Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pro-Stalinist orientation

This is a collection of mostly internal documents dealing with factional conflicts between different Trotskyist groups. It's part of a 16-volume series, published by the U.S. Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), and is mostly of interest to historians of the Trotskyist movement. This is the third volume of International Secretariat documents from the period 1951-54. The International Secretariat (IS) was a leadership body of the Fourth International, the Trotskyist world organization. However, the designation “IS” is also used to denote the majority faction within the International, a faction which claimed adherence to said leadership body. The IS faction was led by Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel. When the Fourth International split in 1953, the anti-IS faction called itself the International Committee (IC). The IC was dominated by the SWP. The Fourth International was reunited in 1963. The reunited organization is sometimes referred to as the United Secretariat.

Thrashing out the political differences between the IS and the IC is more difficult than many imagine, since both factions were fairly heterogeneous. The short story is that the SWP and its allies accused Pablo of having a pro-Stalinist orientation. Here, the term “Stalinist” is used in a broad sense, denoting not just Stalin's regime in the Kremlin, but the Soviet ruling bureaucracy in general. Thus, the Soviet Union remained “Stalinist” even after Stalin's death. China was also “Stalinist” in this sense. The SWP and the future IC further accused Pablo of wanting to “liquidate” the independence of the Trotskyist organizations by proposing strategic entryism into Stalinist, Social Democratic and Third World nationalist parties. Finally, the SWP attacked Pablo for supporting a minority faction within the SWP itself, the Cochran-Clarke-Bartell faction, hence disrupting the disciplined functioning of the SWP and its leadership. Pablo's International Secretariat hotly denied the charges of pro-Stalinism and liquidationism, but I think there was a large amount of truth in them. Indeed, Pablo counter-attacked by accusing the SWP of “Stalinophobia”, surely a curious slur when used by a Trotskyist.

This volume of IS material contains interesting articles by George Clarke, Michel Pablo and the IS on the post-Stalin thaw in the Soviet Union and the workers' uprising in East Germany. They were all written in 1953. While the Pabloites supported the East German workers, they nevertheless believed that the Soviet bureaucracy (and allied bureaucracies in Eastern Europe) had been forced by pressure from the masses to make real concessions after the death of Stalin. Both Pablo and Clarke imply that a faction of the Soviet bureaucracy could meet the masses half-way and reform the system. None of them calls for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany. Pablo clearly continues with his pro-Stalinist political orientation on the international scale, as if the cracks in the Soviet bloc proved *his* perspective rather than that of his opponents! He is also mesmerized by the Chinese revolution. How Pablo could simultaneously support the East German workers, Malenkov and Mao, is of course an interesting question… (But then, I've seen far worse eclecticism on the left. Trust me!)

This collection is very “in house”, but since I found it moderately interesting, I give it three stars. Of course, to get the full picture, the reader should get all four volumes of “International Secretariat Documents 1951-54”.

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