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What Is Revolutionary Leadership



Articles originally printed in Labour Review (theoretical journal of the Socialist Labour League of Britain) and republished by the Spartacist League with introductory and supplemental material.]


Building the Bolshevik Party: Some Organizational Aspects Brian Pearce


What Is Revolutionary Leadership? Cliff Slaughter


Lenin and Trotsky On Pacifism and Defeatism Brian Pearce

(Appendix) Learn to Think: A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists Leon Trotsky


Class, Caste and State in the Soviet Union Tom Kemp

[coming soon]


The Class, the Party and the Leadership Leon Trotsky (included in the second edition)





The progress of a social science such as Marxism is by no means always in a forward direction. The history of the Marxist movement on a world scale has almost from the first been characterized by an internal struggle over tendencies to blur Marxism's revolutionary outlook and conclusions, and to undermine its reliance on the industrial working class. These non-revolutionary tendencies have been generally designated by the word "revisionism.,"


To persons not acquainted with the specialized usages of the Marxist movement, antirevisionism may seem equivalent to a dogmatic defense of articles of faith promulgated in other decades and under other conditions, and a futile if not reactionary exercise in sectarian obscurantism. In reality, however, quite the opposite is the case. Those tendencies grouped under the general name of revisionist represent not new insights in social analysis but rather a return to positions long since rendered untenable by the sharpening theoretical analysis and the increasing historical experience of the socialist movement.


Revisionism cannot be understood, however, as a purely intellectual sin. The constant reappearance of previously discredited notions among socialists is an attribute of Marxism's character as a social movement, a movement that defines its essential nature in the interplay and conflict of classes and social strata. Its ideology at once guides its adherents in that struggle, and is at the same time molded and developed by the non-ideological phenomena of social reality. The explanation of the endemIc character of revisionist tendencies -- ever defeated and ever reappearing --lies in their constant regeneration by non proletarian social forces within bourgeois society. As the decay of that society deepens while its demise is postponed, the tendency toward the generation of revisionism is strengthened.


The Fourth International International of Leon Trotsky was an organized in the 1930's to supplant the bureaucratically degenerated Third International of the Stalin era. However, revolutionary origins alone could no more protect the Fourth International than its predecessor. By the 1950's revisionism had gained a major foothold in the Trotskyist camp. With the passage of the American Socialist Workers Party into the revisionist camp in the early 1960's, the situation in the Fourth International reached the stage of acute crisis.


Generally characteristic of revisionism Is a motion away from reliance on the proletariat in the leadership of the revolution, and a reliance on other strata, usually petty bourgeols, and other methods, either parlimentary or adventurist. Essential to its ideology is an objectivist outlook in social thinking. The making of history is removed from real people and given to abstract social forces. "History, like truth, becomes a person apart, a motaphysical subject of which real human individuals are but the bearers." (1) The thinking which is being evolved by the new revisionists in the Fourth International uses "the objective unfolding of social forces" to abolish the need for a revolutionary party, for conscious revolutionary leadership, and thus clears the way for reliance on various national bourgoisles and petty bourgeois bureaucratic elements to bring about the now social order.


Grouped chiefly around the International Secretariat and Its successor, the United Secretariat in Paris, this group has as its chief spokesmen such figures as Pierre Frank, Ernest Germain, and until recently, Michel Pablo. In the colonial sphere, this group looks to petty-bourgeois nationalist tendencies such as Ben Bella's FLN to carry out the social revolution, declaring the colonial working class to be bourgeoisified. The ultimate concrete application of this theory is to be seen in the act of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party which entered a bourgeois government in Ceylon. The belated repudiation of this course by its intellectual authors can not absolve them of the responsibility for the results of their teaching and guidance. The United Secretariat increasingly embraces various forms of the theory of the self- liquidation of the bureaucracies in the Stalinized countries, and now no longer regards China as a deformed workers' state, i.e., it no longer believes that the Chinese People's Republic is basically bureaucratic in character. In the metropolitan countries these forces content themselves with the role of ginger groups within various centrist formations.Thus the revisionists carry out a simulataneous political accomodations and organizational capitulations to the national bourgoisie in the colonial countries, to liberalizing sections of the,Soviet bureaucracies and to left-posing political leaders and trade union centrists at home. Since the Trotskyist movement has historically lacked a mass base, this course poses the threat not only of revisionist degeneration but of ultimate total liquidation as well.


