NYC Workers League Class Series
Wohlforth Embraces Pabloism
This is the second of two WV articles dealing with the issues raised in the recent Workers League public class series in New York City.
The Workers League's pretensions to internationalism and the continuity of the Fourth International are just as phony as the pseudo-dialectics which Wohlforth prates about in order to obscure any consideration of program. Thus the WL systematically betrays the program of the Fl by, among other things, its constant chasing after militant-talking Stalinists (Mao Tse tung or Ho Chi Minh) and leftist nationalists (such as Huey Newton), its "critical" support for aspiring labor fakers (Morrissey in the NMU), its adaptation to even the most reactionary elements of the labor bureaucracy (Meany and Abel) and its refusal to fight in the unions for solidarity with the Vietnamese revolution. Now it abandons the Transitional Program explicitly with the line that wage demands are inherently revolutionary, and transitional demands therefore unnecessary and sectarian.
But even organizationally, the “internationalism" of the WL is a fiction. Wohlforth equates internationalism with abject subservience to the Socialist Labour League of Gerry Healy, in much the same manner as Earl Browder's Communist Party slavishly capitulated before every twist and turn ordered by Stalin. The Healyite "International Committee" has always been an empty form without content - a rotten bloc between the British SLL and the French Organisation Communiste Internationaliste in which each pursued its own policies (often sharply at variance with one another) and divided up the rest of the world as spheres of influence (Healy getting the English-speaking countries, while the OCI received the rest of Europe and South America).
A carefully preserved secret until 1966 was the fact that there was no discipline in the International Committee, the only basis for decision-making being unanimity. Thus the repeated demands by Healy from 1962 to 1966 that the Spartacist tendency subordinate itself to "international discipline" (which in every case we stated we would do, while refusing to sign, as was the fashion of the Stalintern, documents which amounted to a repudiation of our positions or else simply apolitical demonstrations of servility) were nothing but the capricious whim of a would-be petty dictator. In the fifth class Wohlforth explained this fraud by saying, well, nobody's perfect. But to speak of a federated international bloc as the "International" is no less absurd than to profess that a federated national grouping which does not "yet" have democratic centralism can be a vanguard party. At the class on Spartacist Wohlforth denounced SL National Chairman James Robertson for alleged "anti-internationalism" because at the 1966 IC Conference Robertson had unwittingly violated an unannounced conference "rule" by missing a session. Wohlforth's demagoguery only revealed the WL's boundless hypocrisy, for the SL had just distributed to the class participants material showing that Wohlforth himself – in direct violation of a categorical instruction from Healy – did not bother to attend the conference at all.
Behind the question of organizational structure (itself a crucial programmatic aspect of Leninism) stands the question of the very nature of the IC as an unprincipled political bloc. For years the SLL and OCI held sharply counterposed positions on central questions – even on the very nature of the party. Thus the OCI has maintained that the basis of the party is program, while to the SLL, the basis of the party is "Marxist philosophy." Similarly, the OCI held the view that the Fourth International had been destroyed by revisionism and needed to be reconstructed, while the SLL proclaimed that the IC is the Fourth International. Nor was there agreement on issues such as the 1967 Arab-Israeli war (over which the OCI took a revolutionary defeatist position for both sides while the SLL supported the "Arab Revolution"), or the united front (which the SLL sees as a tactic while the OCI supports a "strategic united front").
In his presentation at the seventh class (on the split with the OCI) Wohlforth presented an elaborate fairy-tale history of the IC, explaining that there were, of course, differences, but they had to be discussed instead of precipitously splitting. As revealed by documents published by the SLL and OCI after the split, the actual "discussion" in the IC had the character of two ships passing in the night.
