Book Reviews

Towards a History of the Trotskyist Tendencies after Trotsky

Memoirs of a Critical Communist: Towards a History of the Fourth  International by Livio Maitan

A Review of Memoirs of a Critical Communist: Towards a History of the Fourth International by Livio Maitan

Daniel Gaido

National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Argentina


This work, based on the premise that ‘Trotskyism’ in Trotsky’s lifetime was nothing but the name given to Marxism in its fight against the Stalinist bureaucracy, offers an overview of the history of Trotskyist tendencies after Trotsky’s assassination which highlights the need not only of addressing programmatic and strategic issues (above all, the long-standing and growing accommodation to bourgeois democracy of most of the Trotskyist tendencies) but also of taking an in-depth look at a series of organisational practices that the Trotskyist tendencies have inherited from Zinovievism and Stalinism and that have greatly contributed to their current weakness.


Trotskyism – socialism – workers’ party – sectarianism – parliamentarism

Livio Maitan, (2020) Livio Maitan: Memoirs of a Critical Communist: Towards a History of the Fourth International, translated by Gregor Benton, London: The Merlin Press.


The history of the Trotskyist tendencies after Trotsky still is, more than 80 years after Trotsky’s death, largely terra incognita, or rather a bazaar in which all kinds of sects peddle their myths. Only from time to time does a work emerge that takes the history of Trotskyism out of the realm of mythology and provide us with the elements we need to reconstruct the actual experience of the Trotskyist militants in a particular time and place, such as Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson’s two volumes on the history of British Trotskyism from 1924 to 1949,Richardson and Bornstein 1986a and 1986b. Gary Tennant’s history of Cuban Trotskyism from 1932 to 1965Tennant 1999. and Jean Hentzgen’s dissertation on the Lambertist current in France until 1963.Hentzgen 2019.

This is regrettable because ‘Trotskyism’ in Trotsky’s lifetime was nothing but the name given to Marxism in its struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy: the Transitional Programme adopted by the Fourth International in 1938 was merely the development of the programmatic debates that took place in the Communist International (particularly in its third and fourth congresses), which were interrupted by the rise of Stalinism.Gaido 2018. Those who believe, as the first Congress of the Socialist International held in Paris in July 1889 affirmed, ‘that the emancipation of labour and humanity cannot occur without the international action of the proletariat – organized in class-based parties – which seizes political power through the expropriation of the capitalist class and the social appropriation of the means of production’, cannot, therefore, but take ‘Trotskyism’ as an obligatory reference point.Taber 2021, p. 22. This inheritance, however, is buried under a whole series of unfortunate events experienced by the political tendencies stemming from the Fourth International, most of which were not accompanied by any serious political balance-sheet, so the recovery of Trotsky’s socialist and revolutionary legacy requires a work of historical reconstruction that has yet to be done, and to which the present work aims to contribute.

The works available so far fall into two main categories: monographs such as those mentioned above, restricted to a country and often to a specific Trotskyist tendency for a limited period of time, or general reviews written from the point of view of one of those tendencies, generally of an apologetic character, even if such apology is not without self-criticism (for example, the books of Frank and Moreau, written from the point of view of the ‘United Secretariat of the Fourth International’).Frank 1973 and Moreau 1993. An exception to this rule is Robert J. Alexander’s monumental academic reconstruction International Trotskyism 1929–1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement (Alexander 1991). Unfortunately, Alexander’s book is not organised chronologically but alphabetically, making it difficult reading for the uninitiated, to which should be added the fact that, having been written 30 years ago, it does not include an analysis of the involution of Trotskyism after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. To this last category belongs the most recent ‘history of the Fourth International’ written by Livio Maitan, published in Italian under the title Per una storia della IV internazionale:La testimonianza di un comunista controcorrenteMaitan 2006. and recently translated into English by Gregor Benton as Memoirs of a Critical Communist: Towards a History of the Fourth International.Maitan 2020. Since the title of the Italian original has been shifted to the subtitle, it also should be pointed out that this is not Livio Maitan’s autobiography, which is entitled La strada percorsa: Dalla Resistenza ai nuovi movimenti: lettura critica e scelte alternative, and which has not yet been translated from the Italian (Maitan 2002).

Maitan’s book tells the Historia Calamitatum of the Fourth International from the point of view of its official leadership (to which Maitan belonged) until the split in 1953, then from the point of view of the International Secretariat led by Michel Pablo and, from its creation in 1963, from the point of view of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International until the death of the author. Given that the United Secretariat was, for better or worse, the dominant Trotskyist current for most of the period under consideration, and that it continues to exist to this day, a critical reading of Maitan’s book is a good introduction to the subject of the history of Trotskyist tendencies after Trotsky.

The Second World War and the Democratic Counterrevolution in Western Europe

The first chapter of Maitan’s book deals cursorily with the ‘Dramatic battles of the 1930s and the early 1940s’, without explaining why the European Trotskyist organisations emerged very weakened, both numerically and programmatically, from the Second World War. In the paradigmatic case of France, this was due to the policy of sectarian abstentionism in the face of resistance to the Nazi occupation adopted by the French Trotskyists after the arrest of their main leader, Marcel Hic, by the Gestapo in October 1943. This policy, which continued during the liberation process, was carried out with the support of the European Secretariat of the Fourth International led by Michel Pablo. The Stalinist parties, on the contrary, were transformed into mass organisations of the working class in countries like France and Italy primarily because of their role in the resistance, even though that participation had a chauvinist, popular-frontist and pro-imperialist character. Their sectarian policy turned the postwar Trotskyist organisations into groups of at most a few hundred people confronting Stalinist parties often comprising hundreds of thousands of workers, as in France and Italy.Luparello and Gaido 2020.

A concomitant factor that turned the Trotskyist organisations in Europe, and particularly the French section, into sects in the immediate postwar period, while the Stalinist organisations became mass working-class parties, was their inability to foresee the coming of a democratic counterrevolution under the aegis of American imperialism. The outbreak of the Second World War found US Trotskyism divided into two organisations: the Socialist Workers Party led by James Cannon, and the Workers Party led by Max Shachtman. The downfall of Mussolini on 24 July 1943 resulted in the appearance of a third current: a minority within the SWP led by Felix Morrow, Jean van Heijenoort and Albert Goldman. Confronting the SWP leaders’ line, according to which US imperialism would operate in Europe through ‘Franco-type governments’, the minority argued that imperialism would use democratic regimes to stem the advance of the revolution, propping them up with economic aid, and that it would be helped in this task by the Socialist and Communist Parties, which would revive the policy of class collaboration known as the Popular Front. The task of the European Trotskyists was therefore to wrest control of the masses from those parties through democratic and transitional demands (a democratic republic, a constituent assembly, etc.) that would help the workers discover the anti-socialist agenda of their mass organisations through their own experience. The Morrow–Goldman–Heijenoort tendency’s inglorious ending precluded any serious analysis of the consequences of the policies pursued by the SWP leadership, which were extended to Europe by the European Secretariat of the Fourth International now led by Michel Pablo.Luparello and Gaido 2014.

Morrow’s swan song in the SWP was the ‘International Report’ submitted on behalf of the minority to the June 1946 plenary, which asserted:

What hair-raising nonsense the majority has defended in the name of the unchanging program! In the name of the unchanging program, Comrade Cannon, you taught the following things: That our proletarian military policy means that we should telescope together overthrow of capitalism and defence of the country against foreign fascism. That the Polish revolutionists should subordinate themselves to the Russian Army. That there is an objectively revolutionary logic brought about by the Russian victories. That naked military dictatorships are the only possible governments in Europe because it is impossible to set up a new series of Weimar republics in Europe. That American imperialism is at least as predatory as Nazi imperialism in its methods in Europe. That it is theoretically impossible for America to help rebuild or feed Europe. That there are no democratic illusions in Europe. That there are no illusions about American imperialism. That amid the revolutionary upsurge it is reformist to call for the republic in Greece, Italy and Belgium or the Constituent Assembly. That to speak of a Stalinist danger to the European revolution is only possible for a professional defeatist. That the fate of the Soviet Union would be decided by the war but only careless people think the war is over.Morrow 1946, pp. 28–9.

Despite the evident inability of Cannon and the leadership gathered around him to analyse reality and orient the Fourth International’s sections accordingly, Morrow’s fate and that of his fellow comrades was sealed, because by then the SWP’s organisational practices had become modelled on the lines of Zinoviev’s ‘Bolshevisation’.

Zinoviev’s ‘Bolshevisation’ as the Organisational Model for Cannon’s SWP

The Fourth International’s abstentionist policy went hand in hand with a flowering of sectarian organisational practices, which is not surprising since the SWP’s leader, James Cannon, had been back in the day a great fan of Zinoviev’s ‘Bolshevisation’, which can be seen as the first step in the Stalinist bureaucratisation of the Communist Parties all over the world.Cannon 1924 and 1925. Grigory Zinoviev, who was Chairman of the Communist International from March 1919 to November 1926, laid down the line of the ‘Bolshevisation’ policy at its Fifth congress, held in June–July 1924. The proceedings of that congress have never been fully translated into English or French, but a German version is available online (Fünfter Kongress der Kommunistischen Internationale 1924). Let us recall that the ‘Theses on Tactics’ (Thesen zur Taktikfrage) adopted by the Fifth Congress of the Communist International held in 1924 included a section on the ‘Bolshevisation of the Parties and Formation of a United Communist World Party’ whose notorious point 4 said: ‘It must be a centralised party that does not admit factions, tendencies or groupings, it must be cast in one piece [Sie muß eine zentralisierte Partei sein, die keine Fraktionen, Strömungen oder Gruppierungen zuläßt, muß wie aus einem Gusse sein]’.Sinowjew 1924, p. 229. Zinoviev’s ‘Bolshevisation’ policy not merely paved the way for the rise of Stalinism, but unfortunately is alive and well in the internal dynamics of most ‘Trotskyist’ organisations today. Maitan reproduces this quote from James Cannon’s conversations with Trotsky: ‘I think that the party in the eyes of the leading militants should be considered as a military organization. The party forms should be much more considerably formalized in a deliberate form of hierarchical organization.’Cannon quote taken from Trotsky 1973, p. 286, reproduced in Maitan 2020, p. 264.

Needless to say, all this had nothing in common with Lenin’s conception of party-building, which took as its model a mass socialist party of the working class (the Social-Democratic Party of Germany) insofar as that model was at all applicable to the conditions of tsarist autocracy in Russia. In April 1914, Lenin wrote to Inessa Armand:

But it is incorrect to say that the German party is the most opportunist party in Europe. It is nonetheless the best party, and our task is to adopt from the Germans all that is most valuable (the mass of newspapers, the large party membership, the mass membership of the trade unions, the systematic subscription to the newspapers, strict control over the parliamentarians – all the same the Germans are better at this control than the French and Italians, not to mention Britain – and so on), adopt all this without playing up to the opportunists.Lenin 1914, emphasis in the original.

It had nothing to do with Trotsky’s conception of party-building either. In his book The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky wrote:

The present doctrine that Bolshevism does not tolerate factions is a myth of the epoch of decline. In reality the history of Bolshevism is a history of the struggle of factions. And, indeed, how could a genuinely revolutionary organization, setting itself the task of overthrowing the world and uniting under its banner the most audacious iconoclasts, fighters and insurgents, live and develop without intellectual conflicts, without groupings and temporary factional formations?.Trotsky 1983, pp. 94–5.

While Trotsky was alive, the bureaucratic tendencies within the Fourth International were kept in check, but they became official policy after the expulsion of the Morrow–Heijenoort–Goldman fraction in the SWP, which, as the dominant Trotskyist organisation during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, made those practices extend to the Fourth International as a whole. These citations from Felix Morrow and Albert Goldman are revealing and little known, so they deserve to be quoted at length:

We believe that without unity [with the Workers’ Party] the SWP is doomed to monolithic degeneration – is that not a question of sufficient importance to justify an organised struggle on it? Under the most exemplary conditions of Internal democracy in the Russian party and the Communist International, factions were organized to struggle for certain goals and nobody dreamed of adducing democracy as an argument against forming these factions. You are straying far from Bolshevism, dear comrades, when you criticize us for forming a faction to fight for our ideas. […] Cannon group’s opposition to unity is a touchstone indicating the fact that it is a bureaucratic tendency, a monolithic tendency. […] when a leadership mistakenly believes that admission of errors and open discussion in the ranks of the party to correct the line undermines its authority, then bureaucratic controls over party life become inevitable.Morrow and Goldman 1945, pp. 6–7.

The ideal is not to have factions and factional organs. By this I do not mean that the ideal is to have no differences of opinion but to have such a healthy party that differences are discussed and settled without factions and factional organs. But the point we are discussing is not some abstract ideal but the attitude of the leadership of a party to the formation of factions and the publication of factional organs. The general rule should be recognized: no prohibition of factions or factional organs.

Cannon gave us a dissertation on the looseness of the Socialist Party in this country prior to the First World War and to the organization of the communist movement. He told us that whoever wanted to and had the resources could and did publish a paper. He did not expressly say so, but the conclusion is that we must now not permit the existence of tendencies and tendency organs in the party. […] It is not difficult to get an admission from us that there are dangers inherent in freely permitting the existence of tendencies and tendency bulletins. But these dangers are far outweighed by the dangers of prohibiting factions and factional organs, that is, by the dangers of monolithism.Goldman 1946, p. 56, emphasis in the original.

