The ICFI Defends Trotskyism

Michael Banda: A Political Obituary

Bulletin article by David North

March 7, 1986

The news that the Lanka Sama Samaja Party of Sri Lanka (LSSP) has invited Michael Banda to rejoin its ranks and that the WRP general secretary is discussing the matter with Colvin Da Silva is a development which, though it can come as no surprise to those who have followed the crisis within the Workers Revolutionary Party and have read Banda’s recent denunciation of the International Committee, is an event of considerable political importance.

After 38 years in the Trotskyist movement, during which he played a decisive role in the struggle against revisionism, Banda has decisively capitulated to his life-long enemies.

He was, to his great credit, among the first who detected the revisionist implications of the 1951 Third World Congress perspectives—which, by 1953, assumed the practical form of an open organizational attack upon the very existence of the Fourth International.

Only 23 years of age, Banda threw himself body and soul into the battle against the Pabloite traitors who, functioning as a pro-Stalinist fifth column, sought to completely liquidate the sections of the Fourth International into the local Communist Parties.

Though the LSSP professed opposition to the liquidationist perspective of Pablo, it refused to endorse the “Open Letter” written by James P. Cannon, calling upon the cadres of the Fourth International to repudiate and defeat the revisionists.

Its leaders, Leslie Goonewardene and Colvin Da Silva, came out against the formation of the International Committee, organized at the initiative of Cannon to defend orthodox Trotskyism against Pabloism.

As Banda was to explain many times in the years to come, the attitude of the LSSP toward the struggle against Pabloism stemmed from an organic nationalism and political centrism that was to lead inexorably to the great betrayal of 1964—the decision of the LSSP to enter a bourgeois coalition government.

It is now obvious that the recent document submitted by Banda—“27 Reasons Why the IC Should Be Buried”—is nothing more than a cynical justification for his abandonment of Trotskyism and re-entry into the LSSP.

His politically bankrupt and utterly dishonest denunciation of the “Open Letter” and the founding of the International Committee is a belated and pathetic apology for the duplicitous role played by the LSSP while the Fourth International was engaged in a life-and-death battle against Pabloism, a struggle which posed to the world Trotskyist movement the decisive question: “To be or not to be?”

Since 1964 the betrayal of the LSSP—the first party calling itself Trotskyist to enter a bourgeois government—has served as the historical demonstration of the implications of Pabloite revisionism. (In the accompanying analysis which appears on these pages, Comrade K. Balasuriya of the Revolutionary Communist League of Sri Lanka explains very well the political background and outcome of this betrayal.)

In approaching the LSSP, Banda gives notice that he, too, is in the process of crossing class lines and aligning himself with the capitalist state against the working class. It flows from the political logic of this development that Banda should suddenly repudiate—without any previous explanation—Security and the Fourth International and defend Hansen’s cover-up of Stalinist provocations against the Trotskyist movement and his secret collaboration with the FBI. Naturally, the SWP publishes Banda’s attack on the International Committee and his defense of Hansen in the latest edition of its Intercontinental Press.

But the significance of Banda’s renegacy extends beyond his personal fate. In the course of the last eight months, the International Committee has witnessed the political disintegration of what had for many years constituted the central leadership of its oldest section, the Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain.

All three political leaders who had been most identified with the historic struggle against Pabloite revisionism—Banda, Gerry Healy and Cliff Slaughter—have broken with the International Committee of the Fourth International.

However intense their subjective hatred of one another, it is politically undeniable that all of them have broken with the principles upon which the Fourth International was founded in 1938. Whatever tactical differences they have, all of them have gone over to the Pabloite perspectives.

No matter how Healy tries to pass himself off as a sort of “historic leader for life,” he now bases himself upon a coterie of unstable middle-class radicals whose political loyalties are based largely on personal considerations. And no matter how many articles he commissions defending his intuitive “practice of cognition,” the fact is that Healy was absolutely blind to the monstrous growth of revisionism within his own central leadership.

Between 1982 and 1984, the Workers League raised directly with him and on the International Committee the danger that the WRP was adopting clearly revisionist positions.

In a letter to Banda, dated January 23, 1984, the Workers League stated, “We are deeply troubled by the growing signs of a political drift toward positions quite similar—both in conclusions and methodology—to those which we have historically associated with Pabloism.” Warning that this drift “will produce political disasters within the sections,” the Workers League called for “a renewal of our struggle against Pabloite revisionism—above all, against the manifestations of its outlook within our own sections.”

