The political differences with the IKD, whose perspective was endorsed by the Shachtmanites, found its reflection within the Fourth International and the Socialist Workers Party with the emergence of a tendency led by Felix Morrow and Albert Goldman. The “Three Theses” of the IKD was only the most explicit articulation of a perspective that reflected a movement by broad sections of the middle class toward the anti-communist camp of “democratic” imperialism.
Morrow and Goldman had played prominent roles within the Trotskyist movement since the 1930s. Goldman was a socialist attorney whose most outstanding contributions to the party had been made during the Dewey Commission proceedings of 1937 in Coyoacan, Mexico, where he assisted Leon Trotsky, and as the SWP’s chief defense counsel during the Minneapolis frame-up trial, at which he was also a codefendant. A gifted speaker and a talented propagandist, his political sympathies were generally with the right-wing of the movement. In his opposition to the SWP leadership, he tended to place the greatest emphasis on the “organizational” question—the hallmark of petty-bourgeois elements.
Morrow was a more substantial figure than Goldman, and his authority in the movement was based on his brilliant journalistic gifts, which found their outstanding expression in his analysis of the Spanish Revolution, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain—though it must be said, for the historical record, that the writing of this book was a collective effort in which a number of party leaders played an important role. But for all his talents, Morrow’s political makeup exhibited many of the characteristics of the New York petty-bourgeois intellectual, quite similar in many ways to Max Shachtman. It was well known that Morrow rejected dialectical materialism, and it came as a surprise to many that he supported the Cannon majority in the 1939–40 struggle.
Although Morrow remained loyal to the Fourth International in 1940, his approach to the struggle against the petty-bourgeois minority, reflecting his own false theoretical position, focused simply on the central political issue in the dispute: the vexatious “Russian question.” From his standpoint, the central figure in the petty-bourgeois minority was Shachtman. For Trotsky, the principal representative of the opposition was James Burnham, the philosophical leader of the anti-Marxist bloc.
The implications of Morrow’s rejection of the dialectic and the unreliability of political agreement based solely on “concrete questions” emerged as early as 1943, when he began to drift back to the positions of Shachtman. An important aspect of this process of degeneration was reflected in his political relations with Jean Van Heijenoort, the former secretary of Leon Trotsky, who was living in New York during World War II and was responsible for the maintenance of communications with the European sections.
An odious and cynical subjectivist—whom Trotsky had dismissed from his household in November 1939—Van Heijenoort had pronounced differences with dialectical materialism, rejecting its validity as the science of the most general laws of all motion. He argued against the existence of dialectical processes in nature, claiming:
All the themes of dialectic have a great value in the epistemological field, but become empty abstractions outside. …
…the general conclusion is: materialist dialectic belongs to the field of epistemology. It deals with the development of knowledge. In this field it brings extremely valuable contributions. But when transferred into the external world, it can only formulate extremely vague abstractions which, as a duplicate or substitute for precise scientific laws, have neither value nor use. And in attempting this transfer, one always risks falling into the old trap of metaphysics.
Even before major and irreconcilable political differences were to emerge, the SWP mounted a theoretical offensive, led by John G. Wright and George Novack, against Van Heijenoort’s attack on the dialectic, demonstrating that it had taken to heart the lessons of Trotsky’s struggle against the pragmatism of Burnham and contradicting Banda’s wild and ignorant claim, “Dialectics had long since ceased to inspire the FI. Vulgar empiricism had taken its place.”
Referring to the above-quoted statement by Van Heijenoort (who wrote under the name Marc Loris), Wright argued:
If these words mean anything at all they mean that no physicist, no chemist, no biologist, no psychologist, no sociologist could have any possible need or use for “all the themes of the dialectic.” Epistemologists alone are exempt. But why? It remains a mystery what earthly use any epistemologist could have for a theory of knowledge that cannot be transferred to other fields of science. We await an explanation why any rational being should bother at all with a “development of knowledge” that evaporates into thin air (or in Loris’ words, turns into “extremely vague—and valueless and useless—abstraction”) the moment it is applied to “the external world.” (Included in this last sweeping phrase, by the way, are not only the heavens and the earth but society as well.) …
Comrade Loris is surely acquainted with the ideas of a whole school of renegade radicals headed by the notorious Hook, who tried to “restrict” the dialectic to the sphere of sociology. They pretended that they were thereby purging Marxism of heresies by Engels, vestiges of Hegelianism, and so forth and so on. It remains inexplicable why anyone in our movement should seek to compete with these gentlemen in “restricting” the dialectic still further.