Unity [with the Workers’ Party] means a democratic-centralist party as against the monolithic tendency of Cannonism. Unity means an attitude toward differences of opinion which recognizes that those who differ with us remain our comrades. Unity means to welcome attempts to go beyond what has already been said and to find what is new in the changing situation. Unity means a rejection of the notorious formula of E.R. Frank, spokesman for the SWP majority, that ‘we have a finished program.’ Unity means a living, thinking Trotskyist party which openly and honestly corrects its mistakes in order the better to avoid new ones.Morrow 1945, p. 10.

The SWP’s sectarian organisational practices were extended to the European sections (which were not devoid of their own home-grown sects, such as the followers of Raymond Molinier) because Pablo originally was Cannon’s man in Europe, just like Posadas later became Pablo’s man in Latin America.

In other words, the Fourth International created by Trotsky in 1938 did not survive the Second World War. It came out of that conflict with its sections decimated by repression, by its policy of abstentionism from the mass movements (particularly the resistance), and by its inability to foresee the course of events – particularly the adoption of a policy of democratic counterrevolution with the financial backing of American imperialism. For ten years, from 1943 to 1953, the Fourth International experienced a long agony, characterised by the political disorientation of its leadership and by its insistence on the imminent outbreak of a Third World War. This disorientation manifested itself in an increasing accommodation to reformism and particularly to Stalinism, which became particularly evident after the Tito–Stalin split in 1948.

The Titoist Interlude of the Fourth International

Maitan mentions that the second world congress of the Fourth International, held in Paris in April 1948, ‘was convened without any public announcement’,Maitan 2020, p. 23. but not the Byzantine gerrymandering of the national sections carried out beforehand to secure a majority of mandates for the Cannon–Pablo tendency, a fact denounced at that time by Natalia Sedova-Trotsky. As Trotsky’s partner denounced it, ‘the division adopted by the IEC [International Executive Committee] inevitably and bureaucratically assures it the majority in the World Congress, a majority which it will sit tight on while avoiding discussion of the major problems which are posed before our International’.Sedova Trotsky et al. 1947, p. 13. The proceedings of the congress were never published, setting a precedent that was followed by all subsequent congresses held by both the ‘Pabloite’ and the ‘anti-Pabloite’ organisations.

Maitan acknowledges that ‘major new developments had not been taken into account’ in the resolutions adopted by the second world congress, that ‘only two months later came the break between the USSR and the Yugoslav Communist Party’, that ‘the Second Congress had indiscriminately included Yugoslavia among the countries defined at the time as in the buffer-zone [glacis]’, and that ‘a year and a half later the Chinese revolution would come to a head’ without the Fourth International ever having predicted even the possibility of those events.Maitan 2020, pp. 25–6.

Ernest Mandel, the author of the Theses on ‘The USSR and Stalinism’ adopted by the second world congress of the Fourth International in April 1948, had written in April 1947:

We must denounce, without surcease and without reservation, all the crimes of Stalinism against the people in the buffer countries, we must systematically break down all the illusions of the masses about the “destruction of capitalism” in these countries and about the “socialism” that exists in Russia. This task is as fundamental as the fight against parliamentary illusions in the struggle against the Social Democracy – for no worker who really thinks that Russia is “socialist” and that the Stalinists have abolished capitalism in Yugoslavia will leave the Stalinist organizations.Mandel 1947, p. 143.

The Theses on ‘The USSR and Stalinism’ adopted by the Second World Congress in April 1948 restated this idea in the following words:

Whereas the workers’ state defends the collective ownership of the means of production, arising from a victorious socialist revolution, the state of the “buffer” countries defends property which, despite its diverse and hybrid forms, remains fundamentally bourgeois in character. […] The fact that capitalism still exists in these countries side by side with exploitation by the Stalinist bureaucracy must fundamentally determine our strategy. The capitalist nature of these countries imposes the necessity of the strictest revolutionary defeatism in war time.Second World Congress of the Fourth International 1948, pp. 119, 121.

The Tito–Stalin split, which was taking place while that resolution was being adopted, and the Trotskyists’ support for Tito in that conflict, put the Fourth International in the rather awkward position of supporting, according to its own analysis, a capitalist state (Yugoslavia) against a degenerated workers’ state (the Soviet Union). This does not mean that siding with Yugoslavia in that conflict was wrong, it just goes to show the degree of theoretical confusion and political disorientation prevailing in the leadership of the Fourth International after Trotsky’s assassination, and the empirical character of the twists and turns in the party line.

To justify the Fourth International’s subsequent search for a common ‘Leninist’ denominator with the Titoist bureaucracy,International Secretariat of the Fourth International 1948. Maitan underlines as one of the ‘two essential aspects of the attitude’ of the Yugoslav Communist Party ‘the demand for labour-movement autonomy from the Soviet bureaucracy’, without mentioning that the Yugoslav labour movement was never granted any autonomy from the control of Tito’s bureaucracy, which was no better than Stalin’s bureaucracy in that respect.Maitan 2020, p. 28.

The leadership of the Fourth International hastened to send volunteer brigades to Yugoslavia and to describe it as a ‘workers’ state’, even though shortly afterwards it supported American imperialism during the Korean War. Lambert, for instance, wrote in May 1950 a rapturous description of Tito’s Yugoslavia in which he said: ‘Personally, I believe that I saw in Yugoslavia a dictatorship of the proletariat, led by a Party which passionately wants to fight bureaucracy and impose workers’ democracy [Moi, personnellement, j’estime que j’ai vu en Yougoslavie une dictature du prolétariat, dirigée par un Parti qui veut passionnément combattre la bureaucratie et imposer la démocratie ouvrière].’Lambert 1950, p. 4 All this opera buffa is called by Maitan a ‘reaffirmation of some of the finest traditions of the workers’ movement’ on the bizarre grounds that ‘even today (in 2001), in what remains of Yugoslavia, there are factories in which workers, reduced to a tragic plight, continue to espouse the principles of self-management.’Maitan 2020, p. 52.

Retrogression was rampant in other areas as well. The delegates to the Third World Congress which met in August 1951 did not appear to be shocked by the fact that the section of the ‘Resolution on the international situation and the tasks of the Fourth International’ on Palestine recommended, three years after the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Palestinians in 1948 known as the Nakbah,Pappé 2006. to practise entryism in Mapam, a Zionist (i.e., racist) organisation linked to the Kibbutz Artzi agrarian colonialist movement. The resolution read: ‘In PALESTINE, the Trotskyists will examine the possibility of a carrying out political work within Mapa [En PALESTINE, les trotskystes examineront la possibilité d’un travail dans le Mapam]’.Troisième congrès mondial de la Quatrième Internationale 1951, p. 187. In the elections to the first Knesset (the Israeli parliament) held on 14 February 1949, two years before the Second Congress of the Fourth International, Mapam (מפלגת הפועלים המאוחדת‎: United Workers’ Party) had received 19 seats, becoming the second largest party after the main Labour Zionist organisation, Mapai. As Mapam did not allow non-Jews to be party members, it had also created an Arab list, the Popular Arab Bloc, to participate in the elections, which did not cross the 1% electoral threshold. In other words, this resolution represented a brutal regression from the historical line of Trotskyism in Palestine, which was always opposed to partition and, after the Nakbah of 1948, supportive of a single state throughout the territory of historic Palestine, as well as of the unconditional right of return of the Palestinian refugees.Revolutionary Communist League 1947 and 1948.

The Third World Congress held in 1951 also adopted a ‘Resolution on the establishment of a Latin American Bureau’ (Buró Latinoamericano, BLA) which put J. Posadas in charge of coordinating the work of the Fourth International in Latin America, with dire consequences for the development of Trotskyism in that region.Troisième congrès mondial de la Quatrième Internationale 1948b.

The Chinese Revolution, the Korean War and the Origins of ‘Pabloism’

Maitan recalls that ‘a delegate from the Chinese section took part in a session of the International Executive Committee (9–18 April 1949)’ in which he maintained ‘that the Maoist army would not cross the Yangtze, although the actual crossing took place just a few days later, on 20 April’.Maitan 2020, p. 35. When the Chinese revolution of 1949 nevertheless took place, an editorial of Quatrième Internationale (July–August 1949) concluded that ‘there will be no progress towards socialism under this bastard regime, which remains fundamentally the social regime of capitalist relations [il n’y aura pas de progression vers le socialisme sous ce régime bâtard, qui reste fondementalement le régime social des rapports capitalistes]’.Quatrième Internationale 1949, p. 14, emphasis in the original. As a result of this disorientation, ‘no resolution on China was adopted until the Executive Committee meeting in June 1952’, when a document was finally approved that ‘concluded by using the formula workers’ and peasants’ government’ to describe Mao’s regimeMaitan 2020, p. 36. – which unleashed a country-wide crackdown on the Chinese Trotskyists on 22 December 1952.Benton 2015, p. 126. Exactly as in Yugoslavia, also in the case of China, a bourgeois state had inexplicably turned, according to the Fourth International’s official documents, into a workers’ and peasants’ government under the leadership of a Stalinist bureaucracy.

The outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950 gave a new impetus to the accommodation to Stalinism, which generated a split in the French section in 1952. This gave rise to the first open clash with the International Secretariat led by Michel Pablo. Maitan recalls that, in the resolutions adopted around that time by the International Executive Committee, ‘a new war in the short term was ruled out’, which meant that the outbreak of the Korean War took the leadership of the Fourth International by surprise, just like the rest of the major events mentioned so far.Maitan 2020, p. 40. In yet another 180-degree turn, that same leadership went on to announce that ‘the almost consummated rupture between the imperialist bloc on the one side, and on the other side, the USSR around which are grouped the “People’s Democracies” and China’ would ‘tend to spread into a decisive general encounter’.Maitan 2020, p. 41. Pablo’s book La guerre qui vient (Capitalism or Socialism? The Coming World Showdown) confidently asserted: ‘Beginning with this moment, we will have entered upon the critical period, where any grave deterioration of the present equilibrium for one reason or another […] can quickly develop beyond a local matter into world conflict’ – i.e., a Third World War.Pablo 1952, p. 35, emphasis in the original.

This prospect of the imminent outbreak of a Third World War led Pablo to impose his policy of ‘entryism sui generis’ into the Stalinist parties, which, since these parties did not recognise the right to form tendencies, implied dividing the Trotskyist national sections into two organisations, one practising entryism in secret in the local Communist Party and the other conducting Trotskyist agitation from the outside. This resulted in a split in the French section in 1952, and in the Fourth International as a whole the following year, three months after the end of the Korean War. Maitan recognises that it quickly ‘became apparent that the specific hypothesis about the radicalization of the communist parties like those in France and Italy failed to become a reality’ and that both these parties ‘became ever more integrated into institutions and played a reformist role not unlike that of social democracy’, yet he places the blame for the split on those who refused to accept Pablo’s line.Maitan 2020, p. 46.

In all fairness to Pablo and Maitan, it should be pointed out that Pablo’s main opponents, like Marcel Bleibtreu, also sought a way out of the political impasse in which the Fourth International (whose national sections had by then been reduced to a few dozen or at most hundreds of members) found itself in an accommodation to other variants of Stalinism, such as Maoism. Bleibtreu sang hymns of praise to the great helmsman in his document ‘Where Is Pablo Going?’. These are his actual words from June 1951:

We are compelled on the contrary to state that the disruptive element in the ‘international Stalinist movement’ as such is the Chinese revolution and that this celebrated co-leadership, far from being a disruptive element, expresses an inherently temporary compromise between the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy of the USSR and its NEGATION, the Chinese revolution. […] The Chinese Communist Party stopped being a Stalinist party and became a centrist party advancing along with the revolution. […] The Chinese Communist Party’s declaration of its independence in regard to the Kremlin and its steps toward accomplishing the tasks of the permanent revolution, both in China and internationally, are events that will probably take place before imperialism can start a world war.Bleibtreu-Favre 1974, pp. 63, 72, 75, emphasis in the original.

This praise of assorted Stalinist bureaucrats was not an isolated incident. As we have seen, Lambert, Cannon, Healy et al. had been ardent Titoists, together with Pablo, from 1948 to 1951, which means that the ‘Stalinist turn’ took place several years before the 1952–3 crisis, and that there was no substantial difference between ‘Pabloism’ and ‘anti-Pabloism’ as far as accommodation to Stalinism, and to the reformist organisations in the labour movement in general, was concerned.

The year 1953 witnessed not only the death of Stalin in March but also the uprising of the workers of East Berlin against the Stalinist bureaucracy in June, but the Fourth International once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with its split of that year. The split of the French section in 1952 was joined in 1953 by that of the American and British sections, although their leaders James Cannon and Gerry Healy had until recently supported the International Secretariat led by Pablo, and their break with Pabloism did not have a programmatic character but was a manoeuvre aimed at maintaining control of their respective national organisations.Pitt 2002. All this meant that the 1953 split in the Fourth International was little more than a clash between minuscule apparatuses, in which programmatic debates were replaced by an exchange of ‘open letters’ replete with personal recriminations and professions of Trotskyist ‘orthodoxy’, beginning with the Socialist Workers Party’s denunciation of ‘Pablo’s Revisionism’ in the ‘Letter to Trotskyists Throughout the World’ published in November 1953.National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party 1953.

