Letter to the OCRFI and the OCI

from Spartacist No. 22, Winter 1973-74
15 January 1973

Organizing Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International; and Organisation Communiste Internationaliste

Dear Comrades,

At the Third National Conference of the Spartacist League/U.S. we held a major discussion on the Organizing Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International (OCRFI), based on our translations from the October 1972 issue of La Correspondance Internationale containing the basic documents and discussion from your international conference of July 1972. We were also guided by the reports of our comrades Sharpe and Foster of their discussions last summer with comrade DeM. of the OCI.

We give serious attention to the OCRFI because we note that some of the steps that it has undertaken go in the direction of resolving the impasse which has existed between the SL/U.S. and the International Committee (IC) since November 1962, and the acute hostility between us after the April 1966 IC Conference in London. We are in agreement with the stated goal of the OCRFI to fight on the program of the Fourth International to reconstruct a democratic-centralist world party, and to pursue this aim at present through a regulated political discussion in an international discussion bulletin culminating in an international conference. We note that toward this end your July conference did indeed represent a break with the federated bloc practice of the former IC and was indeed marked by a real and vigorous discussion such as was absent from the Third Conference of the IC in London in 1966. Thus it appears to us that on the face of it the OCRFI does possess one of the essential qualities necessary for the struggle to verify the authentic Trotskyist program and to measure by that program the political practice, in its development, of national groups participating in the discussion. Therefore the SL/U.S. have come to the conclusion that it is part of our duty as internationalists to seek to participate in this discussion.

We note that we fully meet the formal requirement for admission to participation in your discussion process as stated in the resolution, "On the Tasks of the Reconstruction of the Fourth International," i.e., we "state [our] will to fight on the program of the Fourth International to reconstruct the leading center, which [we] agree does not yet exist." (see our 1963 resolution, "Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International," and later documents). We are unable to request more than simple admission to the discussion, rather than admission to the Organizing Committee of the discussion, because of our programmatic differences, unclarities about or simple unfamiliarity with views held by members of the Organizing Committee. Since the Organizing Committee also intends to work toward the construction of national sections of the Fourth International, we can hardly participate in such activities given this programmatic ambiguity.

In our view, the preliminary purpose of a discussion such as that envisaged by the OCRFI must be to crystallize a series of decisive specific programmatic demands analogous to the concrete points defining revolutionary Marxist principle set forth by Trotsky in the 1929-33 period as the basis for rallying forces from the scattered and politically diverse milieu of oppositional communists.

Therefore we should like to list some of the issues which appear to us to pose differences or central ambiguities between our views and those expressed by the OCRFI or which have been advanced by the OCI. The importance that we attach to these points is that if unresolved they threaten the crystallization of a bona fide and disciplined Trotskyist world movement and center. Therefore from our present understanding these are topics which merit particular discussion.

(1) United Front: We differ with the conception of the "strategic united front" as practiced by the OCI and as set forth in "For the Reconstruction of the Fourth International" (especially Section IX, "Fight for Power, Class United Front, Revolutionary Parties") in La Verité No. 545, October 1969 and in the general political resolution of the OCRFI. In terms of the OCI’s work in France, our position has been elaborated in Workers Vanguard No. 11, September 1972. We believe that we share with the first four Congresses of the Communist International the view that the united front is essentially a tactic used by revolutionists "to set the base against the top" under those exceptional conditions and decisive opportunities in which the course of proletarian political life has flowed outside its normal channels. Comrade Trotsky heavily elaborated on this conception over the German crisis of 1929-33 and also in his discussions with SWP leaders in 1940 regarding an approach by the SWP to the Communist Party U.S.A.

The united front is nothing more than a means, a tactic, by which the revolutionary party, i.e. its program and authority, can in times of crisis mobilize and then win over masses (at that time supporters of other parties) by means of concrete demands for common action made to the reformist organizations. Any other interpretation must base itself on a supposed latent revolutionary vanguard capacity within the reformist or Stalinist parties themselves--a central proposition of Pabloism.

