Thursday, April 23, 2009

London Conference Aftermath (1966)

Spartacist No. 7 (September-October 1966)


All interested parties have now offered their versions and taken their stands on the April International Conference called by the "International Committee of the Fourth International." The Conference was marked by the driving away of the Voix Ouvriere comrades on the unique grounds that they would not have been invited had Healy known their positions, which had all been published months before the Conference, and by the nakedly trumped-up expulsion of the Spartacist group.

Healy's Newsletter reported the Conference immediately upon its conclusion, but said not a word about Spartacist and its expulsion, although the projected American unification between Spartacist and the American Committee for the Fourth International had been one of the main aims set for the Conference. Although as a result of the Conference we were supposed to be forthwith "removed... from the path of the working class," Healy was apparently too embarrassed to take the initiative.

Dirty Job

Thus he took an oblique approach, leaving the dirty work to his hacks on ACFI's Bulletin, who finally produced a series of political misrepresentations, a hint about a conference "cleavage" and no mention of the destruction of the projected American unification, When in reply Spartacist printed a full report of the Conference (see Spartacist, June-July 1966 issue), including our full political positions, as well as making public the organizational pretext for the expulsion -- the refusal of a Spartacist delegate to state that his coming late to a Conference session constituted an admission of the petty-bourgeois nature of his organization -- the SLL leadership and its ACFI satellite were finally forced to deal with the actual events of the Conference.

Three months after the Conference, two full pages were devoted to us in successive July issues of the Newsletter. C. Slaughter, a genuinely able Marxist, was given a dirty job which he tried valiantly to carry out. But because Comrade Slaughter felt it necessary occasionally to quote from our remarks made to the Conference, as reprinted in our last issue, certain objective limits were placed on what are otherwise straw men masquerading as our positions.

Any independent comparison of our positions with Slaughter's intentional misrepresentation of them makes it unnecessary for us to detail the many discrepancies. For example: our emphasis on the importance of black working-class youth in the U.S. is not a denial of the working clans as a whole; no more is our recognition of the generally propagandistic level of our work a denial of the agitational and class struggle elements which are necessarily present but not dominant. For Slaughter to insist that the recognition of a certain primacy eliminates other aspects of a question is to be mechanistic, simplistic and anti-dialectical. Through such distortion Slaughter tries to obscure the collision between our actual views and the underlying sectarian and mechanical positions of the SLL.

In particular, the "United Secretariat" ... had cause to fear a successful outcome to the Conference. Strong opponent sections in the U.S. and France and a functioning international center for the IC would have threatened them severely at a time when events in Algeria, Indonesia and Cuba have been dealing hard blows to their revisionist conclusions.

The SLL contends that the Fourth International has been rebuilt (or never needed rebuilding – they haven't yet worked out which) and that Pabloism has been smashed internationally, but in any case that the IC is the FI. The IC under Healy avoids the necessary step of seeking to promote splits and fusions among other, self-styled Trotskyist groups, resorting instead to attempting to destroy the revolutionary integrity of any group which does not display an abject submissiveness to the SLL leadership, by forcing it to profess indefensible positions and then discredit itself, or, failing that, to the tactic of outright misrepresentation and lies.

Slaughter pretends to see some sort of unprincipled politics in our statement that the Cuban comrades of the Posadas tendency "were in the main excellent comrades struggling with valor under difficult conditions." He replies that the jailed Posadists were released last year, having given the Cuban authorities a declaration that their opposition to the Castro regime would cease. "Even Posadas himself denounced this declaration; but Robertson cannot mention it." In fact, Comrade Slaughter very likely first read in Spartacist itself (Nov.-Dec. 1965 issue) of the capitulation of some half-dozen of the 50-100 Cuban Posadists and of Posadas' repudiation.

Leninist Politics?

But wretched and false though Slaughter's polemic is, at least it attacks some ideas and defends others. However, Healy's American altar boy, Wohlforth of ACFI, in rushing to get into the act, felt no such compunction: no quoting of one's opponent, no ideas to attack or defend, only calculated loyalty to Healy and simple hatred for Spartacist appear in the Bulletin.

In "Spartacist and Leninist Politics, Part I, the International Movement," Wohlforth sidesteps the discussion of Conference events with the question; "We demand that Spartacist explain how 'bureaucratic centralists' could build the healthiest revolutionary proletarian party in the world." Since the revolutionary capacity of the SLL is still to be proven and its recent actions cast serious doubts that it will be; since among British socialist groups its proletarian composition is hardly notable (the allegiance of radical unionists is still largely to the CP); since it is still far too small to proclaim itself a mass party – Wohlforth could be said to have overloaded the question just a bit! His supplemental conclusion is that "having no politics himself, the Abernite [i.e., Robertson] is forced to adapt to alien political currents." Such "analysis" flows from the psychological realm of pure projection; Wohlforth has always followed persons rather than ideas, from right-wing conciliator Weiss all the way over to Healy, with lesser flirtations (e.g., Swabeck, Mage, Phillips, Marcus) in between.

In "Part II, The Flight of the Middle Class Intellectual," we find that Shane Mage plays the James Burnham to Robertson's Shachtman (what happened to Robertson the Abernite is not clear). Wohlforth completes this preoccupation in personality by predicating his case on the assumption of Leon Trotsky's basic infallibility. However, Trotsky was not infallible (indeed, why should he be ?); until the bloc with Zinoviev his course in the struggle against Stalinism was disoriented and unclear, but afterwards unswerving to the end. Trotsky himself recognized this when he wrote in 1935 that he had misjudged the whole point of the "Thermidorian" reaction.

