Socialist Equality Party (Australia)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Australia)

The post-war stabilisation and the emergence of Pabloism

129. The Australian Trotskyists anticipated a radicalisation of the working class in the aftermath of the war, as had taken place after World War I. They believed this would see the emergence of a left wing in the ALP, in opposition to the leadership, that would lead to a split. In 1941, following its banning by the government, the CLA had adopted a tactic first advocated by Trotsky for the French Trotskyists. Dubbed the “French turn”, it consisted of entering social democratic parties to develop political work among leftward moving members and winning them to the Fourth International. Origlass formed the Labor Socialist Group (LSG), which worked inside the NSW ALP. He set out his perspective in a letter to the American Trotskyists in 1942: “Labor is in office in the Federal Parliament, but all the signs are present that a split will occur any time now which may result in a coalition government developing towards Bonapartism, with a new Labor leadership in opposition in Parliament, swinging the workers behind it and using much more radical talk—a development from liberal Labor to social democracy. By the French turn we aim to be in this …”[1] However, events did not take the same course as in the 1930s. While the last stages of the war and the immediate post-war years did see a radicalisation of the working class, this did not give rise to a conflict within the Labor Party. Rather, it led to the growth of the Communist Party, due to the political prestige it was able to win as a result of the Soviet army’s role in the military defeat of Nazi Germany.

130. Following World War II, the Fourth International faced a complex situation. By the end of the 1940s, due to the betrayals of the Stalinist parties, the bourgeoisie had been able to restabilise its rule and lay the foundations for a post-war economic expansion. The political pressures generated by the new situation found their expression inside the movement in the revisionist perspective advanced by the secretary of the Fourth International, Michel Pablo.

131. Adapting himself to the post-war settlement and the Cold War political framework, Pablo argued: “For our movement objective reality consists essentially of the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world.” Excluded was any independent role for the working class and hence for the Fourth International. In his report to the Third World Congress of the Fourth International in August 1951, Pablo drew out the liquidationist consequences of his perspective, declaring that there was not a single Trotskyist organisation that did not understand the necessity of “subordinating all organisational considerations, of formal independence or otherwise, to real integration into the mass movement wherever it expresses itself in each country, or to integration in an important current of this movement which can be influenced.” As the ICFI drew out in its 1988 perspectives resolution, The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International, Pablo, with the support of his close associate Ernest Mandel “proposed the repudiation of a central world strategy based on the independent and leading role of the proletariat. Instead, he sought the fragmentation of the Fourth International into a collection of national parties guided by opportunist tactics determined by prevailing national conditions.”[2] This perspective entailed the subordination of the sections of the Fourth International to whatever political forces—Stalinist, social democratic, bourgeois nationalist or petty-bourgeois radical—happened to dominate the labour movement of a given country.

132. In February 1952 Pablo presented his theses on entrism sui generis (entrism of a special type) to the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International. Previously, the Trotskyist movement had practised entry into other parties as a tactic completely subordinated to the strategy of building independent parties. Now, that perspective was being ruled out in countries where the labour movement was dominated by mass social democratic and Stalinist parties. “Before the war,” Pablo wrote, “more precisely between 1934 and 1938, after Hitler’s victory and the threat which fascism exercised over bourgeois democracy and the workers’ movement, the Social Democracy included, Trotsky conceived the tactic of entry into the Socialist parties which were obliged to struggle. But this tactic had a rather ephemeral character, of short duration, with limited objectives. What was involved was to enter into these parties, to profit from their temporary left turn, to recruit members or to court certain leftist currents which were developing there and to get out. It was not a question of facing the tasks of war and revolution by remaining inside these parties. The entire conception of carrying out the entry work and work inside these parties was determined by this perspective. Today it is not exactly the same kind of entrism which concerns us. We are not entering these parties in order to come out of them soon. We are entering them to remain there for a long time banking on the great possibility which exists of seeing these parties, placed under new conditions, develop centrist tendencies which will lead a whole stage of the radicalisation of the masses and of objective revolutionary processes in their respective countries.”[3]

133. In his book 1905,Trotsky had characterised the psychological roots of opportunism as the inability to wait. “In periods when friendly and hostile social forces, by virtue of their antagonisms and their interactions create a total political standstill; when the molecular processes of growth, by intensifying the contradictions not only fails to disturb the political balance but actually strengthens it and, as it were, makes it permanent—in such periods opportunism, devoured by impatience, looks around for ‘new’ ways and means of putting into effect what history is not yet ready for in practice. Tired of its own inadequacy and unreliability it goes in search of ‘allies’.”[4] For those who had grown skeptical in the face of the difficulties associated with building the revolutionary party, and for impatient sections of the petty bourgeoisie who had never had much time in the first place for the patient struggle required to educate a revolutionary cadre, and who were particularly susceptible to the pressures of the national environment, Pablo’s perspective proved attractive. It offered a pathway to “integration into the real mass movement”; in other words, to rejoin the Stalinist and reformist organisations, and to concentrate on the development of their own national tactics.