The aim of the united front must be to embed the revolutionary program in the masses. In the same way, in the highest expression of the united front, the soviets, the condition for their conquest of power is the ascendancy of the revolutionary program. Any form of fetishism toward the mere form of united fronts or soviets (or for that matter toward trade unions or factory committees) means abdicating as revolutionists, because at bottom it is the dissolution of the vanguard party into the class through the substitution of such forms (and other politics!) for the role of the revolutionary party. This is not Leninism but at best a variant of Luxemburgism. One of Lenin’s greatest achievements in counterposing the revolutionary vanguard to the reformists was to transcend the Kautskyian conception of "the party of the whole class." To place emphasis upon some mass form at the expense of the vanguard party would be to smuggle back in the Kautskyian conception.

When erstwhile revolutionary forces are qualitatively weak in comparison to mass reformist or Stalinist parties it is, in ordinary circumstances, equally illusory either to make direct "united front" appeals to the large formations or to advocate combinations among such large forces (when Trotsky called for the united front between the SPD and KPD he believed that the latter still had a revolutionary potential).

Certainly the tactics appropriate to a full-fledged revolutionary party cannot be mechanically assigned to a grouping qualitatively lacking the capacity to struggle to take the leadership of the class. However, the differences in functioning are in the opposite direction from those projected by the OCI. To the extent that the revolutionary tendency must function as a propaganda league, the more it must stress the presentation of its full program. As Trotsky noted, in the first instance Bolshevism is built upon granite foundations, and maneuvers can only be carried out in a principled fashion upon that foundation. The united front of the working class, of course, is the maneuver on the grand scale.

(2) Bolivian POR: We do not believe that the POR’s participation in the émigré Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Front (FRA) fell from the skies. We agree with the OCI and the OCRFI resolution that the FRA--created following the coup of the rightist general Banzer, incorporating elements of the "national bourgeoisie" including General Torres--is a popular front and not the continuation of the Popular Assembly, which may have possessed the essential formal prerequisites to be a proletarian soviet pole in opposition to the earlier regime of the leftist general Torres. It appears to us that in the period of the Torres regime the best that can be said of the POR is that it subordinated the development of the vanguard party to that of the Popular Assembly, i.e. subordinated the revolutionary program to an ill-defined and vacillating collection of left nationalist and Stalinist political prejudices. Given the default of revolutionists, the Popular Assembly necessarily concretely possessed a core of Menshevist acquiescence to the "national bourgeoisie." For further elaboration, see Workers Vanguard No. 3. In our estimation the POR’s earlier policy, which the OCRFI resolution emphatically supports, is an embodiment of the erroneous conception of’ a "strategic united front" and demonstrates the resulting subordination of the vanguard organization to the mass organization, in this case to the Popular Assembly.

Prolonged periods of repression there have severely limited our knowledge of or contact with the Bolivian POR, but it appears to us on the basis of available evidence that the organization has played a characteristically centrist role at least as far back as the revolutionary upheaval in 1952.

(3) Stalinism: We note that in the past the OCI has tended to equate the struggle against imperialism with the struggle against Stalinism, e.g. the slogans advanced at the 1971 Essen Conference. The general Political Resolution submitted by the OCI and adopted by the OCRFI takes this equation one step further when it denies the "double nature" of the Stalinist bureaucracy, writing of it simply as "the organism of the bourgeoisie within the working-class movement." Perhaps the OCI has been led to this false formulation through a simplistic linear extension of the true and valuable insight that the class struggles of the workers cut across the "Iron Curtain."

To us, and we believe to Trotsky, the Stalinist bureaucracy has a contradictory character. Thus in 1939 it conciliated Hitler and undermined the defense of the Soviet Union. But beginning in 1941 it fought (badly!) against the Hitlerite invasion. Thus our wartime policy was one of revolutionary defensism toward the Soviet Union, i.e., to fight against the imperialist invader and to overthrow the bureaucracy through political revolution, with by no means the least aim being to remove the terrible bureaucratic impediment in that fight. In the Indochinese war the role of the Hanoi bureaucracy, and our attitude toward it and the tasks of the Vietnamese proletariat, are essentially the same.

