The ICFI Defends Trotskyism

Letter from David North to Mike Banda

January 23, 1984

Dear Comrade Mike:

Somewhat more than 30 years have passed since the International Committee was formed in order to defend the Fourth International against the growth of a revisionist tendency, led by Pablo and Mandel, which challenged in theory and practice all the fundamental Marxist conceptions for which Leon Trotsky had fought and died. In 1953 Pablo directly challenged the historical role of the Fourth International as the “World Party of Socialist Revolution” and called into question the revolutionary role of the working class as the gravedigger of capitalism and the builder of a socialist society. He put forward the position—at first surreptitiously but gradually with ever increasing boldness—that the independent revolutionary role ascribed by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky to the proletariat could be fulfilled by the Soviet bureaucracy—the parasitic social caste which Trotsky had declared to be counter-revolutionary “through and through.”

Underlying Pablo’s revisions of the essential programmatic conceptions of the Fourth International was the abandonment of the dialectical method and historical materialism of Marx and its replacement with crass impressionism supplemented by idealist speculation about the revolutionary socialist “potential” of non-proletarian class forces.

Less than eight years later, the British Trotskyists—led by Comrade Gerry and yourself—were forced to assume responsibility for the defense of the International Committee against the open resurgence of Pabloism in an even more dangerous form. The upsurge of the colonial revolution was interpreted by the Socialist Workers Party as “proof” that the petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders, under whom limited victories had been won, could serve as a substitute for the development of Trotskyist parties of the working class. The SLL resolutely opposed the SWP’s reactionary adulation of petty-bourgeois nationalists such as Ben Bella and Castro, and insisted that Hansen’s positions represented an explicit repudiation of Trotskyism. The SLL was not intimidated by Hansen’s provocative allegations of “ultra-left sectarianism” and refused to be stampeded into the unprincipled reunification of the SWP and the European Pabloites in 1963.

The stand taken by the British section of the International Committee was of historic significance—no less vital to the defense of Marxism and its revolutionary continuity than the founding of the Fourth International itself in 1938. All the considerable gains made by the Trotskyist movement over the last 20 years—in which we include the founding of the Workers League—were only possible as a result of that struggle. Therefore, we have always accepted as correct your insistence that the unrelenting struggle against Pabloite revisionism in all its forms—theoretical, political and organizational—is the vital and essential foundation for the building of sections of the International Committee in every part of the World. For the sake of clarity let us stress that this “building of sections” is not the mechanical accumulation of national parties, formally proclaiming adherence to the International Committee, but rather the continuous development of a politically-unified international practice based on a scientific conception of the world class struggle as a whole.

We are writing this letter to you because we are concerned that the International Committee is now in danger of losing the gains of its many years of principled struggle. We doubt that it is necessary to assure you of our profound respect and admiration for the comrades in Britain who have played such a decisive historical role in the building of the Trotskyist movement over the last 30 years. Every comrade in the Workers League is proud to be known as a “Healyite.” But we must state that we are deeply troubled by the growing signs of a political drift toward positions quite similar—both in conclusions and methodology—to those which we have historically associated with Pabloism. We are not suggesting that any section of the International Committee—and least of all the Workers Revolutionary Party—is to be accused of any conscious retreat from Trotskyist principles. As far as the Workers League is concerned, the example of the WRP remains the political model upon which we seek to base our work each day. However, we do feel that the International Committee has for some time been working without a clear and politically-unified perspective to guide its practice. Rather than a perspective for the building of sections of the International Committee in every country, the central focus of the IC’s work for several years has been the development of alliances with various bourgeois nationalist regimes and liberation movements. The content of these alliances has less and less reflected any clear orientation toward the development of our own forces as central to the fight to establish the leading role of the proletariat in the anti-imperialist struggle in the semi-colonial countries. The very conceptions advanced by the SWP in relation to Cuba and Algeria which we attacked so vigorously in the early 1960s appear with increasing frequency within our own press.

Characteristic of this worrisome trend within the pages of the News Line—which functions not only as the organ of the WRP but also as the authoritative voice of the International Committee—are the series of articles which have recently been published on the significance of the meeting held between Yasir Arafat and Hosni Mubarak. We do not agree with the way this issue has been approached. What we find so disturbing is not that you have defended Arafat’s decision to meet Mubarak, but the manner in which this defense has been undertaken. Article after article in the News Line presents this visit as a strategical tour de force on the part of Arafat that has left his enemies confounded once again. Such an approach, however sincerely motivated by a determination to defend the PLO against its enemies, serves only to mislead and disarm our cadre and the readers of our press.