The Socialist Workers Party has now definitively embraced these revisionist tenets as the basis for its world view. At home it has eagerly capitulated to the reactionary ideology of black nationalism, thus undercutting its role on the only active front in the U.S.A. Having proclaimed Cuba a workers state without significant deformations, the S.W.P. is unable to bring forward even a blush at Comrade Castro's endorsement of peaceful coexistence, or more than a sotto voce "they had it coming" at the arrest and imprisonment of the entire Cuban Trotskyist leadership. In the crisis over the Kennedy assassination, it crawled before bourgeois public opinion. With political decay has come, inevitably, decay of internal life. For the last year the S.W.P. majority has taken to expelling its left critics from the party.


The four pieces which we now present to an American radical audience are part of the struggle against this revisionist tendency in the world Trotskyist movement. They were published in 1960, 1961, and 1962 in Labour Review, theoretical organ of the Socialist Labour League of Great Britain. With the defection of the S.W.P. to the enemy camp, the burden of the struggle has fallen mainly on this organization. Labour Review, and its successor, the British Fourth International, have been valued weapons for English reading Marxists. Although dealing with such apparently disparate topics as pacifism, the Soviet social order, and the history of the Russian Bolsheviks, the articles illuminate various aspects of one central question, the need for conscious Marxist leaderships organized in a revolutionary party, at the head of the industrial working class. (2) They are a sharp attack on the spontaneous growing-over theories of the revisionists. One need not be In agreement with every detail they contain to find in them understanding and guidance on the central tasks of revolutionists today. It is enough that they are, taken as a whole, an invaluable collective contribution to the current phase of the struggle for revolutionary socialism.


Geoffrey White Berkeley,

August 1964



1) Karl Marx, The Holy Family (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing, 1956) P. 107.


(2) The revolutionary Marxist program flowing from this aim has been systematically and comprehensively set forth in the international resolution "World Prospect for Socialism."



Preface to the Second Edition



The re-issuance of this pamphlet, after a long period of unavailability, is indeed a welcome event. These articles on revolutionary leadership are still, as Geoffrey White's introduction of 1964 described them, "an invaluable collective contribution to the current phase of the struggle for socialism." The title piece by Cliff Slaughter is perhaps the best restatement of the Trotskyist purpose in English since the death of Trotsky. Furthermore, we have been able to add to the pamphlet Trotsky's long out-of-print superlative article, "The Class, the Party, and the Leadership", which stands among the most valuable and incisive treatments of the revolutionary vanguard and its relation to the class in Marxist literature.


The unfortunate fact that the movement to which the authors of the original four articles from Labour Review belong, the Healy-Banda Socialist Labor League of Great Britain and its International Committee of the Fourth International, has degenerated considerably from the anti-revisionist position it held earlier requires some explanation. These articles reflect a stage through which the SLL was passing, a stage in which it possessed the formal political program of Trotskyist opposition to the Pabloite revisionism within the Fourth International discussed in White's introduction, as well as the not inconsiderable talents of Marxist scholarship to be found here. It lacked the fundamental theoretical keys to understanding the origins of Pabloism, however, and its rigid orthodoxy was incapable of answering the questions which gave rise to the revisionism in the first place. Furthermore, the Healy group persisted in such destructive political and tactical errors that its actual program-that is, the sum total of its actions, as opposed to its words—was one of splitting and sabotaging the struggle to rebuild a Trotskyist international movement. Since the period in which this pamphlet was first printed, the SLL's mistakes and, theoretical incapacities have led to greater and greater contradictions, and finally, in a process not yet complete, to an abandonment of Trotskyism and capitulation to the very Pabloism it supposedly set out to combat.