A perfect example was the true story of the “split in the IC at the Essen youth conference." According to the WL/SLL the prime sin of the OCI, its failure to recognize the absolute centrality of the struggle for dialectics, was revealed by the OCI's document for the June 1970 London pre-conference of the IC. However, that document was published in late 1969, yet nine months later the SLL had no alternative to offer to the meeting; it also refused to vote on the document. Another twelve months pass and the SLL delegation arrives at the Essen youth conference to be faced with an OCI-written document which had the same line as the previous one; in the meantime, of course, Healy and Co. sill had not produced an answer. But this was apparently too much, so in typical Healyite fashion the English delegation offered an amendment-ultimatum on "dialectics" which was voted down by the French-dominated delegates assembly. The SLL now maintains that this is when the IC really split. However, at the time the SLL delegation not only did not take their amendment onto the floor of the conference to fight it out, but they then went on to give the conference enthusiastic coverage in their press; the "already split" IC continued to appear in the pages of the Bulletin as the continuity of the Fl.
OCI Centrists and SLL Political Bandits
The formal split came when the OCI handed Healy a nice factional club by supporting the centrist policies of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario, which in the 1971 Bolivian events took a line similar to that of the POUM during the Spanish civil war. To avoid being tarred with the same brush Wohlforth claimed that Lora [head of the POR] had never been in the International Committee and he never would have been admitted to it without a full discussion on his political history. But, as an SL spokesman pointed out at the class, the Healyites themselves had been very happy to take credit for the influential POR as recently as one month before the military coup (see the uncritical article which hailed the POR as "the Bolivian section of the International Committee" in the Bulletin of 19 July 1971)!
At the time of the split, Healy was able to capitalize on the OCI's centrist positions of support for the POR and a "strategic united front" in order to pose as the principled left wing of the IC. But the history of the SLL and WL reveals that they have wallowed in every opportunist deviation for which they now denounce the OCI. Thus, while the OCI accommodated to the French Stalinists by calling for votes to the CP in the recent elections (in spite of the fact that the CP was part of a popular front),the Workers League flatly supported the pop front: "The illusions of the workers can only be exposed by first electing the Left Union in the second round... " (Bulletin, 12 March 1973).
The SLL/WL's 'left" criticisms of the OCI are fraudulent. But no less fraudulent are the Healyites' pretensions to anti-revisionism. The SLL/WL posture toward the Pabloists has always been that of an estranged spouse alternating vituperation with reconciliation. Thus the 20 July 1970 Bulletin reported Healy's overtures to the United Secretariat with a proposal for political discussions and common work, hopefully to result in a "joint international conference" between the IC and the Pabloists. An internal WL directive dated 15 March 1970 earnestly explained the need to tone down criticisms of the SWP/YSA because:
"The perspectives document agreed to in England proposed that the road to the American working class is through the YSA and it meant just that."The whole thrust of the Healyite overture was to legitimatize the Pabloist cabal of Mandel, Frank, Hansen and Co. at precisely the moment that the USec was becoming markedly unstable and left currents were beginning to develop in several sections. The symbiosis between the USec Pabloists and the IC "inverted Pabloists" was clearly revealed here again, and the USec leadership was enabled to adopt a "principled" facade by turning the Healyites down.
When the OCI and SLL came to a parting of ways in 1971, this finally stripped naked the facade of internationalism of the "International Committee." A true International is composed of tendencies which are defined by program, not geography. (Even in the badly degenerated Socialist Workers Party, whose international ties to the IC had long been merely formal, the motion toward reunification with the Pabloists caused enough concern among some elements to precipitate the formation of an anti-Pabloist faction.) But the 1971 IC split had no ramifications in either of the leading national organizations: Apparently the entire SLL was in agreement with the "British line" and the entire OCI with the "French line."
Cuba and Inverted Pabloism
The WL class series was an instructive lesson in the methodology of Pabloism. The class on Cuba demonstrated Wohlforth's total confusion about the process of the Cuban revolution which, under petty-bourgeois nationalist leadership, uprooted capitalist property relations and established a deformed workers state. Duplicating in its essentials the Chinese revolution, Cuba illuminated the problem which had faced orthodox Trotskyists following World War II: how could capitalism have been overturned in Eastern Europe, and then China, without proletarian revolutions under Trotskyist leadership? Did this mean our evaluation of Stalinism was wrong? Unable to creatively extend orthodoxy to explain these transformations, the postwar Trotskyist movement's inability to solve this problem opened the road to a revisionist answer: Pablo's 1951 theory that under the pressure of a new objective reality Stalinism could become revolutionary, and thus the Trotskyists had no further function except as a pressure group to aid this. "blunted instrument" to realize its new-found revolutionary potential.
