Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
How the WRP Betrayed Trotskyism

The Idealist Distortion of Materialist Dialectics

Given the immense role which it came to play inside the Workers Revolutionary Party and the International Committee, it would not be possible to adequately trace the political degeneration of the WRP without referring to the gross distortion of scientific materialist dialectics by the leadership of the British section. The defense of a correct philosophical method, upon which Trotsky had insisted in his great struggle against Burnham and Shachtman in 1939-40, had been correctly developed by the Socialist Labour League in its fight against the revisionism of the American Socialist Workers Party. In the tradition of Trotsky, the SLL demonstrated the inner connection between the political and class line of Hansen and his pragmatic method, most clearly expressed in his definition of dialectical materialism as “empiricism consistently carried out.” The International Committee’s critique of the SWP’s objectivist method and the examination of its connection to a whole series of fundamental revisions of Marxism, especially on the role of the conscious factor in the revolutionary process, was concretely illustrated in an exhaustive analysis of the whole political line of the SWP and its Pabloite allies in Europe.

In subsequent years, however, the SLL moved increasingly toward the view that in as much as all revisionism is related to an incorrect theory of knowledge, the actual analysis of the political forms through which revisionism is manifested was no longer necessary. On this basis, it was possible to justify splits within the Fourth International on the basis of disputes over questions of epistemology, without the clarification of political differences. This idealist view was propounded by Slaughter in 1971-72 in the course of the struggle against the OCI (which had wrongly denied that dialectical materialism is the theory of knowledge of Marxism) and was enthusiastically seized upon by Healy. A whole new basis for the political and theoretical life of the International Committee was created, in which all questions relating to program and principle were seen as “inessential” forms of the more “fundamental” problems of dialectical cognition. This rejection of the unified and inter-connected character of what Lenin had referred to as the three component parts of Marxism—based on German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism—inevitably, under the pressure of class forces, opened the door for the worst sort of theoretical charlatanry. Especially after the opening of the College of Marxist Miseducation in 1975, at the very point when the political crisis within the WRP was developing with extreme rapidity, the utterly onesided and abstract (in the bad sense of the word) study of “the moments of cognition” became a means of justifying a revisionist line.

The systematic study of any of the political, historical and economic works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky was brought to an end inside the WRP by 1977. All work to develop the political heritage of the ICFI’s struggle against Pabloite revisionism was likewise abandoned by the WRP. This was inseparable from Healy’s “theoretical” views, which held that all knowledge was purely relative and that references, in the course of political discussion, to the great Marxist classics, amounted to “imposing thought images on the external world.” In the course of an unrelenting assault on historical materialism, Healy hammered out a “philosophical method” that added up to a thorough-going defense of unprincipled politics.

In reality, Healy’s method was a gross distortion of scientific dialectics which betrayed a complete lack of understanding of either the philosophical work of Hegel or Marx. The actual content of Healy’s “theory of knowledge”—which claimed to trace the dialectical transition from individual sense perception to abstract thought and practice—amounted to nothing more than a glorification of the individual process through which he translated his own pragmatic intuition into various party activities. An auto-didact in the worst sense of the word, Healy came to believe that the memorization of a few Hegelian categories in proper sequence provided a master-key to universal knowledge. A serious study of Trotskyism, political economy, the history of the workers’ movement and, last but not least, the historical origin and development of philosophical concepts could be replaced with a few “juggled phrases.”

In June 1980, under the cover of introducing a new and eccentric branch agenda, Healy sought to establish a constitutional foundation for pragmatic impressionism in the day-to-day political work of the WRP. This was clearly outlined in a letter to all branch secretaries, written on June 14, 1980, by Healy,

“The aim of the Agenda is to re-organize the work of our branches so that in the course of the meetings, theory emerges as a guide to practice. In other words the dialectical method is manifested in the way our practice is carried out.

