Leon Trotsky
Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka)

Pabloite Opportunism

12-1. The political pressures generated by the post-war restabilisation of capitalism exhibited in the BLPI’s liquidation found their theoretical expression in the emergence of a revisionist current within the Fourth International led by Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel. What began with Pablo’s abandonment of Trotsky’s assessment of the counterrevolutionary character of Stalinism came to embrace a revision of all the fundamentals of Marxism, replacing the struggle for the political independence of the working class with the wholesale liquidation of the sections of the Fourth International into the agencies of the bourgeoisie operating within the workers’ movement in every country.

12-2. Only after careful deliberation had the Fourth International characterised the Stalinist regimes in the so-called buffer states of Eastern Europe as “deformed workers’ states” in response to their abrupt turn in 1947–1948 to the nationalisation of industry and commencement of bureaucratic state planning. Unlike the Soviet Union, which was the product of a proletarian revolution, these states were “deformed” from the outset. The changes to property relations did not issue from mass organs of proletarian power, Soviets, led by a Bolshevik-type party, but were imposed from above by Stalinist parties that suppressed any independent activity of the working class. Moreover, as the Fourth International explained: “From the world point of view, the reforms realised by the Soviet bureaucracy in the sense of the assimilation of the buffer zone to the USSR weigh incomparably less in the balance than the blows dealt by the Soviet bureaucracy, especially through its actions in the buffer zone, against the consciousness of the world proletariat.”[1]

12-3. As was later explained: “The use of the term deformed places central attention upon the crucial historical difference between the overturn of the capitalist state in October 1917 and the overturns which occurred in the late 1940s in Eastern Europe—that is, the absence of mass organs of proletarian power, Soviets led by a Bolshevik-type party. Moreover, the term implies the merely transitory existence of state regimes of dubious historical viability, whose actions in every sphere—political and economic—bear the stamp of the distorted and abnormal character of their birth. Thus, far from associating such regimes with new historical vistas, the designation deformed underscores the historical bankruptcy of Stalinism and points imperiously to the necessity for the building of a genuine Marxist leadership, the mobilisation of the working class against the ruling bureaucracy in a political revolution, the creation of genuine organs of workers’ power, and the destruction of the countless surviving vestiges of the old capitalist relations within the state structure and economy.”[2] As early as 1949, however, Pablo transformed what had been a provisional characterisation of regimes of a transitory character into a long-term perspective for “centuries” of “deformed workers’ states” that imbued Stalinism with a historically progressive role. Adapting to the framework of the Cold War, Pablo replaced the struggle of the international proletariat against capitalism with a new “objective reality” that “consists essentially of the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world.”

12-4. This new “reality” excluded any independent role for the working class and the Fourth International. At the Third World Congress in 1951, Pablo drew out the liquidationist implications of his theories, declaring: “What distinguishes us still more from the past, what makes for the quality of our movement today and constitutes the surest gauge of our future victories, is our growing capacity to understand, to appreciate the mass movement as it exists—often confused, often under treacherous, opportunist, centrist, bureaucratic and even bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaderships—and our endeavours to find a place in this movement with the aim of raising it from its present to higher levels.”[3]

12-5. In relation to Latin America, Pablo called for the liquidation of the Trotskyist movement into the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist mass movements regardless of the class character of their leaderships. To label such movements, he declared, “as reactionary, fascist or of no concern to us would be proof of the old type of ‘Trotskyist’ immaturity and of a dogmatic, abstract, intellectualistic judgement of the mass movement … Elsewhere, as in South Africa, Egypt, the North African colonies, in the Near East, we understand that the eventual formation of a revolutionary party now takes the road of unconditional support of the national, anti-imperialist mass movement and of integration into this movement.”[4] This orientation represented a complete repudiation of the Theory of Permanent Revolution and the struggle for the political independence of the working class from bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leaderships in the backward capitalist countries. The implications of this program were already evident in Sri Lanka and India where Philip Gunawardena and N.M. Perera had been advancing similar arguments against the old Trotskyism of the “dogmatic, abstract, intellectualistic” BLPI to justify their adaptation to Bandaranaike.

12-6. In 1948, Pablo had cautioned the BLPI against entry into the Socialist Party of India. By February 1952, however, he was advocating entrism sui generis (entrism of a special type) across-the-board internationally. As in India, entrism now was not a temporary tactical manoeuvre, but a long-term perspective, justified on the assumption that any future radicalisation would and could only take place through the existing labour organisations. The outcome of entrism sui generis in India had already resulted in the demoralisation and disorientation of former BLPI cadres, who were trapped in an organisation that blocked any fight for a Trotskyist program. The application of this opportunist tactic internationally resulted in the destruction of more sections of the Fourth International.

12-7. The theoretical foundation of Pabloite opportunism was the method of objectivism. As was later explained: “The standpoint of objectivism is contemplation rather than revolutionary practical activity, of observation rather than struggle; it justifies what is happening rather than explains what must be done. This method provided the theoretical underpinnings for a perspective in which Trotskyism was no longer seen as the doctrine guiding the practical activity of a party determined to conquer power and change the course of history, but rather as a general interpretation of a historical process in which socialism would ultimately be realised under the leadership of non-proletarian forces hostile to the Fourth International. Insofar as Trotskyism was to be credited with any direct role in the course of events, it was merely as a sort of subliminal mental process unconsciously guiding the activities of Stalinists, neo-Stalinists, semi-Stalinists and, of course, petty-bourgeois nationalists of one type or another.”[5]

12-8. The objectivist method transformed the Theory of Permanent Revolution from a revolutionary guide to action for the sections of the Fourth International into an external description of an inexorable historical process that worked itself out through the medium of other parties and leaderships. Instead of providing the means for building Trotskyist parties in the working class, the Theory of Permanent Revolution was converted by the Pabloites into a method for glorifying movements led by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties.

