In defence of the revolutinary programme
Declaration of the Trotskyist Faction
“On the most general level the Belgian events teach that the prime necessity is to build a revolutionary cadre. This task cannot be evaded by any consideration of immediate tactical success or to win approval from centrists of other tendencies. It cannot begin if major theoretical questions are not brought forward for discussion or if efforts are made to form combinations in which principled questions are put to one side. It cannot begin by support for centrist ‘personalities’ or the establishment of relationships which involve concessions on principle.”
— The World Prospect for Socialism, resolution of Socialist Labour League, 1961
“We are told by the comrades that we did not take up the IMG adequately at the [second CDLM] conference. That we should have made a clear statement on their role as a left cover for the Stalinists. Such a course of action would have been a disaster. It would have been certain to drive the IMG out of the CDLM.... Had we done that [driven the IMG out of the CDLM ] the possibilities we have now in Scotland would have been out of the question. Had the platform or the organising committee made such a statement the Scottish people would have walked out with Grogan and Pennington convinced that we were sectarians.”
— Comrade Thornett’s reply to “ The WSL and the Governmental Crisis ”, Internal Bulletin 21, p 7
For the International Committee’s struggle against Pabloism
(1) The International Committee — In this epoch of capitalist decay the only hope for humanity is the ability of the international working class led by a Leninist party to make a socialist revolution. This was the political basis of the International Committee’s fight against the liquidationist Pabloist tendency, both in 1951-53 and at the time of “reunification” in 1963. Any revolutionary organisation today must base itself upon this initial fight, despite that fight’s flaws and shortcomings. Arguing against the idea that Stalinist parties or petit-bourgeois nationalists could make the socialist revolution, the IC clearly stood for the building of Trotskyist parties in every country, for the central role of the working class in the colonial revolution and for the programme of political revolution in the Soviet Union and the deformed workers’ states.
The IC was flawed by the delayed and incomplete nature of the fight against Pablo and by its failure to establish an international democratic-centralist structure. These inadequacies, coupled with isolation in imperialist America during the Cold War period, prepared the way for the defection of the initially dominant section, the Socialist Workers Party, in 1963. Nevertheless the IC maintained an essentially correct stand against Pabloism during the fifties and early sixties, exemplified by the SLL’s international resolution of 1961, The World Prospect for Socialism, which reaffirmed that:
“... Any retreat from the strategy of political independence of the working class and the construction of revolutionary parties will take on the significance of a world-historical blunder on the part of the Trotskyist movement.”
(2) Cuba — The correct programmatic stance of the IC lacked a firm theoretical underpinning — a consequence of the hasty and in some respects superficial fight carried out against Pablo in 1953. This weakness was graphically revealed in the IC’s inability to assess correctly the Cuban revolution.
The Pabloites, joined by the American SWP, prostrated themselves before Castro and described the Cuban regime as a healthy workers’ state. By maintaining that Cuba remained capitalist after the expropriations of 1961, the SLL avoided capitulation to the Cuban leadership’s immense popularity among petitbourgeois radicals but only at the expense of denying reality — ie, denying that a deformed workers’ state had been established in Cuba. The SLL’s refusal to make a correct characterisation was at bottom Pabloism afraid of itself. The SLL accepted the Pabloites’ false premise that to say Cuba was a workers’ state (even if deformed) was necessarily to say that Castro was indeed a genuine, if only “instinctive”, Marxist. This laid the basis for the Healy leadership’s subsequent Pabloite capitulation to the Stalinist bureaucracies of China and Vietnam — undeniably (deformed) workers’ states.
At this time only the Revolutionary Tendency in the American SWP had the correct position on the Cuban question: that the class character of the regime established by the petit-bourgeois guerrillaists was, from the time of its consolidation in mid-1961, that of a deformed workers’ state. As they pointed out at the time, the destruction of the Batista state apparatus by Castro’s petit-bourgeois guerrilla forces, the feebleness of the domestic bourgeoisie and the weakness of the organised proletariat as a contender for power in its own right together produced a situation where, when US imperialist hostility forced the Castro regime to look to the Soviet Union for material assistance, the guerrillaists were able to establish a deformed workers’ state. Essentially similar conditions had produced the Chinese and Yugoslav deformed workers’ states after the Second World War and were subsequently to result in the Indo-Chinese deformed workers’ states. While insurgent petit-bourgeois guerrilla forces can in certain situations successfully overturn capitalist property relations they are inherently incapable of establishing a revolutionary workers’ state — that is a workers’ state in which the class-conscious proletariat holds political power — precisely because the guerrilla strategy relegates the proletariat to an essentially passive role. The workers’ states which come into being in these circumstances are necessarily deformed from their inception by the rule of a bureaucratic caste, originally centering on the guerrilla leaders. The active intervention of the working class, led by a Trotskyist party, is required to overthrow the bureaucracy and establish workers’ democracy through political revolution, allowing the fight for socialism to be carried forward.