As Marxists our starting point in making political analysis is never the conscious intentions of political leaders; it must be the class forces they represent and the logic of the class struggle of which their actions are a necessary expression. The policies of Arafat inevitably reflect his class standpoint as a petty-bourgeois nationalist. He is maneuvering not only between different bourgeois regimes within the Middle East but also between the opposing class forces within the Palestinian movement. However great his personal courage and heroism, Arafat’s policies cannot provide an answer to the great historic problems of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. While it is our duty to defend him and the PLO against the reactionary machinations of the Syrian Ba’athists, we are by no means obligated to hail his pragmatic turn to Mubarak as some sort of strategical masterstroke.

However, the News Line editorial of December 30, 1983, entitled “Arafat’s role,” provides little more than journalistic rationalizations for Arafat’s meeting with Mubarak and for the political rehabilitation of the Mubarak regime. Denouncing Habash’s “slanderous accusation” against Arafat, the News Line writes:

“These verbal assaults are the product of limited minds and narrow outlooks. Arafat’s talks with Mubarak do not constitute support for Camp David. On the contrary. Arafat’s audacious diplomacy has helped to undermine the treaty between Egypt and Israel, not strengthen it.

“The essence of the Camp David conspiracy between Sadat, Beigin and Carter was to ignore the existence of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and to dismiss the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination.

“This is why the treaty was so vigorously opposed. But now Mubarak has welcomed Arafat in Cairo. This is not a meeting of individuals. It signifies the Egyptian government’s recognition of the PLO, its legitimacy in the Middle East struggle and its inalienable right to fight for the liberation of Palestine.

“Does this serve Camp David? Does it serve Zionist imperialism? Of course not. It is a severe diplomatic and political blow to the crisis-stricken Shamir regime, and that is why Tel Aviv has been angrily denouncing the Arafat-Mubarak talks.”

Such analysis—in which phrases such as “Of course not” and “On the contrary” are presented as answers in themselves—has little in common with Marxism. The suggestion that Mubarak’s meeting with Arafat somehow supersedes and cancels out Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem and the signing of the Camp David agreement is a sophistry which has now been used by the Islamic Conference to excuse its resumption of relations with Egypt. We find it difficult to believe that the News Line could suggest that Mubarak has been transformed into a defender of the rights of the Palestinians. While the News Line refers to the statements of Shamir on the Mubarak-Arafat meeting, it says nothing about the far more important pronouncements of the Reagan Administration, which immediately hailed the meeting and referred to Arafat as a “moderate” leader.

Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem and the Camp David summit represented an historical milestone in the degeneration of bourgeois nationalism in the Middle East. Camp David marked a definitive turn by the Arab bourgeoisie as a whole toward an abandonment of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and toward an unprincipled accommodation with imperialism within the Middle East. The Egyptian-Zionist agreement, achieved under the direct auspices of US imperialism, set the stage for the Zionist invasion of Lebanon and all the savage crimes that have been subsequently committed against the Palestinian people. Arafat’s second exile from Lebanon within little more than a year is the consequence of the earlier betrayals of the PLO by the Arab bourgeoisie. Far from representing a repudiation of Camp David, Mubarak has insisted that the Arafat visit vindicates the course pursued by the Egyptian regime over the last six years. As the Wall Street Journal reports from Cairo:

“Now, Egyptian officials and the popular press are saying the ICO (Islamic Conference Organization) invitation is a vindication of the process that began in 1977 with the late Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem. The officials and the newspaper commentators are celebrating the ICO move with an exuberant ‘I told you so’ attitude.” (January 23, 1984)

The stench of Camp David was not buried with Sadat. The Arab bourgeoisie—shattered by the virtual collapse of OPEC and terrified by the specter of socialist revolution—is searching desperately for a formula which will allow them to bury the hatchet with Egypt. Then the stage will be set for an accommodation with Israel itself. Thus, the cynical claims by Arab bourgeois leaders that Camp David is a dead issue is merely a face-saving device to cover up their own treachery. At any rate, the Egyptian government has explicitly rejected any conditions for its acceptance of the invitation to rejoin the ICO. However, putting aside all speculation about the concealed aims behind the present diplomatic intrigues, the historical fact remains that Camp David was a demonstration of the counter-revolutionary nature of the Arab bourgeoisie and its organic incapacity to wage a principled and consistent struggle against imperialism—of which the defense of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination is the highest test.

