Wednesday, September 19, 2018

From Pablo to the Socialist Union

This is the fourth volume of “Struggle in the Fourth International: International Secretariat Documents 1951-54”. The four volumes are part of a much larger series, apparently spanning 16 volumes in total, titled “Towards a History of the Fourth International”. Most of them are probably out of print. The series was published by the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP). All volumes are collections of documents, many of them internal, detailing various faction fights within the Trotskyist movement. They are primarily of interest to the few historians who specialize in such things. I suppose the odd Trotskyist might be interested, too!

The Fourth International (the Trotskyist world movement) split in 1953. The two competing factions are known as the International Secretariat or IS (also the name of a leadership body within the Fourth International) and the International Committee or IC. The SWP supported the IC. This volume of the series contain IS-related material from 1953-54. The Fourth International was reunited in 1963 (a few sectarian groups refused to participate). The reunited international is sometimes called the United Secretariat after its new leadership body.

The IC accused the IS of developing pro-Stalinist political positions, and of wanting to liquidate Trotskyist groups through a strategy of long term entryism into Stalinist organizations. The IC also accused the IS leader Michel Pablo (Raptis) of highhanded and undemocratic methods in dealing with opponents. Pablo openly supported a pro-IS minority faction within the SWP, something the pro-IC majority of the SWP regarded as a blatant attempt at disruption. Pablo, for his part, regarded the *SWP* as disrupters for refusing to follow majority decisions of the Fourth International as a whole (the IS faction had carried the day at a previous world congress). Pablo and his right hand man Ernest Germain (Mandel) also hotly denied the charges of pro-Stalinism and liquidationism. However, I think it's obvious from the documents reprinted in this volume that the Pabloites really were a kind of “soft core” pro-Stalinists.

Pablo strongly believed that the official Communist parties were already to the left of Social Democracy, and that they would be pushed even further left by the combined pressure of radicalized workers and an impending world war. The main axis of Pablo's thinking was the conflict between the United States and the Soviet bloc (which at this point still included China). The main danger was American imperialism, not “Stalinism”. He rejected the notion of a “third camp” or “third position”. At several points, Pablo and Mandel charged the SWP with “Stalinophobia”. The SWP had accused the IS of not demanding the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany during the 1953 workers' uprising. The IS countered by claiming that the SWP supported Eisenhower's food packages to East Germany!

Pablo and his followers strongly implied that a faction of the Soviet bureaucracy could meet the workers half-way and give them real concessions. This was supposedly proven by the thaw after Stalin's death. While the IS nominally still called for a political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy, their entire method pointed in the direction of “self-reform” of said bureaucracy. Mao's China and Kim Il Sung's North Korea hardly needed to be reformed at all, judging by the documents printed in this and other volumes of the series. (Left-watchers may want to make a comparative study of the Pabloite positions and those of Socialist Action in Britain or the Socialist Alliance in Australia. For a more “hard core” version, see the Workers World Party in the United States.)

The last document reprinted in this particular collection is a long declaration by the Socialist Union of America, the erstwhile pro-IS faction within the SWP. The SU was led by Bert Cochran and George Clarke. The SWP editors of the series have included the “Cochranite” declaration as a kind of epitaph, since it seems to prove the charge that the IS were liquidationists. The SU accepted Pablo's strategic entryism as its point of departure, but went even further. Essentially, the SU believed that specifically Trotskyist politics should be dispensed with entirely. Instead, the Socialist Union sought to integrate itself into the broad progressive movement. I've previously reviewed back issues of 
The American Socialist”, the publication of the Cochranites. It sounds Trotskyist and Pabloite only if you know what to look for, and one of the last issues before SU's complete liquidation even criticize the Bolsheviks…

“International Secretariat documents 1951-54” (vol 4) is a very narrow work, but I admit that I found its long-winding documents relatively interesting, despite being neither a Trotskyist nor a historian specializing in such specialized things
Three stars.

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