The orthodox Trotskyists could only reply by pointing in horror at the necessary consequence: if Pablo's theory were , correct, the very founding of the Fourth International was a mistake. Seeking to resist Pablo's liquidationist conclusions, they sought to deny reality until it overwhelmed them (the SWP did not officially characterize China as a deformed workers state until 1955). The response of the Healy tendency to the Cuban revolution was the same: according to the WL/SLL, Cuba is still a capitalist state.
Spartacist spokesmen at the class pointed out that this response accepts the method of Pabloism while seeking to reject its conclusions. At the heart of both is the acceptance of the deformed workers states as being only quantitatively different from healthy workers states. Thus the SWP justified its uncritical accommodation to Castro, saying Lenin's Russia was a very good workers state; Stalin's Russia was a very bad workers state; Castro's Cuba is a pretty good workers state (getting better all the time), and after all, so long as it's a workers state, that's good enough. Healy argues that if a petty-bourgeois leadership could establish a deformed workers state (which, for him, is just another workers state) then the Transitional Program is wrong in claiming that a Trotskyist working class leadership is necessary for successful proletarian revolution: therefore, Cuba is not a workers state.
Confronted with this analysis, Wohlforth vehemently insisted that indeed there "is no qualitative difference" between a healthy and deformed workers state. In this one statement, Wohlforth reveals his fundamental kinship with the Pabloists and sweeps aside the achievement of Trotsky in recognizing in 1933 that a qualitative change had taken place as a result of the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union and the Third International. The consolidation of power in the hands of a petty-bourgeois stratum (the bureaucracy) made necessary a new international party to struggle for political revolution in the Soviet Union as well as for social revolution against capitalism.
As one could expect by now from the fabled Healyite "dialectics,” the SL's position (that Cuba is a deformed workers state) was termed by Wohlforth (who considers Cuba to be capitalist) as "Shachtmanism"! Anyone with the slightest familiarity with the positions of Shachtman (who split from Trotskyism in denying that Russia was a degenerated workers state) can easily understand the absurdity of such an accusation.
Vietnam: Pabloism and Social Patriotism
Healy/Wohlforth's contortions over Cuba are nothing, however, in comparison with the blatant and disgusting Pabloism of the WL on the question of Vietnam. In a positively obscene laudatory obituary (Bulletin, 22 September 1969) for Ho Chi Minh, the murderer of the Indochinese Trotskyists, the WL refers to him as an "instinctive" fighter against imperialism (akin to Hansen's description of Castro as a "natural" Marxist). Some of the articles of the Healy/ Wohlforth tendency on Vietnam could be set side by side with those of the arch-Pabloist Ligue Communiste and even a careful reader would have trouble figuring out which was which(for example, the reference to the "transcendental power" of "peoples war" in the February 1968 Fourth International).
Wohlforth's class presentation on Vietnam was a textbook example of Pabloist method. To begin with, the Vietnam struggle of the 1960's was essentially a "movement of the colonial peoples under Stalinist leadership." It was under Stalinist leadership, but "for 20 years Stalinism could not compromise the movement as it wished to"! And, of course, there are different wings of the Stalinists and "the North Vietnamese have time and time again come into conflict with the Soviets; the latest time was last December." To top it all off was a little bit of spicy orthodoxy, claiming that "our position is for victory of the NLF against the U.S. imperialists."