“The purpose is to train comrades in what is best described as the unconscious use of the dialectical method, just as one performs many skills and activities without necessarily being conscious that one is doing so,” (Emphasis added) In other words, Healy had discovered that one could act as a Marxist without being conscious of it—some 20 years after the great American pragmatist Joseph Hansen had proclaimed this discovery to the world. In fact, Healy was now propagating the very same views that Trotsky had indignantly denounced in 1940. Replying to Burn ham, Trotsky wrote:

“In the attorney’s plea of Shachtman to the effect that you are an unconscious dialectician,’ the stress must be laid on the word unconscious. Shachtman’s aim (also partly unconscious) is to defend his bloc with you by degrading dialectical materialism. For in reality. Shachtman is saying: The difference between a ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ dialectician is not so great that one must quarre! about it. Shachtman thus attempts to discredit the Marxist method.” (In Defense of Marxism, New Park, p. 107)

Like Gogol’s hero who was constantly amazed to discover that letters combine to form words, Healy informed his bewildered members:

“Consciousness of theoretical abstractions comes later when we begin to think and analyze what we have been doing.”

How would this discovery assist a Party member obliged to analyze a complex development in the political situation—such as the declaration of self-determination by Turks on the island of Cyprus, the permissibility or impermissibility of providing critical support to bourgeois nationalists, or, to provide an example from contemporary events, the signing of the Anglo-Irish deal. For such developments, do we need “consciousness of theoretical abstractions” before or after we complete our analysis and decide what we should do? The answer to this question was given by Engels long ago when he wrote that “the art of working with concepts is not inborn and also is not given with ordinary everyday consciousness, but requires real thought, and that this thought similarly has a long empirical history..” (Anti-D�hring)

Healy went on to provide a homeopathetic depiction of the phenomenology of thought that closely resembled what some American pragmatists have described as the “ink-blot” theory of knowledge: “Consciousness is in brief a subjective form manifesting the relations that are materialized through our activity. It arises from the transition of new and as yet undetermined thought phenomena passing through perception in transition into abstract knowledge which we already possess, thereby, becoming determinate. The new, disturbs the old, and sets in motion the abstract theoretical process which will guide our practice. This sometimes happens so quickly, that unless we learn to think about what we are doing as soon as possible after we have done it, much valuable knowledge can be lost.”

For the operation of this profound process, any mind will do—and not only that of a human being. As Trotsky observed: “On sighting a hare, a rabbit, or a hen, a fox concludes: this particular creature belongs to a tasty and nutritive type, and—chases after the prey. We have here a complete syllogism, although a fox, we may suppose, never read Aristotle. When the same fox, however, encounters the first animal which exceeds it in size [setting ‘into motion the abstract theoretical process”], for example, a wolf [an “as yet undetermined thought phenomena passing through transition into abstract knowledge...disturbs the old), it quickly concludes that quantity passes into quality, and turns to flee.” [“This sometimes happens so quickly” that the fox does not have time to realize that he is an expert in Healy’s practice of cognition.]

Healy’s political aim was to deaden the theoretical convictions of the WRP cadre and to transform them into unconscious activists who towed the opportunist line worked out on the Political Committee of the WRP. He deliberately inculcated a contemptuous attitude toward genuine Marxism. The political traditions of Trotskyism—its careful study of all political phenomena and their thorough discussion throughout the Party—was derided as the fatal flaw of “propaganda groups.”

In January 1982 Healy used the occasion of the 58th anniversary of Lenin’s death to flaunt his contempt for Trotskyism. In a 16-page pamphlet purporting to be an analysis of the legacy of Leninism, Healy made not a single reference to Leon Trotsky, Trotskyism and the Fourth International—until the final sentence when he noted, as an afterthought, that Trotskyists are the best Leninists. But, in an implicit attack on the Trotskyist movement, Healy claimed that Stalinism “has placed the Leninists of today far behind an understanding of his theoretical achievements and the revolutionary practices which flowed from them.” (Leninism 58 Years On, New Park, p. 1) This statement essentially wiped out the theoretical contribution made by Trotsky to the development of Marxism after the death of Lenin.