This history is intimately bound up with the origins and development of the Spartacist League of the U.S. The S.L. grew out of a tendency within the Socialist Workers Party which, in its struggle against the rampaging Pabloism seizing control of the SWP in the early sixties, attempted to align itself with the International Committee on the basis of agreement with the IC's formal anti-Pabloist stand. This collaboration proved difficult at best, and was ultimately smashed in a grotesque split engineered in truly Stalinist fashion by the Healy clique at an IC international conference in London in 1966.


The Healyites, including Healy's subservient American mentors, the "Workers League" of Wohlforth & Co., continually attempt to make political capital out of the fact that the SL existed separately from the IC for a long period of substantial political agreement. Wohlforth has just completed a six-part, 24-page series on Spartacist in his Bulletin, which, among many other distortions, outright lies and horrendous slanders much too numerous to go into here, asserts that we of the SL are unable to explain the political basis for the split. Parodying Trotsky, Wohlforth demands that we explain the "social origins" of Healy's well-documented Comintern-like bureaucratism, which includes physical gangsterism and use of the bourgeois apparatus of repression against other tendencies within the labor movement. Actually, the Spartacist League and its predecessor, the Revolutionary Tendency in the Socialist Workers Party, were cognizant of the errors of Healy—both organizational and political—at least since 1962. Indeed it was the fact that the Spartacist tendency spoke of these errors and sought to correct them within the framework indicated by the principled political agreement with the IC, which made the Healyites seek to drive us from their midst at all costs I


The theoretical problems which had led to the dominance of Pabloism within the Fourth International centered on the expansion of Stalinism after World War II, and, particularly, on the creation of new, anti-capitalist states in Yugoslavia and later in China and finally Cuba, not on the basis of proletarian revolution, but on the basis of independent Stalinist or petty-bourgeois-led movements based primarily on the peasantry. The Pabloist response to these developments involved abandonment of the vanguard party and a working-class perspective (see White's introduction). The Spartacist tendency felt that the early opposition of the SWP to Pabloism was based on a rigid orthodoxy which failed to solve the problem and left the SWP open to make the same capitulation themselves on the question of Cuba a decade later, and furthermore that the opposition of the IC to Pabloism had much the same character. In his remarks on the political report at the 1966 London conference, Spartacist delegate Robertson said, "Two decisive elements have been common to the whole series of upheavals under Stalinist-type leaderships, as in Yugoslavia, China, Cuba, Vietrinm: 1) a civil war of the peasant-guerrilla  variety, which ...if victorious... smashes capitalist property relations... (and) 2) the absence of the working class as a contender for power, in particular, the absence of its revolutionary vanguard: this permits an exceptionally independent role for the petty-bourgois sections of society..." These circumstance do not open the road to socialist development without a further, political revolution, nor do they in any sense deny the need for proletarian revolution or assert an historically independent role for the petty-bourgeoisie: "On the contrary, precisely the petty-bourgeois peasantry under the most favorable historic circumstances conceivable could achieve no third road. . Instead all that has come out of China and Cuba was a state of the same order as that issuing out of the political counter-revolution of Stalin in the Soviet Union, the degeneration of October."


Comrade Robertson then went on to warn of the fundamental nature of the SLL's mistakes, which prevented them from developing any analysis at all of the origins of the Chinese Revolution, and led them to see Castro's Cuba as still capitalist: "This is a bad method: at bottom it equates the deformed workers' state with the road to socialism; it is the Pabloite error turned inside out, and a profound denial of the Trotskyist understanding that the bureaucratic ruling caste is an obstacle which must be overthrown by the workers if they are to move forward."