(Some members of the WSL look to some revised variant of Mandel/Wohlforth’s theory of “structural assimilation” as an alternative explanation of the guerrilla-derived workers’ states, including Cuba. This pretentious “theory” has not only the disadvantage of falsely posing the whole question solely in terms of the military might of the Soviet Union, but it is also profoundly reformist in methodology: the new guerrilla-initiated states are held to be originally bourgeois, and to be transformed into deformed workers’ states through a peaceful process of reforms.)
(3) Pabloism undefeated — The incomplete character and ultimate failure of the IC’s opposition to Pablo and his followers is testified to by the subsequent convergence of the SWP with the International Secretariat forces, the continued existence and growth of the “United Secretariat of the Fourth International” and the rapprochement between the Organisation Communiste Internationaliste of France and the United Secretariat. Only by deepening and making consistent the IC’s assault on Pabloism will it be possible to destroy politically the United Secretariat and thus lay the basis for the re-creation of the Fourth International.
The degeneration of the IC and the development of the WSL
(4) Programmatic degeneration — Marxists must take the history of their own movement seriously. In the case of the WSL this means above all a critical assessment of the history of the IC, and particularly of the SLL/WRP. However, thus far the WSL leadership has dealt with the question of the date and character of the SLL/WRP’s qualitative degeneration in the most haphazard and confused fashion. In the proposed submission to the XIth World Congress of the United Secretariat, “The Poisoned Well”, the leadership suggests that the SLL abandoned the Transitional Programme in 1971, but that in any case this programmatic question is subordinate to the question of the later loss of “precious worker cadres”. Similarly The Battle for Trotskyism suggests that the expulsion of the WSL comrades at the end of 1974 marked the point of qualitative degeneration in the SLL/WRP. Yet when the WRP’s Workers Press collapsed in early 1976 it was called a “savage” “blow to Trotskyism” (Socialist Press 28) so perhaps there was no qualitative degeneration at all! To straighten out this mish-mash we must recognise that the question of programme is central to our characterisation of a political tendency.
The flaws in the IC’s formal defence of Trotskyism crystallised into a qualitative revision of programme in 1966-67. During this period the SLL, the dominant section of the IC, adopted an approach which was indistinguishable from the Pabloite revisionism that the IC had originally been formed to fight. On a number of decisive questions the SLL began to look to forces other than the proletariat under Trotskyist leadership as the revolutionary “vanguard”.
(a) Stalinism — The SLL’s growing softness on Stalinism was consolidated into blatant tail-ending of the Vietnamese NLF leadership and the Chinese Red Guards. The apologetics for Vietnamese Stalinism seen in the WRP’s press in 1975 were presaged almost a decade earlier by a posture of first silence on, and later uncritical support for, the NLF. According to M Banda, writing in the Fourth International of February 1968:
“[Vietnam] demonstrates the transcendental power and resilience of a protracted people’s war led and organised by a party based on the working class and the poor peasantry and inspired by the example of the October revolution....
“It is indisputably true to say that, on the basis of the Vietnam experience, guns combined with the courage and endurance of individual guerrillas would have meant little or nothing if Ho Chi Minh and the other leaders were unable to analyse the principal and secondary contradictions within Vietnam as well as between Vietnam and imperialism and on that basis outline a strategy for the conquest of power.” (emphasis in original)
Similarly, the SLL enthusiastically took sides in the bureaucratic infighting of the Chinese “Cultural Revolution”, praising the Red Guards as “those who are fighting to defend the conquests of the Chinese revolution and to extend those conquests” (Newsletter, 14 January 1967), and even equating the Maoist youths with the SLL’s own Young Socialists in Britain.
(b) Arab nationalism — The SLL’s support for Arab nationalism (dressed up as support for something called the “Arab Revolution”) betrayed the same approach. The political independence of the working class, and the consequent necessity for the Trotskyist vanguard was abandoned in favour of the “national revolution” and Nasserism:
“Nasserism is progressive insofar as it represents the hopes of millions of downtrodden fellaheen and workers, artisans and professional workers for a better future and a happier one in a united Arab world.”
— Newsletter, 24 June 1967
This capitulatory policy, which amounted to nothing less than a complete denial of the validity of the strategy of Permanent Revolution for the Arab East, was adopted by the SLL to justify support for the “progressive” Arab bourgeoisies in their 1967 war with Israel — a predatory, inter-capitalist war which resulted from the conflicting territorial ambitions of the Israeli and Arab ruling classes.
(c) “Make the Lefts Fight” — This slogan was first advanced by the Newsletter on 3 December 1966. The demand was aimed at the left social-democrats, who were called upon to adopt a programme of “socialist policies” (a phrase which could easily be seen to encompass the existing policies of the reformists), and who were put forward as an alternative leadership against the top rightwingers of the Labour Party.
The OCI did not share the SLL’s grosser programmatic revisions, but as the passive and subordinate partner of the IC’s federated bloc it made no public critique of the SLL’s revisions. Since then the OCI has moved markedly to the right, particularly in its capitulation to the “Union of the Left” and its wholesale adaptation to social democracy.
