just deserts in the end. He was exposed by his own comrades as a swindler and a tyrant, and kicked out of his own organization, having been found guilty, among other things, of corruption, abuse of office, and serious sexual offences against female comrades. His name, if it is ever remembered by future generations, will be forever equated with shame and iniquity. So there is some justice left on earth after all.
“They have destroyed the Fourth International”
The destruction of the RCP removed the only serious obstacle in the path of the degeneration of the Fourth International. After that, Pablo, Mandel and Frank felt free to ride roughshod over internal democracy and wipe out all dissent by organizational means. All opposition was ruthlessly crushed. No dissent was allowed. They were only interested in an obedient organization, forgetting what Lenin had once warned Bukharin: “You want obedience? You will get obedient fools”.
When Mandel and Frank timidly tried to raise objections to Pablo’s line, they were soon brought to heel by the Boss. Behind it were considerations of personal prestige. Pablo is quoted as saying: “What do you wish? As for me, I have my baton as a marshal. I cannot accept being thrown out of the International Secretariat.” (Quoted in R.J. Alexander, International Trotskyism, p. 381). This winged phrase just about sums up the mentality of such people: generals without an army, puffed up with their own importance and eaten up with the sickness of prestige politics.
The Zinovievist methods of the International leadership were a recipe for new crises and splits. These people could not stay together for long: “Unlucky at fusions and lucky at splits”, Ted used to joke. In 1953, the Fourth International duly split in two: the Americans set up a rival outfit to that of Pablo in Paris. This was really only a split between two rival cliques. But for Gerry Healy, the split between Pablo and Cannon was manna from heaven.
Healy, the former slavish supporter of Pablo, immediately jumped ship and went over to Cannon. The Russian peasants had a saying: “God is in heaven and the tsar is far away.” As far as Healy was concerned, it was preferable to have the International leadership in New York rather than in Paris: the further away the better. He now had virtually a free hand in Britain.
The same manoeuvres that had been carried out in Britain were now continued in France. It is no accident that there was fierce opposition to Pablo in France. The IS was based in Paris and the French Trotskyists could see how their “leaders” were carrying on. The leader of Raoul’s faction was Marcel Bleibtreu (also known as Pierre Favre). When Pablo raised the idea of “entrism sui generis”, the majority of the French section (the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, or PCI) had moved into opposition to Pablo, and by 1952, his faction had the majority of the PCI, leaving Pablo in a minority. But being in a minority never prevented Pablo from deciding the political line. He merely suspended the majority! This split the French section in two.
Jimmy Deane, who was especially interested in the French section, looked on, appalled at the reports coming from across the Channel. He wrote an indignant letter to someone called Bob with instructions it be passed urgently to Ted Grant. It is dated Liverpool, July 23, 1952:
Thanks for your letter, I’m sorry to be a little late in replying.
I have received a collection of material and a letter from France. There have been some important developments there. It’s a long story and, in any case, I haven’t yet had an opportunity of “reading” the documents—some of which we must have translated and distributed. They are dynamite. We must see that every Healyite receive the news.
For the last 18 months the IS has been seeking to destroy the French majority—you will remember that the anti-Pablo elements gained the majority. For a time even Pierre Frank, [Jacques] Privas and Germaine [Mandel] opposed Pablo (Gabriel) and his manoeuvres. It is clear that Pablo exceeded in using “international discipline”, threats of expulsions and sanctions (a repeat experience of Britain), to force the majority to accept the decision of the 8th plenum of the IEC which was:
1) That the IS supporters (the party minority) should have a majority of the PB [Political Bureau] to prepare for the PCI congress and 3 months after that congress.
2) Free and democratic discussion, etc., was guaranteed. The IS, etc., would take no organisational measures against the actual party majority.
The majority (in my opinion stupidly) accepted this under the threat of expulsion from the FI.
Naturally, every guarantee was broken, and two or more months before the PCI congress, which was held last week, the actual party minority (led by P. Frank, J. Privas, R. Mestre and Corvin) was preparing to split and to steal the party’s equipment. On June 27th they actually broke into the party offices, using keys they had made at the beginning of May, and stole one electrically powered duplicator, two hand operated duplicators, some typewriters, etc. The PCI has written a series of statements addressed to the whole international branding Frank et al as the thieves and Pablo as the architect.
The minority were instructed to return the party’s equipment, but refused to do so. They were then suspended.
Fifteen days before the PCI congress the minority announced that it would take no part, that it refused to recognise the decisions and elected leadership. Thus on the eve of the congress they split from the party.
Pablo is now arranging (probably has arranged) the expulsion of the French section. The French Healyites will be “officially appointed”, etc.
I haven’t been able to read the political resolutions carefully, but the central question appears to be that Pablo’s faction has proposed, on the basis of a completely neo-Stalinist characterisation of the CPF [Communist Party of France] and the role of Stalinism, the entry of the PCI into the CPF. On this and a whole series of revisionist arguments they were defeated by the PCI members. Only a minority of petty bourgeois elements actually supported Pablo and his gang. Eventually the “faction Pabliste” proposed a “solution”—the carrying out of both tactics; that they should keep the independent party but in their TU work, factories, etc. submit themselves not to a bloc on practical issues, but literally submit themselves to the Stalinist forces.
This is the background to the struggle.
The PCI characterises Pablo’s faction as neo-Stalinist liquidators, whilst they do not mention the British experience it is clear they have it in mind.
Fortunately, they are in a better mood and condition to resist Pablo and to rebuild. All the worker elements are with them, and they have some capable comrades in the lead (Lambert). However, I’m afraid that isolated and with the IS on its doorstep it will be very hard for them to survive. Had we some forces we could help [with the] distribution of documents to English speaking countries, etc. Clearly, we must officially contact them, discuss points and see how we can work together.
Gerard Bloch (who is with the majority) is impressed with our journal. He says he will write.
Have you anyone in London who can make first class translations? Mine are not first class (not even tenth!) and in any case it would take a great time to make them. But we must see to it that the declarations are printed in English and distributed. I’ll do it under my name to prevent any reflections on the PCI—just in case.
This development is important and in my opinion good. It shows that one can still hope, they are not all lost, and our evaluation of Pablo, Frank, Healy, Cannon, et al, has been absolutely correct. These bastards have wrecked the FI [Fourth International]. Sooner or later this truth will penetrate even the thick skulls of [illegible], the Indians and the Americans. (...)
In 1952, there were two congresses of the PCI. The majority had about a hundred members and the minority about thirty. Others dropped out in disgust. Prominent in Bleibtreu’s faction was a young worker called Pierre Lambert, a trade unionist and head of the CPI Labour Commission. Bleibtreu later was expelled by Lambert over disagreements on the Algerian question, and Lambert assumed the leadership of his faction.
Those who followed Pablo’s line and entered the French Communist Party, were soon absorbed into the Stalinist milieu or else expelled. In Brest, where the Trotskyists had played a leading role in an important strike in 1950, they disappeared altogether. The destructive effects of Zinovievist methods continued to wreak havoc in the already weakened ranks of the movement. Defeat had turned to rout.
7 See previous chapter. “Reply to comrades Cooper and Stuart” and “Open letter to SWP members”, in Ted Grant, Writings, Vol. 2.
8 “The New Imperialist Peace and the Building of the Parties of the Fourth International”, Resolution adopted by the Second International Conference of the Fourth International, Paris, April 1946.