Herein lies the significance of the struggle that has been waged by the International Committee since 1985 against the ex-leaders of the Trotskyist movement in Britain, the renegades Healy, Banda and Slaughter. The split with the Workers Revolutionary Party heralded a renewal of the struggle against Pabloite opportunism by the International Committee, and thus has created the conditions for the resolution of the protracted crisis inside the Fourth International which began with the Third World Congress of 1951.
Despite the fight which the Socialist Labour League (renamed the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1973) had led against the reunification of 1963 and its defense of the International Committee, the SLL/WRP’s political line assumed an increasingly nationalist and opportunist character from the late 1960s on. Retreating from the international struggle against Pabloite opportunism, the SLL/WRP came to see the building of the International Committee as subordinate to the construction of the revolutionary party in Britain. The priority given to national tasks reflected an opportunist adaptation to definite national pressures. An event of the magnitude of May-June 1968 was assessed principally from the standpoint of its practical implications for the work in Britain (i.e., establishing the need for a daily newspaper) rather than as a strategic experience of the international proletariat requiring an exhaustive analysis of the role played by all the tendencies in the workers’ movement.
This retreat was bound up with the development of Pabloite tendencies within the SLL leadership. By 1967, Banda was hailing Ho Chi Minh as the political reincarnation of Lenin, unconditionally supporting the Red Guard movement in China, and advocating the subordination of the Egyptian working class to the bourgeois nationalist regime of Nasser. Rather than confronting these attacks on the principles of Trotskyism, Healy and Slaughter developed the position that questions of program were of only minor importance in the revolutionary movement. More important than the development of the Trotskyist program was, according to the SLL/WRP leaders, the fight against “propagandism” and “idealist ways of thinking.”
This conception, advanced with increasing stridency by the SLL/WRP leaders from 1971 on, claimed that the central danger confronting the Fourth International was political isolation. Moreover, Healy, Banda and Slaughter asserted that the cause of this isolation was dogmatic adherence to Trotskyist principles, which, they claimed, “actually served as a barrier to the real understanding of the unity of theory and practice.” It “rationalized a propaganda existence” and “had never been called upon to guide a really revolutionary practice.... “ Instead, it “now provided a screen of formal agreement to obstruct change, to obstruct understanding of the living movement of the class struggle.”
The position that the greatest danger facing the Fourth International was isolation led to the conclusion that it was necessary to break with the principles and program of the Fourth International. As far back as 1972, Slaughter had asked skeptically whether “revolutionary parties, able to lead the working class to power and the building of socialism, can be built simply by bringing the program of Trotskyism, the existing forces of Trotskyism, on to the scene of political developments caused by the crisis?” His answer was an emphatic no. In 1979, in a manifesto written by Banda and then issued in the name of the International Committee, the WRP asserted, “Cadres must be trained who will not place propaganda labels on the developments of the class struggle, thereby obscuring and preventing any real abstraction of its essence, but who will instead develop a fighting sensuous awareness of what the developing revolutionary reality demands.”
What the WRP opportunists disparaged as “placing propaganda labels on the developments of the class struggle” was the traditional Marxist method of judging all political tendencies and movements on the basis of the social forces they represent. Only in this way can the independent strategic and tactical lines of the working class be determined. The Healyite opportunist faction inside the ICFI, on the other hand, wanted to be able to decide “what the developing revolutionary reality demands” without reference to the historical experiences of the proletariat and the international Marxist movement.
This was the basis of all the betrayals carried out by the WRP leaders in the decade leading up to the split of 1985-86: the repudiation of the theory of permanent revolution and the collaboration with bourgeois nationalist regimes in the Middle East and Africa; the capitulation to the trade union and Labour Party bureaucracy in Britain; and the systematic efforts to destroy the sections of the International Committee. For an extended period, the WRP leaders sought to block any Marxist assessment of the strategic experiences of the world proletariat by proclaiming that the chief characteristic of the present epoch was the existence of “the undefeated working class.” With this glib phrase, the WRP opportunists liquidated the crisis of revolutionary leadership in the proletariat and replaced it with an abstract and complacent conception of the class struggle. Every episode of the class struggle, regardless of its outcome, was trumpeted as an example of the “undefeated working class.” In fact, this “theory” served to justify and cover up for the crimes of the Stalinists, social democrats, bourgeois nationalists and petty-bourgeois radicals, while minimizing the independent responsibilities of the Marxist vanguard.
Since the split between the International Committee and the WRP opportunists in 1985-86, all factions of the renegades have broken completely with Trotskyism. Healy has proclaimed himself a supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev and was invited to Moscow by the bureaucracy to join in its “celebrations” of the seventieth anniversary of the October Revolution. His associates in Greece, led by Savas Michael, have combined glorification of Gorbachev with direct participation in local popular front politics with the Stalinists. Banda, shortly after writing a public denunciation of the International Committee that was published by the WRP as a pretext for rejecting the political authority of the ICFI, broke with the WRP, denounced Trotsky and Trotskyism, and proclaimed himself a fervent admirer of Joseph Stalin. As for what remains of the WRP, which is presently led by Slaughter, it immediately sought to enter into relations with the Morenoites, the oldest and most discredited practitioners of class collaboration among all the Pabloite groups.
The events which have transpired since the split of 1985-86 demonstrate again the profound relationship between the struggle against opportunism within the revolutionary movement and the historical development of the class struggle itself. The split was the product of the struggle of objective class forces that were reflected within the International Committee itself. Just as the Fourth International founded by Trotsky in 1938 had ceased to be, under the pressure of events, a homogeneous political organization by 1953, the International Committee, which had been defended by the SLL in 1963 against the degeneration of the American SWP, had become by 1985 thoroughly polarized between irreconcilable class tendencies. A substantial section of the International Committee was able to oppose the betrayals of the British opportunists precisely because it based itself on the ICFI’s long heritage of struggle against petty-bourgeois opportunism. For this reason, the split, while it doomed the WRP, vastly strengthened the International Committee and has led to a veritable renaissance of Marxist theory.
In carrying through the struggle against the WRP renegades, the International Committee has reaffirmed the fundamental truth that the greatest danger to the Fourth International is not “propagandism,” but opportunism. Whereas the former trait, i.e., an inclination toward an excessively abstract exposition of program, is a weakness that can be overcome through education and experience in the mass movement, the latter is a definite political tendency, rooted in powerful social forces, which reflects the pressure of imperialism upon the working class and the revolutionary vanguard. While the party adopts a patient though not indulgent attitude toward comrades inclined toward propagandism, its attitude toward every manifestation of opportunism is one of implacable hostility.
The 1985-86 split is, without any question, a historical milestone in the development of the Fourth International. It is the culmination of the protracted struggle that has been waged by the Trotskyist movement against Pabloite opportunism since the founding of the International Committee in 1953. The long period of disunity and confusion created by Pabloite opportunism is coming to a close. The conditions have been created for the consolidation of all genuine Trotskyists, that is, revolutionary Marxists, from all over the world under the banner of the International Committee.