It is clear that the degeneration of the IC predated the factional struggle in the WRP by seven years. What then did the development of the WSL represent?
(5) Development of the WSL — In the fight against Healy the group that went on to form the WSL broke partially from the WRP’s conception of party-building as simply a matter of meeting recruitment targets and sought to develop policies which could mobilise the working class over basic attacks on living standards and jobs. The mystifications of Healy’s “philosophy” were pragmatically abandoned and a stance of openness to questions which the Healyites addressed inadequately, if at all — such as the history of the Fourth International, the development of consistent trade-union work, Ireland, or the oppression of women — was adopted. But without a serious investigation of the origins of the SLL/WRP’s degeneration, with nothing approaching a consistent revolutionary programme, nor even any real will on the part of the leadership of the WSL to develop such a programme, this initial apparent openness was to have little effect on the organisation’s subsequent development.
What has been central to the WSL’s development though is the trade-union work at Cowley [Oxford car plant]. The rejection of Healy’s sectarian ultimatism, which first produced the fight within the WRP, represented a positive response to the WRP’s crisis-mongering and maximalism. More importantly, however, this rejection did not signify a willingness to take up a fight for the full Transitional Programme in the unions but in fact signalled a retreat from political confrontation with the existing consciousness of the working class in favour of radical trade unionism. The WSL’s break from Healyite maximalism was, in the final analysis, a break towards economism and minimalism.
It is from the worst period of the SLL/WRP, the period following its qualitative degeneration in 1966-67, that the WSL has inherited and developed its central orientation — its programmatic adaptation to the existing consciousness of the masses, and the fraudulent mass work justified by that adaptation. Likewise, the WSL’s accommodation to social democracy comes from this period, and even the slogan which most aptly expresses that accommodation, “Make the Lefts Fight”!
The WSL’s opportunist, step-at-a-time interpretation of the Transitional Programme, was developed in part in opposition to the WRP’s inconsistent and unserious attitude to trade-union work. But the claim that “programme... begins from the existing state of consciousness...and directs towards the necessary policies” (Socialist Press 72) directly contradicts Trotsky’s understanding of the nature and role of our programme:
“The program must express the objective tasks of the working class rather than the backwardness of the workers. It must reflect society as it is and not the backwardness of the working class. It is an instrument to overcome and vanquish the backwardness.... We cannot guarantee that the masses will solve the crisis, but we must express the situation as it is, and that is the task of the program.”
— Trotsky, The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, 1st edition, p 125, “The Political Backwardness of the American Workers”, discussion of 19 May 1938
The leadership’s desire to opportunistically short-cut the fight for revolutionary leadership in the working class is demonstrated by the chronic unwillingness to advance in full the basic principles of the Transitional Programme. Two recent examples of the use of such a partial (ie minimal) programme are in the recent Cowley election campaign and in the CDLM — neither of which could be characterised as anything other than left-reformism.
The programme and practice of the WSL
(6) The Campaign for Democracy in the Labour Movement — The CDLM encapsulates the WSL’s parochial and opportunist practice. Although it has turned out to be a miserable failure, it was first founded as an ambitious organisational expression of the WSL’s aim to get closer to the working class and carry its politics into the trade unions. It therefore deserves the closest scrutiny.
(a) Programme — The programme of the CDLM is a programme of minimal trade-union reformism which omits many points that the WSL leadership agrees with formally. The only two clauses which address questions outside of the trade-union area: “For Women’s Rights!” and “Stop Racialism!” — were introduced only as a result of pressure from the Pabloites of the IMG and the ICL [International-Communist League, now Alliance for Workers Liberty].
The CDLM programme ignores the vital internationalist obligations of the working class in Britain: there is no reference to Ireland, to South Africa, or to NATO and the EEC (both of which are anti-Soviet, imperialist alliances which we have a duty to fight and expose, a task which is particularly important at this time because of the Carter administration’s current “Human Rights” campaign which is designed to garner popular support for the military mobilisation continually underway against the Soviet Union).
The reformism of the CDLM programme lies in its failure to even attempt to connect the daily struggles of workers with the struggle for state power. Thus while the CDLM is for the nationalisation of “genuinely bankrupt” companies, it has nothing to say about the necessity for the working class to expropriate the capitalist class as a whole, in order to lay the basis for a planned economy. There is no call for a workers’ government (which for revolutionaries is a call for the dictatorship of the proletariat), nor is there any statement on the need to oust the bureaucracy in the trade unions and replace it with a revolutionary leadership.
The CDLM programme ensures that the political struggle between the revolutionary party and the present inchoate and reformist consciousness of the masses of workers will never occur. This conflict is vitally necessary for the training of a Trotskyist cadre in the trade unions.
(b) The CDLM Mark II — The warmed-over version of the CDLM presented in the NC majority’s British Perspectives document is designed by the leadership to forestall criticisms of the disastrous organisation it has created by adding a hard, organised image to the unprincipled programme and practice of the existing CDLM. Although there is a gesture to the left — mention of international questions that must be taken up by workers in this country — it is clear that in all its essential features the “new” CDLM will closely resemble its discredited reformist predecessor. Already we are told that the new organisation will have “a programmatic answer to the immediate burning questions facing trade unionists and industrial workers” — which for the leadership means another minimum programme.
