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

The SWP reunification

15-1. In 1953, SWP leader James P. Cannon had concluded his Open Letter by declaring: “The lines of cleavage between Pablo’s revisionism and orthodox Trotskyism are so deep that no compromise is possible politically or organisationally.”[1] Quite quickly, however, the SWP began to soften its opposition to Pabloism. As early as 1957, Cannon responded positively to a letter from Leslie Goonewardene sounding out the prospects of the SWP’s unification with the International Secretariat. The shift was part of the SWP’s increasing adaptation to American middle-class radical circles under the pressure of the post-war boom.

15-2. In fact, the gulf between orthodox Trotskyism and Pabloism had widened, but the SWP was adopting opportunist positions similar to those of the IS. By late 1960, the SWP, now under the leadership of Joseph Hansen, was glorifying the Cuban regime, established by Fidel Castro and his petty-bourgeois guerrilla movement, as a “workers’ state”. Based on crude empiricism, the SWP asserted that the proletarian nature of the Cuban state was determined by Castro’s nationalisation of the largely agricultural economy, ignoring its open hostility to any independent action by the working class and the lack of any organs of workers’ power. Moreover, as Castro turned to the Soviet Union for assistance against US imperialism and fused his July 26th Movement with the Cuban Stalinists, the SWP insisted that the Castroites were becoming Marxists in the course of the revolution. The SWP’s veneration of “the first victorious socialist revolution in the Americas”, which “raised the entire colonial revolutionary process to a new plateau of achievement” and gave “fresh confirmation of the correctness of the theory of permanent revolution”, became the touchstone for its reunification with the Pabloites.

15-3. Between 1961 and 1963, the British Trotskyists of the Socialist Labour League (SLL) led a determined struggle within the International Committee against the SWP’s opportunism. The SLL rejected the SWP’s contention that petty bourgeois leaderships could be forced by “the logic of the revolution itself” to lead the working class to power and emphasised that the central task confronting the Fourth International remained the resolution of the crisis of proletarian leadership through the construction of Bolshevik-type parties. After reviewing the struggle against revisionism, the SLL concluded in 1961: “It is time to draw to a close the period in which Pabloite revisionism was regarded as a trend within Trotskyism.”

15-4. In relation to Cuba, the SWP employed Pablo’s and Mandel’s objectivist method. In its July 1962 document, “Trotskyism Betrayed: The SWP accepts the political method of Pabloite revisionism,” the SLL National Committee declared: “In our communications with the SWP we provoked a strong reaction by daring to suggest that talk about ‘confirming the permanent revolution’ without the revolutionary parties was nonsense. In practice, however, both the Pabloites and the SWP find themselves prostrate before the petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders in Cuba and Algeria. Our view of this question is not opposed to that of the SWP simply in terms of who can best explain a series of events. It is a question rather of the actual policy and program of Trotskyist leadership in these backward countries. The theory of permanent revolution is, like all Marxist theory, a guide to action; analysis becomes the pointer to the need to organise an independent and determined working class and its allies in the peasantry for their own soviet power. ‘Confirming the permanent revolution’ is not an accolade to be conferred by Marxists on approved nationalist leaders but a task for which Marxists themselves have the responsibility.”[2]

15-5. Moreover, the SLL insisted that the so-called successes proclaimed by the SWP in Cuba and Algeria had to be assessed as part of an overall balance sheet of Stalinism and petty bourgeois radicalism in mass struggles in backward capitalist countries. “Besides Cuba and Algeria—and in order to understand both of these—the experience of Iraq, Iran, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Bolivia, Indo-China, and many other countries must be taken into account. What would emerge from such a historical analysis is the true role played by those leaders of the working class who have proceeded from the theory of ‘two stages’. Stalinism, far from being ‘forced to play a progressive role’, has in fact disarmed and betrayed the advanced workers in every one of these countries and has enabled a bourgeois government to establish temporary stabilisation—which is all imperialism can hope for at the present stage. It is in this sense and this sense only that the ‘theory of Permanent Revolution has been confirmed’.”[3]

15-6. The SLL also opposed the SWP’s claim that the 1962 Evian agreement for Algerian “independence” between the French government and Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) leadership represented “a major victory for the Algerian people, for the Arab and colonial revolution”. The SLL defended the Fourth International’s assessment—clearly elaborated by the BLPI in relation to India and Sri Lanka—of such formal post-war independence agreements under which the national bourgeoisie took on the role of safeguarding imperialist interests. The SLL explained: “The Algerian petty bourgeoisie seeks to fill the place vacated by French colonialism, while continuing to be a loyal guarantor of the fundamental interests of French capital in North Africa. We see the Evian agreements as the expression of that willingness, in which the FLN leaders remain true to their nature.”[4]

15-7. Without any discussion of the theoretical and political issues that had led to the 1953 split, the SWP, and groups in many Latin American countries that had hitherto been affiliated to the ICFI and traditionally looked to the US Trotskyists for leadership, formally reunified with the Pabloites at their Seventh Congress in Rome in June 1963. In what was a complete rejection of the Theory of Permanent Revolution, the main resolution of the Pabloite “World Congress” concluded from the Cuban revolution that “the weakness of the enemy in the backward countries has opened the possibility of coming to power with a blunted instrument”—that is, without a Leninist party fighting for the independent mobilisation of the working class. The Pabloites’ glorification of Castro and guerrilla “armed struggle” was to prove a disastrous dead-end in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and across Latin America, serving to isolate revolutionary elements from the working class and contributing to historic defeats. The LSSP leaders, who were investing the capitalist SLFP with the functions of “a blunted instrument” in Sri Lanka, fully supported the reunification and the formation of the new United Secretariat. In turn, the SWP lauded the LSSP as a mass Trotskyist party.


Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Volume One, p. 312.


Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Volume Three (London: New Park, 1974), p. 244.


Ibid., p. 250.


Ibid., p. 248.