David North
The Heritage We Defend

The Nature of Pabloite Opportunism

By 1951, the year of the Third Congress, a powerful liquidationist tendency had entrenched itself within the Fourth International. What had originally begun as a discussion on the class nature of Yugoslavia and the Eastern European buffer states had become transformed, under the pressure of alien class forces, into a political platform for sweeping opportunist revisions of the basic Trotskyist program and its historical perspective.

The theories advanced by Pablo of “generations of deformed workers’ states” and “war-revolution” articulated the pessimism and demoralization of broad layers of the Fourth International beneath the impact of unfavorable objective conditions. The political conceptions which were to become known as Pabloism emerged as an adaptation to the restabilization of capitalism, on the one hand, and to the apparent strengthening of the Stalinist bureaucracy, on the other.

Refracted through the political prism of the Cold War, the objective situation appeared to be dominated by the global conflict between the imperialist forces, spearheaded by the United States, and the Soviet Union and those labor and national revolutionary movements dominated by Stalinism. The real underlying conflict between the world bourgeoisie and the international proletariat—of which the Cold War was only a partial and distorted manifestation—receded from the political consciousness of those within the Fourth International who were reacting impressionistically to world events.

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 provided a degree of political credibility to the conception that the United States was preparing for all-out war against the Soviet Union. Still occupied with a discussion that centered on the process through which the social character of the buffer states had been transformed under Stalinist auspices, Pablo seized upon the possibility of war, converted it into an imminent inevitability, and made it the starting point and centerpiece of a new and bizarre perspective for the realization of socialism.

Adopted at the ninth plenum of the IEC of the Fourth International in 1951, the theory of “war-revolution” argued that the eruption of war between the United States and the Soviet Union would assume the form of a global civil war, in which the Soviet bureaucracy would be compelled to serve as the midwife of social revolutions.

In the schema worked out by Pablo, the international proletariat ceased to play any independent role. Instead, all political initiative in the shaping of world events was attributed to world imperialism and the Soviet bureaucracy. This was spelled out in the document, suggestively entitled “Where Are We Going?” The theoretical essence of his perspective was spelled out as follows: “For our movement objective social reality consists essentially of the capitalist regime and the Stalinist world. Furthermore, whether we like it or not, these two elements by and large constitute objective social reality, for the overwhelming majority of the forces opposing capitalism are right now to be found under the leadership or influence of the Soviet bureaucracy.”[1]

This extraordinary passage deserves to be memorized by every Trotskyist, for it is a classic example of the theoretical and political consequences of impressionism. Accepting uncritically the surface appearance of political events, Pablo’s reality corresponded to the world as it looked to the bewildered petty-bourgeois journalist: in one corner, the United States and its allies; in the other corner, the Soviet Union and the movements dominated by the Kremlin bureaucracy.

Starting with his impressions of these two goliaths, he forgot all about the working class; and as he divided the world into two camps, Pablo conveniently ignored the class conflict raging within each of the two camps. This omission rendered impossible any serious analysis of the two protagonists upon whom Pablo focused all his attention. Moreover, by writing the working class out of existence as a history-making force, Pablo inevitably reduced to zero the independent political function of the Fourth International. The only role it could play, based on the two-camp theory of Pablo, was that of adviser to the Stalinist bureaucracy.

The theory of socialism through war was a corollary of the subordination of the class struggle to the conflict between the “Stalinist world” and the “capitalist regime.” It was necessary to introduce some cataclysmic event, outside of the class struggle as it had been traditionally defined by Marxists, as the means through which revolutionary forces would be mobilized and galvanized. Thus, the impulse for world revolution was seen as originating in the decision of US imperialism to wage counterrevolutionary war against the Soviet Union:

Such a war would take on, from the very beginning, the character of an international civil war, especially in Europe and in Asia. These continents would rapidly pass over under the control of the Soviet bureaucracy, of the Communist Parties, or of the revolutionary masses.

War under these conditions, with the existing relationship of forces on the international arena, would essentially be Revolution. Thus the advance of anti-capitalist revolution in the world at one and the same time postpones and brings nearer the danger of general war.

Conversely, war this time means the Revolution.

These two conceptions of Revolution and of War, far from being in opposition or being differentiated as two significantly different stages of development, are approaching each other more closely and becoming so interlinked as to be almost indistinguishable under certain circumstances and at certain times. In their stead, it is the conception of Revolution-War, of War-Revolution which is emerging and upon which the perspectives and orientation of revolutionary Marxists in our epoch should rest.