(c) Propaganda bloc — The tactic of the united front has a dual aim: to advance the struggle of the proletariat around elements of our programme, while simultaneously providing an opportunity for the revolutionary vanguard to destroy political formations that are hostile to it. This is achieved through the conclusion of limited agreements with other political tendencies to undertake joint action around a particular question while retaining full freedom of criticism. If the reformists and centrists refuse to cooperate with us, this provides an opportunity to expose their unwillingness to fight for the interests of the working class.
It is, however, impermissible for revolutionaries to bloc with centrists or reformists to produce common propaganda purporting to offer a general political perspective to the working class or a section of workers. The CDLM is such a rotten propaganda bloc, in which the WSL shows no qualms about liquidating itself into a partnership with the IMG and, to a lesser extent, the ICL. This is not surprising: since the programme of the CDLM is not revolutionary, non-revolutionaries like the IMG and ICL have no trouble agreeing with it. The joint intervention at the SWP Rank and File conference, the jointly produced car bulletin and the Scottish CDLM conference have one common implication: that the Pabloites and ourselves do not essentially differ when it comes to the “real” struggle. The opportunist logic of this bloc is produced in Cde Thornett’s reply to the document “The WSL and the Governmental Crisis” quoted at the beginning of this document, where he clearly states that he is more concerned about jeopardising the WSL’s friendly relations with the Pabloites by appearing “sectarian” than about exposing their revisionist politics. In typical opportunist fashion this snuggling up to the Pabloites was excused by reference to “the possibilities we have now in Scotland”, and the argument that accommodation to the politics of the IMG would help win over a section of the Scottish Socialist League. But softness towards revisionism never won anyone to revolutionary politics, and sure enough, it did not win the SSL — which is now ensconced within the IMG . Left elements can be broken from the IMG only if we ruthlessly criticise the revisionism of their leadership.
(7) Trade-union work — The WSL’s trade-union work has no overall national plan and is without clear perspectives. No attempt has been made to concentrate forces in particular factories or unions of importance. In an unconscious way the WSL has turned to work in support of particular strikes as a primary field of activity, without any consideration of what political lessons can be drawn from them, and with no consideration of whether we have the resources to do this work without damaging other fields of work or the training of cadres.
(a) Trade-union groups on the full Transitional Programme — We counterpose to the liquidationist perspective of haphazard “mass work”, exemplified by the CDLM, the organising of trade-union groups which include members and sympathisers of the WSL, to be built in selected factories and trade unions where our work will have the maximum political impact and which can serve as an example of how communists do trade-union work. Such groups should be based on the fundamental demands of the Transitional Programme, culminating in the slogan of a workers’ government. Membership in them should be conditional on agreement with this programme and willingness to fight for it under the discipline of the group. Naturally the programme of such groups must be amplified in accordance with the specific conditions in the unions concerned as well as the political issues of current importance to the working class both nationally and internationally.
( b ) Trade-union election policy — Despite its ritual obeisance to the Transitional Programme as the programme on which it supposedly bases its trade-union work, the recent election campaign at Cowley was waged around the real trade-union programme of the WSL: opposition to corporate bargaining, opposition to participation, advocacy of a sliding scale of wages combined with a call to “kick out the Right Wing”. We call for a break from this opportunist practice. Where we stand candidates for election they must present a revolutionary political alternative to the reformists and centrists — they must stand on our full trade-union programme, the Transitional Programme, otherwise we are only campaigning for reformism within the unions. Where we are not able to stand our own candidates for election, we may use the tactic of critical support to vote for a candidate of another political tendency but only if he or she is committed to fighting for something which in a crucial way would represent a gain for the working class. The record of the League to date has been to promiscuously extend its none-too-critical support to various reformist bureaucrats. One outstanding example of this is Bob Wright who campaigns on his record as a proven scab, a loyal enforcer of the Social Contract and an advocate of reactionary chauvinist import controls, but whom the leadership has decided to support in the second round of the forthcoming AUEW [engineering union] ballot just as they did the last time he stood.
(c) Trade-union work at Cowley — The WSL’s roots in the working class are deepest at Cowley, and it is as a result of the work carried out there that the organisation is best known. Victories at Cowley can point the way forward for the class, while mistakes represent real setbacks for at least a section of it. Bearing in mind the pressures towards opportunism and economism which inevitably operate on cadres in the unions, the organisation must exert tightly centralised control over all trade-union work. In particular the work at Cowley must be closely supervised by the National Committee and the day-to-day lessons of our most important area of work must be made accessible to the whole membership.
