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

The defense of Trotskyism by the Socialist Labour League

141. The international stabilisation of capitalism in the 1950s and 60s expanded the room to manoeuvre for reformist, Stalinist and bourgeois nationalist movements. Social reforms and the independence of former colonies encouraged illusions that policies based on national reforms could lead to long term improvements and help overcome the contradictions of capitalism. The International Committee fought uncompromisingly against such illusions and the corresponding pressure of revisionism. The leading role in this struggle was played by the British Trotskyists, under the leadership of Gerry Healy.

142. In 1963, the American SWP capitulated to Pabloism. It rejected all the principles that it had defended ten years earlier in the Open Letter, and fused with the Pabloites in the United Secretariat. The reunification took place without clarifying the points at issue in 1953; referring to a “new world reality” these were declared irrelevant. At the centre of the common view of the SWP and the Pabloites was that a workers’ state had developed in Cuba after the seizure of power by the bourgeois-nationalist guerrilla movement of Fidel Castro. The SWP drew the conclusion that the nationalizations carried out by the Castro regime meant a revolution could be made with “blunt weapons” under the leadership of “unconscious Marxists”, who would introduce socialism under the pressure of objective circumstances and without the active participation of the working class. The admiration of the SWP for Castroism and the guerrilla war in Latin America was accompanied by an adaptation to petty bourgeois protest politics in the United States.[1]

143. The British Socialist Labour League vigorously opposed the SWP. The claim that petty bourgeois guerrilla leaders could establish workers’ states without a trace of independent organs of rule of the working class placed the entire perspective of the proletarian revolution in question. In 1961, the SLL wrote in a letter to the SWP: “An essential of revolutionary Marxism in this epoch is the theory that the national bourgeoisie in under-developed countries is incapable of defeating imperialism and establishing an independent national state.” With reference to similar movements in Africa and Asia, the SLL continued: “It is not the job of Trotskyists to boost the role of such nationalist leaders. They can command the support of the masses only because of the betrayal of leadership by Social-Democracy and particularly Stalinism, and in this way they become buffers between imperialism and the mass of workers and peasants. The possibility of economic aid from the Soviet Union often enables them to strike a harder bargain with the imperialists, even enables more radical elements among the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaders to attack imperialist holdings and gain further support from the masses. But, for us, in every case the vital question is one of the working class in these countries gaining political independence through a Marxist party, leading the poor peasantry to the building of Soviets, and recognizing the necessary connections with the international socialist revolution. In no case, in our opinion, should Trotskyists substitute for that the hope that the nationalist leadership should become socialists. The emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves.”[2]

144. In another letter from the same year, the SLL categorically rejected any rapprochement with the Pabloites: “The greatest danger confronting the revolutionary movement is liquidationism, flowing from a capitulation either to the strength of imperialism or of the bureaucratic apparatuses in the Labour movement, or both. Pabloism represents, even more clearly now than in 1953, this liquidationist tendency in the international Marxist movement. … It is because of the magnitude of the opportunities opening up before Trotskyism, and therefore the necessity for political and theoretical clarity, that we urgently require a drawing of the lines against revisionism in all its forms. It is time to draw to a close the period in which Pabloite revisionism was regarded as a trend within Trotskyism. Unless this is done we cannot prepare for the revolutionary struggles now beginning.”[3]

145. Just one year after the unification of the SWP and the Pabloites, the SLL’s warning was confirmed in Sri Lanka. In 1964, for the first time, a Trotskyist party, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), joined a bourgeois coalition government. The LSSP, which had previously enjoyed much support among Tamil, as well as Sinhalese workers, submitted to Sinhala chauvinism and thus heralded the fatal development that led to the twenty-six-year civil war, with nearly 100,000 victims. The Pabloite United Secretariat shared responsibility for this betrayal. It had systematically suppressed discussion over the opportunist course of the LSSP.

146. The systematic struggle waged by the British Trotskyists against the unification of the SWP with the Pabloites created the basis for the founding of the American Workers League (WL) and the Sri Lankan Revolutionary Communist League. The Workers League emerged from a minority faction led by Tim Wohlforth, which, between 1961 and 1964 fought against the growing opportunism of the SWP. The minority faction worked closely with the SLL and, based on the latter’s advice, sought to clarify the central questions of international perspective and avoid factional conflicts over secondary or organisational issues. Even after the unification congress of 1963, the minority fought for a principled political discussion inside the SWP. But the events in Ceylon exacerbated the conflicts inside the SWP. The minority was expelled after it demanded, in a letter to the SWP membership, a discussion over the betrayal of the LSSP. The minority went on to form the American Committee for the Fourth International (ACFI) and, in November 1966, founded the Workers League. In Ceylon, Gerry Healy intervened personally to lead a political offensive against the betrayal of the LSSP. It won a response from the best layers of students who, following years of political clarification, founded the Revolutionary Communist League in 1968. The General Secretary of the RCL was Keerthi Balasuriya. Due to their long struggle against Pabloite opportunism, the cadre of the WL and RCL were deeply rooted in the principles of the Fourth International. This proved to be decisive in the struggle against the degeneration of the British section, which broke with the International Committee in 1985-86.


See: David North, The Heritage We Defend, chapter 20 et seq.


Quoted in: David North, The Heritage We Defend.