All our great teachers, instead of pigeonholing the dialectic into any single field whether that of sociology or epistemology, taught us that it applied to the processes in the whole external world, including man and mind. Far from conceiving that the dialectic becomes dissolved into empty abstractions from contact with objective reality, our great teachers stressed, on the contrary, the urgency and fruitfulness of such a “transference.” And moreover they taught us that it was Nature itself (the “external world”) that implanted the dialectic in the human mind.
The political ramifications of Van Heijenoort’s hostility to the dialectic were soon revealed. In the speed of his movement to the right, he outstripped even Morrow and Goldman. Eventually, they all wound up in the same place: in the camp of US imperialism, thus vindicating once again Trotsky’s warning to Burnham: “Anyone acquainted with the history of the struggles of tendencies within the workers’ parties knows that desertions to the camp of opportunism and even to the camp of bourgeois reaction began not infrequently with rejection of the dialectic.”
Initially, the differences raised by Morrow appeared to be over the tempo of revolutionary developments in Europe. Earlier, before going to prison as one of the SWP 18, he had opposed the “Three Theses” of the IKD and urged the German group to think out its position “to its ultimate conclusion.” When Mussolini was overthrown in 1943, Morrow hailed this event as the harbinger of the socialist revolution that Trotsky had foreseen. Yet, when the further progress of the revolution was forestalled through the betrayals of the Stalinists and the intervention of the allied imperialist forces with whom they collaborated, Morrow almost immediately fell back to the most pessimistic conclusions.
The characteristic of a Marxist revolutionist is that he is the last to leave the field of battle. As late as 1907, long after the Mensheviks and the liberals had proclaimed the proletariat defeated, Lenin was still trying to ignite the remaining embers of the 1905 Revolution. Morrow, on the other hand, became convinced by 1944 that the prospects for a revolutionary conclusion of the war in western Europe were nonexistent and that agitation on the basis of revolutionary socialist slogans drawn from the Transitional Program should be prohibited within the sections of the Fourth International. Instead, all activity of the European sections, he argued, ought to be concentrated on democratic slogans. Even the call for the “United Socialist States of Europe” had to be shelved.
Morrow initially objected to certain ultraleft formulations which appeared in the documents of the European Trotskyists, and, indeed, some of his earlier criticisms were not unfounded. He claimed that his contributions were aimed at developing a better understanding of the tempo of events.
But as the discussion developed, it became clear that Morrow was rapidly moving to the right and his obsessive preoccupation with democratic demands was becoming transformed into an open repudiation of the whole perspective of socialist revolution. He called for the liquidation of the European sections of the FI into the existing social democratic parties, and even urged the French Trotskyists to accommodate themselves to André Malraux, who was functioning as a henchman of de Gaulle. Delighting in each indication that bourgeois rule was being stabilized and that the Stalinists and social democrats were bringing the mass movement under control, all of his advice was based on the conviction that there existed no prospect for socialist revolution.
The subjective idealist foundations of Morrow’s perspective were established in the following declaration:
The absence of the revolutionary party—and it is absent—changes the whole situation. Instead of saying, “Only the revolutionary party is lacking,” we must instead say, at least to ourselves, “The absence of the revolutionary party transforms the conditions which otherwise would be revolutionary into conditions in which one must fight, so far as agitation is concerned, for the most elementary demands.”
The European Secretariat of the Fourth International replied emphatically, “Objectively revolutionary situations have existed, do exist and will continue to exist independently of whether a revolutionary party is present on the scene or not.”
Morrow’s perspective had a form of opportunism which was to emerge again and again inside the Fourth International. Proceeding from an impressionistic assessment of the immediate political conjuncture, Morrow worked out a political line which promised to make the Trotskyist movement more accessible to the masses, but in reality threatened the dissolution of its historically-developed revolutionary program. Even if one were to concede that petty-bourgeois democratic sentiments dominated the consciousness of the proletariat, it was a betrayal of Marxism to conclude that such a situation called for the ditching of revolutionary socialist slogans in favor of more “popular” democratic ones. Marxists do not seek to find a way out of “political isolation” by transforming their proletarian socialist party into a petty-bourgeois democratic one. Rather, like Lenin and Trotsky in 1917, they fight against the prevailing moods and seek to educate the working class and raise the level of its political consciousness.