(8) The Labour Party — The inability to see politics except through the grimy spectacles of the Labour Party is a chronic affliction on the British left. Two opposite but complementary deviations result from this. The economists of the SWP/IS exemplify one pole: the dismissal of parliamentary and governmental events as irrelevant to workers. By confining themselves to militant trade unionism and leaving the reformist leadership of the working class unchallenged, they in fact strengthen the Labour Party’s hold on the working class. The Militant group represents the other extreme: the subordination of the proletariat’s struggles to the pre-ordained necessity to elect a Labour Government (or to keep one in power) and the abandonment of any perspective of politically destroying the Labour Party or of attempting to build a revolutionary party. The strategy of the Militant amounts to pressuring the Labour bureaucracy towards “socialism”. While it stands to the left of both organisations, the League veers between these twin courses of capitulation. The fundamental impulse is “radical” trade unionism which divorces “trade-union struggles” (for which the minimum programme of the CDLM is sufficient) from “politics” — a sphere worthy of comment in internal discussion or in the pages of Socialist Press, but which the leadership really views as the preserve of the “lefts” and members of the Labour Party. The central strategy of the leadership with relation to the existing leaders of the working class is summed up by the phrase “Make the Lefts Fight”. The slogan derives from an ill-formed conception that the Labour Party falls into two quite distinct wings, left and right, seen by the leadership as in some way representing the proletariat and the bourgeoisie respectively. Hence the “critical” support given to the “Lefts”. Rather than offering an alternative to the betrayals of the right, the “Make the Lefts Fight” slogan only serves to lend our authority to the “left-wing” credentials of the thoroughly rotten counter-revolutionary parliamentary cretins in the Tribune group and thus serves to tie the political development of the working class to a wing of social democracy.
(9) The Lib/Lab coalition — The refusal to counterpose the programme of Marxism to the Labour Party and all currents at present in it (shown in the “Make the Lefts Fight” policy and by the opposition to the WRP standing candidates against Labour in the 1974 General Election) is confirmed by the leadership’s policy on the Lib/Lab coalition. The coalition with the Liberals is equivalent to a Popular Front. Labour Party candidates in this period stand as representatives of a bourgeois political formation, the coalition, and thus to extend even the most critical support to them is a breach of principle.
With some exceptions, the resurgence of bourgeois coalitionism in Western Europe in recent years has taken place in the absence of extra-parliamentary mobilisations on a scale which can produce soviet-type bodies that can be counterposed directly to the class collaboration of the reformist bureaucracies. It is therefore vitally necessary to confront Popular Frontism in the context of parliamentary politics through principled electoral opposition to coalitionism, thereby drawing the class line between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie with the greatest clarity. Only an organisation which is capable of drawing this line can act as a firm pole of opposition in the workers’ movement to the class collaboration of coalitionism.
(10) The oppression of women — The crisis of proletarian leadership must be resolved through sharp political warfare against all tendencies which would mislead the working class. The WSL’s abject failure to tackle this job in the Women’s Liberation Movement (a failure which derives from the Healyites’ economist and male-chauvinist disdain for the struggle against the oppression of women) abandons women who are politicised through their particular oppression in bourgeois society to the leadership of feminists (both openly bourgeois and “socialist”), revisionists and reformists. As Lenin stated in What is to be Done?, a revolutionary must seek to be “the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects” (Lenin, Collected Works, volume 5, p 423).
The oppression of women today is rooted in the bourgeois family, an essential economic and social unit of capitalism. In our intervention in the women’s movement we must seek to win the best elements to the understanding that only through proletarian revolution will it be possible to create the material conditions for the replacement of the family and the ending of the oppression of women. We stand for an aggressive intervention into the Women’s Liberation Movement against the infinite number of petit-bourgeois utopian “solutions” to the question of women’s oppression. Our objective must be to build a communist women’s movement, based on the Transitional Programme and linked to the revolutionary party through its leading cadre.
(11) The national question — We uphold the Leninist position on the national question. Basing ourselves on the fundamental democratic principle of the equality of all nations and peoples, we recognise the right of all nations to self-determination. However, the recognition of this right by no means predetermines our attitude to every particular national question. In some cases the right of self-determination for nations must be subordinated to other, higher principles — such as the defence of a workers’ state. We would not, for example, support the right of a bourgeois-led Ukrainian nationalist movement to separate from the Soviet Union, regardless of popular support. In other cases, for example Scotland, we are for the right of self-determination, but call on the Scottish people to exercise that right by choosing to stay in the same state as the other peoples of Britain.
The recognition of the right to self-determination in no way implies support to nationalism, a thoroughly bourgeois ideology completely counterposed to the interests of the proletariat, unable indeed to even accomplish the basic bourgeois democratic tasks which, in this epoch, can only be achieved through proletarian revolution. While we support any anti-imperialist actions of nationalist movements (unless they are merely acting as the instruments of a rival imperialist power) our main task with regard to the nationalist movements of the various oppressed peoples of the world is to separate the working masses from the petit-bourgeois nationalist leaderships. By championing the right of self-determination, the revolutionary vanguard can counter the attempts of the nationalists to portray the oppressor people as a monolithic whole, thus undermining divisions in the working class along national lines and sharpening the fundamental international conflict in capitalist society — the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
(12) Ireland — A correct approach to the complex national question in Ireland must begin with the recognition of the simple fact that there is no single “Irish nation”. The Loyalist Protestant majority in the Six Counties, although not at this point in history itself a nation, is a people separate from the Catholics with whom they share the region. The oppressed minority Catholic grouping is an extension of the Catholic Irish nation which has achieved a deformed and partial self-determination in the Republic of the South. Consequently the slogan of “self-determination for the Irish people as a whole” is either meaningless or is a backhanded way of siding with the nationalism of the Catholics against the Protestants as a people. Instead of cutting across the division between the two communities to allow the development of class struggle the slogan merely exacerbates the division by counterposing the Northern Catholics to the Protestants (who will resist forced unification arms in hand).