In the SWP’s 1953 factional struggle, the Cannon-Dobbs majority sought to defend itself against the Cochran-Clarke Pabloist minority by putting forth a position (similar to that of the OCRFI), that the Stalinist bureaucracy is "counter-revolutionary through and through and to the core." Since this was a possibility truly applicable only to capitalist restorationist elements, in their most extreme form either fascist or CIA agents, the SWP majority was compelled to commit a host of political blunders in attempting to defend its formulation; and in fact this position, along with Cannon’s advocacy of federated internationalism, represented departures from Trotskyism which helped undermine the revolutionary fiber of the SWP.

Also in this connection we note the OCI’s analysis of Cuba In La Verité No. 557, July 1972. The OCI’s refusal to draw the conclusion from its analysis--which until that point parallels our own--that Cuba, qualitatively, is a deformed workers state indicates the potential departure from the Leninist theory of the state in favor of a linear, bourgeois conception as of a thermometer which simply and gradually passes from "bourgeois state" to "workers state" by small increments without a qualitative change. Such a methodology is a cornerstone of Pabloism. According to this conception, presumably the reverse process from "workers" to "bourgeois" state by small incremental shifts could be comparably possible. Trotsky correctly denounced this latter idea as "unwinding the film of reformism in reverse." We note however that the OCI appears inconsistent on the characterization of the Cuban state; "The Tasks of Rebuilding the Fourth International" (in La Correspondance Internationale, June 1972, page 20) calls for the "unconditional defense of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, of workers’ conquests in Eastern Europe, of the revolutionary war in Vietnam...."

(4) On the Youth: We note that the relation of the OCI to the Alliance des Jeunes pour le Socialisme is unprecedented in the history of Leninist practice and, in fact, represents a catering to petty-bourgeois dual vanguardist sentiment in the student milieu. We also oppose the subsidiary concept of a non-Trotskyist "Revolutionary Youth International" put forward at the Essen Conference in July 1971. The revolutionary youth movement must be programmatically subordinate and formally organizationally linked to the vanguard party, which encompasses the historic experience of the proletariat. Unless this is the case, student and youth militants can never transcend petty-bourgeois radicalism which at crucial times the proletarian vanguard will find counterposed to itself.

(5) Violence and the Class Line: We strongly oppose the OCI’s stated willingness to use the bourgeois state apparatus--the courts--to mediate disputes in the working-class movement. In addition, the SL/U.S. is unalterably opposed to the use of physical force to suppress the views of other working-class tendencies where that is the central issue, such as the OCI’s forcible prevention of the distribution of leaflets by the IKD at the July 1971 Essen Conference. We are not pacifists, and fully recognize the right of self-defense by ourselves or anyone else in the socialist and labor movements to protect meetings and demonstrations from physical assault and to protect individual militants from terroristic attack. Taken all together, our view flows from the proposition that the greatest free play of ideas within the workers movement strengthens the position of revolutionists and enhances the possibility for united class action. Conversely, it is the reformists and Stalinists--the labor lieutenants of capital--who most characteristically employ violence and victimization within the movement.

(6) International Committee: The OCRFI resolution, "On the Tasks of the Reconstruction of the Fourth International," states that, starting in 1966, the SLL "started down the same path which the SWP had previously taken." But further on, the resolution deplores the "explosion of the IC caused by the SLL," on the grounds that this latest split "aggravates the dispersion" which began in 1952. We consider that organizational forms should correspond to political realities. We strongly opposed the break by the SLL ("IC") with us in 1962 because of its apparently mainly organizational character. Only after the very sharp rupture at the 1966 London Conference, and especially in the several years following when the SLL piled up a series of major political differences with us, were we able to appreciate that the SLL’s desire in 1962 to make a rapprochement to the SWP then (to which we were willing to acquiesce but not agree with) was an expression of a fundamental political difference.

The SLL’s break with us in 1962 was, however, part of a real struggle within the American group. The 1971 SLL-OCI break seems to have been but a separation of bloc partners without visible repercussions within either group--hence without struggle however unclear.

At bottom, differing estimations of the split in the IC may reflect the linguistically slight but nonetheless real differences between the OCI’s "For the Reconstruction of the Fourth International" and the SL’s "For the Rebirth of the Fourth International." Our slogan implies that a very fundamental process must be gone through; that it is not possible simply to fit together existing bits and pieces, perhaps with a little chipping here or there, in order to put the edifice together again.