Morrow spoke for all the skeptics who felt that they had been “betrayed” by Trotsky: he had “promised” them that World War II would end with socialist revolution in Western Europe and the overthrow of Stalinism in the USSR. In fact, Trotsky had promised them nothing. As he had explained shortly before his death:
Every historical prognosis is always conditional, and the more concrete the prognosis, the more conditional it is. A prognosis is not a promissory note which can be cashed on a given date. Prognosis outlines only the definite trends of the development. But along with these trends a different order of forces and tendencies operate, which at a certain moment begin to predominate. All those who seek exact predictions of concrete events should consult the astrologists. Marxist prognosis aids only in orientation.
The European Secretariat, then led by Pablo, fought back against Morrow and his supporters, insisting that despite all the unforeseen and unforeseeable developments which followed Trotsky’s death, his vision of the revolutionary implications of the imperialist war had been vindicated on a world scale, with mass revolutionary struggles in Yugoslavia and throughout Asia.
Only the superficial and cowardly petty-bourgeois mind can see a refutation of our revolutionary perspective in these facts: that war did not, either during its course or immediately thereafter, bring about the revolution in Europe; that the German revolution has not taken place; that the traditional organizations, and foremost among them, the Stalinist parties, have experienced a new and powerful rise. While recognizing that all these facts represent so many defeats for the revolutionary proletariat, the IVth International cannot for one moment forget that the mortal crisis of capitalism, the destruction of its equilibrium, the sharpening of all its fundamental contradictions, constitute far more important facts, and upon them rest our revolutionary perspective and our vastly increased opportunities for building the Revolutionary Party. …
What confronts us now is a world-wide crisis transcending anything known in the past, and a world-wide revolutionary upsurge, it is true, developing at unequal tempos in different parts of the world, but unceasingly exercising reciprocal influences from one center to another, and thus determining a long revolutionary perspective.
From the time of their release from prison, the right-wing evolution of Goldman and Morrow was bound up with their demand that the SWP reunify with Shachtman’s Workers Party. This demonstrated that Morrow and Goldman were breaking with the one fundamental question of principle upon which they had opposed Shachtman in 1939–40, the defense of the USSR. However, they claimed that the differences between the SWP and the Workers Party were exaggerated and did not justify the existence of two separate organizations. In reply, the SWP produced an exhaustive analysis of the irreconcilable differences between Trotskyists and Shachtmanites, entitled, “Revolutionary Marxism or Petty-Bourgeois Revisionism?” The SWP laid down the
following rock-bottom programmatic criteria operating today to demarcate the revolutionary tendency from all forms and varieties of opportunism:
1. Evaluation of the Soviet Union and the attitude toward its defense. (Rejection of all theories of a new bureaucratic class and all derivatives of this theory.)
And, the corollary of this point: Evaluation of the Stalinist parties in the capitalist countries and the attitude toward these parties. (Rejection of all theories that deny the working class character of these parties.)
2. Evaluation of the character of the epoch, attitude toward the European revolution and the tasks of the vanguard. (Rejection of all varieties of revisionism in the form of “retrogressionist” theories, conclusions or derivatives.)
3. Attitude toward the Bolshevik conception of the party. (Rejection of all Menshevik conceptions of “all-inclusive” parties or Internationals.)
Tracing the evolution of the Workers Party since the 1940 split, the SWP concluded that the
Workers Party has consistently broken with the essentials of our program, has consistently developed an opportunist position on the major political questions, has continued to wage unremitting warfare against our organization, our concepts, our methods, our leadership. On the three basic international criteria which delineate the Marxist current from the opportunist, the Shachtmanites have established themselves as the consistent and front-line champions of opportunism and revisionism.
The tendency represented by Shachtman and Co. can thus be established with scientific precision on the basis of this study. The Workers Party is a petty-bourgeois, centrist, ingrown sect, moving ever more swiftly away from Marxism toward left Social Democracy.
This evaluation of Shachtmanism, which, if anything, was shown by history to be overly generous, sharpened the political struggle against the Goldman-Morrow tendency. The class character of this group and its international supporters as a petty-bourgeois tendency capitulating to the pressure of imperialist democracy was exposed on two questions.