This very point was made powerfully by the News Line following Sadat’s initial trip to Jerusalem:

“This visit itself should only surprise those who still have illusions that the bourgeois national movement in the Middle East has some kind of future. Words such as Arab Nation, Arab homeland, Arab world, whilst expressing genuine national sentiment simply confuse the naked facts of the role of US and Zionist imperialism in a period when the world crisis of capitalism dominates and accelerates the tendency towards world slump. The bourgeois national struggle is insoluble in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world except through the socialist revolution.” (November 21, 1977)

While indicting the PFLP for its “hopeless failure to grasp the great changes which have taken place in the Middle East since Sadat’s execution,” the News Line offers no analysis of those changes and does not explain why—from the standpoint of the class struggle within the Middle East—Arafat’s meeting with Mubarak is politically correct. One development which would certainly deserve examination is the extent to which Egypt has become integrated into the Middle East military forces of US imperialism. Egypt has opened up its territory for American military exercises and provided logistical support for the US-backed French intervention in Chad. Another expression of the “great changes which have taken place” is the US financing of a Jordanian version of the Rapid Deployment Force. The actual relations between imperialism and its clients in the Middle East as well as the changes in class relations within each Arab country are not even referred to. Instead the News Line offers a purely journalistic appraisal that uncritically endorses a policy based on pragmatic maneuvers which evade the central problems confronting the Palestinian Revolution.

“Arafat has brilliantly managed to bring Egypt back into Middle Eastern calculations and, at the same time, to stay out of the clutches of both Damascus and Amman.”

The conception that the course of history is determined by inspired acts of genius on the diplomatic chess board belongs to idealist bourgeois historiography and not to the materialist conception of history. Our calculations, if not Arafat’s, are always based on an estimate of class forces and the potential of the working class for revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie. For us, the salvation of the Palestinian Revolution does not lie in escaping from the “clutches” of Syria by leaping into the clutches of Egypt, Morocco and, in fact, Jordan—with whose King the PLO is presently engaged in intense negotiations and with whom Mubarak is now scheduled to meet next month. Are we now to welcome and place confidence in this new round of diplomacy? Our strategical goal should always be the mobilization of the working class—supported by the peasantry—against the bourgeoisie in each and every Middle Eastern country. But another perspective emerges in the News Line:

“We stand by the principle that the PLO has the right to political independence. And we give full credit to chairman Arafat for exercising his right to win a tactical ally in the Egyptian regime, boost the nationalist morale of the Egyptian masses and build the unity of the Egyptian and Palestinian oppressed.”

In place of the Leninist principle of “March separately, strike together,” we now seem to have adopted a formula which grants to the PLO a carte blanche to do what it likes—with our support guaranteed in advance. As used here, the slogan of “political independence” is reduced to an almost meaningless abstraction, which serves to cover up the danger that the political logic of the PLO’s maneuvers—whatever Arafat’s intentions—leads inevitably toward its subordination to the interests of the Arab bourgeoisie and world imperialism. Certainly it is our duty to at least raise this as a real danger confronting the Palestinian Revolution. Unless we clearly warn the Palestinian movement of the dangers raised by Arafat’s playing of his “Egyptian card,” the only “political independence” which we, in practice, guarantee to the PLO is “independence” from Trotskyist criticism!

Furthermore, why should we welcome the boosting of “nationalist morale” in Egypt under the leadership of Mubarak? Do we really believe that an alliance with Sadat’s successor will gain for the PLO the allegiance of the Egyptian proletariat and the impoverished peasantry? This view is expressed somewhat more explicitly by our Australian comrades who, basing themselves on the New Line editorial, have written in the January 10th issue of Workers News that the meeting with Mubarak enables the PLO “to tap the strength of the 40 million-strong mass movement in Egypt.”

This sort of argument simply writes off the class struggle within Egypt and adapts to the dangerous illusions of the PLO leadership, which clearly does not base itself on the class struggle of the Arab proletariat against the native bourgeoisie. In reality the unity of the Palestinian and Egyptian masses will be achieved not through alliances with Mubarak but in struggle against him. That this is not understood by Arafat and the PLO leadership is an expression of the weakness and fundamental class limitations of bourgeois nationalism within the Palestinian movement. With riots sweeping Morocco and Tunisia and with Egypt seething with discontent, not to mention the massive strikes shaking Israel, the cause of the Palestinian Revolution would gain far more from an appeal to the working class of Marrakesh, Tunis, Cairo and, let us add, Haifa, than from meetings with Mubarak, Hassan and Hussein.

Our point is not that Arafat should be condemned for acting as a bourgeois nationalist leader. BUT WE MUST NEVER FORGET THAT HIS POLICY IS NOT OUR POLICY, and that our analysis must always be directed toward the development of the Marxist leadership which is required to defeat imperialism and its bourgeois agents in the Middle East. This is precisely the conclusion that was drawn in November 1977:

“Let the fires of the social revolution be lit throughout the length and breadth of the feudal states, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf Emirates, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

“It is only a matter of time when other ‘devout’ Moslem leaders such as Khaled, Assad and Hussein reach out for the prayer mats advertising Coca Cola at the Jerusalem Mosque supplied by kind permission of Menachem Beigin and Moshe Dayan in the presence, no doubt, of the CIA directors of the Jerusalem bottling plant.