134. By the early 1950s Australian capitalism was undergoing rapid growth as a result of the post-war economic boom. Living standards were among the highest in the world, second only to the United States, according to one index. The post-war strike movement had subsided, with the number of days lost plunging in 1950 after the defeat of the miners’ strike. With the onset of the boom and the initiation of the Cold War, several well-known Australian Trotskyists had already left the movement. The most significant was Laurie Short. Short had joined as a teenager in 1933 and had played a central role in the dockyards struggle at the end of the war. But by the end of 1948 he was virtually out of the movement, claiming, as many others had before and have since, that he was guided by “realism.” “I came to see that the claim that people were inevitably radicalised by economic circumstances was at total variance from reality. It just wasn’t happening. In all the time I was a Trotskyist, no more than fifty people in Australia saw the light. I began to wonder whether the evils of capitalism and its overthrow were all that inevitable.” New opportunities were opening up and, as his biographer later noted, Short was “unusually well-equipped—by virtue of his sense of purpose as well as his years of experience on the far Left fringe of politics—to take advantage of the burgeoning anti-Communism inside the union and wider labor movement.”[5] Short seized the opportunities provided by the Cold War to become national secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association (FIA) and a bastion of the anti-communist right-wing in the Labor Party. One of his closest associates in the Trotskyist movement, James McClelland, left around the same time. He was to build up a lucrative legal practice, pursuing workers’ compensation cases for the FIA. “Diamond Jim” later entered federal parliament and became a minister in the Whitlam government, which was sacked in 1975 by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr who had also had connections with the Trotskyist movement in the 1940s. Their evolution demonstrated, not for the first or last time, the key role played by one-time radicals and “lefts” in the service of the capitalist state.

135. The Origlass-led Labor Socialist Group adopted the Pabloite entrism sui generis perspective at its annual conference at Easter 1952. Origlass’s attempt to join the ALP was rejected—he was too well known as a Trotskyist. In order to gain admission, The Socialist, of which he was the editor, would have to be liquidated. Origlass edited its last issues in a manner that ensured it would give no offence to the Labor Party. He finally liquidated the publication in August 1952.

136. The sentiments to which Pablo appealed were articulated by his supporters in the American SWP under the slogan “Junk the old Trotskyism.” Similar opinions were voiced by an Australian supporter Winifred Bradley, daughter of a long-standing Australian Trotskyist, in a letter to the SWP’s journal Fourth International in October 1953: “Leon Trotsky died in 1940—13 years ago. A new generation, of which I am a member, has arisen since who will build socialism on a world scale. This new generation most probably can’t even remember when Leon Trotsky was alive. We cannot remember for we were hardly born in the days of the Moscow Trials, the days of the Popular Front and the United Front. We have only a very dim recollection of the Second World War and the only period we know is the period since the war and the only thing we’re really conscious of is that the final showdown between the old and the new orders—capitalism and socialism, will occur before we are middle-aged. To prove and to base an argument on the quotation of a man who died 12 years ago—no matter how brilliant the man, how profoundly correct his ideas, without any resort to the world since 1945 does not satisfy us. Leon Trotsky wrote for a particular period and for a particular set of circumstances … Twelve years is a long time, particularly in this century and the period of 1933–41 is not the same as the period 1945–53…”[6]

137. On November 16, 1953 the SWP’s paper The Militant published James P. Cannon’s Open Letter to the World Trotskyist movement calling for the rallying of orthodox Trotskyists to defeat Pablo’s liquidationist perspective. In the course of the Letter, Cannon summarised the fundamental principles of the Trotskyist movement:

1. The death agony of the capitalist system threatens the destruction of civilization through worsening depressions, world wars, and barbaric manifestations like fascism. The development of atomic weapons today underlines the danger in the gravest possible way.

2. The descent into the abyss can be avoided only by replacing capitalism with the planned economy of socialism on a world scale and thus resuming the spiral of progress opened up by capitalism in its early days.

3. This can be accomplished only under the leadership of the working class in society. But the working class itself faces a crisis in leadership although the world relationship of social forces was never so favorable as today for the workers to take the road to power.

