The ICFI Defends Trotskyism

Letter from Cliff Slaughter to David North

December 1983

Dear Comrade Dave,

The IC at its meeting on October 29 to 30 had to deal with a series of political and theoretical problems arising particularly from the reports of the German, Greek and United States sections.

The Greek comrades, having met with some initial successes in recruitment from the crisis-ridden Greek Stalinist forces, had to be pulled back sharply from a propagandist adaptation to this development.

At stake here was the conscious development of dialectical materialist analysis of every development revealed by practice, comprehending these developments as forms of appearance of the essential movement of the world revolutionary crisis; and from this comprehension arming the party’s cadres for an enriched practice in the class struggle.

The German section’s report shows the great dangers of a refusal consciously to develop the dialectical materialist method through the training of cadres to compare and analyze every new development as a manifestation of capitalism’s world crisis.

Instead, these comrades applied “Marxist” labels to the living developments, in order thereby to abstain from the necessary intervention. Such is the depth of the crisis that this retreat from the IC’s struggle for method and cadre-training now produces the crudest forms of economism and worship of spontaneity.

What is behind these problems, which, of course, we must expect to emerge in many forms and which require our attention, theoretical and practical. Their most general (universal) source, upon which all analysis is posited is the furious pace of development of the world crisis, always revealing new forms, and condemning to “tailism” all those who do not face it with the dialectical materialist approach to unity of theory and practice.

But, as was pointed out in the discussions in the International Committee, the crisis and its development take not only social, economic and political forms, but also ideological ones.

Every development of the class struggle brings new ideological reflections in the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, new “defenses” for the bourgeois order; and these are relayed into the working class, especially through the agency of the reformists, centrists and Stalinists.

The ideological pressure on the revolutionary party intensifies, creating the constant danger of opportunist and sectarian tendencies. As Trotsky insisted in In Defence of Marxism:

“In order not to give way under the pressure of bourgeois public opinion, and police repression, the proletarian revolutionist, a leader, all the more, requires a clear, far-sighted, completely thought-out world outlook. Only upon the basis of a unified Marxist conception is it possible to correctly approach ‘concrete’ questions.” (pp. 143-144) (My emphasis)

Now this brings us to the report which you made on the US section and the comments which I made then, followed by Comrade Banda’s remarks.

The ideological pressure to which I have referred has the effect of producing a scepticism about the possibility of achieving the great tasks before us with our numerically small forces.

This scepticism takes the form of paralysis before the everyday necessity of making changes in the party’s practice and the developments (sic) of the party’s cadres.

It is precisely at that level of struggle for change that the clear, far-sighted, completely thought-out world outlook” of dialectical materialism must overcome the resistance of the pressure of the bourgeois order.

And the most fundamental level at which this struggle for cadre-training must be understood and consciously, explicitly fought for, is the level of method, of the dialectical comprehension of the forms in which the essential development of the world crisis and the world revolution, including our own activity and its effects, takes place.

In Defence of Marxism is the record of Trotsky’s struggle to place these principled struggles at the base of the work of the movement.

My concern in the IC discussion was that your report showed the dangers that we are not holding fast to these very basic lessons of Trotsky’s last struggle and the whole struggle of the International Committee.

Your own heavy emphasis on the “political independence of the working class,” backed by a quotation from In Defence of Marxism, will become a weapon in the hands of all those who retain the mark of pragmatism, because it will be treasured by them as something more “concrete” than the explicit struggle to develop and comprehend the categories of dialectics as the method for that life-and-death matter of grasping the rapid and all-sided developments thrown up by the world crisis. We must be absolutely explicit and firm against all enemies, about where we stand on Trotsky’s conclusion about the struggle and the American party:

“Not all comrades possibly are content with the fact that I gave the predominant place in the discussion to the matter of dialectics. But I am sure that it is now the only way to begin the theoretical education of the party, especially of the youth, and to inject an aversion to empiricism and eclectics.” (p. 120) (My emphasis)

It is absolutely clear that the 1939-1940 struggle showed once again, that there is no “political independence of the working class,” without, as its principal presupposition, the struggle to make the dialectical materialist method victorious over empiricism, eclecticism and impressionism, the combination of which is uniquely achieved in American pragmatism, an accomplished form of subjective idealism.

My aim in writing these things is to make as clear as possible the issue which was raised at the IC meeting. It is a continuation, at a much more developed stage of the revolutionary crisis, of the point made in my letter to you in April this year. There I drew your attention to a Bulletin editorial, in which Marx’s dialectical materialism was characterized as a direct continuation of earlier materialist philosophy, thus excluding the crucial contribution of the dialectical method contained in Hegel’s objective idealist philosophy.

In other words, we had Marxist philosophy presented in a manner doctored to meet the requirements of American pragmatism.

As your reply (July 21) pointed out, the fact that such a mistake could appear, despite the unceasing struggle of the IC’s educational work for many years against exactly this misconception, was “not without significance.” “We still have a lot of hard work to do against pragmatism in the United States.” Now this “hard work” is continuous, in-ceasing (sic) and never completed, of course.