Wohlforth pointed out the fundamental unity of the WL position on Vietnam and its support for the "Arab revolution" and for the bourgeois Indian army in the 1971 war with Pakistan over Bangla Desh. (At the time, the Bulletin, 20 December 1971, gave "critical" support to Indira Gandhi. In the class Wohlforth revealed what "critical" support means to the WL, saying "we were 1,000 percent for the victory of the Indian army.") He also emphasized several times that "the colonial revolution is not simply a workers revolution."
To begin with, the term "colonial revolution" has been given circulation in the "Trotskyist" movement by the Pabloists who, with their theory of "epicenters" and "blunted instruments," wish to deny the world-wide unity of the permanent revolution. Trotskyists do not call for a "colonial" revolution,” Brother Wohlforth, but for a proletarian (yes, workers!) revolution in the backward countries (such as Russia), leaning on the peasantry, to successfully carry through even the democratic tasks of national liberation and agrarian revolution. Like the Pabloists of the United Secretariat the WL used the label "colonial" revolution to justify political support to various left-talking nationalists.
The "method" of the Healyite Workers League is thus ultimately that of Pabloism. No longer believing in the possibility of proletarian revolution under Trotskyist leadership, the Pabloists seek to construct a rationale for tailing non-proletarian strata (e.g., petty-bourgeois nationalist movements, "left" Stalinists, out-bureaucrats in the unions), on the grounds that the "objective situation" compels even a "blunted instrument" (e.g., the Stalinist NLF in Vietnam) to make the revolution. In contrast to those "purists" or "sectarians" who insist that only the proletariat, under Trotskyist leadership, can create a healthy workers state and open the road to socialism, the WL in truly Pabloist fashion embraces the most “left" of what is, instead of undertaking the arduous task of building the Trotskyist party, the embodiment of the Transitional Program of the Fourth International.
To Wohlforth's apology for the Vietnamese Stalinists, SL supporters at the fifth class counterposed the Trotskyist position of unconditional defense of the deformed workers states against imperialism and political revolution against the bureaucratic misleadership which sabotages that defense and the further progress of the socialist revolution. To this Lucy St. John, editor of the Bulletin, counting on the ignorance or cynicism of WL members, made the fantastic charge that "Spartacist refuses to call for military defense of the Vietnamese workers." On the basis of this flat lie, WL supporters proceeded to accuse the SL of "Shachtmanism" on Vietnam. In the fashion of all Stalinist apologists, the WL seeks to link authentic Trotskyism with those, like Shachtman, whose anti-Stalinism proceeds from their motion toward reconciliation with the bourgeoisie.
Anyone remotely familiar with the history of the Spartacist League knows that the SL has consistently fought for military defense of the Vietnamese revolution, for the exclusion of the bourgeoisie from the antiwar movement and for working-class strike action against the war. The SL is the only tendency which has consistently raised the Vietnam war in its trade-union work, calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and solidarity with the Vietnamese revolution. In contrast, the WL has time after time capitulated on the defense of the Vietnamese revolution in order to pursue its opportunist appetites.
SL speakers at the class on Vietnam cited as examples the 1971 program of the WL youth group (Young Socialists) which did not mention this demand; the refusal of the WL's short-lived "Trade Unionists for a Labor Party" front group to include any mention of the war or racial oppression in its program (Bulletin, 18 December 1967); the WL's support for U.S. Senator Vance Hartke and the SWP in the brutal physical expulsion of SL and Progressive Labor supporters who were demanding the ousting of the bourgeoisie from the July 1971 NPAC conference.
At the fourth class the SL distributed to those attending copies of a 1965 leaflet signed by Tim Wohlforth (along with all the pacifist social-patriots, Stalinists, SWP, PL, etc.) which demanded simply "Stop the War in Vietnam Now!" and continued:
…The war in Vietnam is not necessary for national security. The United States is the richest, most powerful, most heavily armed nation in the world. A continuation of the conflict cannot enhance the honor of the American people...." [emphasis in original]Meany as "Blunted Instrument"
It is in its policies toward the union movement that the Workers League has demonstrated in the grossest fashion its fundamentally Pabloist method. The WL has always conceived of its role as that of a left pressure on the existing Meanyite bureaucracy, which the WL claimed would be forced to build a labor party by the mounting unrest in the union ranks. Wohlforth has heralded every cynical and empty "labor party" threat by the bureaucrats, deliberately masking the fact that these statements were designed as back-handed support to Nixon by a labor bureaucracy so reactionary that it could not swallow the 'radical' McGovern.