4. To organize itself for carrying out this world-historic aim, the working class in each country must construct a revolutionary socialist party in the pattern developed by Lenin: that is, a combat party capable of dialectically combining democracy and centralism—democracy in arriving at decisions, centralism in carrying them out; a leadership controlled by the ranks, ranks able to carry forward under fire in disciplined fashion.

5. The main obstacle to this is Stalinism, which attracts workers through exploiting the prestige of the October 1917 Revolution in Russia, only later, as it betrays their confidence, to hurl them back into the arms of Social Democracy, into apathy, or back into illusions in capitalism. The penalty for these betrayals is paid for by the working people in the form of consolidation of fascist or monarchist forces, and new outbreaks of wars fostered and prepared by capitalism. From its inception, the Fourth International set as one of its major tasks the revolutionary overthrow of Stalinism inside and outside the USSR.

6. The need for flexible tactics facing many sections of the Fourth International, and parties or groups sympathetic to its program, makes it all the more imperative that they know how to fight imperialism and all its petty-bourgeois agencies (such as nationalist formations or trade union bureaucracies) without capitulation to Stalinism; and, conversely, know how to fight Stalinism (which in the final analysis is a petty-bourgeois agency of imperialism) without capitulating to imperialism.”[7]

138. The Open Letter provided the programmatic basis for the formation of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Because of his previous political collaboration with James P. Cannon and with Gerry Healy, the leader of the British Trotskyists, Origlass was expected to support it. But in February 1954 he wrote to the SWP declaring support for Pablo: “[T]here is no support here for Cannon’s position. Rather the Australian Section unanimously condemns the Cannonite open letter.” The LSG’s rejection of the Open Letter was rooted in a definite political orientation. Acceptance of its conclusions would require an ongoing political struggle against social democracy and Stalinism. Such a perspective, however, cut across “deep entry” into the Labor Party and accommodation to the national milieu—the basis of the Pabloite perspective.

139. The Origlass group’s decision to oppose the Open Letter marked its liquidation as a Trotskyist organisation. For more than two decades, through the most difficult circumstances, Origlass and his supporters had waged a struggle for the principles and program of Marxism. They had withstood the attacks of the Stalinists, the trade union bureaucracy and the capitalist state—none of which had been able to destroy their organisation. Its demise was the result of the opportunist perspective of Pabloism, which repudiated the conception on which the Fourth International had been founded—that, whatever the immediate conjuncture and the vicissitudes of the class struggle, the fight for a principled political line would eventually intersect with the living movement of the working class.

140. There is a bitter irony in the fact that the political liquidation of the Origlass group came on the eve of a profound crisis of Stalinism. In February 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made his “secret speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, denouncing some of Stalin’s crimes. The speech, followed by the Soviet invasion of Hungary in November 1956, opened up a crisis in the ranks of the Stalinist parties internationally, providing an important opportunity to clarify essential historical and political questions. But that was taken forward only in Britain, where Gerry Healy, strengthened by his participation in the struggle against Pabloism, fought to establish the significance of Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism.

141. Because the Pabloites maintained that Khrushchev’s manoeuvre was an expression of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s capacity to carry out a process of “self-reform”, the Origlass group made no intervention into the crisis of the Communist Party of Australia. Such was the impact of Pabloism that in 1958, the Communist Party Stalinists even endorsed Origlass against Laurie Short in an election for the leadership of the Federated Ironworkers Association.

142. The liquidation of the Origlass group in Australia was part of an international process. In its 1988 perspectives resolution, the ICFI explained: “Pabloite opportunism disoriented thousands of Trotskyist cadre throughout the world and ultimately destroyed a large portion of the Fourth International. The Pabloites played the crucial role in diverting the working class from a successful challenge to the open treachery of the Stalinists and social democrats.”[8] The cadres of the Trotskyist movement in Australia had always been small in number. But the movement had undertaken important struggles in the 1930s and 1940s and accumulated a wealth of historical experience. In 1954, it was liquidated, disarmed by Pabloism in the face of the pressures generated by the post-war stabilisation of world capitalism. In little more than a decade, the post-war order would begin to break up, leading to a radicalisation of young people and a renewal of struggles by the working class. Had the Origlass group been able to resist the pressures, its experiences would have played a decisive role in the education and training of new Trotskyist cadres.

143. The revisionist tendencies that attacked the Fourth International were the product, in the final analysis, of an unfavourable balance of class forces. During the post-war boom, the bourgeoisie was able to carry out policies based on class compromise and national regulation within the framework of an expanding world economy. It was this situation that found its expression in the theories of Pabloism, which rejected the conception that the establishment of socialism required the development of independent political struggle by the working class, conscious of its historic role. Other forces, from the Stalinist and social democratic apparatuses in the advanced capitalist countries to the petty-bourgeois national movements in the former colonial countries, could replace the working class in the overthrow of imperialism.