Our attitude to the Protestant working class must be based on the Marxist understanding that their objective interests are counterposed to those of both the Orange bourgeoisie and British imperialism. However this objective contradiction has been suppressed through most of recent Irish history and the Protestant workers have been led to identify with their own masters through the legitimate fear of being forcibly incorporated into a Catholic-dominated united bourgeois Ireland within which they would be an oppressed minority. It is this fear, far more than any material privileges, which has produced the virulent Loyalism of the masses of the Protestant proletariat today. Those who close their eyes to the reality of this key barrier to class consciousness among Protestant workers will be unable to mobilise them as part of a united proletariat and in effect hand them over, in advance, to their present reactionary Loyalist leadership.
We are against any forced unification of Ireland under a bourgeois regime. Only under the rule of the working class can the conflicting interests of the intermingled communities in the North be resolved in a democratic manner. We are unconditionally opposed to British imperialism’s occupation of the North and call for the immediate withdrawal of British troops. We fight against the oppression of the Catholics and support actions of the Catholic nationalists which are aimed against imperialism, or are in genuine self-defence, while opposing sectarian anti-working-class communal terror directed at either population. Only integrated workers’ militias built in the course of a united class struggle against imperialism and its agents (a struggle which can only be led by a Leninist party) can successfully defeat sectarian terror.
(13) The state — On certain key questions the leadership reveals a reformist attitude to the state. This attitude takes the form of promoting the belief that under pressure from the Labour Party, the trade unions or both, the capitalist state can be neutralised or even made to act in the interests of the working class.
(a) Imperialist arms to South Africa — Just as a number of tendencies supported sending troops to Northern Ireland in 1969 and in 1974 the American SWP began to advocate sending troops to Boston, the WSL today calls on British imperialism to intervene militarily in South Africa by dispatching arms to the black nationalist forces (Socialist Press 37, 41, 44). The illusion that British imperialism administered by a Labour government can be forced to aid the struggles of the black masses is not so far from endorsement of the Labour-Liberal coalition government’s proposals to send a “ peacekeeping force” to Rhodesia.
(b) The police — The NC majority has rejected the Marxist position on the question of the police. By refusing to oppose on principle the organisation of police for better pay and conditions and the admission of police “unions” into the TUC, the NC majority leaves the door open for future support to demands for “improved working conditions” for capital’s professional thugs and for supporting their “rights” to membership in the workers’ organisations. To the NC’s apparent hopes of being able to neutralise the police as part of the state we counterpose the most basic proposition of revolutionary Marxism — the necessity to smash the repressive apparatus of the bourgeoisie.
(c) The fascists — The equivocation of certain leading NC members over the question of Labour Council bans on fascist meetings betrays a similar mentality — that the state under the “control” of the Labour Party can be made to operate as something other than an organ of capitalist class rule.
(14) Programme first — The WSL is in chaos. It has no clear idea of its tasks or direction. The organisation struggles to maintain a weekly paper which is grossly out of proportion to the financial and human resources possessed. The numerical growth of the organisation, which is increasingly touted as the solution to all ills, shows no sign of materialising.
This situation has a political origin — to put it bluntly the movement as yet lacks any programmatic basis for existence as a distinct political tendency. Every political current from Trotskyism to reformism is represented on the NC and among the membership. For too long the leadership has tried to relegate the resolution of outstanding political questions to the background by promoting one scheme after another (the CDLM, the weekly press) each of which in turn was supposed to solve the political problems of the movement through spectacular breakthroughs in mass work. Today the leadership is still unable to address the manifest crisis of the movement with more than routine organisational measures — voluntaristic exhortations to the membership to work harder, to “follow through” interventions, sell more papers and recruit more raw contacts. All these are not enough; neither is it enough for the leadership to prate about “method” by which it means getting close to the mass movement of the working class, adopting a programmatically vague attitude of generalised hostility to the trade-union bureaucracy and showing more thoroughness in political work.
A disciplined combat party of professional revolutionaries can only be forged on the basis of agreement on programme. Conversely any political organisation which lacks a clear and coherent programme must inevitably take on the characteristics of a swamp. The primary reason that the leadership has not been able to create a politically hardened cadre nor even lay out a clear set of priorities for the organisation is that it is itself unclear and divided over key political questions. This is reflected in Socialist Press where virtually anything that is handed in gets printed and readers can frequently see counterposed political positions presented in different articles on the same question. Somehow, dealing with political questions or elaborating programmatic positions is always shoved to the bottom of the list of priorities. Consequently it is impossible for the leadership to give importance to the training of members in political struggle. Instead members must be exhorted by the leadership to hide from the political problems by throwing themselves into frenetic “mass” work without any perspectives, and sales of a newspaper without any clear line. It is no wonder the movement is in bad shape.