History gave the Trotskyist organisations another opportunity in 1956, with Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s crimes at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the subsequent workers’ uprising in Poland and above all with the October 1956 revolution in Hungary. Quatrième Internationale, in its March 1956 issue, however, did not predict a workers’ revolution but ‘a sharper differentiation, a break in reality between the advancing revolutionary wing and the Thermidorian wing of the bureaucracy, which is becoming increasingly isolated’, thus showing the extent of Pablo’s illusions in Stalinism.Quatrième Internationale 1956, p. 5, emphasis in the original. The ‘anti-Pabloist’ Trotskyist organisations were a bit more critical and managed to recruit some dissidents from the Communist Parties, such as Peter Fryer in Great Britain.Fryer 1956. In France, the Lambertist organisation went further and in 1962 recruited a Hungarian who took part in the 1956 revolution and then went into exile, Balázs Nagy, better known by his pseudonym Michel Varga – only to oust him a decade later, in 1973, accusing him of being ‘an agent of the CIA and the KGB’, in an eerie miniature replay of Stalin’s Great Purges.Organisation Communiste Internationaliste 1978.

The Cuban Revolution and the Birth of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International

In July 1960, Michel Pablo and Sal Santen were arrested in Amsterdam, where the seat of the International Secretariat had been moved after de Gaulle imposed a Bonapartist constitution on France in 1958. They were indicted for helping to forge identity papers and trying to forge French francs for the Algerian national liberation movement. This led to a protracted crisis in Pablo’s organisation, the International Secretariat, which resulted in the departure in 1962 of the Latin American sections grouped around the Buró Latinoamericano led by J. Posadas, and in the eventual displacement of Pablo as Secretary of the organisation.

In his criticism of Posadas, Maitan fails to mention the crucial question of the accommodation to Peronism (the Argentinian version of the accommodation to Stalinism), which was rampant both in the local branch of Pabloism and in the ‘orthodox Trotskyist’ Secretariado Latinoamericano del Trotskismo Ortodoxo (SLATO) led by Nahuel Moreno and belonging to the ‘International Committee’ formed in November 1953 by the majority of the French, American and British sections. While Moreno was the boldest in that direction, practising entryism into the Partido Socialista de la Revolución Nacional, a pro-Peronist split in the Argentinian Socialist Party from 1953 to 1957, and into Perón’s Partido Justicialista itself from 1957 to 1964, Posadas also tail-ended the Peronist union bureaucracy with his line of creating a ‘Workers Party based on the unions’ (‘Partido Obrero basado en los sindicatos’ – POBS). This resulted, according to the testimony of the Posadist militant Guillermo Almeyra in his memoirs, in ‘sending a wreath of flowers to the funeral of [the leader of the Metallurgical Workers Union] Augusto T. Vandor, an agent of capitalism and [the military dictator Juan Carlos] Onganía in the labour movement, whom they saw as nothing less than the political precursor of a workers’ party based on the independent trade unions, that is, of an independent and anti-capitalist instrument of the workers!’Almeyra 2013, p. 237.

Then came the creation, in 1963, of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, after Cannon’s followers and Pablo’s former followers discovered that they shared a common admiration for Fidel Castro’s regime, to which they hastened to grant the title of ‘workers’ state’, notwithstanding the fact that the Cuban workers could not choose their union officials, let alone their political representatives or the officials of the militia. Although Cuba was, along with Bolivia, one of the two Latin American countries in which Trotskyism had the greatest presence in the labour movement, its history was for a long time ignored, until the pioneering work of Gary Tennant.Tennant 1999. This slighting of Cuban Trotskyism was due to the growing adaptation of the leadership of the Cuban revolution to Stalinism, which resulted in a break between Che Guevara and the Castroist bureaucracy, and to the uncritical identification of the international Trotskyist currents with Castroism – first and foremost among them, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.Valera and Gaido 2020.

The ‘Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra’ drafted by Lenin in 1900 read: ‘Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation’. The United Secretariat followed the exact opposite approach, because, according to Maitan, ‘the question was […] to accept reunification in principle and later proceed to actual convergences’.Maitan 2020, p. 91. On the basis of this method, or lack thereof, they were able to create an international organisation in which the Socialist Workers’ Party in the United States, which in principle believed that the historical subject that would carry out the socialist revolution was the working class and that the tool it needed for that purpose was a class party, could coexist with someone like Maitan, who according to his own testimony back in 1963 argued that the historical task at hand was ‘organizing an armed struggle on the basis of a peasant guerrilla army, and extending it to an insurrectional struggle in the cities’.Maitan 2020, p. 93.

Despite this marriage of true minds, all was not well in the new International created by the (according to the United Secretariat’s numeration, which maintains the fiction of having its own congresses numbered from the first congress held by the Fourth International in 1938) ‘Seventh World Congress’ held in 1963. In particular, Pablo had not accepted the fact that he had been demoted from the post of Secretary of the Fourth International to that of Head of its African Commission. The richness of the debates between Pablo and what he called the Mandel–Frank–Maitan ‘troika’ can be gauged from the fact that in 1962 both Mandel and Pablo, despite their disagreements, found common ground in the argument that ‘it was only a matter of time before Soviet industry caught up with and overtook US industry’.Maitan 2020, p. 90. The following year, Maitan found Chinese Stalinism to be vastly superior to Soviet Stalinism (‘The Chinese arrive at a conception fairly similar to ours on the capital issue of identifying what will be the fundamental factor in the transition to socialism on a world scale’), while Pablo believed that the USSR under Nikita Khrushchev was ‘moving towards a firmer, more determined and clear role in support of the world Revolution’.Maitan 2020, p. 99. Finally, the troika-led majority decided ‘that the minority had chosen to leave the Fourth International’ (a purge by any other name smells as sweet) and ‘the Eight Congress ratified this acknowledgment’ in 1965, although Pablo finally returned to the United Secretariat in 1993.Maitan 2020, p. 104.

Nonetheless, as pointed out by Vincent Présumey in his review of the French version of Maitan’s book, something new did come out of the formation of the United Secretariat, in organisational terms: ‘A mutation took place, the scope of which is not analysed or theorised by Maitan: the International Secretariat really became a collective, and left behind, de facto, the old “Zinovievist”, fractional and centralised conception, which was that of Pablo as well as of the “anti-Pabloite” currents separated since 1953’.Présumey 2021. This remark is interesting, because it identifies the actual organisational norms operating in most ‘Trotskyist’ organisations, i.e., not ‘democratic centralism’ but Zinoviev’s ‘Bolshevisation’. Présumey correctly points out that the United Secretariat, after the SWP returned to the ‘Pabloite’ fold, was run by a different organisational method, less closely aligned with the Stalinist model, which allowed for the formation of internal tendencies – something to which the incorporation of the organisation led by Nahuel Moreno in 1964 also contributed.The French section of the United Secretariat, first the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR) and now the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA), is also organised along similar lines, although the SWP retained, and indeed with the course of times carried to extremes, its organisational sectarianism.

This also meant that the United Secretariat, unlike the other Trotskyist currents, was not organised as a cultist sect, centred around a guru who could say ‘Le parti, c’est moi’. The only one who could claim that title after Pablo’s departure from the International Secretariat was Ernest Mandel, but, as Al Richardson remarked in his obituary, Mandel’s actual role in the United Secretariat was rather the opposite of that of a leader:

Unlike the usual situation in the labour movement, where leaders generally stand on the right of their organisations, Mandel always stood to the left of his rank and file, providing them with the rationale they needed for policies that moved further and further away from the concerns of the working class as time wore on. Third World Stalinism, peasant guerrilla warfare, pacifism, foquismo, the student revolution and red bases in the universities, ecology, feminism, animal rights – you name it, they trailed after it. They were, of course, not leaders of anything, but ‘dedicated followers of fashion’, and Mandel was always on hand to provide them with the Marxist-sounding rationalisation they required. As Peng Shuzhi remarked when he first came to Europe: ‘He reminds me of Bukharin.’ For, as did Bukharin with Stalin’s Comintern, he justified every wretched opportunist turn of his international organisation. And at every such turn, more of the organisation splintered, as Trotsky prophesied it would if they abandoned the working class: ‘The Opposition is threatened with becoming a sect – or rather, a series of sects.’‘We must clearly state that should this situation persist, the Opposition would be threatened with becoming a sect, or, more precisely, several sects’ (Trotsky 1975, p. 235). And since neither the programme nor the organisation of Trotsky’s Fourth International survived the Second World War, the burden of maintaining the elaborate pretence that it existed down to our own day fell mainly upon Mandel.Richardson 1995.

The relatively less sectarian organisational practices of the United Secretariat were still a far cry from the organisational norms of the Socialist and Communist Internationals and their national sections: no factional organs were allowed, the congress proceedings were never published in order to involve the working class in the internal life of the party and the International but only the resolutions (though copies of the minutes were sent to the leadership of the national sections), no financial balance-sheet was ever submitted for its approval by the membership in the congresses, i.e. there was no real control of the leadership of the organisations by their members, etc. What the new organisational methods amounted to, in practice, was a federalism like the one sponsored by the Bund in the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party before the First World War. The result of these organisational practices has been aptly summarised by Présumey as follows: ‘A contradictory ensemble made up of complementary organisations: factions-sects [fractions-sectes] surrounding an international centre which, for its part, no longer functions in this way and is open to all discussions.’ This ‘more democratic, or at least more consensual, functioning’ of the United Secretariat, however, only resulted in ‘a whole in which the faults of some parts support and legitimise the faults of others, all forming a sort of planetary impasse.’Présumey 2021.

The Slide of the Ceylonese Section toward Popular Frontism and of the British Section toward Parliamentarism

In the meantime, the largest national section of the United Secretariat, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) embraced parliamentarism and joined the bourgeois government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike on 7 June 1964, a subject to which Maitan devotes an Appendix in chapter 5, not devoid of useful data. He points out, for instance, that, although the LSSR had a strong working-class base, it had virtually no support among the lower strata of the class, the Tamil workers in the plantations, and was lukewarm in its support for their national demands, and that, while the leadership of the party was fluent in English and educated in Marxism, the mass base only spoke Sinhalese and was mostly involved in trade-union and electoral practices devoid of any Marxist theoretical guidance.Maitan 2020, pp. 126–40. After joining the Bandaranaike government, the LSSP shared responsibility for the policy of repression it unleashed in 1971, as a result of which, in Maitan’s own words, ‘more than ten thousand people were summarily executed and fifteen thousand were put into concentration camps.’Maitan 2020, p. 163.

Maitan also recalls that, at the second congress of the United Secretariat (the ‘eighth world congress’) held in 1965, one of its two British sections, the Revolutionary Socialist League, split away. ‘Ted Grant, its best-known leader, was the RSL’s congress delegate, along with Peter Taaffe. The RSL went on to form the Militant tendency, which played an important role within the Labour left’.Maitan 2020, p. 117. Ted Grant had formed a good team with Jock Haston as leaders of the British section of the Fourth International, the Revolutionary Communist Party, back in the day, and the analyses they wrote in the immediate postwar period repay careful reading.Revolutionary Communist Party 1946 and 1948. But, after Haston’s departure from the leadership of the British section, which was handed over to the thug Gerry Healy at the initiative of Cannon, and the 1953 split in the Fourth International, Grant carried Pablo’s line of accommodation, not just to Stalinism, but to the reformist organisations of the working class in general, to extremes, practising multi-generational entryism in a bürgerliche Arbeiterpartei like the Labour Party. Although the Militant tendency enjoyed temporary organisational success (it is said to have controlled five Labour MPs), that came at the cost of a growing accommodation to parliamentarism and of its eventual split into a smaller organisation led by Alan Woods, which called itself the International Marxist Tendency and served in a sort of advisory capacity to the Bonapartist regime of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and a larger organisation led by Peter Taaffe, which called itself the Committee for a Workers’ International and split again in 2019 into two smaller groups.

Posadas, Lora, Moreno, Santucho and Foquism in Latin America

The second Appendix to the fifth chapter of Maitan’s book, entitled ‘The Cuban Leadership and the Fourth International’, reveals both the Castro regime’s adaptation to Stalinism and the United Secretariat’s accommodation to Castro. Maitan points out that ‘in the final speech at the Tricontinental Congress’, on 15 January 1966, ‘Fidel Castro launched a violent attack on Trotskyism’ (he actually called it ‘a vulgar instrument of imperialism and reaction’). Maitan says that the United Secretariat ‘answered a few days later in an open letter’, which ‘made clear that the Fourth International could not be held responsible for what publications such as the Uruguayan magazine Marcha, the Italian weeklyMondo Nuovo (of the PSIUP) and the USMonthly Review had published over the signature of Adolfo Gilly.’ In fact, Posadas’s current was not just UFOs and megalomania, and some of Gilly’s analyses, such asInside the Cuban Revolution, are vastly superior to anything written on that subject by the United Secretariat or by any of the other Trotskyist tendencies.Gilly 1964.

According to Maitan, the open letter ‘once again recalled something that the Cuban leader already knew – namely, that the organizations under the influence of J. Posadas had long since ceased to be part of the Fourth International.’ He also mentions that, in 1964, and again in 1967, Mandel visited Cuba, but fails to point out that, despite spending more than a month on the island, Mandel did nothing to help the imprisoned and persecuted Cuban Trotskyists, which the United Secretariat abandoned to their fate with the slanderous accusation that they were not Trotskyists but ‘Posadists’, as if Posadas had not been personally picked by Pablo and Maitan to lead the Buró Latinoamericano de la Cuarta Internacional back in 1951.Maitan 2020, pp. 141–2.

