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

The SLL assumes leadership of the International Committee

137. The SLL had risen to the challenge posed by the SWP’s renegacy. It had defeated the attempt by petty bourgeois forces to liquidate Trotskyism and had assumed the leadership of the International Committee. It emerged from this struggle immeasurably strengthened. The documents produced at this time testify to the political advances made by the SLL, and still constitute a major contribution to the development of Marxism.

138. In 1961, the SLL published World Prospects for Socialism, drawing a balance sheet of the significance of revisionism in the Fourth International and its relationship to the developing crisis of world capitalism. In contrast to the abstract formulae employed by the Pabloites, it made a concrete appraisal of the post-war period. The SLL’s opposition to Pabloism was rooted in an examination of the objective role it played in politically disarming the working class and subordinating it to the social democratic and Stalinist bureaucracies and the leaders of the bourgeois national movements in the colonial and former colonial countries:

“Reformists and opportunists of all varieties echo the spokesmen of the bourgeoisie in supposing, and hoping, that the separate manifestations of the fundamental world crisis can be taken one by one and separately remedied. Marxists claim that this is impossible. All such problems are related because of the inextricable connections between them established by imperialism itself. They do not assume, however, that imperialism will somehow collapse because the contradictions which it secretes will eventually bring the system to a halt. Such an idea of automatic downfall is no part of Marxism. The history of the last 40 years has driven home the lesson so often repeated by Lenin and Trotsky, that there are no impossible situations for the bourgeoisie. It survived the challenge of revolution and economic depression between the wars by resort to fascism. It survived the Second World War with the complicity of the Stalinist and Social Democratic leaderships—which ensured that the working class would not make a bid for power—and used the breathing space to elaborate new methods of rule and strengthen the economy. Even the most desperate situations can be overcome if only the active intervention of the workers as a class for themselves, with a party and leadership with a perspective of overthrowing capitalism, is not prepared in time”.[1]

139. Healy’s decision to reintroduce the vital questions of philosophical method in the struggle against Hansen’s vulgar pragmatism marked a return to the work conducted by Trotsky in 1939-40 against Burnham/Shachtman. The SLL’s opposition to the Pabloites’ objectivist apologetics for non-proletarian leaderships had conditioned it to appreciate the significance of Lenin’s work on Dialectics in his Philosophical Notebooks, when it appeared for the first time in English in 1961 in Volume 38 of the Collected Works. Slaughter’s Opportunism and Empiricism opposed the abandonment of the Theory of Permanent Revolution on the basis of “facts”, such as the victory of Ben Bella in Algeria and Castro in Cuba:

“When we attack empiricism we attack that method of approach which says all statements, to be meaningful, must refer to observable or measurable data in their immediate given form. This method insists that any ‘abstract’ concepts reflecting the general and historical implications of these ‘facts’ are meaningless. It neglects entirely that our general concepts reflect the laws of development and interconnection of the process which these ‘facts’ help to constitute…. All this argument that ‘the facts’ are the objective reality, and that we must ‘start from there’ is a preparation to justify policies of adaptation to non-working class leaderships”.[2]

140. The International Committee met in September 1963 to draw up the political balance sheet of the struggle against Pabloism. In the opening report, Slaughter explained:

“The fight against revisionism in the Trotskyist movement, particularly in the Socialist Workers Party, has revealed a basic difference in method. The Socialist Workers Party leaders have abandoned Marxism for empiricism, they have abandoned that method which starts from the point of view of changing the world, as against interpreting or contemplating it. The far greater part of the work in the struggle against this revisionism remains still to be done on our part. It is not enough to be able to demonstrate the descent into empiricism by the revisionists―our problem is to build around this fight against revisionism, sections of the Fourth International able to lead the advanced guard of the working class”.[3]

141. In Spring 1964, Labour Review was replaced by a new journal, the Fourth International, published by the International Committee. The editorial of the first issue stated:

“The Socialist Labour League must take its place firmly inside the international vanguard of the world party of socialist revolution. It is through the work of our new magazine and the building of that world party that we shall pass from the stage of training cadres from amongst the student and working class youth, to the stage when we shall be able to provide leadership in all the struggles of the day”.[4]

142. The struggle waged by the SLL against reunification with the Pabloites bore its most important fruit on the international arena. The American Committee for the Fourth International began an extended period of preparation for the founding of the Workers League in 1966. Two years later, the Revolutionary Communist League was formed in Ceylon. In 1971, the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter was established as a section of the International Committee in Germany, and in 1972, the Socialist Labour League was founded as the IC’s Australian section.


World Prospects for SocialismLabour Review, winter 1961, Volume 6, No. 3.


Opportunism and Empiricism, Trotskyism Versus Revisionism (1974), New Park Publications, Volume 4, pp. 81-82.


ibid. pp.187-188.


Fourth International, Spring 1964.