At this point in its history the WSL is at a crossroads. Only by a determined struggle for programme (and this means in the first place a determined struggle within the movement over political line) is it possible to make any progress at all in a revolutionary direction.
(15) The fetishisation of organisational forms — As a substitute for programme, and for the struggle for programme as the road to an international, there is a distinct tendency in the movement to pose as strategically crucial various specific organisational forms which are supposed to have some inherently revolutionary content, irrespective of the level of class struggle at which they are produced, or the leadership and programme which guide them. With neither a revolutionary programme nor the possibility of becoming real organisations of the masses, the “price committees”, “Councils of Action”, or whatever, which the WSL would agitate for today can be nothing better than a diversion in the course of the class struggle and can have nothing to do with the real organs of dual power that will be built in the coming turmoil of pre-revolutionary class struggle. Trotsky’s dissection of some ILP positions is appropriate. He starts by quoting their erroneous theses:
“...‘The workers’ councils will arise in their final form in the actual revolutionary crisis, but the party must consistently prepare for their organization’ [Trotsky’s italics]. Keeping this in mind, let us compare the attitude of the ILP toward the future councils with its own attitude toward the future International… ‘the form which the reconstructed International will take will depend upon historic events and the actual development of the working class struggle.’ On this ground the ILP draws the conclusion that the question of the International is purely ‘theoretical,’ i.e., in the language of empiricists, unreal....
“...The theses turn the actual tasks of the party upside down. The councils represent an organizational form, and only a form. There is no way of ‘preparing for’ councils except by means of a correct revolutionary policy applied in all spheres of the working class movement: there is no special, specific ‘preparation for’ councils. It is entirely otherwise with the International. While the councils can arise only on the condition that there is a revolutionary ferment among the many-millioned masses, the International is always necessary: both on holidays and weekdays, during periods of offensive as well as in retreat, in peace as well as in war. The International is not at all a ‘form,’ as flows from the utterly false formulation of the ILP. The International is first of all a program, and a system of strategic, tactical, and organisational methods that flow from it. By dint of historic circumstances the question of the British councils is deferred for an indeterminate period of time. But the question of the International, as well as the question of national parties, cannot be deferred for a single hour: we have here in essence two sides of one and the same question. Without a Marxist International, national organisations, even the most advanced, are doomed to narrowness, vacillation, and helplessness; the advanced workers are forced to feed upon surrogates for internationalism.”
— Writings of Leon Trotsky [1935-36], 2nd edition, p 146-7
The re-creation of the Fourth International
(16) Party-building and the struggle against centrism — A revolutionary party capable of giving direct leadership to large numbers of workers is impossible without the existence of a firm cadre — a central core of professional revolutionaries at all levels of leadership in the party. Given the destruction of the Fourth International by Pabloism the concrete job that we have is the construction of such a cadre — the nucleus of a vanguard party — which must be trained through an all-round political conflict with hostile political tendencies, upholding the party’s reason for existence — the programme for power. The further development of theory and programme, indeed, comes out of this political struggle.
The approach of the WSL leadership directs the membership away from conflict with our immediate competitors of the centrist and revisionist groups and continually threatens the liquidation of our cadre through their chaotic and fraudulent “agitational” perspectives.
(a) Regroupment —Without a determined fight to politically destroy one’s opponents it is impossible to establish an organisation that is a real pole in the political life of the workers’ movement. In this struggle we will win individuals and groups from other tendencies to the revolutionary programme, resulting in splits among our enemies and crucial additions to our forces. It is always the case that a revolutionary organisation gathers cadre through winning leftward-moving tendencies in other political parties, in the fight for the Marxist programme.
Revolutionaries today, like the Left Oppositionists of the 30’s, will not assemble their initial forces primarily through a strategy of direct recruitment of trade-union militants whom we have been able to lead in struggle, but through a central emphasis on the struggle to win subjectively revolutionary elements in the workers’ movement through the power of our ideas, of our programme.
( b ) Priorities —No small organisation can perform all the possible tasks it faces, or work in all arenas open to it, so it must be through careful delineation of priorities that a responsible leadership develops perspectives appropriate to the organisation. As Cannon said:
“...the adoption of a correct political program…alone does not guarantee victory. ...the group [must] decide correctly what shall be the nature of its activities, and what tasks it shall set itself, given the size and capacity of the group, the period of the development of the class struggle, the relation of forces in the political movement, and so on.”
— The History of American Trotskyism, p 80
(17) Building an international tendency — Inevitably the planlessness and inconsistency of the WSL’s work in Britain is accompanied by a parochial and light-minded attitude to the central task of Trotskyists today: the re-creation of the Fourth International.