Such language will perhaps shock the lovers of “pacifist” dreams and declamation, or those who already bemoan the apocalyptic end of the world which they foresee following upon an atomic war or a worldwide expansion of Stalinism. But these sensitive souls can find no place among the militants and least of all the revolutionary Marxist cadres of this most terrible epoch where the sharpness of the class struggle is carried to the extreme. It is objective reality which thrusts this dialectic of Revolution-War to the forefront, which implacably destroys “pacifist” dreams, and which permits no respite in the gigantic simultaneous deployment of the forces of Revolution and of War and in their struggle to the death.[2]

Behind all the bloodcurdling rhetoric lay a perspective of utter prostration and hopelessness. Not unlike the terrified German Stalinists of the early 1930s who disguised their pessimism and expectations of defeat at the hands of the Nazis with the slogan “After Hitler, us,” Pablo proceeded from his unstated assumption that the working class was unable to defeat imperialism and prevent the outbreak of a nuclear war. In this way he arrived at the perspective, “After the nuclear obliteration of mankind, socialism!”

The most fantastic rationalizations for this “theory” were offered by Ernest Mandel, who, despite his earlier misgivings, had settled into the role of chief legal advocate and apologist for Pablo. He set out to convince the skeptical that nuclear war would not be all too terrible in the long run:

It is not excluded that the widespread devastation produced by an extended Third World War will provoke vast collapses in the machinery of production in great parts of the world which would thus facilitate initial bureaucratic deformations of new victorious revolutions. These deformations would not however be comparable to the monstrous bureaucratization of the USSR, a product of twenty-five years of special historical development. The experience of the Yugoslav and Chinese revolutions—despite all their weaknesses—fully confirms the prediction of Marx that each victorious proletarian revolution would surmount in large part the weaknesses and setbacks of the preceding revolutions. Our conviction in the victory of the American revolution, giving the socialist world a prodigious productive capacity even after a devastating war, allows us to envisage with confidence perspectives of proletarian democracy after the Third World War.[3]

If a modern-day Jonathan Swift had set out to satirize revisionism with a tract entitled “A Modest Proposal for World War III and the Realization of Socialism,” he could not have done a more effective job than that performed by Mandel. The simple questions which neither Mandel nor Pablo ever considered were: Why should the Fourth International reconcile itself to the “inevitability” of war? Why should it accept a nuclear holocaust as the price of historical progress? Why could it not rally the working class against imperialism and Stalinism prior to war and overthrow capitalism before a large portion of the planet was destroyed?

To understand why these simple questions were not asked, let alone answered, it is necessary to examine more closely the peculiar distortion of the Marxist method at the hands of Pablo, Mandel and their followers. As they adapted themselves to imperialism and its Stalinist agents, and ceased to believe in the ability of the Trotskyists to win the leadership of the working class, Pablo and his allies adopted an objectivist method which was perfectly suited to a political perspective that surrendered all historical initiative to forces outside the working class and to political tendencies other than the Fourth International.

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 realized under the leadership of nonproletarian 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.

Pabloism, in this sense, went way beyond a set of incorrect assessments, false prognoses and programmatic revisions. It attacked the whole foundation of scientific socialism and repudiated the central lessons abstracted by Marxists from the development of the class struggle over an entire century. The greatest conquest of Marxist theory in the twentieth century—the Leninist conception of the party—was undermined, as Pablo called into question the necessity of the conscious element in the struggle of the proletariat and the historic realization of the proletarian dictatorship. For Pablo and his followers, there was no need to theoretically educate the working class and make it conscious of its historical tasks. It was not necessary to wage a struggle for Marxism against the domination of bourgeois ideology over the spontaneous movement of the working class.

Thus, Marxism ceased to be an active political and theoretical weapon through which the vanguard of the working class established its authority among the masses and trained and organized them for the socialist revolution. Rather, it was merely “confirmed” by an abstraction called the “historical process,” working in quasi-automatic fashion through whatever political tendencies were at hand, regardless of the class forces upon which they were objectively based and no matter how notorious their past or reactionary their program. This outlook, which had nothing to do with genuine Marxism and legitimized the most grotesque opportunism, was epitomized in an article written by George Clarke to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination:

The most heartening and gratifying aspect of the rich and varied postwar experience has been the positive verification of Trotskyism in the test of the Yugoslav revolution. Here is to be found brilliant confirmation of Trotsky’s famous contribution to Marxism, the concept and strategy of the Permanent Revolution. It is not decisive for Marxists that this process is not yet openly recognized by the Yugoslav leaders. The consciousness of men, formed by environment, molded by training, hampered by prejudice and ego, influenced by obscure psychological reflexes—as the history of thought so often reveals—lags notoriously behind events. What is decisive is the actual process itself.[4]