144. In 1961, during their struggle against the reunification of the American SWP with the Pabloites, the British Trotskyists of the Socialist Labour League pointed to the objective processes underpinning the emergence of revisionism within the Fourth International: “The false leaders of the working class have a role and an ideology which corresponds to the objective needs of imperialism in its present stage of development. The opportunists of all varieties now rest not only upon the labor aristocracy of a few advanced countries but upon new layers of the world’s population under modern state monopoly capitalism with its particular relation to the non-capitalist world. The advanced countries have gone through a gigantic concentration of industrial and finance capital, militarisation and bureaucratisation of the economy and of the state, and the consequent creation of a new middle caste of executives, administrators and bureaucrats of the big banks and monopolies, the state, the military and security apparatus, ‘social services’ and the means of manipulation of ‘public opinion’. The international needs of capital are faithfully administered by the middle caste. In the backward countries they find their counterpart in the nationalist petty bourgeois governing classes to which imperialism has handed over government office. …. There are thus objective class reasons for the persistence of opportunism in the present critical stage of imperialism’s development.”

145. Summing up this analysis in 1987, the ICFI explained: “Thus the revisionism that attacked the Fourth International after World War II was a class phenomenon which reflected the changing political needs of imperialism itself. Confronted with the emergence of proletarian revolution, imperialism had to open up possibilities for new layers of the middle class to assume the role of a buffer between its interests and that of the proletariat. Pabloite revisionism translated these basic needs of imperialism and the class interests of the petty bourgeoisie into the vital political formulae which justified the adaptation of the Trotskyist movement to these forces. It pandered to the futile illusion that the petty bourgeoisie, through its control of the state apparatus, can create socialism without the old bourgeois state being first destroyed by proletarian revolution in which the working class—not various middle class surrogates—is the principal historical actor.”[9]

56. Philip Armstrong, Andrew Glyn & John Harrison, Capitalism since World War II, Fontana, London, 1984, p. 23.[back]

57. Ibid., p. 43.[back]

58. Robert Black, Stalinism in Britain, New Park, London, 1970, p. 218.[back]

59. Leon Trotsky, ‘Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution’, Writings of Leon Trotsky: 1939–40, Pathfinder, New York, 1977, p. 218.[back]

60. Betrayal: A History of the Communist Party of Australia, op. cit., p. 95.[back]

61. “Post-War Policy and the National Congress”, Communist Review, no. 47, July 1945, Communist Party of Australia, Sydney, p. 540.[back]

62. “The Reformists Serve Reaction”, Communist Review, no. 92, April 1949, Communist Party of Australia, Sydney, p. 112.[back]

63. Red Hot: The Life and Times of Nick Origlass, op. cit., p. 103.[back]

64. The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International, Perspectives Resolution of the International Committee of the Fourth International, August 1988, Labor Publications, Detroit, p. 14.[back]

65. Michel Pablo, ‘The Building of the Revolutionary Party’ (excerpts of report to IEC Tenth Plenum), SWP International Information Bulletin, June 1952, reprinted in I.S. Documents, vol. 1, p. 34.[back]

66. Leon Trotsky, 1905, Penguin, Hammondsworth, 1971, p. 315.[back]

67. Susanna Short, Laurie Short: A Political Life, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1992, pp. 88–89.[back]

68. David North, The Heritage We Defend: A Contribution to the History of the Fourth International, Labor Publications, Detroit, 1988, p. 221.[back]

69. Ibid., pp. 231–232.[back]

70. The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International, op. cit., p. 16.[back]

71. ‘Editorial’ Fourth International, vol. 14, no. 1, March 1987, p. iii.[back]


Red Hot: The Life and Times of Nick Origlass, Wellington Lane Press, Neutral Bay, 1999, p. 103.


The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International, Perspectives Resolution of the International Committee of the Fourth International, August 1988, Labor Publications, Detroit, p. 14.


Michel Pablo, ‘The Building of the Revolutionary Party’ (excerpts of report to IEC Tenth Plenum), SWP International Information Bulletin, June 1952, reprinted in I.S. Documents, vol. 1, p. 34.


Leon Trotsky, 1905, Penguin, Hammondsworth, 1971, p. 315.


Susanna Short, Laurie Short: A Political Life, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1992, pp. 88–89.


David North, The Heritage We Defend: A Contribution to the History of the Fourth International, Labor Publications, Detroit, 1988, p. 221.


Ibid., pp. 231–232.


The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International, op. cit., p. 16.


‘Editorial’ Fourth International, vol. 14, no. 1, March 1987, p. iii.