For example, the 17 July 1972 Bulletin front-page banner headline proclaimed, 'AFL-CIO Tops Threaten Labor Party at Miami.' The 25 September 1972 Bulletin front page crowed "Steel Convention Lambasts Democrats" and triumphantly hailed Meany's overture to Nixon as if it were a step toward a break with bourgeois politics in favor of a workers party:
"Meany made it even more clear than before that the fundamental question was not just McGovern but was indeed the support of labor for the Democrats which has gone on for some 36 years and today is at the breaking point."One issue of the Bulletin featured a cartoon showing a locomotive (the working class) driven by an uneasy Meany rolling over the capitalists. The implication is clear: Meany is, the 'blunted instrument" who can be pushed, unwillingly to be sure, into leading the workers against the class enemy. This cartoon is the epitome of Pabloism. Reflecting the objectivism which lies at the heart of the Healyite method, this cartoon denies Trotsky's statement that the crisis of humanity is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership, instead investing the present leaders of the class with the power to fight for the workers' interests. The crisis of leadership becomes irrelevant.
In order to climb in bed with the labor bureaucrats the WL has always pursued the most shameless economist policies in its relatively sparse trade-union work. Hence the constant calls for a labor party formed by the bureaucrats (and based on the bureaucrats ' anti-communist program); hence the deliberate omission of the war and race, questions from the 1967 TULP program; hence the "critical support" to out-bureaucrats like Hill of the SSEU and Morrissey of the NMU.
A highlight of the class series was the intervention by members of the Militant-Solidarity Caucus of the NMU who pointed out that the WL's real appetites were revealed by the Bulletin's support to Morrissey, whose entire program consists of vague promises of democracy and a policy of suing the union in the capitalist courts (which the WL claims to oppose). In contrast to Morrissey, the M-SC is based on a full program which includes the demand for a labor party to fight for a workers government and international class solidarity with the Vietnamese revolution. Also unlike Morrissey, the M-SC has waged a determined fight against the discriminatory job-trusting "group system," called for building an international union instead of protectionist legislation and campaigned for the release of WL supporter Juan Farinas (who was jailed after a frame-up conviction for "draft evasion"). In a classic statement of the totally reactionary implications of WL policies in the unions, Wohlforth remarked at the fifth class:
“Our policy in the NMU, in the Mine-workers, in the SSEU, is to support left bureaucratic layers in the elections, and then criticize them. We support Morrissey 100 percent in the elections and criticize him down the line.... The Militant-Solidarity Caucus is just a showpiece and goes against the movement of the working class.... Morrissey is just a bastard:-but he's an out-bastard: We will support the out-bastards against the in-bastards every time, just as long as we get a little room to breathe in the unions."So, according to Wohlforth, the demand for a labor party, the struggle against the special oppression of youth through the “group system, even defense of the WL cause celebre Farinas – all this "goes against the movement of the working class." To grasp the incredible cynicism of the WL, one need only recall that Wohlforth referred to the 1971 NYC police strike as an. expression of the movement of the working class. That is the result of WL Pabloism: support for cops and bureaucrats and opposition to real class-struggle politics:
The "Final" Crisis
Behind Wohlforth's rejection of Trotskyist trade-union work as an “empty showpiece" lies his unsated appetite for a 'left" section of the trade-union bureaucracy to tail-end. (Similarly Healy, who claims to have broken with Pabloism in 1953, has never repudiated his policies of the 1940's and I950's, when he was deeply submerged in the "Labour left' in a classic example of Pabloist "entrism sui generis" which lasted more than a decade.) In order to fulfill this appetite Wohlforth must, however, have something to bargain with, and this means building a movement with at least some pretense to revolutionary aspirations. Such a movement will inevitably be composed of human beings, and Wohlforth must therefore reckon with the possibility that at least occasionally some of his followers will feel the need to explain to themselves the bizarre flip-flops in WL policies. To handle this "unfortunate" eventuality one needs a "theory" which explains why selling out the rank and file to the bureaucrats is really an "expression of the movement of the working class." This is the purpose of the crisis-mongering of the Workers League.