Wohlforth's own working relationship with Marcus illustrates his preoccupation with personality. For nine months he used Marcus as his chief theoretician and even stated on record that he was in 99 percent agreement with Marcus (to which we replied that Wohlforth would find the remaining 1 per cent awfully big). Marcus spent seven weeks with us, and ultimately found the atmosphere of Marxism far less congenial than that of ACFI. However, we still defend the most patient efforts to integrate talented intellectuals into our own ranks. Wohlforth, who opportunistically accepted Mage and Marcus en bloc, not critically, as did Spartacist, will not force us with his gibes into a sectarian mold.

Pabloists Protected

The Conference had a recognized importance beyond the ranks of the groups present. In particular, the "United Secretariat" tendency associated with the American Socialist Workers Party had cause to fear a successful outcome to the Conference. Strong opponent sections in the U.S. and France and a functioning international center for the IC would have threatened them severely at a time when events in Algeria, Indonesia and Cuba have been dealing hard blows to their revisionist conclusions. Consequently the United Secretariat was delighted with the actual conference outcome; the SWP has now brought out a pamphlet, “Healy 'Reconstructs' the Fourth International: Documents and Comments by Participants in a Fiasco, with a Preface by Joseph Hansen." By showing up Healy as a prime example of "sectarianism and tinpot despotism" the United Secretariat protected its left flank just at the time that the Pabloists are politically most vulnerable.

As indicated, the pamphlet consists of a batch of documents, introduced by Hansen's lengthy, amusing and sometimes accurate narrative of the Conference. Hansen describes the documents as having been "received" by the SWP "by chance." (What a delicate way to describe the appropriation of the documents by an alternate member of the SWP National Committee!) Hansen attempts to use the documents as the basis for an attack on all participants. However, all he is able to dig up about Spartacist is the old and discredited lie that our predecessor tendency was expelled from the SWP for "indiscipline." As for the Voix Ouvriere group, he can do no more than characterize them as "wily politicians." Although we have substantial political differences with VO, we believe that our groups could exist within the framework of a genuine democratic centralist international. This conclusion is strengthened by the exemplary honesty and responsibility that VO has shown in its dealings with the IC and with us, and the seriousness of its treatment of the main Conference documents as well as its participation in the Conference itself.

Monstrous Statement

We waited with interest to see how Healy would react to the Hansen pamphlet; in the Newsletter of 20 August, the reaction came. The statement by the SLL Political Committee is monstrous, showing that the SLL leadership, when trapped in a tight comer, will (1) slanderously accuse opponents and critics of being agents of the class enemy, "finger men for the State Department," (2) and themselves threaten to use the capitalist police and courts to fight their political battles for them "…[the] pamphlet … is legally libellous; we shall not hesitate to deal appropriately ..."

The alleged basis for the SLL's treatment is that the pamphlet opens up "the Robertson group and the Wohlforth group" for legal prosecution under the U.S. Voorhis Act. We for our part reject the SLL's solicitousness on our behalf. The Voorhis Act is a paper tiger – never used against anyone and patently unconstitutional. For the Justice Department to start proceedings against a small group like ours or the smaller and much less threatening ACFI would make the government a laughing stock, and Healy knows this. He is aware that for years the SWP has hidden behind this very act to defend its own federalist idea of an International. He wrote contemptuously of the United Secretariat (Newsletter, 19 June 1965) when it refused on the basis of the Voorhis Act to hear an appeal from us against our expulsion from the SWP.

The truth is that the SLL is left gasping in the face of the documents. It can only bluster, threaten, conceal and tragically itself cross the class line by threatening to call the cops. Nowhere in the SLL-PC statement is any inkling given of the pamphlet's contents -- i.e., documents of Conference participants themselves. Instead the pamphlet is made to appear entirely the product of the SWP. The reason is that the documents, and especially the key letter written by Healy himself, expose Healy's tactics for what they are.

In conclusion, there are two points. In the light of the best efforts by all the interested parties to interpret and justify their roles or attitudes toward the London Conference, we must state that for the historic short run at least we have been vindicated in the course that we steered at the Conference and subsequently, and have emerged with our capacity to pursue revolutionary work unimpaired. Healy and his New York centrist publicist cannot say the same.

It is absurd to describe Healy's' break with Spartacist as being our breaking from the Fourth International; rather, our understanding of authentic internationalism and of our role. as a detachment of the world movement has been deepened. And if Healy's wrecking sectarianism and bureaucratism have made the work of Trotskyists (including ourselves) internationally more difficult, we will go ahead; the world party of socialist revolution will be reborn, but toward that task Healy has been shown to be not a midwife, but an abortionist.


The following are several paragraphs from the article by Cliff Slaughter, secretary of the International Committee.

"Spartacist, in order to cloud over this political basis of the split, lies about the departure of Robertson and his delegation,"


"Robertson was, of course, not asked to denounce himself as a petty-bourgeois, or anything of the sort. Such is not the politics of Bolshevik organizations:"

And finally:

"His very rejection of this, his insistence on personal prestige against this discipline, confirms our characterization of this group as petty-bourgeois, dominated by the ideology of middle-class radical groups in American politics, their ideology subordinated to the US monopolists and American exceptionalism."

-- from The Newsletter, 2 July 1966