Significantly, Healy identified the continuity of Lenin’s work not with Trotsky and the Left Opposition but with “the enormous advances in physics since Lenin died.” (Ibid., p. 10) Healy singled out the year of Lenin’s death—1924—not to note that it marked the emergence of the Bukharin-Stalin “theory” of socialism in a single country and the beginning of the Left Opposition’s struggle against it, but to point out in a gaudy display of erudition that “It was in that year that the physicist Louis de Broglie laid the foundations of quantum mechanics (quantum theory) which studies the motion of small-scale particles.” (Ibid.)

This shift from politics to physics (Of which Healy knew next to nothing) as the axis of dialectical materialism within the revolutionary party was inseparably linked with the repudiation of Trotskyism by the WRP leadership. The basic texts upon which Healy now relied in the preparation for his lectures were supplied by the Soviet academics, who have been engaged in a futile attempt to transform Lenin into a state philosopher. (The significance of the contributions of various Soviet philosophers such as T. Oizerman and E. V. Ilyenkov merits serious and careful discussion within the Trotskyist movement. This would require a review of the history of Soviet philosophy since the suppression of the Mechanists and the Deborinists in the late 1920’s. Let us merely note at this time that such questions were never even broached by Healy.)

In early 1982 a member of the WRP, Chris Talbot, wrote a review in a WRP publication which criticized a book entitled Dialectics in Modern Physics by the Soviet philosopher Omelyanovsky. This occasioned a scathing response from Healy, defending Omelyanovsky against the criticisms of Talbot, who happens to be a professional mathematician. Not since Stalin denounced Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony (“muddle instead of music”) had a politician made such an unwarranted intrusion into a field outside his area of competence. Healy’s reply, which was presented as a major contribution to the pending WRP Sixth Congress, was significant not merely because it demonstrated his penchant to write about things of which he knew nothing at all. More importantly, it provided an insight into Healy’s political orientation and the underlying significance of his dialectical arabesques.

As Mao used ping-pong as a means of opening the door to the United States, Healy was attempting to use physics as a bait to open relations with the Stalinists and other counterrevolutionary forces. He flattered the Stalinists with the bogus claim that “Soviet scientists and physicists have, despite Stalinism, kept the lead, thanks to the nationalized property relations in the USSR” (Internal Bulletin No, 1, May 25, 1982, p. 3). This assertion could not be made by anyone who possessed a serious knowledge of the present state of physics. Moreover, to attribute this imagined preeminence to the existence of nationalized property relations in the USSR was to seriously depart from the analysis of the cultural and intellectual development of the USSR made by Trotsky.

Healy’s document revealed an even more insidious objective. Deliberately distorting the famous article written by Lenin in 1922, On the Significance of Militant Materialism, Healy attempted to make the case that without an alliance “with ‘non-communists,’ scientists and others, such as those interested in the materialist interpretation of Hegelian dialectics, a victorious revolution would not be possible.” (Ibid, p. 1)

Lenin was writing quite specifically about the tasks of “successful communist construction” inside the Soviet Union after the victory of the Bolshevik revolution. As is well-known, Lenin placed even well-known ex-Mensheviks (as long as they were prepared to accept Soviet power), such as Axelrod, in important state academic posts. Moreover, he stressed the need to gather all the forces at the command of the Soviet state to vanquish the legacy of cultural backwardness in the USSR. The article goes on to define quite clearly the tasks Lenin had in mind.

Healy’s article, with its deliberately obscure wording, implied that a political and theoretical alliance with “non-communists”—including Stalinists and God knows who else—is necessary for the victory of the socialist revolution. Thus, the attack on Talbot was clearly a political justification for the class-collaborationist line of the WRP.