The essence of the Healyite "economic analysis" is the contention that the “post-war boom" has been brought to an end by the international financial crisis: Since gold reserves can only cover at best around 10 percent of the value of world trade, the capitalist system must inevitably collapse. In other words, we have here the keystone to all objectivist theories -- the final crisis. Exaggerated? Let the SLL/WL speak for themselves:
If such a crisis is so severe that it can destroy the economic base of capitalism, the bourgeoisie will be inexorably driven to fascism while the labor bureaucrats (in the WL's cloud-cuckoo-land of economic determinism) must therefore fight for the interests of the working class.
"Ever since 1914 the capitalist system has been gripped by contradictions that could only be solved by slump or war. Now its corpse – bloated by the postwar inflation-has burst. And the system is turning to dust.... "
-- "Capitalism Hits the Dust as Nixon Puts the Boot In," Workers Press, 15 February 1973
"The latest moves by the Nixon administration in devaluing the dollar mark a rapid acceleration of the capitalist system towards a breakdown and crisis deeper than at any time in its history." [emphasis in original] "Development of the Post-War Economic Crisis -- Draft Resolution of the Socialist Labour League." Workers Press, 24 February 1973
"The most frantic gold rush in modern history... is a warning to the working class that the latest dollar devaluation is a direct prelude to the complete collapse of the world economic system." [emphasis in original] "Gold Price Soars to New Heights," Bulletin, 5 March 1973
"The next Nixon government will not compromise with the working class as past administrations – including his own – have. Rather, he plans to run the equivalent of a war-time government that will confront the working class head-on, seek to smash its unions and living conditions, and establish a naked dictatorship that will whip American workers into submission.Thus, you see, it is all right to call on the arch-reactionaries Meany, Abel or Van Arsdale to form a labor party, since the terminal crisis makes a decisive collision "unavoidable." And, of course, what need is there for the Transitional Program, since even "simple trade union demands are today so profoundly revolutionary" (Bulletin, 16 April 1973)?
"These remarks by Nixon must be seen in the light of the deepening economic crisis which has destroyed the basis for compromise. There is no way that a decisive collision between the government and the working class can be avoided.”
-Bulletin, 4 December 1972
In contrast with the SL, which sees recurring cycles of booms and crises in a world capitalist system that has been decaying at least since 1914, Wohlforth proudly proclaims that his tendency has recognized the imminence of The Crisis "since 1962." The absurdity of this stance is obvious: even if the world capitalist economy were to collapse tomorrow into the worst depression of all time, to take credit for prescience on the grounds that one has spent the last eleven years predicting its imminent arrival is akin to crying all week that Monday is coming and then patting oneself on the back when it finally arrives. Periodic crises are inevitable for the bourgeois order, and at some point the WL's crisis-mongering will undoubtedly intersect reality.
However, so far Wohlforth shows a remarkably poor sense of timing: The post-war boom is supposed to have lasted until 1961, ending around the time of the Belgian general strike. But even Mandel, author of the Pabloist theory of "neo-capitalism," recognizes recessions in 1948-49, 1953-54, 1957-58 and 1960-61. And in the U.S. 1962 marked the beginning of a massive capital investment boom (investment increased an average of 11 percent per year during 1962-66)! Currently the WL claims we are in the midst of the worst crisis ever, which has driven the profit rate to 'below the level of zero percent" (Bulletin, 12 February 1973), when in fact we are in the middle-to-late stages of a boom which sent profits up more than 25 percent during the first quarter of 1973.