One year later, the SLL endorsed the Chinese bureaucracy's "Cultural Revolution" and Mao's Red Guards, despite "...some of the extravagant, improbable and Utopian ideas of Mao Tse Tung;... his refusal to repudiate Stalin, his support of the Soviet intervention in Hungary, (and) his acceptance of 'socialism in a single country'..."! (SLL Newsletter 14 Jan., 1967, emphasis mine) Healy and Banda (who wrote the article) know that "socialism in a single country" is the very essence of Stalinism, not just "some improbable Idea of Mao's". This is a complete abandonment of the Trotskyist program in favor of capitulation to a wing of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Wohlforth attempts to slide over this by tossing off the horrendous, total lie that the SL gave "support to the Liu faction in China against the Red Guards..." ! (Bulletin, 10 Aug. 1970, emphasis mine) Soon thereafter, the IC adopted the equally unprincipled position of support to the "Arab revolution", which, somehow, seems to have a consistent outward thrust and to be dominated by pop front alliances with reactionary Arab regimes. Thus a political departure from Trotskyism has been the result of a course which began with the Healy movement's inability to develop Marxism theoretically in response to new events.


The Spartacist tendency opposed many other mistakes of Healy-Wohlforth. The complete failure of Healy & Co. to comprehend the concept of principled factional struggle led them to substitute opportunist and sectarian gyrations which undermined the international struggle against Pabloism. Thus Healy ordered the split in the tendency in the SWP in 1962—demanding that the majority renounce their views as a precondition for membership in the "Reorganized Minority Tendency"—In order to consummate an unprincipled bloc with the central leadership, which was Pabloist! Wohlforth now admits the unprincipled character of this maneuver when he says, "we considered the current positions of the SWP to be centrist and revisionist and its movement to be back into the petty-bourgeois revisionist Pabloite camp under the pressure of alien class forces." (Bulletin  22 June 1970) This is the very same position he and Healy demanded the tendency renounce in 1962 as against their assertion that the SWP was still revolutionary I After solidarizing with the Dobbs-Kerry leadership of the SWP by helping to expel the Revolutionary Tendency leaders, Wohlforth-Healy then flip-flopped, engineered their own expulsion from the party and declared that it had never been-revolutionary! (Documentation on the 1962 split may be found in Marxist Bulletin #3, from Spartacist).


Beneath this abominable behavior lay a fundamentally false perspective, which led to worse behavior later and to an eventual excuse for abandonment of any factional struggle against Pabloism in the Fourth International. The Healyites didn't want a real fight for a Trotskyist international based on struggle, splits and fusions, but instead, having failed In their earlier maneuvers, merely wanted to consumate a split, grab what they could and have a pond of their own to swim in. Hence their righteous proclomations that the IC is the Fourth International, despite its failure to break the Pabloite grip in more than a few countries, and that Pabloism has been smashed, etc. This latter claim, which we fought as being pure illusion and an excuse for abandoning the struggle, now seems somewhat contradictory with Healy's call recently for joint discussions with the Pabloite Unified Secretariat leading to an international conference!


Recognizing that the struggle is still going on in the Pabloite sections, Healy is now making his attempt to crawl back in typical opportunist fashion, but this time, the principled, Trotskyist political basis for confronting Pabloism is gone. In its place, now standing more fully revealed, is a cravenly opportunist movement which furthermore deals wantonly in financial chicanery, and provocation, violence, and use of capitalist "justice" against its socialist opponents! The Healy-Wohlforth gang is a complete fraud; their avowed Trotskyism is totally foreign to their actual method and now to most of their formal politics as well. It is to be regretted that the potentially serious Marxists we see here have been unable or unwilling either to see this fraud for what it is or to struggle against it. Time is running out for them but, meanwhile, the struggle to rebuild the Fourth International and a Leninist vanguard party in the U.S.  continues -- set back, perhaps, but enriched by the experience and moving ahead. We are determined to incorporate the contributions to Marxism which members of the Healy movement were able to make, and, like the lessons of the struggle with the Healyite bandits themselves, put them to good use in the struggle for socialism.


-Chris Kinder

September 1970



Link to Labour Review archive (January 1953- Summer 1963)