Maitan also misrepresents the role of Guillermo Lora and the POR in Bolivia. Lora exercised a real intervention in the workers’ movement, as testified by the Tesis de Pulacayo adopted by the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia in 1946, although during the 1952 revolution Lora supported the left wing of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) government led by Juan Lechín rather than charting an independent political course for the working class.Lora 1952.

After the Cuban revolution, Lora tried to stem the foquist tide with his 1963 pamphlet Las guerrillas: la concepción marxista contra el golpismo aventurero. Lora distinguished betweenfoquismo (the political conception according to which the revolutionary subject is not the working class but the peasantry, which is to be awakened to political life through an armedfoco in a rural region), on the one hand, and ‘armed struggle’ and guerrilla fighting on the other, which can take many forms and class contents in different historical contexts. He refused, therefore, to condemn armed struggle or guerrilla fighting per se, which are sometimes historically progressive (as shown by the recent example of the resistance to the American occupation of Afghanistan), and limited his condemnation to the use offoquist methods as detrimental to the struggle of the working class.Lora 1963. But Lora was free neither from political wavering nor from sectarianism, not to speak of his megalomania, as testified by the 70 volumes of his Obras completas.Some new light on the history of Bolivian Trotskyism has been shed by Sándor John’s book Bolivia’s Radical Tradition: Permanent Revolution in the Andes, though it is by no means the last word on the subject (Sándor John 2012).

The United Secretariat, on the other hand, displayed a shameful infatuation with foquism in Latin America from 1963 to 1976. Only at the end of 1976 did the majority of the United Secretariat adopt a ‘Self-Criticism on Latin America’ about which Maitan remains very discreet in his book, not recalling that he was the only leader of the majority that voted against it. This infatuation with foquism was shared by the majority of the French section of the Unified Secretariat, as well as by Nahuel Moreno and his organisation in Latin America. The fourth volume of the official history of the Morenoist current, written by one of its leaders, Ernesto González, recalls the following episode:

I remember an anecdote during a meeting of the International Executive Committee [at the third congress of the Unified Secretariat, held in April 1969]. Livio Maitan was, like a good Italian, very expressive in his gestures, in his verbiage, in everything. It was Mastroianni in his most exaggerated movies [González was not much of a moviegoer – D.G.]. The thing is that Maitan began to attack Moreno, accusing him of having a wrong policy, despite the fact that Moreno claimed that armed guerrilla and rural struggle had to be placed in the Transitional Programme as one more tool of the revolution; that is, he accepted the need to update that programme. Then, Livio Maitan employed a metaphor, trying to show that Moreno was contradicting himself using a ‘sexist’ expression; saying: ‘you were the father of guerrilla deviations’ and then Moreno replied: ‘I may have been the father, but you were the mother.’ That provoked laughter from the entire International Executive Committee meeting.González 2006, pp. 113–14.

Of course, the whole thing was no laughing matter for those who took part in those foquist adventures. Moreno was a past master at putting other people’s lives at risk for the sake of his own self-aggrandisement, and of lying afterwards, as testified by his own former comrades. According to the testimony of Horacio Lagar, for instance, Moreno used ‘the Basque’ (‘el Vasco’) Ángel Bengochea, who trained with Che in Cuba and died in an explosion while preparing a foquist project, ‘to lay eggs everywhere’:

One of Moreno’s crimes was to spread the fable of the break with Vasco, which he did for legal reasons, to ‘preserve the party.’ He sold this idea that he had broken with Vasco, but he agreed with the guerrilla initiative. There was a double card played. I personally visited the apartment on Posadas Street [in Buenos Aires] where Vasco showed me the arsenal they had brought from Czechoslovakia. And I was sent there by Moreno, because there was a total political agreement with Vasco. He showed me a written agreement signed by both of them by which Bengochea was given the green light to develop his guerrilla experience within the framework and strategy of the Party. Moreno realised the risk that he was running theoretically and politically by supporting him, but on the other hand he did not want to be left out if Castroism developed – commanded by Vasco or others – an armed wing in Argentina. He laid eggs everywhere! But, shortly after, on [21 July] 1964, Vasco died when that apartment exploded and Moreno dissociated himself from the frustrated military project. From then on, Moreno unleashed a furious persecution against me and my partner because we were living witnesses to the agreement, and he did not pay attention to anything in defence of his interests. Moreno played many dirty tricks and I and many other comrades were the target of some of them. He claimed I was a nineteenth-century person because I didn’t understand his brilliant ‘tactical’ manoeuvres.Lagar 2014. If further proof is required of Moreno’s duplicity while playing with armed struggle, see the memoirs of a former leader of his current, Daniel Pereyra (Pereyra 2014).

Maitan’s narrative is sectarian, in the sense of highlighting the exploits of the national sections of his own organisation at the expense of those of the other Trotskyist tendencies. Thus, after the Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) split in 1954 into an organisation led by Guillermo Lora and another one led by Hugo González Moscoso, the second, which remained with the United Secretariat because it was the most inclined to foquism, is called by Maitan ‘the POR’, while an ‘explanatory’ note points out that Lora ‘created his own organization outside the Fourth International, but adopting the same name’.Maitan 2020, p. 391. Maitan employs the same method to describe the Argentinian Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores, which split in 1968 into the PRT-La Verdad led by Nahuel Moreno and the PRT-El Combatiente led by Mario Roberto Santucho. Again, the second is mentioned as ‘the PRT’ because it was the most inclined to foquism.

The ‘Ninth World Congress’ of the United Secretariat was held in Italy in April 1969, just one month before the mass working-class uprising in Argentina known as the Cordobazo and the subsequent process of recovery of trade unions from the bureaucracy known asclasismo, which brought down two military dictators.Brennan 1994. The congress not only recognised Mario Roberto Santucho’s PRT-El Combatiente as its official Argentinian section, but adopted a resolution on Latin America, drafted by Maitan, which said: ‘Even in the case of countries where large mobilisations and class conflicts in the cities may occur first, civil war will take manifold forms of armed struggle, in which the principal axis for a whole period will be rural guerrilla warfare.’Quatrième Internationale 1969, p. 62.

Maitan recognises that ‘prioritizing rural guerrilla warfare was wrong’, but he also argues that this had ‘a geographic and military rather than a social and political meaning’,Maitan 2020, p. 155. as if organising armed groups in mostly peasant-inhabited rural regions were politically indistinguishable from organising working-class socialist parties. Maitan also argues that the congress ‘made no concession to foquist concepts’,Maitan 2020, p. 153. as if Santucho’s organisation had not been foquist. Maitan’s gloating over the exploits of the PRT-ERP (including some armed actions with outright negative consequences for the Argentinian working class, like the kidnapping of the FIAT executive Oberdan Sallustro) makes clear what a large role the suicidal policy of the Latin American groups played in the fantasy lives of the Europeans.Maitan 2020, pp. 180–3. The PRT-ERP (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores-Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo) remained with the United Secretariat until August 1973, when Santucho got rid of them in pursuit of building ‘a wider International, in which not only the Vietnamese Communist Party but even the ultra-Stalinist Albanian Labour Party would feel at home’.Maitan 2020, p. 192. In fact, the policies fostered by the United Secretariat in the colonies harkened back, not to the traditions of Bolshevism, but to those of the Russian Socialist Revolutionaries, against which Vera Zasulich warned in her article ‘The Terrorist Tendency in Russia’.Zasulich 1902.

After being rejected by Santucho, the United Secretariat threw its support behind the Fracción Roja of the PRT-ERP, led by the adventurer Joe Baxter,Cormick 2013. which carried out

spectacular actions like the kidnapping in La Plata of the industrialist Aaron Beilinson, manager of a business cartel, which ended without bloodshed after the required sum had been handed over. We were even more supportive of other actions aimed at ensuring that the organization had the necessary technical means and financial resources, in which regard the Fracción Roja did not neglect its obligation towards the International. I can personally testify to this, having secretly brought to Europe sums of money that for us were extremely useful.Maitan 2020, pp. 196, 392.

Why Maitan and the fellow members of the ‘bonsaï Comintern’, as Daniel Bensaïd called it, did not do the kidnapping and the robbing themselves but outsourced them to the inhabitants of the colonies is one of the mysteries of latter-day internationalism.Bensaïd 2014, p. 356.

Regression on the Palestinian Question

Meanwhile, as far as the Middle East was concerned, the authority of the Unified Secretariat on Palestine was the Belgian lawyer Nathan Weinstock, who abandoned the historical perspective of opposition to partition and the creation of a single state throughout the territory of historic Palestine to which refugees can return in favour of a new perspective of ‘recognition of Israeli national rights’ and of ‘de-Zionisation of Israel’. In 1969 Weinstock published a book in French on the subject under the title Zionism against Israel,Weinstock 1969. The title of the English version, Zionism: False Messiah, does not correspond to the French original. and, the following year, he stated the following in the November 1970 issue of the magazine Quatrième Internationale:

The separate development of the Jewish community in Palestine […] resulted in the transformation of the Jewish settlers into an Israeli nation.

The fact that this Israeli nation was constituted to the detriment of the natives [autochtones] by the repression of the Arabs (boycott, expropriations, expulsions) does not change the reality of its existence as a nation and especially not the fact that the Israeli proletariat has interests distinct from those of its bourgeoisie.

At this point in our reasoning, we can approach the question of de-Zionisation [désionisation]. By this, Israeli revolutionaries mean the destruction of the oppressive and colonial socio-economic and political structures of Israel. However, it is obvious that this objective presupposes a revolutionary struggle within Israel. Indeed, the liquidation of Zionist structures can only be carried out with the participation of a significant sector of the Israeli working class. […]

However, some will say, de-Zionizing Israel is ultimately working for the existence of an Israeli state, which is contrary to the objectives of the Palestinians, who want precisely the abolition of this mono-ethnic and colonial entity established in their territory. In truth, one cannot predict what will be the precise constitutional form of a future Palestine if we do not want to prophesy in a vacuum or, worse still, take the place of the concerned parties themselves. We can only enumerate certain principles: right of return for refugees, self-determination for the Palestinians, free exercise by the Israelis of their national rights. Such a programme can be conceived in a unitary Palestinian framework, as well as in a federal or confederal structure or even as part of an Arab whole. The main thing is to understand that it is not possible to gloss over the Israeli national problem by verbal subtleties. Let the impotents have the pleasure of gargling with empty phrases like: ‘so-called Israeli state’, ‘so-called Israeli nation’, ‘Zionist colony in occupied Palestine’ … which reflect their ideological indigence; they think they can solve the difficulty by denying it. The destruction of Israel’s Zionist structures – which necessarily requires the participation of the Israeli revolutionaries themselves – therefore leaves room for many institutional formulas. What is crucial is the need for the Israeli community to integrate in one way or another with the Arab revolutionary movement.

It is still too early to know whether this framework will be limited to the geographical area of Palestine. This question, like that of the institutional framework, ultimately depends on the future development of the class struggle within Israel and the subsequent growth of the Arab revolutionary current. But the recognition of Israeli national rights [la reconnaissance des droits nationaux israéliens] has nothing to do with maintaining the current colonial-type relationship between Israelis and Arabs. The impossibility of coexisting with Israel does not result from the fact that the Hebrew state happens to be Jewish but rather from its colonial essence. So, it is only in the revolution against oppressive structures that the Israeli–Palestinian dialogue can take shape and that the future of the two peoples will be forged.Weinstock 1970, pp. 44–5, emphasis in the original.

All this confusing and misleading reasoning around ‘de-Zionising Israel’ boiled down to an accommodation to Zionist colonialism, because to obtain ‘the participation of a significant sector of the Israeli working class’ in return for the ‘free exercise by the Israelis of their national rights’ implies de facto the preservation of the partition of Palestine within the framework of ‘a federal or confederal structure’ and therefore the denial of the right of return to the Palestinian refugees.

Readers should decide for themselves if the accommodation of the United Secretariat to Zionism was better or worse than the provocation of Nahuel Moreno, who raised the slogan:

let the Zionists leave Israel and, with them, those who give it its social and political base. This slogan: ‘Zionists out of Israel’ [fuera los sionistas de Israel] is the decisive one, the one that gives content to our formulation of the destruction of the Zionist state. There is no other way of destroying the Zionist state than by driving out the Zionists [echando a los sionistas]. […] Let the Jewish racists be driven out of Palestine. And tomorrow, also the Arab racists. But tomorrow, not today. Because today Arab racism against Israel is progressive, it destroys the Zionist state.Moreno 1982.

‘Progressive racism’ – whoever said that the ‘Trotskyist’ sects never made any theoretical contribution to Marxism?

Ernest Mandel on Pol Pot’s Regime in Cambodia and Kim Il-sung’s Regime in North Korea as ‘Workers’ States’

Chapter 8 of Maitan’s book deals with ‘The Tenth Congress (1974)’ of the United Secretariat, and recounts the debates between a majority, led by the French Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, and a minority, led by the American Socialist Workers’ Party, which criticised the Frenchmen’s infatuation with guerrilla struggle to the detriment of the organisation of working-class parties. The SWP representatives also criticised the French section’s argument that ‘the Vietnamese party, like the Chinese party, could not be called Stalinist, because its policies were not determined by the USSR and, in practice, it had broken from Stalinist schemes’.Maitan 2020, p. 206.Whether the Vietnamese and Chinese workers had any say in determining the political lines of those parties was apparently not a matter that the majority of the United Secretariat deemed worth delving into. Indeed, after the last US contingents left Vietnam at the end of April 1975, at the first meeting following the fall of Saigon, Pierre Rousset declared that ‘South Vietnam was becoming a workers’ state’Maitan 2020, p. 238. and an editorial in Inprecor made the same point, later reiterated several times: ‘What we are now seeing is the socialist transformation of the Indochinese revolution! [C’est à la transcroissance socialiste de la révolution indochinoise que nous assistons!]Inprecor 1975b, p. 4.