Healy's Cross of Gold
One of the more peculiar aspects of the Healyite economic theories is the explanation of "The Crisis" as being caused by the insufficient supply of gold, thereby placing the SLL/WL in a long line of monetary quacks, beginning with Proudhon and running through William Jennings Bryan, de Gaulle and Lyn Marcus. According to the SLL:
"While prices, stimulated by government inflationary policies, have risen five or six times on their pre-war level, gold, was held down in price for 37 years.
"It is in this crisis that gold is enacting its revenge for all these years in which the Keynesians tried to tamper with the law of value....
"Without gold, products cannot enter circulation and become commodities. The rush into gold and the flight from all forms of paper-the feature which now overshadows everything In the crisis-means a collapse of commodity production for the world market.... "
-"The Dollar Crisis" (Bulletin pamphlet, 1973), p. 23
This approach is totally counterposed to Marxist economic science. As an SL supporter pointed out in the sixth class, Marx insisted that the basis of economic crises was in capitalist production, not circulation. The root cause of all crises is that capital expands faster than the surplus value that it generates (i.e., the rate of profit falls). Marx dismissed credit theories of crisis out of hand:
"In investigating why the general possibility of crisis turns into a real crisis... it is therefore quite superfluous to concern oneself with the forms of crisis which arise out of the development of money as means of payment.” [emphasis in original]Perhaps the most striking departure from Marxism by Healyite economic theory is the argument that inflation has (only temporarily, of course) suspended the law of value. According to the SLL's monetary "expert" Peter Jeffries, "The operation of the law of value has... been 'suspended' or 'avoided' throughout much of the boom period" (Newsletter, 30 March 1968). In the first place, there was no such "post-war boom" in the sense of a qualitatively different period (if the law of value was "denied" for "27 years," as the 28 May Bulletin alleges, that certainly would be a qualitative change). Following World War II we have experienced a period of succeeding booms and recessions, with overall growth rates for the major capitalist nations which were well within (and sometimes below) historical norms.
- Theories of Surplus Value, Ch. 17
Equally important, the idea of a post-war boom period is the cornerstone of the Mandelian theory of "neo-capitalism." Like Mandel, the SLL/WL links this "boom" to inflation caused by government deficit spending, i.e., Keynesianism; and like Mandel, Healy/Wohlforth believe that this is/was a period in which the bourgeoisie is successfully able to grant reforms substantially benefitting the working class. Trotsky insisted this was impossible during the epoch of decaying capitalism, and concluded that reform demands were inadequate and had to be replaced with transitional demands which point to the only real solution for the working class, socialist revolution. For Mandel and Healy/Wohlforth it was not only the law of value which was suspended in the neo-reformist period of the "boom" – it was also the Transitional Program. (And now, with the 'final crisis' at band, transitional demands are likewise unnecessary, since wage demands are revolutionary according to the WL.)
The Crisis of Leadership
The post-war stabilization of capitalism was not, as the WL claims, the result of the Bretton Woods monetary agreement of 1944, but rather the product of the tremendous destruction of capital accomplished by World War II and the defeat, due to the absence of revolutionary leadership, of the general strikes and revolutionary upheavals which swept the European working class after the war. These upheavals could have meant the end, not only of a period of stabilization, but of capitalism itself. They were defeated because of the betrayals of the Stalinists (and the Pabloists). Thus the question of economic stability in the imperialist epoch is fundamentally a political question, or as Trotsky put it, the fundamental crisis in this epoch. lt is the crisis of proletarian leadership.
In Trotsky's "Report on the World Economic Crisis and the New Tasks of the Communist International" to the Third Congress of the CI, he began not with the expansion of credit (which accompanies every boom), but with the defeats of the European revolution which laid the basis for a temporary period of capitalist recovery. As for the myth of the "final crisis," in the same Speech Trotsky comments:
"So long as capitalism is not overthrown by the proletarian revolution, it will continue to live in cycles, swinging up and down. Crises and booms were inherent in capitalism at its very birth; they will accompany it to its grave....