The first was the question of the 1946 French referendum on the proposed bourgeois constitution of the Fourth Republic. Banda makes a special reference to this issue: “The failure of the IS (International Secretariat) and IEC (International Executive Committee) to address themselves to the major events of this post-war period was complemented by the most shameless toadying to the bourgeois democracy in Western Europe, e.g. Mandel’s support for the 1946 Referendum in France. …”
As usual, Banda is wrong. In fact, the IEC and the IS majority (with the support of the SWP leadership) opposed the referendum, and Ernest Mandel wrote some of the major resolutions condemning the opportunist support for a “Yes” vote given by the majority of the French PCI leadership.
At a plenary session of the IEC in June 1946, the IEC and IS majority explained its position:
The referendum of May 5 did not imply a forced choice of the bourgeois state. It was not a question of choosing between a bourgeois monarchy and a bourgeois republic; or between a parliament of two houses and a single assembly. The referendum of May 5 consisted simply in acceptance or refusal of a bourgeois constitution.
The revolutionary party utilizes the period of agitation around the constitutional question in order to put forward democratic and transitional demands, and supports the most democratic provisions against more reactionary proposals. But this does not imply acceptance ever of an entire bourgeois constitution, no matter how democratic it may be. In the case in question, there was not a choice among various constitutional provisions but merely one of rejecting or accepting the constitution as a whole.
To vote “Yes” meant, whether one wanted to or not, to sanction the bourgeois state, capitalist property, national defense and colonial oppression. It is not a matter of tactics but a matter of principle to remain under all circumstances hostile to a bourgeois constitution, whatever it may be. No tactical reason could justify abandonment of this principled position with regard to the bourgeois state.
So much for the “shameful toadying to bourgeois democracy”! The position denounced by Banda was actually held by the opponents of the SWP and Mandel in the leadership of the French PCI which, under the influence of Morrow, called for a “Yes” vote, on the opportunist grounds that the most powerful sections of the French bourgeoisie opposed the constitution, that the fight for its victory was a form of the class struggle, and that a democratic constitution was about the best the proletariat could hope for under the existing circumstances.
By 1946 Morrow had repudiated his previous criticisms of the German IKD, embraced their views on the “national question” and, in a speech delivered at the May 1946 plenum of the SWP, enthusiastically endorsed the referendum (as did Jock Haston, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Britain, one of Morrow’s principal international allies).
Morrow went so far as to state that if he were in France, he would split the party over the question of the referendum, prompting Cannon to reply, “Lenin would split for the sake of the revolution. Morrow and Goldman and Company would split for the constitution that would protect bourgeois property. This is an absolute betrayal of Marxism in the first place and a very poor issue for splitting in the second place.”
The second question was the defense of the USSR. Morrow proclaimed at that same plenum that the Fourth International must “recognize that all the reasons we gave for defending the Soviet Union have disappeared.”
Morrow’s performance at the plenum brought the inner-party struggle almost to its conclusion. Goldman was about to resign from the SWP to rejoin Shachtman. Morrow lingered a few months more before being expelled at the SWP Convention at the end of the year. But at the plenum, Morrow made it clear that there was nothing in the program and perspective with which he still agreed. Cannon, he announced, “used to scare me” but now he was no longer frightened and was not scared of facing up to the political failures of the Fourth International: “The Italian experience showed what had happened to our 1940 prognosis of a wave of proletarian revolution in the course of the war. Instead of the masses overthrowing fascism as we had expected, fascism was being overthrown by its imperialist opponents, not only in Italy but in Germany and occupied Europe as well.”
Morrow conveniently ignored the not inconsiderable role played by the Red Army in smashing fascism—an oversight facilitated by his Stalinophobic view that the Soviet troops were nothing more than the spearhead of counterrevolution. In his speech replying to Morrow at the SWP plenum, Cannon declared:
Now we can quit fighting about trivials and incidentals. [We can get down to the basic questions] upon which the existence of our movement depends. Listen to this. The perspective was false not only in Europe, and in Russia. The analysis was false. … The perspective and the analysis was common to all of us and its chief author, as you know, was Trotsky. And if the fundamental analysis of the epoch and the perspectives derived from it were false, then Trotskyism is no good and something different, a substitute for it, must be found. Isn’t that the conclusion?