Mandel carried this idealisation of the Stalinist bureaucracies to its logical conclusion when he argued, in March 1979, that Pol Pot’s Cambodia was a workers’ state. According to Mandel, the SWP leaders based their position on the Cambodian–Vietnamese War ‘on the hypothesis that Pol Pot’s Kampuchean regime was not a workers’ state. We reject that hypothesis as being contrary both to facts and to Marxist theory’.Mandel 1979, p. 335. Vietnam, China, Yugoslavia, Romania, Albania and North Korea were all, in Mandel’s opinion ‘workers’ states’, and the same was true of Kampuchea (Cambodia) under the Khmer Rouge. It is no wonder that, confronted with this version of ‘Trotskyism’, many activists found Tony Cliff’s analysis of these regimes as state capitalism appealing, despite its theoretical weaknesses.Lenin’s definition in The Development of Capitalism in Russia is: ‘Capitalism is that stage in the development of commodity-production in which labour-power, too, becomes a commodity’ (Lenin 1899, p. 581). Neither of these two criteria existed in the Soviet Union, which does not imply that what did exist was socialism, defined by Marx as ‘a society composed of associations of free and equal producers, carrying on the social business on a common and rational plan’ (Marx 1872, p. 136). The state-capitalist tendency developed above all in Great Britain and the United States, perhaps because its slogan ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ was a no-go in the colonies. It produced a vast and sometimes valuable body of theoretical work, although Tony Cliff’s four-volume biography of Lenin has been described as ‘a life of John the Baptist written by Jesus Christ’. For an overview of the history of this tendency by its historical leader, see Cliff 1999. Since Cliff’s account was written, shortly before his death in 2000, the state-capitalist organisation in Great Britain, the Socialist Workers’ Party, has been severely weakened by denunciations of sexual abuse, and the state-capitalist organisation in the United States, the International Socialist Organization, self-dissolved in 2019, incapable of resisting the pressure of the ‘Democratic Socialists of America’ and the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Mandel’s line of argumentation is revealing, because, under the guise of defending Trotsky’s interpretation of the Soviet Union, Mandel revised Trotsky’s prognosis, according to which the Stalinist bureaucracy was paving the way for the restoration of capitalism, when he stated

Unless we go over to the camp of the state capitalists or bureaucratic collectivists, we must recognize that the crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy against the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union had neither the purpose nor the objective effect of restoring capitalism or establishing a new class rule. It operated within the framework of a postcapitalist society – a society in transition between capitalism and socialism; i.e., a workers’ state. What is true for Stalin’s terror is true for Pol Pot’s terror too.Mandel 1979, p. 336.

This revision of Trotsky’s characterisation of the Stalinist bureaucracy was not a peculiarity of Mandel but shared by the United Secretariat as a whole. In 1973, for instance, one of its leaders, Pierre Frank, wrote in his history of the Fourth International: ‘in the Soviet Union there can no longer be, except in the event of a very unlikely defeat in a world war, a danger of the restoration of capitalism. The crisis of Stalinism must therefore provoke a clash between the bureaucracy and the proletariat’.Frank 1973, p. 92. This line of argumentation disarmed the militants, and indeed the leaders of the United Secretariat themselves, when the actual restoration of capitalism took place in the eighties and nineties, leading to widespread political disorientation and demoralisation.

Bureaucratism and the American SWP’s Shift from Sect to Cult

Although the differences between the Frenchmen and the Americans (who were later joined by the Argentinian supporters of Moreno) dated back to the 1969 ‘Ninth World Congress’, according to Maitan: ‘Actual tendencies only came into being at the end of 1972, when the minority declared itself the Leninist-Trotskyist League (LTT) and the majority responded with a call to form the International Majority Tendency (IMT)’.Maitan 2020, p. 218. The two factions managed to patch up their differences and approve a common set of resolutions at the ‘Tenth World Congress’ of 1974, but ‘although there was no international split, the two sides, both substantial in numbers, bitterly opposed each other. This was hardly conducive to overcoming splits at the national level, of the sort that profoundly disfigured the International in later years.’Maitan 2020, p. 213.

Indeed, it was only two years later that both tendencies agreed on the election of the Secretariat and the Bureau.Maitan 2020, p. 239. Although the minority led by the American SWP reminded the Mandel–Frank–Maitan ‘troika’ and the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire of some Marxist truisms (that the workers need a class party independent of those of the bourgeoisie rather than a rural guerrilla foco, that the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the workers themselves rather than by some Stalinist apparatus in Vietnam, China or Cambodia), the SWP itself was on its way to degrading even further, from the Zinovievist ‘monolithic’ sect that Cannon had built into a cult centred around Jack Barnes, who soon rejected Trotskyism altogether.

Over the years, the SWP had developed a bloated apparatus entirely out of proportion with its insignificant base in the working class:

By 1973 the SWP had close to 1,200 members, many of whom were relatively young: at its national convention that year more than half were under twenty-five years old. The professional-looking weekly Militant increased in size and circulation – 17,000 in 1970 and 31,000 by 1973. Noting the extent of the party’s resources and staff, O’Brien commented that it ‘was in a position to take an active role when new struggles would emerge in the future.’ The Schneirs, describing the SWP’s five-storey national headquarters in New York City, wrote: ‘It is a hive of activity staffed by about 120 persons (most of them paid employees) and has ample space for far more.’ They also related: ‘Seventy-year-old SWP theoretician George Novack, who remembers the party when it could barely afford one telephone, notes with pride: “We have an infrastructure for a party of about 100,000”.’Le Blanc 2016, p. 78.

In his article series ‘The Social Roots of Opportunism’, Zinoviev noted in August 1916 that in the pre-war Social Democratic Party of Germany and the ‘free’ trade unions controlled by it ‘an aristocracy and bureaucracy of from five to ten thousand well-paid leaders’ had been formed, which had set ‘the Marxist workers’ party in Germany’ on a course of ‘bourgeois transformation – no matter how insistently it may deny this fact itself’.Zinoviev 1916, p. 121. The number of members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany was slightly more than one million in 1914, while the free trade unions had three million members, so a bureaucracy of five to ten thousand full-timers amounted to between 0.125 and 0.25 per cent of the combined membership of the Social Democratic Party and the unions it controlled, while the SWP paid-staff of 120 persons amounted to 10 per cent of its 1,200 members.

This hypertrophy of the apparatuses of relatively minuscule political organisations has been common to many, if not most, of the Trotskyist tendencies. As Vincent Présumey pointed out in his review of Jean Hentzgen’s thesis, entitled ‘From Trotskyism to Social Democracy: The Lambertist Current in France until 1963’:Hentzgen 2020.

No, what in the end comes out frankly from J. Hentzgen’s thesis does not primarily concern Social Democracy, but first of all the formation of an apparatus centralised around a leader. It would be necessary to know when the permanent employees paid by the organisation appeared and the evolution of their number, as well as the amount of their salaries, not to mention the symbolic benefits in kind or not. But it seems that this holy of holies has not been discovered by J. Hentzgen in the CERMTRI archives (should we be surprised?). He nonetheless tells us that a budget was set up in 1963 and that he became a beneficiary in 1967, and quite rightly noted that the use of contributions, very high, escaped all control on the part of the members who paid them, who, moreover, would not have asked such questions: in a ‘proletarian organization’ one does not practice suspicion, and besides that organisation grew visibly and took initiatives.Présumey 2020.

These aberrant percentages of functionaries within the Trotskyist tendencies have contributed both to their sectarian organisational dynamics (in practice controlled by a small camarilla of full-timers, which tends to act behind the back, not just of the workers, but of the party members themselves) and ultimately also to their integration into the bourgeois state, as the example of the FIT-U (Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores – Unidad) in Argentina clearly shows.

A plenary session of the SWP National Committee held in February 1978 adopted the Political Committee’s proposal to make the party ‘turn to industry’ and brought the new line to the members, not for their approval, but for its implementation. The resolution on the world situation adopted by the ‘Eleventh World Congress’ held in November 1979 included Jack Barnes’s call for a ‘turn to industry’.Waters 1980. Maitan recalls: ‘Delegates of the SWP or organizations already belonging to the minority used the unpleasant term “colonization” to describe militants taking jobs in industry’.Maitan 2020, p. 404. According to Maitan, however, ‘the failure of the turn’ was not due to any misdoings of Barnes’s pieds-noirs among the American workers but ‘was, even in Europe, caused largely by objective factors.’Maitan 2020, p. 280.

Maitan also mentions the growing drift of the US Socialist Workers’ Party away from the United Secretariat and its open renunciation of Trotskyism in 1981–2, ‘inspired by the prospect – illusionary – of creating a new revolutionary international together with the Castroites, Sandinistas’, the New Jewel movement in Grenada, etc.Maitan 2020, p. 310. Of course, this fantasy came to nothing, because the SWP’s infatuation with Castroism and Sandinism was not reciprocated by Fidel Castro or Daniel Ortega. In the framework of this prolonged process of degeneration, and in a grotesque repetition of Pablo’s mistakes during the Korean War, Barnes went on to describe the start of the Gulf War in 1991 as the ‘Opening Guns of World War III’.Barnes 1991.

The Democratic Counterrevolution in Portugal and Spain

After the outbreak of a worldwide economic crisis in 1973–4, the International Executive Committee adopted a resolution in January 1975 which predicted the coming of ‘a fascism even more brutal than that of the 1930s [un fascisme encore plus brutal que dans les années 30]’.Inprecor 1975a, p. 36. No wonder that, after the outbreak of the Carnation Revolution on 25 April 1974, the United Secretariat was unable to foresee the coming of a democratic counterrevolution in Portugal, in the same way that the leadership of the Fourth International had rejected that possibility at the end of the Second World War, despite the warnings of the Morrow–Heijenoort–Goldman tendency in the SWP. In the words of the main historian of the Portuguese revolution, Raquel Varela:

As the democratic opposition in Portugal was strong – the PCP, the PS, partially the PSD – there was little chance of a Kornilov-like coup d’état, a classic counterrevolutionary coup carried out by force of arms to introduce of a Bonapartist regime, as in Chile, for example. Rather, what took place was the institutionalization of a democratic-parliamentary regime that replaced grassroots democracy by representative democracy, a regime introduced though an agreement with the ‘moderate’ sectors. This strategy to preserve the capitalist state in Portugal was understood by the U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, Frank Carlucci, and by German and European Social-Democracy, which supported a solution of ‘democratic reaction’ through a broad coalition whose civil centre was the Socialist Party. Still, it was a form of counterrevolution, of putting an end to the revolution, or, as António de Sousa Franco called it, of ‘counterrevolutionary normalization’.Varela 2014, pp. 256–7.

This was recognised by Maitan himself, who wrote that, in Portugal,

after 25 November 1975, while noting the start of a new phase, we stressed that there had been no decisive head-on encounter. A recurrent theme, both before and after that date, was that the pre-revolutionary crisis could not be terminated without a crucial trial of strength resulting in a reactionary restoration, if not in a new authoritarian regime. Instead, things took a different course: the result was a re-stabilization of the system within a framework of representative democracy, but without a destruction of all the gains of the period 1974–1975.Maitan 2020, p. 231.

In the same way, after the fall of the Franco regime in Spain, ‘a test of strength was thought to be inevitable’, and the leadership of the United Secretariat ‘believed that an authoritarian regime would come back into power if the dynamic of a revolutionary break failed to prevail’.Maitan 2020, p. 241. In Maitan’s own words, ‘there was a tendency to exclude the hypothesis of a moderate democratic transition’,Maitan 2020, p. 397. i.e., a blindness towards the possibility of a democratic counterrevolution, once again repeating the Fourth International’s mistaken analyses in the immediate postwar period. This organic inability to draw a balance sheet of their experiences, and particularly of their mistakes, has unfortunately been one of the hallmarks of virtually all the Trotskyist tendencies after Trotsky’s assassination.

The Nicaraguan Revolution and Moreno’s Split from the United Secretariat

Chapter 11 of Maitan’s book deals with the United Secretariat’s difficulty in recognising the decline of the revolutionary wave in the Latin countries of Europe in the second half of the seventies, and offers an overview of the United Secretariat’s sections in Latin America in the seventies, particularly of the Mexican Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores, ‘a grouping of more than one thousand militants and organized sympathizers’, that was ‘for more than twenty years the largest section of the Fourth International in Latin America’, which makes one wonder about the size of the other sections…Maitan 2020, p. 249.

The chapter begins with an account of the break of Moreno’s organisation, the Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores, which had been recognised as the Argentinian section of the United Secretariat after Santucho bid them leave in August 1973.Santucho 1973. The rest of the chapter deals with the SWP’s minority tendency and the formation of a third ‘Bolshevik Tendency’ within the United Secretariat in 1976, as well as with the attempt at unification of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire with the Lambertist current and with Lutte Ouvrière in France. Needless to say, all this ‘factional manoeuvring’, as Maitan calls it, came to nothing.Maitan 2020, p. 257.