"It might be asked whether the great struggles over wages... will automatically lead to the world revolution, to the final civil war and the conquest of political power.... We have no automatic guarantees of development."
After the Congress, Trotsky wrote concerning the controversy with the proponents of the "theory of the offensive":
"There was a rather indefinite grouping whose contention it was that the commercial and industrial crisis – and it was extremely acute – …constituted the final crisis of capitalist society, and that this final crisis of capitalists society would inexorably worsen right up to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This conception of the revolution is completely non-Marxist, non-scientific, mechanistic."
-The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. II, p. 60
In contrast to the monetary crank theories of the SLL/WL, and in answer to Wohlforth's absurd charge that the SL does not recognize any changes since 1914, at the sixth class Spartacist League National Chairman James Robertson read the opening paragraph of the current SL perspectives document as an example of a Marxist evaluation of the current period:
"1. The tasks facing the Spartacist League and the capacity of the SL as a revolutionary Marxist organization have both been qualitatively transformed through an interacting process. The crisis and breakdown of the post-World War II configuration of the world capitalist system, dominated by American imperialism, has been marked by the catastrophic consequences of the American involvement in Vietnam, the French general strike of 1968 and the definitive collapse of the 'American century' with Nixon's new fiscal and economic policies, which mark the forced abdication by the U.S. of the role of world policeman and the reversion of American imperialism to merely the strongest of several competing units. These developments have of course also been conditioned and paralleled by the political decomposition of the deformed workers state bloc, above all the Russia/China split."Philosophical Objectivism and Political Opportunism
– "Memorandum to the CC on the Transformation of the SL," Marxist Bulletin No. 9, Part III
The most striking characteristic of the Workers League since its very inception as a tendency has been its constant shifting of positions. When talk is cheap the WL affects a principled Trotskyist stand, but when it smells a chance for an opportunist link-up then principles are thrown out the window (or, more accurately, shelved to be used again next month) as they rush to support the existing more powerful forces – Healy, SWP majority, black nationalism, the labor bureaucracy, French popular front, etc. It is the constant gyrating that we refer to in calling them "political bandits."
Yet beneath the grotesque zig-zags, an underlying method can be discerned. It was the exposition of this method that highlighted the recent NYC class series. After hours of obfuscating verbiage about an abstract "fight for dialectics" (the purpose of which is to avoid any consideration of program), Wohlforth felt constrained to demonstrate the consistency of supporting Mao Tse tung, Ho Chi Minh, Mujibur Hallman, Huey Newton, Stanley Hill and James Morrissey and `ignoring the Transitional Program in the trade unions. In doing so he revealed the heart of Healyite "theory" as philosophical objectivism, the belief that the overwhelming economic crisis eliminates the crisis of leadership: wages are a revolutionary issue and Meany/Abel are an adequate leadership.
It is this objectivism that permits Wohlforth to give political support to, for instance, the Vietnamese Stalinists with the justification that "objective conditions" have "forced [them] into a fight with imperialism under conditions where there can be no compromise"[emphasis in original] (Bulletin, 14 May 1973).
As Pablo in the early 1950's launched his campaign to liquidate the Trotskyist movement into the Stalinist parties; he made clear the role of philosophical objectivism as the fundamental justification for the abandonment of the principles and program of the Fourth International. The "Theses on International Perspectives" of the "Third Congress of the FI" (1951) states:
"The objective conditions determine in the long run the character and dynamic of the mass movement which, taken to a certain level, can overcome all the subjective obstacles in the path of the revolution. This conception continues to be the base of our revolutionary optimism and clarifies our attitude towards the Communist parties."It is this theory which is characteristic of Pabloism in all its variants. But Pabloism itself is only a "theoretical" justification for something far more fundamental: the abject fear of the petty bourgeois faced with the task of leading the proletariat in struggle for socialist revolution, and the resulting overpowering desire to find shelter in the warm embrace of the traditional leaders of the working class, the agents of the bourgeoisie and the most direct expression of what is, as opposed to what will be.
- Quatrieme International, August-September 1951