The concern which I and other comrades had at the October 1983 IC meeting, was that you concentrated on matters of program to the exclusion of an explicit treatment of the struggle for the dialectical method in the day-to-day fight with the party cadres, and that this can only bring dangerous letting-цр in the conscious struggle against propagandism.

This pragmatism, and its persistence against the achievements of a fully-worked out Marxist world outlook, is the most fundamental level at which bourgeois ideology fights our party from within, and must be explicitly combat-ted, above all by the daily struggle to develop the dialectical method in cadre-training.

In this way, the theoretical problems revealed in discussion in other sections’ reports are repeated in forms characteristic of the class struggle and ideological history of the United States.

Comrade Banda then raised the question of the Bulletin’s headline (Friday, October 28, 1983): “Reagan is a Liar.” We are obliged, of course, to fight consciously against every new form of pressure of bourgeois public opinion, mediated by the petty-bourgeois ideologists, that you replied to Comrade Banda that the Workers League Political Committee Statement on the Grenadian invasion (on the inside pages of the same issue) did indeed take a firm defeatist line.

As for the front-page lead, this had waited for Reagan’s TV speech and been written, including the headline, in reply.

This does not, of course, alter in any way the fact that the essential class line of the party must predominate and be carried on the front page. “Reagan is a Liar” is a propaganda response which actually does not differentiate us from all sorts of centrist and petty-bourgeois tendencies—emphasis on “political independence of the working class” notwithstanding.

To the extent that there is any letup—the day-to-day fight to comprehend dialectically all the new manifestations of the world crisis and of the pressure of the class enemy—to the extent that there is danger of our independent revolutionary line being lost, even if that happens through the mechanism of pulling back into a journalistic routine.

The fact that you had to be somewhere else and leave the job to someone else does not affect the argument.

After all, you were in the same position when another comrade in the leadership wrote the Bulletin editorial of April, and, as you yourself said then: “This is neither an excuse nor a justification for the editorial, but an explanation of how the editorial was written. Of course, it is in terms of crisis that the problems of the cadre are revealed most clearly...” Precisely.

This brings me to the final point. The statement of the Political Committee on Grenada is in fact by no means as explicit as you had thought. I am not raising this here as a matter for political dispute, but in order to direct your attention to the implications of all this, these theoretical questions which have been raised here. The PC statement “calls on the entire American labor movement to fight for the withdrawal of all US troops from that island (Grenada).”

This is of course correct, though it does not by itself differentiate our line from that of many who will say, “Bring our boys home!”

Your only direct reference to the defeat of US imperialism in this war is in Point 9: “US imperialism’s naked aggression in Grenada and throughout the world cannot be defeated through protest, but only through mobilizing the strength of the working class in struggle against the capitalist system.” There follows, again, the correct demand for immediate withdrawal of all US forces in Grenada.

What is needed here is a clear statement and brief explanation of the fact that the struggle of the workers in the US (and other advanced capitalist countries) and of the colonial and ex-colonial peoples is one, and that a defeat for US imperialist forces in Grenada would be a victory for the American working class and workers everywhere, making it clear that we are for unconditional support even of the military clique in power in Grenada.

This is not of course opposed in your resolution, but it is not clearly stated and emphasized. And it is not correct to say: “The main target of the policy of global counterrevolution is the enormous power of the American labor movement.”

It is not a question of the “main target” at all. There is a tinge, here, of reservation about the anti-imperialist content of the colonial revolution, a tinge of reservation about the unity of the proletarian revolution in the advanced capitalist countries and the colonial-national liberation movements.

It is correct in general to insist, as your resolution’s concluding section does, that “The central issue facing the American working class is the necessity to establish its political independence through the formation of a Labor Party, and the struggle for a workers’ government committed to abolishing the capitalist system and establishing socialism.”

Yes, but the road right now, to “establishing the political independence of the American working class” is by recognising that the “central issue” is to fight for the defeat of the US imperialist invasion of Grenada and its coming attack in Nicaragua.

That is what is established by a dialectical cognition of the crisis’ latest manifestations and the consequent Party tasks. Grenada and Lebanon are real developments and must be comprehended as the suddenly rapidly developing drive to war and US imperialism’s “global responsibilities.”

It is not the same as referring to the Grenadian issue as the “central task of establishing the political independence of the working class.”

Your PC statement in the Bulletin (for Tuesday, November 1, which I saw after writing this) does correct the formulation.

The two issues in the discussion are the issue of the dialectical method in training the cadres, and the issue of our line on the Grenadian invasion—are connected after all. The concentration on dialectical method and the great questions of program, strategy and tactics cannot be separated. Their unity is constituted by the cadre training of the revolutionary party.

“Without an extensive and generalized dialectical comprehension of the present epoch as an epoch of abrupt turns, a real education of the parties, a correct strategical leadership of the class struggle, a correct combination of tactics, and above all, a sharp and bold and decisive re-arming at each successive breaking-point of the situation are impossible. And it is just at such an abrupt breaking-point that two or three days sometimes decide the fate of the international revolution.” (The Third International After Lenin, p. 65)