Chapter 12 is devoted to ‘A crucial year: 1979’. About the Nicaraguan revolution, we learn that the United Secretariat ‘opposed the calling of a Constituent Assembly’ (although the Transitional Programme explicitly mentions it as a slogan to be advanced in the colonial countries), and that a resolution of the Secretariat at the end of September 1979 argued that ‘the Nicaraguan militants of the Fourth International should collaborate in the building of the FSLN’ because any other course of action amounted to an attempt ‘to separate the workers from their vanguard’.Maitan 2020, pp. 275, 277. In other words, the United Secretariat argued that the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional was the vanguard of the Nicaraguan workers, thus abandoning the Marxist principle that it is necessary to struggle for the political independence of the working class. In 1980, the United Secretariat went as far as to describe the government of Daniel Ortega as a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’,Maitan 2020, p. 282. a title whose lustre had somewhat diminished after it had been bestowed upon Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia and Kim Il-Sung’s regime in North Korea.

The chapter provides interesting quotes from Moreno’s book La dictadura revolucionaria del proletariado of February 1979, which argued that the emancipation of the working class would not be conquered by the workers themselves but by ‘the revolutionary dictatorship of Trotskyist or Trotskyist-style parties’.Moreno 1979, p. 6. Maitan describes Moreno’s histrionics around the Brigada Simón Bolívar in Nicaragua, which Moreno used as an excuse to leave the sinking ship of the United Secretariat in September 1979.Maitan 2020, pp. 276–7, 281–2. Whatever criticism may be made of the FSLN, which never was a working-class or socialist organisation, and of the United Secretariat’s adaptation to it, the last thing the Nicaraguan workers needed was an Armata Brancaleone of 40 armed guys remotely controlled by an Argentinian guru who had successively been anti-Peronist, Peronist, foquist, anti-foquist, and finally theoretician of a ‘democratic revolution’.Osuna 2015.

The Morenoist tendency, after leaving the United Secretariat, united briefly with the Lambertists to form a Comité paritaire in October 1979. Two years later, in September 1981, the brief Lambert–Moreno marriage came to an end, and in January 1982, Nahuel Moreno and the Argentine Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores (PST) announced the establishment of their own international tendency, the Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores (LIT). Lambert went on to proclaim its own organisation as ‘the’ Fourth International in 1993, and to turn the Organisation communiste internationaliste into the Parti des travailleurs in 1991 and into the Parti ouvrier independent in 2008, which in turn split into two groups in 2015. Meanwhile, Moreno went on to create, with the end of the military dictatorship in Argentina in 1983, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), which gathered 229,623 votes in the 1987 legislative elections, a few months after his death, and later split up into half a dozen groups.

‘Morenoism’ has recently made a comeback in Argentina in the framework of the Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores – Unidad (FIT-U), a ‘Trotskyist electoral front’ of originally three and now five groups, four of them splits from the MAS. The FIT-U (originally FIT) was set up in 2011 and has received over one million votes in the latest Argentinian legislative elections, but its evolution over a decade has consistently been in the direction of an increasing accommodation to parliamentarism. The idea behind setting up a ‘Trotskyist electoral front’ was to help these organisations grow, change their social composition and abandon their sectarian practices, but its actual effect has been to enhance their tendency to integrate into the bourgeois state. The parliamentary nature of the FIT-U is veiled by the presidential character of the Argentine constitution: similar political formations in other countries with a parliamentary system, such as Die Linke in Germany, revealed their reformist position thanks to the possibility of joining coalition governments, both at the national level and at the level of the states (Länder).

The ‘Twelfth Congress of the Fourth International, Sixth since reunification’, held in January 1985, adopted a ‘Resolution on the Central American Revolution’, the third section of which, entitled ‘The Nicaraguan Revolution’, stated: ‘An examination of the measures and gains of the revolution over the last five years only confirms the emergence of a new workers’ state, of America’s “second free territory”’, and went on to say:

A critical assessment must be made of the position adopted by the Fourth International at the Eleventh World Congress (November 1979) on three interrelated planes. The first is the delay in understanding the nature and trajectory of the FSLN (resolution of the United Secretariat of June 1979). It can certainly be argued that this current was quantitatively reduced in the 1970s and heterogeneous. Second, the FSLN’s policy of alliances, its actions, were poorly understood (problem of hegemony) and not placed in the context of a battle for ‘national unity against Somoza’ in the sense that the FSLN understood it. Third, the characterisation of the state as capitalist after July 1979, with a situation of duality of power sui generis, sought to capture the peculiarities of the situation, but was wrong. Consequently, the analysis according to which a workers’ and peasants’ government was established following a series of changes made between March and September 1980 (resolution of the United Secretariat of September 1980) confused the process of consolidation of the workers’ state with the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government.Quatrième Internationale 1985, pp. 96, 111.

Thus not only the Castroite-led Cuban state, which had long ago adapted to Stalinism to the point of supporting the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, was proclaimed a workers’ state, despite the fact that the Cuban workers could not even choose their union delegates, but the Sandinista-led state in Nicaragua, which had preserved private property except for the estates of the Somoza family and other prominent contras, was also given a clean bill of health as a ‘workers’ state’. Evidently, the split between the United Secretariat and the SWP had been over nuances, since both organisations had accommodated themselves to Castroism, Sandinism and a whole host of other nationalist political currents. This did not go unnoticed at the time: Maitan mentions the presence in the ‘Twelfth Congress’ of 1985 of a Tendency for the Unification of the Fourth International (TUFI), led by Gérard Filoche, which criticised the majority for ‘carrying out political and theoretical retreats in particular in relation to Nicaragua’.Maitan 2020, p. 322. The FSLN was defeated by Violeta Chamorro in the elections held in February 1990, but Daniel Ortega made a political comeback in 2007 as a corrupt and conservative President of Nicaragua, an office he still holds to this day.

The United Secretariat’s Accommodation to Bourgeois Democracy and Feminism

An Appendix to chapter 12 in Maitan’s book provides ‘A note of criticism’, unfortunately not very enlightening, about the resolution ‘The Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Socialist Democracy’, drafted by Mandel in 1977 and adopted by the ‘Eleventh World Congress’ of 1979.Maitan 2020, p. 270. This document, which blurred the dividing line between bourgeois democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat as the strategic objective of the workers’ movement represented an accommodation to the ‘human rights’ crusade embarked upon by imperialism after the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975, which provided the ideological smokescreen for the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe. Under the cover of the defence of human rights, of the creation of a ‘civil society’ to protect the citizens of totalitarian states, and of setting up democratic parliamentary regimes, what actually took place in Eastern Europe was the restoration of private property and wage slavery, which was the only thing the bourgeoisie actually cared about. Needless to say, a working-class socialist revolution must necessarily violate the democratic rights of the bourgeoisie, beginning with its right to own means of production and exploit other people’s labour, as well as the rights of its political representatives: it cannot let them openly organise counterrevolutionary activities, as recalled by Marx’s advice to the communards in 1871 to immediately march on the National Assembly gathered in Versailles.

Maitan later summarises the resolutions adopted by the ‘Twelfth Congress’ of 1985 and points out that the resolution ‘The Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Socialist Democracy’, drafted by Mandel in 1977, ‘which had been approved indicatively’ by the ‘Eleventh World Congress’ of 1979, ‘was now approved deliberatively after further clarifications’.Maitan 2020, p. 318. ‘Démocratie socialiste et dictature du prolétariat. Résolution du Secrétariat unifié de la IVe Internationale’, Inprecor, N° 10, 7 juillet 1977, pp. 3–15. ‘Démocratie socialiste et dictature du prolétariat : Résolution rédigée par Ernest Mandel et adoptée au XIe Congrès mondial de la IVe Internationale, novembre 1979’, XIe Congrès mondial de la quatrième Internationale ; Ve depuis la Réunification (1979). Inprecor (numéro spécial), Montreuil, Presse-Edition-Communication, 1979. ‘Démocratie socialiste et dictature du prolétariat’, Quatrième internationale, N° 166 (17–18), janvier 1985 : XIIe Congrès mondial de la quatrième Internationale ; VIe depuis la Réunification, pp. 74–91. This document, which signalled the United Secretariat’s de jure adaptation to bourgeois parliamentarism, started the process that ended in the XV Congress of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR), the French section of the Unified Secretariat, held in November 2003, which adopted a resolution modifying its statutes to eliminate from them the reference to the dictatorship of the proletariat as its strategic objective. In February 2009 the LCR turned into today’s Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA). The Russian narodniki were anti-capitalists; if Marxism were simply ‘anti-capitalism’, the whole struggle of the ‘Emancipation of Labour’ group and later of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party would be incomprehensible. The ‘anti-capitalist’ orientation of the United Secretariat, the NPA, the PTS and so forth therefore amounts to a retrogression to pre-Marxist views, with the aim of creating a ‘broad’ multi-class ‘anti-capitalist front’, tactics which naturally follow from the abandonment of the strategic perspective of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Another resolution adopted by the ‘Eleventh World Congress of the Fourth International; Fifth since Reunification’ held in 1979, entitled ‘The Socialist Revolution and the Fight for Women’s Liberation’ and presented by Mary-Alice Waters from the SWP and Jacqueline Heinen from the LCR, reflected the United Secretariat’s accommodation to feminism, in contradistinction to the traditional position of Marxism on women’s liberation.Waters 1980, pp. 77–104. The movement of proletarian women of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and by extension of the Second International (1889–1914), was structured by Clara Zetkin around the principle of a ‘clean break’ (Reinliche Scheidung) between the women of the exploiting and exploited classes.Zetkin 1894. This principle laid the programmatic foundations for the development of a mass movement of socialist working women that eventually grew to have 141,115 members in 1913.Thönnessen 1973, p. 57. This movement, whose central axis was the magazine Die Gleichheit edited by Zetkin, had as its central organisational proposition the idea that there was not one but several ‘women’s questions’, corresponding to the different classes of bourgeois society.Zetkin 1896. Marxism, as a working-class political tendency, and feminism, as a multi-class movement, were incompatible, and therefore working-class women had to have their own organisations within the socialist parties, which of course also included working-class men. The same principles were the foundations of the International Socialist Women’s Movement, which celebrated its first conference in Stuttgart in 1907, and later of the International Communist Women’s Movement, both of which were led by Clara Zetkin.Frencia and Gaido 2018.

The other leaders of the Socialist and Communist Women’s Internationals shared Zetkin’s positions. Alexandra Kollontai, for instance, wrote in 1913:

What is the aim of the feminists? [Чего добиваются феминистки?] Their aim is to achieve the same advantages, the same power, the same rights within capitalist society as those possessed now by their husbands, fathers and brothers.

What is the aim of the women workers? Their aim is to abolish all privileges deriving from birth or wealth. For the woman worker it is a matter of indifference who is the ‘master’[,] a man or a woman. Together with the whole of her class, she can ease her position as a worker.

Feminists [Феминистки] demand equal rights always and everywhere. Women workers reply: we demand rights for every citizen, man and woman, but we are not prepared to forget that we are not only workers and citizens, but also mothers! And as mothers, as women who give birth to the future, we demand special concern for ourselves and our children, special protection from the state and society.

The feminists are striving to acquire political rights. However, here too our paths separate.

For bourgeois women, political rights are simply a means allowing them to make their way more conveniently and more securely in a world founded on the exploitation of the working people. For women workers, political rights are a step along the rocky and difficult path that leads to the desired kingdom of labour.

The paths pursued by women workers and bourgeois equal righters [буржуазных равноправок] have long since separated. There is too great a difference between the objectives that life has put before them. There is too great a contradiction between the interests of the woman worker and the lady proprietress, between the servant and her mistress. […] There are not and cannot be any points of contact, conciliation or convergence between them. Therefore, working men should not fear separate Women’s Days, nor special conferences of women workers, nor their special press.Kollontai 1913.

The SWP, by contrast, adopted in 1971 a resolution entitled ‘Toward a Mass Feminist Movement’Socialist Workers Party 1971. and the LCR went much further, editing the Cahiers du féminisme from 1977 to 1998. That was the actual background to the United Secretariat’s 1979 resolution ‘Socialist Revolution and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation’, which strongly diverged from the traditional Marxist position on the emancipation of women.Eleventh World Congress of the Fourth International 1979. Needless to say, this attempt to marry Marxism and feminism was no more successful than the attempt to unite the dictatorship of the proletariat and bourgeois democracy.

The United Secretariat during the ‘Conservative Counter-offensive’ in the Eighties

Chapter 13 of Maitan’s book contains a section devoted to ‘Revolutionary Dynamics in Central America’. In the presidential elections held in July 1982 in Mexico, the United Secretariat’s section, the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT), gained around 3 per cent of the votes but due to widespread fraud was awarded only 1.46 per cent in order to deprive it of parliamentary representation, the minimum threshold being 1.5 per cent.

In Peru, the first general elections in almost 20 years after the 1968 military coup led by Juan Velasco Alvarado were held in May 1980, with Hugo Blanco receiving 4 per cent of the vote as a presidential candidate, which resulted in his election as deputy alongside two other members of the Peruvian Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores, Ricardo Napurí of the POMR (Partido Obrero Marxista Revolucionario) and one candidate of the PST (Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores). It is hard to grasp nowadays to what extent Trotskyism is a shadow of its former self, and that is true of all the tendencies, both national and international. In an interview granted to the Spanish newspaper El País on the occasion of the May 1980 elections, Hugo Blanco was asked, ‘if you are elected president, what immediate measures would you adopt?’ To which he answered: ‘Immediate convocation of popular assemblies to hand over the government to them. Immediate dissolution of the bourgeois army and delivery of those weapons to the organised workers so that they constitute the true Peruvian army. Confiscation of the imperialist companies.’Blanco 1980.