The point of this article was to prove that the program of Trotskyism was being realized, miraculously, by those who were its bitterest enemies: “Ten years after his death a leader of a formerly Stalinist party holding state power repeats Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet bureaucracy almost word for word! And this, we are supremely confident, is only a first installment of a great historical vindication.”[5]

The only conclusion that could be drawn from this article was that Trotskyism, through the sheer force of objective historical necessity, was being realized through its most implacable opponent—Stalinism. Even if Clarke intended to eulogize Trotsky, his objectivist approach turned into a political justification for the policies of Tito, calling to mind Lenin’s warning about the consequences of objectivism, which he denounced as a divergence from materialism: “When demonstrating the necessity for a given series of facts, the objectivist always runs the risk of becoming an apologist for these facts: the materialist discloses the class contradictions and in so doing defines his standpoint.”[6]

The above-quoted lines were directed against the school of “legal Marxism” which, while correctly establishing the capitalist nature of Russian economic development in the 1890s, habitually referred to “insurmountable historical tendencies” as if they operated outside of and independently of the class struggle. For objectivists, classes exist merely as programmed, unconscious executors of economic forces. Thus, the “legal Marxists” acknowledged and established the necessity of capitalist development in Russia, but would not recognize nor countenance the historical and political legitimacy of the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie.

In his critique of this objectivism, Lenin stressed a point of immense methodological significance: “Materialism includes partisanship, so to speak, and enjoins the direct and open adoption of the standpoint of a definite social group in any assessment of events.”[7]

This lack of revolutionary proletarian partisanship marked the writings of Pablo and Mandel. All their pompous predictions, which they handed down in the style of oracles, always excluded the intervention and counteraction of the working class as a conscious subject in the historical process.

The adaptation to Stalinism was a central feature of the new Pabloite outlook, but it would be a mistake to see this as its essential characteristic. Pabloism, was (and is) liquidationism all down the line: that is, the repudiation of the hegemony of the proletariat in the socialist revolution and the genuinely independent existence of the Fourth International as the conscious articulation of the historical role of the working class. The theory of war-revolution provided the initial setting for the elaboration of the central liquidationist thesis: that all Trotskyist parties must be dissolved into whatever political tendencies dominate the labor or mass popular movement in the countries in which the sections of the Fourth International worked.

Having lost confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the working class and in the ability of Trotskyism to defeat the powerful social democratic and Stalinist bureaucracies within the international workers’ movement, or to overcome the influence of the bourgeois nationalists in the backward countries, Pablo subordinated all questions of program, perspective and principle to an unrestrained tactical opportunism.

The practical activity of the Trotskyist movement was no longer to be centrally directed toward educating the proletariat, making it conscious of its historic tasks, and establishing its unconditional programmatic and organizational independence from all other class forces. Nor was this activity to be based upon a scientific analysis of social relations of production and class forces, grounded in a historically-based confidence in the unique revolutionary role of the proletariat. Instead, work was to be reduced to the small change of tactical expediency, in which principled positions established over decades of struggle were to be surrendered in the vain hope of influencing the leaders of the existing Stalinist, social democratic and bourgeois nationalist organizations, and pushing them to the left.

Thus, the building of the party was conceived of in a manner that was totally alien to the traditions of Marxism. For Lenin and Trotsky, no matter how severe the isolation, the political line of the party had to be based on the objective class interests of the proletariat, and had to uphold and defend its political independence. They were supremely confident that the historical trajectory of a principled class line would inevitably intersect with the living movement of the working class under conditions of great revolutionary upheavals.

Moreover, this intersection was prepared over a long period through the development of the cadre assembled on the basis of the Marxist program. When Lenin and Trotsky spoke of the “logic of events,” it was usually to assert the inevitable exposure and political collapse of the various petty-bourgeois charlatans who, despite their popularity and temporary domination of the mass movement at one or another stage of its development, could not satisfy the historical aims of that movement.

Far from standing aloof from the mass movement, Bolshevism always oriented its intervention at overcoming the gap between the tasks posed by the death agony of capitalism and the immaturity of the political consciousness dominating the proletariat and its allies.

For Pablo and the school of opportunism which he founded, tactical ingenuity replaced scientific historical materialist analysis as the foundation of the political life of the Fourth International. Trotskyism was seen increasingly as an ossified dogma that had no relevance to the proletariat and the mass movement in the various countries in which sections existed. The independent existence of the Fourth International, as a distinct political tendency fighting to oust the Stalinist, social democratic and other petty-bourgeois misleaders of the working class, was looked upon as a burdensome obstacle which had to be ended.