Healy’s response was to threaten the Workers League with an immediate split, and in this he was fully supported by Banda and Slaughter. All the political developments which have since transpired prove that underlying these unprincipled relations within the WRP leadership was a common opposition to Trotskyism—above all, its concept of proletarian internationalism and the program of permament revolution.

The factional bitterness of the present on-going dispute between Healy on the one hand and Slaughter-Banda on the other does not imply the existence of principled differences between them. Healy himself once described a similar situation inside the Socialist Workers Party, during the period preceding its reunification with the Pabloites:

“It was equally clear from the informal discussion with Dobbs that the SWP was being torn asunder by an internal crisis which on the surface appeared to center around organizational issues.

“Its failure to clarify the reasons for the Pablo split now meant that a number of factions inside the party were blindly fighting against each other, without the political issues being clear.

“The one thing that did emerge from all this squabbling was the right-wing revisionist orientation of all the factions.

“Cannon did nothing to clear up this political mess; he simply intensified it.”

For more than a decade the line of the WRP was characterized by what Trotsky once called “right-centrist down-sliding.” The essence of this centrist downsliding was a fundamental loss of political confidence in the revolutionary role of the working class, internationally and in Britain.

This tendency gathered strength with the return of Social Democracy to power in 1974 and then with the victory of the Tories in 1979. The objective source of this downsliding was the pressure of imperialism upon the Trotskyist movement.

One by one, the WRP abandoned positions which the International Committee had conquered in the struggle against Pabloism. In the name of immediate tactical gains in Britain (“the movement is everything”) the strategic perspective of the Trotskyist movement, the building of the World Party to lead the socialist revolution, was abandoned (“the final goal is nothing”). Political differences which emerged in the WRP leadership on fundamental questions of international revolutionary strategy were swept under the rug.

In fact, there does not exist a single document that would indicate the existence of a single political difference within the WRP leadership during the past decade. The leadership had become a clique, subordinating principles to personal relations.

The Marxist science of political perspective was replaced with pragmatic intuition. Relations of the most opportunist character—with bourgeois nationalists, left talkers in the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy—were developed.

Healy, Banda and Slaughter are part of a broad liquidationist tendency that is apparent to anyone who seriously examines the present development of all those organizations which claim affiliation to the Fourth International.

On the last day of 1982, Jack Barnes, national secretary of the revisionist Socialist Workers Party and protege of Joseph Hansen, outlined the real perspective of this emerging liquidationist tendency. He said that within a decade no one will call themselves a Trotskyist!

Healy was not prepared to say that, but by 1983 there was very little to distinguish the political line of the WRP from that of the Pabloites on the most fundamental questions.

The extreme right-wing orientation of the Banda-Slaughter renegades of the WRP—toward regroupment with Stalinists, revisionists and radicals—was nurtured under Healy’s leadership.

As for the Healy-led faction of the WRP, its daily News Line epitomizes liquidationism. It is a newspaper without a party, functioning largely as a publicity organ for sections of the trade union bureaucracy.

Healy’s opportunism has now reached the point of a thorough-going hatred of Trotskyist principles. Hence he denounces the author of this article as “a genuine sectarian propagandist of the purest water, a man to whom numbers of members is irrelevant.”

Healy, like Banda, has come full circle. He now levels against his Trotskyist opponents the same slander of “ultra-left sectarianism” that were hurled against him by Hansen and the SWP Pabloites 25 years ago. He considers it the chief crime of the Workers League that “The most vital question is to maintain doctrinal purity,” which, according to Healy, is “possible only in the smallest discussion group ...”(News Line, February 15, 1986)

This comment simply exposes Healy’s political cynicism and lack of confidence in Trotskyism. He long has ceased to believe in the power of revolutionary ideas and their ability to win the undying allegiance of the working class. For a revolutionist, this is a politically fatal position.

At any rate, we are willing to accept the “charge” that during the struggles of the last eight months, the Workers League has fought under the banner of “doctrinal purity.” As for “numbers,” we have seen the real political character of Healy’s “cadre.” His own Political Committee—consisting entirely of individuals selected by himself—degenerated into a squalid hotbed of gross opportunism. And Healy’s political protege, his successor as general secretary, is on the verge of joining a party of the capitalist state!

Only those members of the Workers Revolutionary Party that stood with the International Committee and formed the WRP (Internationalist) represent the historic principles of Trotskyism.

The struggle waged by the International Committee against Healy, Banda and Slaughter has been completely vindicated. It has successfully defended the political principles embodied in the fight against Pabloism in 1953 and again in 1961-64.

Now it must strive to assimilate all the lessons of this struggle, develop its world perspective, and consolidate the victory of Trotskyism over the petty-bourgeois liquidationist tendency.