After a brief mention of events in Bolivia and Argentina (where the United Secretariat correctly supported Argentinian sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands during the 1982 Falklands War), Maitan deals with the formation of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) in Brazil in 1979–84. He stresses that militants linked to the United Secretariat ‘committed themselves from the very start to the PT, repudiating any instrumental or tactical approach’, by which he means that they abandoned the idea of practising ‘an entryist tactic of the kind traditionally used in big bureaucratic social-democratic and Stalinist organizations’. According to Maitan, in 1981 ‘the Trotskyist current in the PT’ took the name of Socialist Democracy and in 1984 ‘asked to be a section’ of the United Secretariat, ‘a request accepted by the world congress the following year. Thereafter the Brazilian section was one of the most representative revolutionary Marxist organizations in Latin America.’Maitan 2020, pp. 299–300.

Readers unacquainted with these arcane matters should contrast this assertion with the fact that Miguel Rossetto, the leader of the Brazilian section of the United Secretariat, served as Ministro do Desenvolvimento Agrário in the governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff, without even so much as pretending to carry out an agrarian reform. Later, from 2015 to 2016, Rossetto also served as Rousseff’s Minister of Labour and Social Security, again without threatening in the least the continuity of wage slavery or even reducing the extent of the favelas. Maitan just points out discreetly that ‘Lula, having been elected president, opted more for continuity than for change, under the watchful eye of the IMF’.Maitan 2020, p. 357. So much for the actual performance of ‘one of the most representative revolutionary Marxist organizations in Latin America’.

The rise of Solidarność in Poland was characterised by the United Secretariat as the beginning of the ‘political revolution’ against the Stalinist bureaucracy. The United Secretariat had an actual, if very small presence, in Poland, where its work was led by Jacqueline Heinen. It put out a Polish version of Inprecor, which was distributed at the Solidarność congress held in 1980. According to the testimony of Zbigniew Kowalewski, who was one of the members of the Polish ‘nucleus’ (noyau): ‘we had important political differences, fundamentally concerning the question of the bureaucracy: they [the leaders of the United Secretariat] expected a vertical split of the bureaucracy (a split like the Reiss–Butenko fraction imagined by Trotsky) and wanted to impose on us a political orientation in that direction, while we were hostile to it.’ The work of the Polish ‘nucleus’ came to an end amid a crisis of the pseudo ‘Polish section’ and its political and financial scams.

While the attitude to be adopted towards right-wing governments such as Margaret Thatcher’s in Great Britain, Ronald Reagan’s in the US and Helmut Kohl’s in West Germany was relatively straightforward, the rise of François Mitterrand in France and of Felipe González in Spain, whose governments ended up adopting policies similar to those of the avowed ‘neoliberals’, posed a more complex political challenge. As Maitan recalls, ‘The LCR called for a vote for candidates of labour movement organizations and, in the second round, for Mitterrand’.Maitan 2020, p. 306. In their defence, it should be pointed out that the Lambertist organisation in France did the same. As for Spain, we learn that the Spanish section of the United Secretariat, also called LCR (Liga Comunista Revolucionaria), ‘called for votes for the traditional left parties’, i.e., for Felipe González’s PSOE, ‘or for radical nationalist formations (in Euzkadi, for Herri Batasuna)’.Maitan 2020, p. 407.

Chapter 14 of Maitan’s book is entitled ‘Exacerbation of the conservative counter-offensive (1983–1984)’ and deals with the crushing of the British miners’ strike of 1984–5 by the Thatcher government, which, in Maitan’s words ‘ended with a heavy defeat, the equivalent of that suffered five years earlier by the Fiat workers in Turin’.Maitan 2020, p. 313. Maitan also points out in a footnote that ‘Among leaders expelled from the factories was Alan Thornett who, after belonging to Trotskyist organizations outside the Fourth International, became a leader of the British section and a member of the International leadership’.Maitan 2020, p. 690. This is Maitan’s way of conveying the fact that Thornett, a real workers’ leader, had belonged to the organisation led by Gerry Healy in Great Britain, where he had had a miserable experience, before joining the British section of the United Secretariat, where he did not have much better luck. 

Despite the fact that its main theorist was a Belgian (Mandel), the leadership of the United Secretariat was and continues to be dominated by its French section. In January 1984, a new Bureau had been elected, consisting of four French, plus Mandel from Belgium, Steve Potter from the UK and Maitan himself from Italy. The ‘Twelfth Congress’ of January 1985 elected an Executive Committee, which elected a Secretariat, which in turn elected a Bureau, again consisting of four French (Daniel Bensaïd, Claude Jacquin, Janette Habel and Jacqueline Heinen), and four other members from four other countries: Mandel, Maitan, Potter and Charles-André Udry from Switzerland.Maitan 2020, p. 322. The dominance of the French section was also evident from the fact that the main organs of the United Secretariat, like Inprecor and Quatrième internationale, were published in French, whereas ‘publications in English, notably International Viewpoint, appeared less frequently and did not contain all the material included in the publications in French’.Maitan 2020, p. 410.

The Dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Restoration of Capitalism in Eastern Europe

The ‘Thirteenth Congress’ of the United Secretariat took place in February 1991, and the main document adopted by it was the resolution on the USSR, entitled ‘Decomposition of the Bureaucratic Regime and Struggle for Socialist Democracy’ and presented by Catherine Samary.Quatrième Internationale 1991, pp. 49–70. The United Secretariat totally misinterpreted the nature of the reforms implemented by Gorbachev after his accession to power in the Soviet Union in 1985, as the following passages from Jan-Willem Stutje’s biography of Ernest Mandel attest:

In his 1989 book Beyond Perestroika: The Future of Gorbachev’s USSR, a study ofglasnost andperestroika published simultaneously in London and Paris, Mandel sketched four possible scenarios for what Gorbachev had set in motion. He did not devote a single word to the possible restoration of capitalism. Ten years earlier, inRevolutionary Marxism Today, he had considered a restoration extremely unlikely and even called a gradual reintroduction impossible: ‘To believe otherwise is, to use an apt phrase of Trotsky’s, “to unwind the reformist film in reverse”.’Mandel 1979b, p. 150. Now he investigated as the most probable variant a combination of a lagging standard of living with growing dissatisfaction leading to mass actions and self-organization. ‘The slogan “All power to the Soviets” will be revived in its classic form… A new political leadership will emerge from the working class… The political revolution, in the classical Marxist sense of the term, will triumph.’Mandel 1989a, p. xvi. He ended his book with a citation from Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed, in which Trotsky predicted the replacement of the bureaucracy with a democracy of soviets: ‘Ranks will be immediately abolished. The tinsel of decorations will go into the melting pot. The youth will receive the opportunity to breathe freely, criticize, make mistakes and grow up. Science and art will be freed of their chains. And, finally, foreign policy will return to the traditions of revolutionary internationalism.’ Mandel added: ‘That is how it will be.’Mandel 1989a, p. 195.

This was a romantic final chord to a work that not everyone considered Mandel’s most convincing synthesis. For two days in Paris, Charles-André Udry tried to convince him not to publish it, but Mandel was adamant. He told a Dutch sympathizer that he believed the number of intellectuals and youth in the Soviet Union who identify with Marx and Lenin is greater than in any Western European country… ‘Did you know that the official [youth organisation] Komsomol of Lomonosov University has published The Revolution Betrayed? The circle has now turned 360 degrees and returned to its starting place: it was there that the Left Opposition was born in 1923’.Stutje 2009, p. 240.

The preface to Mandel’s book Beyond Perestroika: The Future of Gorbachev’s USSR was dated 15 July 1988. More than a year later, in October 1989, as the restoration of capitalism continued to unfold, Mandel wrote an article entitled ‘Glasnost and the Crisis of the Communist Parties’. A section called ‘Bureaucracy opposed to capitalist restoration’ argued that ‘For the majority, in fact the very great majority of the bureaucracy, the restoration of capitalism would reduce their power and privileges. Only a small minority would or could transform themselves into real entrepreneurs […] For the great bulk of the bureaucrats – not just the small and medium-rank ones but members of the nomenklatura, which can be estimated at some 300,000 households in the USSR – the restoration of capitalism would involve a loss of power and material advantages.’ For that reason, according to Mandel, ‘Assuming that the bureaucracy is heading in this direction means assuming that it is ready to commit hara-kiri as a crystallized social caste.’Mandel 1989b, p. 24.

If this was the degree of insight of the main theoretician of the United Secretariat about what was going on in the Soviet Union, one can easily imagine the degree of disorientation among its lesser lights. Most Trotskyist currents at that time swallowed the ‘democratic revolution’ narrative hook, line, and sinker. This is not just an academic debate, because a democratic counter-revolution is exactly what American imperialism has in mind for Cuba at this very moment. It is one thing to call for the right of the workers to form socialist parties different from the ‘Communist Party’ of the ruling bureaucracy, as well as to demand other democratic rights such as free election of trade-union representatives, factory committees, militia officers and so on, and an entirely different kettle of fish is to leave the field open to political forces aligned with imperialism and the bourgeoisie by calling for ‘free elections’ without class distinctions. The Kronstadt sailors, for instance, demanded ‘freedom of speech and press to workers and peasants, to anarchists and left socialist parties’.Avrich 1974, p. 73. And, if a socialist organisation is forced by circumstances beyond its control to take part in such elections, that participation should be combined with a systematic campaign warning that democratic rights should not be extended to restorationist forces, who use the ‘democratic revolution’ slogan as a smokescreen for reintroducing capitalist exploitation.

The Russians themselves quickly developed a sober sense of the virtues of bourgeois democracy, especially since from 1990 to 1994 male life expectancy in Russia fell from 65.5 years to 57.3 years, a figure lower than that for India, Egypt, or Bolivia.Kotz and Weir 2007, p. 180. According to the testimony of Jean-Jacques Marie: ‘From the mid-1990s, “Democrats” were for the working population so associated with the looting and social collapse produced by shock therapy that in conversation millions of men and women replaced the word “democrat” by “deRmocrat” that is to say “shitocrat” (дерьмо means shit…)’.Marie 2016, p. 33. As the authors of a recent study about the ‘social consequences of the 1989 revolutions’ put it:

We found eight countries in the post-communist region that by 2016 had not returned to 1989 levels of production – that is 27 years later. That is what somebody from the United Nations, from UNICEF called a biblical collapse in income. It is something that they will be writing about for several thousand years in the history of European countries like Ukraine or Serbia and similarly in Tajikistan. There are a number of countries like that, and they are not always the ones you think about. Some of the star reformers, like Latvia or Georgia, also end up being below where they had been economically.Ghodsee and Orenstein 2021.

As for the unification of Germany, in his review of Maitan’s book Présumey correctly indicates that the United Secretariat’s refusal to agitate for German reunification was symptomatic of its ‘Pabloite’ accommodation to the Stalinist bureaucracy, which crossed state borders (Putin was a Stasi as well as a KGB agent). Présumey is also right when he points out that the United Secretariat disgraced itself through the actions of its East German section, when ‘the German VSP (Vereinigte Sozialistische Partei) of which the militants linked to the United Secretariat were a part, distributed in Berlin, at the beginning of December 1989, a leaflet entitled “Never Again Unification!”, which continued: “For the recognition of East Germany as a sovereign state!” “For the recognition of post-war borders!”’.Présumey 2021. On 5 March 1990, the VSP issued a document entitled ‘Against the Annexation of East Germany’, which stated: ‘ln the absence of a credible socialist perspective in the FRG at present, the only possibility for safeguarding the gains of the working class and women in the GDR lies in defending the East German state as a sovereign and independent entity in every respect. This is why the VSP is firmly opposed to the so-called “reunification”.’ For the same reasons, the document continued, ‘we do not think that a basis exists for a slogan such as “For a socialist reunification of Germany”’.Vereinigte Sozialistische Partei 1990, p. 9. After the reunification of Germany took place on 3 October 1990, the United Secretariat adopted a resolution which read: ‘The facts confirm the correctness of our determined opposition to German capitalist reunification and our warnings to the German and international working class.’United Secretariat of the Fourth International 1990, p. 22.

In other words: despite the fact that the partition of Germany had been imposed on the German people by the military occupation of US imperialism and Stalinism after World War II, and despite overwhelming popular support for national reunification, the United Secretariat, rather than agitating throughout the postwar period about the historical necessity of this reunification, and calling on the workers of both Germanies to carry it out on a socialist basis, took the view of the Stalinist bureaucracy that a reunification would inevitably lead to a restauration of capitalism, and when indeed, in the absence of a working-class and socialist alternative, that happened, the United Secretariat reproached the workers for not having heeded its warnings.

This, needless to say, was incompatible with the enthusiasm of the United Secretariat for the ‘democracy’ of Gorbachev and company. In Germany, as in the former Soviet Union, the bourgeoisie triumphed sur toute la ligne, and in exchange for granting the masses the ‘democratic shell’ got exactly what it was looking for: ‘By the time the Treuhand finished its job at the end of 1994 it had privatised around 15,000 companies and shut down 3,600.’O’Dochartaigh 2004, p. 221. The results for the workers were mass unemployment, a brutal retrogression in the status of working women, etc.