Since the SL/U.S. has itself already had a ten-year history with the IC, we cannot simply approach the OCRFI discussions as if the previous experience between main elements in the OCRFI who had been part of the former IC and ourselves did not exist. Therefore we must review that past experience since it conditions our approach to the OCRFI.

Our views on the development of the IC since 1966 are set forth initially in Spartacist No. 6 (June-July 1966) on the London 1966 Conference and our expulsion; in the article on the Healy-Wohlforth current in Spartacist No. 17-18 (August-September 1970); in Spartacist No. 20 (April-May 1971) which is a summary of political and organizational developments since 1966; and in Workers Vanguard No. 3 (December 1971) on the SLL-OCI split. As you will note from these materials, from the time we first became aware of it at the London Conference, we protested the absence of democratic centralism in the IC.

We believe that one of the necessary tests of genuine revolutionists is the demonstrated capacity to even ruthlessly undertake self-criticism. The "International Committee" dominated by the SWP from 1954 to 1963 and by the SLL from 1963 to 1971 was always partly fictitious and partly a formalization of blocs of convenience by essentially national organizations. This demands explanation by those who would not simply repeat their previous experience. It is not enough to pass over the last eighteen years with the promise that from now on things will be done differently.

We were definitively expelled from the Healyite international conglomeration in 1966 at the very time the OCRFI pinpoints as the beginning of the SLL’s downhill slide. We believe there is a relationship. Evidently as part of the OCI’s attempt to remain in a common bloc with the SLL, and perhaps in part through ignorance of our real positions, the OCI has over the years projected upon the SL/U.S. a series of positions. Not only do we not hold, nor have we ever held, these views, but most of them are the exact opposite of our views. For example, the OCI asserted that we believe in the "family of Trotskyism" even though at the 1966 London Conference our delegation was struck by the aptness of an OCI speaker’s statement "there is no family of Trotskyism" and our speaker specifically quoted that observation approvingly, as was reported in Spartacist No. 6 and many times since. In the "Statement by the OCI" of 1967 on the IC, reference is repeatedly made to a "VO-Robertson bloc" and the general conclusion drawn that "the struggle against Robertson is fully identified with the struggle against Pabloism. His positions join those of the SWP and the United Secretariat where they are not those of Pablo." The OCI in similar terms apologized to the SLL for the invitiation of an SL/U.S. observer to the Essen Conference.

The SL/U.S. was aware from 1962 on that the OCI tendency was not to be equated with the SLL, and after our expulsion from the London Conference we continued to note the difference (for example in Spartacist No. 17-18, in discussing Healy’s attempted rapprochement with the United Secretariat, we wrote of the Healy-Banda group "and their politically far superior but internationally quiescent French allies, the Lambert group." We also knew through private sources that at least since 1967 the Wohlforth group internally had been conducting a vigorous campaign to discredit the OCI.

Our characterization of the OCI as politically superior to the SLL was based on a series of political positions which the OCI held in common with us in counterposition to the views of the SLL. Recent OCI polemics against the SLL (e.g. La Verité No. 556) note the OCI’s objection to several key SLL positions which we had also opposed: the SLL’s willful use of "dialectics" as a mystification to hide political questions; the SLL’s chronic tailending of Stalinism in Vietnam; the SLL’s enthusing over the Chinese "Red Guards"; the SLL’s notion of a classless "Arab Revolution"; the SLL’s unprincipled approach to the United Secretariat-SWP in 1970. We also considered of importance the OCI’s objection to the SLL position that Pabloist revisionism had not organizationally destroyed the Fourth International. The OCI’s position on this question appears to correspond to the view we have consistently held and upon which we spoke insistently at the 1966 London Conference.

Moreover, we have always taken a very serious attitude toward the OCI, not because of its numbers but because of its experienced senior cadres and its continuity in the world movement. We have centered in this letter on the presumed differences between us and the OCI, but the strengths of the OCI have reflected themselves as well, in specific political positions, some of which we have learned from, such as the OCI’s insistence on the basic class unity across the whole of Europe, the "Iron Curtain" notwithstanding. Other positions as noted above we have developed in an independent but parallel fashion. Above all, we respect the OCI for its adamant attempt to give life to its internationalism.