The liquidationist essence of the new doctrine was expressed most openly in the section of the report delivered by Pablo to the Third World Congress, which met in August-September 1951, entitled “The Road to the Masses”:

All our analyses should be directed toward integrating ourselves better and more deeply into the real movement of the masses. The most striking feature of our movement today, which differentiates it fundamentally from what it was before and even during the war, is the profound understanding by the great majority of our International of this necessity, and the practical, concrete application of this understanding.

For the first time in the history of our movement, particularly since the Second World Congress, the maturity of our cadres is evidenced by the stubborn, systematic exploration of the road which the real movement of the masses has taken in each country and the forms and organizations which express it the best, and by our concrete, and practical steps on this road.

This was not, is not as yet and will not be for some time to come an easy task, both insofar as its comprehension and its realization are concerned.

To understand the real movement of the masses means first of all to be able to correctly analyze the political situation in each country, its peculiarities, its dynamism, and to define the most appropriate tactics for reaching the masses.

What we have understood for the first time in the history of our movement and of the workers’ movement in general—for the first time in as thoroughgoing a manner and on so large a scale—is that we must be capable of finding our place in the mass movement as it is, wherever it expresses itself, and to aid it to rise through its own experience to higher levels.[8]

Pablo spelled out the practical meaning of his proposal for “integrating ourselves better and more deeply into the real movement of the masses.” He continued:

But let us look back at the immense distance our movement has traveled toward maturity in the last years. There is not now one single Trotskyist organization, which either as a whole or in part does not seriously, profoundly, concretely understand the necessity of subordinating all organizational considerations, of formal independence or otherwise, to real integration into the mass movement wherever it expresses itself in each country, or to integration in an important current of this movement which can be influenced. There is not one single Trotskyist organization which has not found or is not seeking to find a real milieu for work.[9] (Emphasis added.)

Marxists have long recognized the need to intervene in the mass organizations of the working class. However, such interventions, even when they required formal entry into a hostile organization, are carried out always from the standpoint of creating the best conditions for the building of the revolutionary party, which at all times preserves its independent political program and identity.

Lenin branded all attempts to subordinate the revolutionary party to these existing organizations as opportunism and liquidationism. There was no question but that Trotskyists, as all previous generations of Marxists, must work within the mass movement. But Pablo was clearly rejecting the necessity for an irreconcilable struggle against the false leaderships of the working class and was abandoning the perspective of building, in opposition to all the agencies of imperialism within the workers’ movement, the independent revolutionary party. Instead, Pablo advocated that Trotskyists conceal their real programs, adapt themselves to the program and perspectives of the leaderships that dominated the mass organizations, and function merely as a muted pressure group operating within the precincts of Stalinism, social democracy and bourgeois nationalism.

I will go even further. 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 endeavors to find our place in this movement with the aim of raising it from its present to higher levels.

This is the case, for example, in Latin America where the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist mass movement often assumes confused forms, under a petty-bourgeois leadership as with the APRA in Peru, with the MNR in Bolivia; or even under a bourgeois leadership as with Vargas in Brazil and Peron in Argentina. To reject these movements out of hand, to label them 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 judgment of the mass movement. Even in this most backward area, from the viewpoint of the comprehension of our movement up to the present, we are about to overcome this stage, and I am certain that our Congress will know how to view and appreciate this progress in the course of its labors.

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.[10] (Emphasis added.)

The implications of this liquidationist program was expressed most clearly in the Third Congress’ resolution on the tasks of the Fourth International in Latin America, which called for “participation and activity, free from all sectarianism, in all mass movements and all organizations which express, even in an indirect and confused fashion, the aspirations of the masses which may, for example, take the channel of the Peronist trade unions or the Bolivian MNR movement, or the APRA in Peru, the ‘laborite’ movement of Vargas, or Democratic Action in Venezuela.”[11]

In relation to Bolivia and Peru, the Third Congress specifically sanctioned the formation of popular front alliances with sections of the national bourgeoisie:

In BOLIVIA, our past inadequacy in distinguishing ourselves from the political tendencies in the country which exploit the mass movement, sometimes the lack of clarity in our objectives and in our tactics, the loose organizational structure as well as the absence of patient, systematic work in working class circles has caused a certain decline of our influence and an organizational crisis. However, possibilities exist that our section, basing itself on powerful revolutionary traditions, can develop as the genuine revolutionary leadership of the masses in this country. Our reorganized and reoriented forces will have to remedy all the above faults without however slipping into sectarianism or isolating themselves from the masses and their movements which are often ideologically confused and led by the petty bourgeois (MNR).