The final chapter of Maitan’s book describes the main events of the years immediately following the Gulf War, from 1991 to 1995, including the ‘economic catastrophe, with devastating social repercussions’ brought about by the restoration of capitalism in Russia, where ‘In just five years, production fell by 50 per cent’,Maitan 2020, p. 345. the ‘Explosion of the Yugoslav federation’ and the subsequent wars and imperialist interventions in the Balkans, about which differences of opinion emerged within the United Secretariat.Maitan 2020, p. 349. Concerning Poland, Maitan mentions ‘the involution of Solidarność, the champion ten years earlier of a historic struggle against the ruling bureaucracy, and of its main leader, Lech Wałęsa, who took over as president of the Republic.’Maitan 2020, p. 350.

On China, where the restoration of capitalism began to take place much earlier, since 1978, under the aegis of the Communist Party, Maitan argues that ‘In fact, there was a tendency to overestimate the actual weight of the private sector’ and that, ‘As for the composition of Chinese society, a substantial middle class had emerged over the course of twenty years and, at the same time, real bourgeois strata, even if only to a limited extent’.Maitan 2020, pp. 350–1. Jack Ma and Ren Zhengfei, among others, would probably beg to differ with that last qualification: according to the magazine Forbes, China ‘is now home to 626 billionaires – up from 388 last year – and is again only second to the U.S., which has 724 billionaires.’Wang 2021.

The Further Disaggregation of the United Secretariat

Chapter 17 of Maitan’s book mentions that ‘the European elections of June 1994, which again met largely with indifference’ were for the organisations of the United Secretariat ‘an opportunity to distribute a joint manifesto “for a social and ecological, democratic, and egalitarian Europe, one of peace and solidarity”’,Maitan 2020, pp. 352–3. which fell rather short of denouncing the European Union as an imperialist monstrosity hostile to both the colonial peoples and the European workers, and to demand its replacement by the Socialist United States of Europe, including Russia. As Perry Anderson put it:

The history of enlargement, the Union’s major achievement – extending the frontiers of freedom, or ascending to the rank of empire, or both at once, as the claim may be – is an index. Expansion to the East was piloted by Washington: in every case, the former Soviet satellites were incorporated into NATO, under US command, before they were admitted to the EU. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had joined NATO already in 1999, five years before entry into the Union; Bulgaria and Romania in 2004, three years before entry; even Slovakia, Slovenia and the Baltics, a gratuitous month – just to rub in the symbolic point? – before entry (planning for the Baltics started in 1998). Croatia, Macedonia and Albania are next in line for the same sequence.

The expansion of NATO to former Soviet borders, casting aside undertakings given to Gorbachev at the end of the Cold War, was the work of the Clinton administration. Twelve days after the first levy of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had joined the Alliance, the Balkan War was launched – the first full-scale military offensive in NATO’s history. The successful blitz was an American operation, with token auxiliaries from Europe, and virtually no dissent in public opinion. These were harmonious days in Euro-American relations. There was no race between the EU and NATO in the East: Brussels deferred to the priority of Washington, which encouraged and prompted the advance of Brussels. So natural has this asymmetrical symbiosis now become that the United States can openly specify what further states should join the Union.Anderson, 2009, pp. 69–70.

As for the Mexican section of the United Secretariat, the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT), Maitan points out that ‘In the presidential elections of July 1988, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas’s PRD broke with the PRI and, despite the usual fraud, won 31 per cent of the vote, as against 50 per cent for the PRI and 17 per cent for the PAN. Most of the organizations on the left lined up with Cárdenas’.Maitan 2020, p. 357. While, on that occasion, the PRT had stayed independent, ‘In the 1994 elections, the PRT had backed Cárdenas as President and PRT candidates in the PRD lists, and in this way achieved the election of Edgard Sánchez Ramírez as a federal deputy. This was the overall context in which the crisis of the PRT, for more than a decade, together with the Brazilian DS, the most substantial and best-known force in Latin America, exploded’.Maitan 2020, p. 358. The emergence of ‘Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas’s neopopulism’ resulted in ‘the defection of a number of cadres in 1988’. This was ‘followed by the disbandment of the parliamentary group and, subsequently, the crossing to the other side of the barricade of the general secretary of the UCOCP [Unión General Obrera, Campesina y Popular] and member of the leadership of the International, Margarito Montes’.Maitan 2020, p. 359. This spelled the end of the Mexican section of the United Secretariat.

Maitan’s book closes with a section entitled ‘A congress of disenchantment?’, which contains a brief description of the ‘Fourteenth congress’ of the United Secretariat, held in June 1995. The general mood was captured by the resolution ‘Challenges of the New World Situation’, which stressed ‘The crisis of leadership and of the workers’ movement’s political project’ and argued that ‘For now, the dominant tendency on a world scale is the weakening of social movements (first of all of trade-union movements)’.Fourteenth World Congress of the Fourth International 1996, pp. 19–20. Maitan’s notes for this unfinished section also read: ‘The negative consequences of the fall of the [Berlin] Wall. Perception of our enfeeblement’.Maitan 2020, p. 361.

Shortly after the ‘Fourteenth congress’ of the United Secretariat ended, on 20 July 1995, Ernest Mandel, the most prominent theoretician of the organisation, died. The United Secretariat, nevertheless, subsists to this day: as a list of ‘The Congresses of the Fourth International’ added by the editors points out, the United Secretariat celebrated three more ‘World Congresses’, at ever larger intervals, in 2003, 2010 and 2018. Its main national section, the French NPA, is currently very weakened after the recent split organised by the Argentinian Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores (PTS). Since we are coming out of a global pandemic in which millions of workers died, it should also be pointed out that the NPA recently issued a flyer calling mandatory vaccination in France a ‘liberticide’ and took part in some demonstrations against the ‘passe sanitaire’ alongside all kinds of anti-vaxxers, right-wingers and conspiracy theorists.


Maitan’s History of the Fourth International proves the exact opposite of what its author set out to prove – namely, it shows that there is no ‘Fourth International’ in existence today and no ‘line of apostolic succession’ from Trotsky to any of the current Trotskyist tendencies. Moreover, as Al Richardson pointed out in his review of another book that conflated the history of the United Secretariat with that of the Fourth International – i.e., with the history of the Trotskyist tendencies after Trotsky – as a whole,Moreau 1993. in spite of ‘such insights as this book contains, and they are by no means limited to what have been selected here, the main actor in the Marxist drama, the working class, is conspicuous by his absence. There is little discussion about what was actually going on inside the workers’ movement, and even less about strategies for intervening there.’Richardson 1996.

On the other hand, as Présumey wrote in the conclusion to his review of Maitan’s book, ‘The idea of an International of revolutionary action, which the Fourth International should have been for Trotsky, devoting its activity, not to the evolution of consciousness, but to the aid of the real movement by providing it with a leadership on the question of power, nationally and internationally, is a need more pressing than ever’.Présumey 2021. Indeed, the demographic and geographical extent of wage slavery has grown exponentially since the foundation of the Fourth International in 1938. According to the International Labour Organization, in 2019 there were 1,768 million wage and salaried workers in the world, distributed as follows – Africa: 137 million; Latin America and the Caribbean: 180 million; North America: 168 million; Arab States: 44 million; East Asia: 522 million; South-East Asia and the Pacific: 179 million; South Asia: 195 million; Northern, Southern and Western Europe: 177 million; Eastern Europe: 120 million.International Labour Organization 2021, pp. 128, 138, 144, 146, 148, 150, 152, 154, 156, 158.

At the same time, Maitan’s biased account of the history of Trotskyism after Trotsky serves as a warning that, even though Stalinism is gone, Stalinist practices are alive and well in the organisational dynamics of the Trotskyist groups, which are much more destructive than any form of state repression. As a matter of fact, none of the Trotskyist organisations currently existing can claim to be a party of the vanguard of the working class. To put this question in perspective: in Argentina, a country with a population of 45 million, there are 10 million wage workers; a vanguard party gathering just 1% of the workers (a very small portion of the working class) should therefore have at least 100,000 members. Since there has never been a Trotskyist organisation that has even remotely reached similar membership figures, one must conclude that there has never been a ‘Trotskyist party’, if we are to restore to the word ‘party’ the meaning it originally had in Marxist circles.

An actual working-class socialist party should have a programme that analyses the political and economic reality of the country in which it operates and proposes a series of concrete measures, and not merely refer to the Transition Programme or to the decisions of the first four congresses of the Communist International, because a reference to the strategic objective of the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot side-track the need for a plan of action based on the immediate needs of the masses.

Organisational practices must inevitably vary enormously according to actual political conditions, and a one-size-fits-all approach, a model suitable for all times and places, for France, the Gaza Strip, the United States, Egypt and China, can only be a recipe for disaster. But an actual working-class socialist party should at the very least also have a statute, which must be both readily available to every party member and rigorously applied in practice. It cannot, under any circumstances, merely refer to ‘democratic centralism’ as its organisational method and make its members read What Is to Be Done? by Lenin, hinting that their ideal should be to become full-time ‘professional revolutionaries’, as if they were living in exile and preparing to smuggle copies ofIskra into Tsarist Russia, hiding from the secret police with false documents. In fact, comparisons with the Bolshevik experience are usually useless, because the greatest danger facing many, if not most, Trotskyist organisations today is not repression by an autocratic state but co-optation by a bourgeois-democratic state.

A working-class socialist party must also issue a membership card to its members, and not just vaguely define as members those who pay their dues and receive the internal bulletin, which in practice means that the leadership can arbitrarily revoke the membership status of anyone who disagrees with it. Party members must have as a matter of course the right to form tendencies as well as the right to publish their own organs, if need be, as was the practice in the Bolshevik Party during its revolutionary period.Kommunist 1918. No party member should be made to feel that Damocles’ sword of expulsion and ostracism is hanging over her or his head because they disagree with the leadership’s political line, a situation which makes members more afraid of being excluded than of betraying the principles of the party programme.

A working-class socialist party should hold regular annual congresses, announced several weeks in advance in the party press; the local organisations should hold assemblies to elect delegates to the party’s annual congresses and debate the resolutions that will be discussed in those congresses; and the party press should report on these assemblies and on the debates taking place in them. The proceedings of the congresses, which must include not only the resolutions but also the different motions and the number of votes each one received, as well as the debates themselves, with the interventions of all the delegates, along with a copy of the party programme and statutes, should also be published annually shortly after the realisation of the party congress. This is not some fictional scenario but an actual practice of the socialist parties. The proceedings of the Social Democratic Party of Germany’s annual congress, for instance, were published in book form and regularly sold 30,000 to 40,000 copies, and eventually even 50,000.Bonnell 2021, pp. 144–5.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany before the First World War also had the good habit of submitting an annual balance sheet of its finances to the party congress for its approval, and this financial report was then published together with the congress’ proceedings. For example, the Report on the Income and Expenditure of the Party Treasury (Bericht über die Einnahmen und Ausgaben der Parteikasse) of the congress held in Essen in September 1907 appears in the Proceedings of that particular congress.Protokolle über die Verhandlungen der Parteitage der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands 1907, pp. 66–89. This practice has been completely abandoned by contemporary ‘vanguard parties’, which inevitably strengthens the development of an unaccountable bureaucratic apparatus, even in relatively minuscule organisations. This is a particularly serious deviation from Marxist practice because, instead of jailing Marxist editors and political leaders as the Second German Empire did, contemporary bourgeois states with a democratic political system tend to hand over relatively large sums of money to the parties that take part in the electoral process, thus multiplying the dangers of co-optation.

The leadership of a working-class socialist party should therefore submit to the annual congress, for its approval, a financial report and balance sheet, which clearly details how much money was raised by the organisation and what it was spent on, specifying exactly what percentage of that money came from the bourgeois state if the party participates in the electoral process and has representatives in parliament, state legislatures and city councils. The party leadership should also submit to the annual congress, for its approval, a list of the full-timers, specifying the amount of their rent and making it clear to its members that living without a job does not exalt them but rather degrades and lumpenises them, fomenting paranoia and intrigues, as well as their eventual co-optation by the state.

A socialist party should regularly incorporate wage workers into its ranks and encourage them to become leadership members. When it intervenes in multi-class movements against different forms of oppression (against women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, etc.), the party should clearly distinguish between the social classes that comprise them and use every possible means to independently organise the workers within them. It should also regularly discuss, publicly as far as possible, the difficulties that the members encounter in the application of the political line in their respective fronts, and not waste its time arguing with organisations without any real impact on the labour movement. Its members should be active in one or at most two fronts at any one time, in order to allow them to carry out serious and systematic work in them, and it should under no circumstances set militancy criteria so hyperactive that they prevent its members from having a regular work and family life, including finishing their studies and learning a trade.

A working-class socialist party should root out any form of denunciation and obsequiousness in its ranks, and under no circumstances should it cover up sexual and financial abuses, as well as abuses of power. If the party succeeds in seizing control of mass organisations like trade unions, student unions, organisations of the unemployed, etc., it should never employ the same methods used by the bureaucracy it has displaced, beginning with clientelism.

Finally, a working-class socialist party should make extensive the methods described above to its international organisation, whose creation and effective operation should be one of its main priorities.

This work does not pretend to be more than a first approach to the history of Trotskyist tendencies after Trotsky’s assassination, which we will address in more detail in a forthcoming book. Our central objective has been to point out that, together with the need to address programmatic and strategic issues (first of all, the long-standing and growing adaptation to bourgeois democracy of most Trotskyist tendencies) a comprehensive balance-sheet must be drawn of the organisational practices inherited from Zinovievism and Stalinism, which were to a large extent responsible for the current political and organisational weakness of Trotskyism. In this sense, the present work is just an attempt to contribute to what must necessarily be a collective debate, if we want to master once again the forgotten art of building mass socialist workers’ parties and, ultimately, of leading socialist revolutions.


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