That is why we patiently waited when no other option was open to us vis-à-vis the OCI, and when we had the opportunity we have persistently sought discussion. It was especially with the OCI in mind that in the concluding portion of our final statement upon being expelled from the London Conference in 1966 we stated, "If the comrades go ahead to exclude us from this conference, we ask only what we have asked before--study our documents, including our present draft on U.S. work before you now, and our work over the next months and years. We will do the same, and a unification of the proper Trotskyist forces will be achieved, despite this tragic setback."

Recently, in the document "The Tasks of Rebuilding the Fourth International" (which the introduction to the English edition states is "central to [the] international discussion"), the OCI characterized the SL from the 1966 Conference as "centrist" or "centrist-sectarian." Thus, rather than following our documents and our ongoing work as we asked in 1966, the OCI has simply continued to echo the SLL’s avalanche of falsehood aimed at our political obliteration. In the light of the above points, this would seem an appropriate time for the OCI and with it the OCRFI to undertake a thorough examination of the SL’s politics.

We do not expect, and would have no confidence in, a simple reversal of appraisal of the SL/U.S. by the OCI. Estimations of the SL/U.S. by the groups comprising the OCRFI should be guided by two considerations. One is the questions of general political and programmatic character such as we have gone into above. We naturally believe that we are correct about these; but because our views have taken shape within the American Trotskyist framework (and during a period of enforced national isolation) we must allow that they may be partial, and in ways which we cannot presently know. As the main Political Report to our recent National Conference stated: "The SL/U.S. urgently requires disciplined subordination to an international leadership not subject to the deforming pressures of our particular national situation." (see Workers Vanguard No. 15, January 1973) It was in this spirit that we published our article "Genesis of Pabloism" (Spartacist No. 21, Fall 1972) which contained substantially the sum total of our present understanding of Pabloism.

The other question, subordinate but within the framework of essential programmatic agreement very important and perhaps contributory to that programmatic agreement is the question of comrades internationally understanding the concrete reality of the socialist movement in the U.S. in the context of the evolved American labor movement and the specific configuration of class relations in this country. There is a striking lack of correspondence between the existing divisions within the ostensibly Marxist movements in Europe and America so that any effort to superimpose groups in Europe on "similar" groups in the U.S. is inappropriate. The six-months’ stay by Comrade Sharpe in France was extremely helpful in bringing this point home to us. It would be extremely clarifying for example if a representative of the OCI could come to this country for an extended stay to examine, for example, not only the SL/U.S. in its concrete work, but also currents such as the "Vanguard Newsletter" of Turner-Fender, which has stood apparently closest formally to the OCI; the International Socialists, who mainly look to Lutte Ouvrière as their closest friends in France, but who contain sympathizers of the OCI among them; and the other tendencies within the American radical movement. Moreover, the trade unions as they have evolved here should be examined in the union offices and on picket lines. More broadly, characteristic college campuses and the reality of the National Student Association should be investigated.

We take our commitment as internationalists seriously as a condition for our very survival as Marxian revolutionists, and by this we mean neither diplomatic non-aggression pacts with groups in other countries nor the Healyite fashion of exporting subservient mini-SLLs. As one of the results of what is for us precipitous growth domestically, we are acquiring the resources--human and material--to undertake for the first time on a sustained basis our international obligations.

It is in the context of our need for a disciplined International and our firm commitment to fight to bring about the programmatic agreement which forms the only basis for such an International, that we wish to participate in the discussion opened by the OCRFI.

We are enclosing copies of all our documents referred to in this letter. Should we be accepted into the discussion organized by the OCRFI, in order to familiarize comrades internationally with our views, we would like to submit three documents initially to the discussion: (1) this letter, (2) our delegation’s remarks to the 1966 London Conference, (3) our Statement of Principles.

Political Bureau Spartacist League/U.S.
cc. Spartacist League/Australia-New Zealand

Posted: 05 May 2005