Our section should concentrate its work especially in working class circles and organizations, particularly that of the miners.

On the other hand it will attempt to influence the left wing of the MNR which is based precisely on these circles.

They will propose a tactic of anti-imperialist united front to the MNR on precise occasions and on a concrete program, which revives in essence and still further concretizes the demands contained in the Pulacayo program of 1946.

These united front proposals to the MNR will have a progressive effect when advanced at propitious moments for the effective mobilization of the masses and are aimed precisely at achieving such a mobilization.

On the other hand, in the event of the mobilization of the masses under the preponderant impulsion or influence of the MNR, our section should support the movement with all its strength, should not abstain but on the contrary intervene energetically in it with the aim of pushing it as far as possible up to the seizure of power by the MNR on the basis of a progressive program of anti-imperialist united front.

On the contrary, if in the course of these mass mobilizations our section proves to be in a position to share influence over the revolutionary masses with the MNR, it will advance the slogan of a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of the two parties on the basis, however, of the same program, a government based on committees of workers, peasants and revolutionary elements of the urban petty bourgeoisie.[12] (Emphasis added.)

This proposal demonstrated clearly that Pabloite liquidationism led directly, beneath the guise of “integrating into the mass movement,” to class collaboration and the betrayal of the working class. The orientation proposed by Pablo had nothing whatsoever to do with the tactics pursued by the Bolsheviks in 1917 on the basis of the theory of permanent revolution. It sanctioned the adaptation of Lora to the bourgeois nationalism of Paz Estenssoro, which led directly to the defeat of the Bolivian working class in 1952.

Pablo advocated the same policy for the Peruvian section, which was instructed to

study its tactics toward the APRA within the framework of very similar considerations to those related to our tactics toward the MNR in Bolivia with the aim of influencing its most radical and anti-imperialist wing, and it should be ready to impel the mass movement as far as possible against the Odria dictatorship, a movement which will very probably move in the channel of this party (APRA) on the first occasion. It should extend and consolidate its points of support in the essential working class circles of the country, particularly among the mining proletariat.[13]

The idea that the Trotskyists should challenge the bourgeois nationalists of the MNR or the APRA for the leadership of the working class and oppressed peasantry, that it should strive to expose before the masses the inability of these organizations to complete the democratic revolution and wage a consistent struggle against imperialism, and that it should unmask the political insincerity of these organizations’ democratic pretensions, was anathema to the political outlook being championed by Pablo. That, according to the new revisionist precepts, would have been to indulge in “sectarianism.”

The Third Congress of 1951 revealed that a full-blown revisionist tendency had developed within the leadership of the Fourth International, and this meant that the very existence of the world party founded by Leon Trotsky was now threatened with destruction. Referring to the Third Congress, the renegade Banda, who never uses the term liquidationism in his analysis of Pabloism, asserts: “There is little doubt in my mind that if Trotsky had been present at this improbable gathering of empirics and pragmatists he would have publicly dissociated from them with the declaration ‘if this is Trotskyism I am no Trotskyist’.”

Leon Trotsky would have done no such thing, precisely because he was a Marxist and not a petty-bourgeois hysteric like M. Banda. Banda, when confronted with a life-and-death crisis within the organization of which he was general secretary, completely lost his head, abandoned all his political responsibilities, turned to the bourgeois press for support, and fled the country.

Had Trotsky been alive in 1951, he would have proceeded to organize within the Fourth International a protracted struggle against the revisionists, subjected their views to the most penetrating analysis, and politically rearmed all those who defended Marxist principles. But such methods are beyond the comprehension of Banda, who long ago ceased to understand the meaning of principled revolutionary politics.


National Education Department Socialist Workers Party, Towards a History of the Fourth International, June 1973, part 4, vol. 1, p. 5.


Ibid., p. 7.


SWP International Information Bulletin, April 1951, p. 12.


George Clarke, “Leon Trotsky—A New Vindication,” Fourth International, vol. 11, no. 4, July-August 1950, p. 103.


Ibid., p. 105.


V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1960), pp. 400–1.




Michel Pablo, “Main Report to the Congress: World Trotskyism Rearms,” Fourth International, vol. 12, no. 6, November-December 1951, p. 172.






Ibid., p. 211.


Ibid., pp. 211–12.