Unable to build an anti-revisionist, democratic centralist international tendency on the basis of a clear programmatic attitude to the basic tasks of revolutionaries in this epoch and the decisive issues of the class struggle internationally (opposition to popular frontism, defence of the deformed workers’ states, political struggle against nationalism and the necessity to re-create the Fourth International), the central leadership has led the WSL into a world of rotten blocs, cover-ups, diplomacy and intrigue — masquerading as the fight to “reconstruct” the Fourth International. The struggle for programme has been discounted in the WSL’s very limited international work.
(a) The WSL’s international relations — The WSL, the CIL [Greece] and the SL(DC) [US] are grouped together by a common past in the IC and a shared enthusiasm for liquidationist “mass work”. The fact that the CIL are Pabloites and the SL(DC) are lower-than-reformist wretches who stand in the tradition of one Albert Weisbord against Cannon and Trotsky has not in the least disturbed the tranquillity of this cozy non-aggression pact. There has been no serious accounting whatsoever of the programme and record of these organisations. The only work carried out abroad by the WSL, in Turkey, has in the past been characterised by a total lack of information or discussion with the WSL. The leadership document on the Turkish work shows it to be opportunist, adventurist, Bundist and in opposition to the leadership’s stated desire to build a democratic centralist international tendency.
(b) The United Secretariat — The current focus of the leadership’s international attentions is the Pabloite United Secretariat. Here in Britain a taste has been acquired for cozying up to the IMG , exemplified by the sweaty exertions to obtain its endorsement for the third CDLM conference.
While the present uneven and semi-conscious course towards unity with the United Secretariat runs counter to the WSL’s formally anti-Pabloite stance, in reality there is no good political reason why the leadership should not be able to find itself a home in the all-encompassing swamp which is the United Secretariat. The entire thrust of the document “The Poisoned Well” despite the promised amendments is to attempt to straighten out what the leadership sees as “methodological” weaknesses of the thoroughly reformist American SWP so as to better equip it for the fight against the centrist ex-International Majority Tendency wing. If agreement can be reached on the uncontentious theses at the end of the document, then the “reunification” (sic) discussions can begin. The EC of the WSL is taking the organisation down the road to liquidation into the United Secretariat.
Until the political line of the present document has been accepted and assimilated and the organisation redirected towards a correct revolutionary perspective, we strenuously oppose any intervention into the XIth World Congress of the United Secretariat. Similarly we call for a public break with the CIL and SL(DC) and a thorough public critique of their bankrupt positions.
In contrast to the air of urgency surrounding the reply to the IMG’s regroupment letter the EC took it upon itself to refuse point blank any discussion with the Pabloite ICL which is not part of the United Secretariat.
(c) The Spartacists — The international Spartacist tendency, the only organisation to reply to the document “Fourth International: Problems and Tasks”, has — more than a year-and-a-half later — not yet been accorded an answer. At the last WSL conference a now-buried amendment was passed, recognising the principled position of the Revolutionary Tendency (the predecessor of the Spartacist tendency) in the American SWP in the early sixties. In its fifteen years of independent existence since then the Spartacists have proved their seriousness and have, to our knowledge, committed no betrayals of principle. It is urgent that we seek to test out this anti-Pabloite tendency through a process of discussions, which must explore the possibilities for reaching programmatic agreement and moving towards fusion.
(18) The re-creation of the Fourth International — The re-creation of the Fourth International means the establishment of Trotskyism as the political tendency with unique authority in the international proletariat as the revolutionary alternative to the Social Democratic and Stalinist reformists.
The central obstacle to this is the United Secretariat, whose size, geographical spread and verbal “Trotskyism” give it a significance in the workers’ movement internationally which can only be done away with through its political defeat and organisational destruction. The Fourth International will be re-built not by making friendly overtures to the Pabloites, not by passing around them and not by ignoring them but only through implacable aggressive opposition to both wings of the United Secretariat.
Only a hardened Leninist cadre organisation, determined to fight for its programme “against the stream” will be capable of resolving the crisis of leadership of the working class by triumphing over the welter of treacherous centrist and reformist misleaders whose influence today constitutes the most important obstacle to proletarian revolution internationally. Those who capitulate to the Labourite illusions of the British working class; who yearn for “détente” with the Pabloite revisionists; who seek to subordinate questions of programme and principle to the petty organisational chicanery of the “mass method” will never be able to forge the nucleus of the future World Party of Socialist Revolution. We must set ourselves the task of building that party!
“Program first! ‘Mass paper’? Revolutionary action? Regroupment? Communes everywhere?... Very well, very well.... But program first! Your political passports, please, gentlemen! And not false ones, if you please — real ones! If you don’t have any, then pipe down!”
— Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section [1935-36], p 119, ellipses in original
Alastair Green (Birmingham)
Joe Quigley (Manchester)
Alan Holford (Birmingham)
Jim Short (West London)
16 January 1978
— reprinted from [WSL] Pre-Conference Discussion Bulletin no 8, February 1978
originally posted online at http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wh/203/indorp.html