12-9. The political struggle against Pabloite opportunism culminated in the publication of the Open Letter to the world Trotskyist movement on November 16, 1953 by James P. Cannon, the leader of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The Open Letter was the rallying point for orthodox Trotskyists and led to the formation of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) with the support of the British and French sections. The letter summarised the fundamental principles of Trotskyism:

1. The death agony of the capitalist system threatens the destruction of civilisation through worsening depressions, world wars and barbaric manifestations like fascism. The development of atomic weapons today underlines the danger in the gravest possible way

2. The descent into the abyss can be avoided only by replacing capitalism with the planned economy of socialism on a world scale and thus resuming the spiral of progress opened up by capitalism in its early days.

3. This can be accomplished only under the leadership of the working class in society. But the working class itself faces a crisis in leadership although the world relationship of social forces was never so favourable as today for the workers to take the road to power.

4. To organise itself for carrying out this world-historic aim, the working class in each country must construct a revolutionary socialist party in the pattern developed by Lenin; that is, a combat party capable of dialectically combining democracy and centralism—democracy in arriving at decisions, centralism in carrying them out; a leadership controlled by the ranks, ranks able to carry forward under fire in disciplined fashion.

5. The main obstacle to this is Stalinism, which attracts workers through exploiting the prestige of the October 1917 Revolution in Russia, only later, as it betrays their confidence, to hurl them either into the arms of the Social Democracy, into apathy, or back into illusions in capitalism. The penalty for these betrayals is paid by working people in the form of consolidation of fascist or monarchist forces, and new outbreaks of war fostered and prepared by capitalism. From its inception, the Fourth International set as one of its major tasks the revolutionary overthrow of Stalinism inside and outside the USSR.

6. The need for flexible tactics facing many sections of the Fourth International, and parties or groups sympathetic to its program, makes it all the more imperative that they know how to fight imperialism and all its petty-bourgeois agencies (such as nationalist formations or trade union bureaucracies) without capitulation to Stalinism; and conversely, know how to fight Stalinism (which in the final analysis is a petty-bourgeois agency of imperialism) without capitulating to imperialism.[6]

12-10. The Open Letter reviewed the role of Pablo in providing a political cover for Stalinism in the 1953 strike movement in East Germany and the French general strike. Turning to the fate of the Chinese Trotskyists at the hands of Pablo, the Open Letter declared: “Particularly revolting is the slanderous misrepresentation Pablo has fostered of the political position of the Chinese section of the Fourth International. They have been pictured by the Pablo faction as ‘sectarians’, as ‘refugees from a revolution’ ... Pablo’s line of conciliationism towards Stalinism leads him inexorably to touch up the Mao regime couleur de rose while putting grey tints on the firm, principled stand of our Chinese comrades.”[7]

12-11. After a thorough consideration of the evolution of the Maoist regime that the Socialist Workers Party in the US and the ICFI designated China as a deformed workers’ state. In a resolution adopted at its 1955 national convention, the SWP provided a detailed analysis of the Chinese revolution: its impact on world politics and the transformation of class relations within China as well as of the Stalinist CCP and its policies. Summing up the process, the document concluded that after the 1949 revolution: “The objective dynamics, the inner logic of the struggle against imperialist intervention forced the bureaucracy to break with capitalism, nationalise the decisive means of production, impose the monopoly of foreign trade, institute planning, and in this way clear the road for the introduction of production relations and institutions that constitute the foundation of a workers’ state, which China is today, even though a Stalinist caricature thereof. China is a deformed workers’ state because of the Stalinist deformation of the Third Chinese Revolution.”[8]

12-12. The subsequent evolution of the Chinese regime, which restored capitalist property relations in the 1980s and transformed the country into the world’s premier cheap labour platform, has fully vindicated the International Committee’s principled position. In opposition to the Pabloites, the ICFI insisted that, without the overthrow of the CCP regime through a political revolution led by the working class, the Maoists guided by the nationalist perspective of “Socialism in One Country” would inevitably become the agents of capitalist restoration as was foreseen by Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed. At the same time, the ICFI opposed various “state capitalist” tendencies that dismissed the enormous sweep of the Chinese Revolution, the subsequent nationalisation of private enterprises and the institution of economic planning, and in doing so, sided openly or tacitly with imperialism against the deformed workers’ state.


David North, The Heritage We Defend: A Contribution to the History of the Fourth International (Detroit: Labor Publications, 1988), p. 158.


Ibid., pp. 178–9.


Ibid., p. 194.


Ibid., pp. 194–5.


In Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Volume One (London: New Park, 1974), pp. 299-300.


Ibid., p.312.


Ibid., p.312.


The Third Chinese Revolution and its aftermath, Education for Socialists, Socialist Workers Party National Education Department, 1976, p. 7.