The whole analysis was wrong. The perspective was wrong. The whole movement shared it, the movement educated and trained by Trotsky. Trotsky was the author of it and that is what he [Morrow] should say—that Trotskyism has failed the historical test. And that is what he would say if he were not scared. He is getting rid of his fears and phobias in stages—first the fear of Cannon and after that comes Trotsky. All opportunists go in stages and that is next. You will get rid of the phobia of Trotskyism in the not-too-distant future.
Cannon never had the opportunity to meet Michael Banda, but he would not have needed to read more than a few sentences of his “27 Reasons” to immediately recognize him as a member of the same political species as Felix Morrow. No wonder Banda would like to dismiss the struggle against the Goldman-Morrow tendency as merely an “alibi” and “diversion.”
One final point should be made on the fight against Goldman and Morrow. Banda is reluctant to discuss the implications of the struggle within the SWP for the development of the Trotskyist movement in Britain. He deftly avoids this question by claiming that “the British section played little or no role—merely echoing Cannon’s pragmatism in the case of Healy or swinging wildly between Trotskyism and state capitalism (in the case of Haston, Grant and Cliff).”
As a matter of fact, the British section played a major role in the internal struggle within the SWP. The majority of the RCP, led by Jock Haston, intervened repeatedly in support of Morrow and Goldman and functioned as their chief spokesman in Europe. While denouncing Mandel for a position that he did not hold, Banda hardly touches on the political line of Haston, whose unvarnished opportunism was graphically exposed in the debate over the referendum.
Haston introduced a resolution on the IEC which declared that the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and opposition to bourgeois state rule was merely a “general principle,” which could be modified according to the “flow of class forces.” In the case of the constitution, Haston argued that the defense of capitalist property was only the form of the conflict. The real content, he claimed, “was a showdown between the bourgeois reaction and the workers’ parties.”
Here we have an illustration of the pragmatic method which Haston glorified when he declared in a reply to the leader of the RCP minority, “ ‘It is precisely in the field of tactics that empirical adaptation is necessary. When Comrade Healy learns this he will raise his stature as a Marxist.’ ”
When Haston was hammered for this statement, it was not because he had been quoted out of context. His subordination of “general principles” to the “flow of class forces”—the method of “empirical adaptation” in the field of tactics—was a carbon copy of the procedure of Shachtman, who subordinated the “general principle” of the class nature of the state to what he called “the realities of living events.” It was no accident that Haston’s political degeneration followed the same pattern as Shachtman’s.
Healy’s emergence into the leadership of the Trotskyist movement in Britain was the outcome of the principled struggle he waged against Haston. Healy’s betrayals in the 1970s and 1980s do not detract from his positive achievements in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. In fact, we oppose Healy today precisely because we still defend the ideas and principles in which he once believed, but which he has now abandoned. It is, however, ironic that Healy’s political degeneration was bound up with his unabashed reversion to Haston’s view that “empirical adaptation” in tactics requires the subordination of “general principles” to the “flow of class forces.”
In the period which this chapter examines, Healy opposed Haston’s defense of Morrow’s line on bourgeois democracy and the Soviet Union. Moreover, Healy correctly fought for an entrist line in relation to the British Labour Party. In depicting this necessary tactical orientation as the “transformation of the Healy group into an adjunct of the Bevanite left,” Banda is simply regurgitating the old arguments thrown up by Haston, who soon deserted the Trotskyist movement and became an out-and-out anticommunist and a servant of the extreme right wing of the TUC bureaucracy!
SWP Internal Bulletin, vol. 5, no. 2, July 1943, pp. 4–5.
Ibid., pp. 21–22.
Leon Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism (London: New Park Publications, 1971), p. 94.
Fourth International, March 1946, p. 85.
Ibid., p. 86.
Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, pp. 218–19.
SWP Internal Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 3, February 1946, pp. 7–8.
SWP Internal Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 10, August 1946, p. 29.
SWP Internal Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 9, July 1946, p. 6.
James P. Cannon, The Struggle for Socialism in the “American Century”: James P. Cannon, Writings and Speeches, 1945–47, ed. Les Evans (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977), p. 243.
SWP Internal Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 8, July 1946, p. 28.
Ibid., p. 33
Cannon, Struggle for Socialism, pp. 226–27.
SWP Internal Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 1, January 1946, p. 4.