“To light the fires of social revolution it is necessary to build revolutionary parties in all these countries with their trained cadres and military fighters.

“Whatever the sincere differences that exist over the development of Marxism, these will be overcome in that common struggle.

“The Workers Revolutionary Party believes that these parties can only be effective if they are part of the struggle to build the forces of the International Committee of the Fourth International, which is the nucleus of the World Party of Socialist Revolution.

“That is the lesson which follows Egypt’s capitulation to Zionist imperialism.” (November 21, 1977, p.2)

However, the December 30th News Line editorial is directed against such a perspective. This is not an isolated mistake. An uncritical adulation of the PLO leadership characterizes virtually all our articles on the Palestinian Revolution. For example, the News Line has also printed, without comment, a statement issued by Arafat under the headline, “Arafat’s Hedge to the Revolution.” This statement—if taken at face value—advances political conceptions that cannot and will not advance the Palestinian Revolution one inch. We know that the News Line cannot possibly agree with Arafat’s praise for the United Nations, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian-French initiative, Italy, and the Kremlin bureaucracy. And yet this statement is published as a “pledge” to the revolution!

Even more politically disturbing is another article, in which the News Line reports that Arafat’s meeting with Mubarak had been criticized by the Fateh Central Committee. The News Line then hastens to reassure its readers that

“These mildly critical remarks form part of the PLO’s diplomatic struggle in the Arab world and are intended for consumption in the Arab press. (!) In reality, it does not represent a serious rebuke to the PLO chairman or to his audacious visit to Cairo two weeks ago.” (January 7, 1984)

Were the statements of the Central Committee nothing more than diplomatic snow jobs, it would hardly speak well of the PLO leadership, as it would mean that the Central Committee was attempting to deceive the Palestinian masses, who, after all, do read the Arab press. It is clear from the entire text of the communique that while the Central Committee rejected the slanders of Syria and Libya, it did criticize the “organizational error” committed by Arafat. Despite the very cautious wording, it is obvious that the communique reflects serious and legitimate differences within Fateh. Whatever its limitations, the Fateh Central Committee’s statement represents a more serious analysis of the problems now confronting the Palestinian Revolution than that made by the News Line. Why, Comrade Mike, should we be less willing to make an objective analysis of Arafat’s policies than his comrades on the Fateh Central Committee? Moreover, at a time when the PLO leadership is attempting to find a principled response to the serious problems it confronts within its own movement, have we not an obligation to provide them with the benefits of a scientific Marxist analysis of the present tasks of the Palestinian Revolution? If we have nothing to offer but our totally uncritical support, why should Palestinian workers and peasants—in the West Bank, Gaza, within Israel and throughout the Middle East—be drawn to the banner of the International Committee of the Fourth International?

In another article, the News Line of January 13th cites a public opinion poll that shows mass support for Arafat. What political conclusions are we to draw from this information? Should the outcome of an opinion poll determine our line on the visit to Egypt? We do not doubt the popularity of Arafat among the Palestinian masses. But did we ever accept popularity as a criteria for determining our political assessment of, for example, the Cuban Revolution? Was it not Hansen who told us that given Castro’s vast popularity, it would be “suicide” for Latin American Trotskyists to criticize his regime. Nor are we quite sure what to make of the News Line’s reference to the opinion of the Jerusalem Posts “PLO watcher Matti Steinberg” who declares that Arafat’s “meeting with Mubarak has undoubtedly opened up new political vistas for Arafat...” By writing articles which serve only to justify what has already been done by Arafat, and which paint in bright colors this or that pragmatic maneuver, the danger arises that we are falling victim to a political outlook that calls into question the real necessity to build the Trotskyist movement in the semi-colonial countries and within the anti-imperialist national liberation movements. If Arafat, guided only by his intuition, can successfully lead the PLO, what need is there for the training of Palestinian cadre as dialectical materialists? Involved here is not a single article or merely the Arafat-Mubarak episode. We now have gone through years of experiences since 1976 which has shown again and again that emphasis on the special qualifications of this or that leader paves the way for serious miscalculations, dangerous errors and intractable contradictions in our political line. Let us merely note that among the staunchest supporters of Arafat’s meeting with Mubarak is Saddam Hussein, whom we once enthusiastically supported but for whose overthrow we now regularly call, and that among Arafat’s bitterest opponents is Muammar Gaddafi, who, until recently, received the same sort of praise we now bestow upon the PLO leader.

We feel that the basic problem is that the International Committee has not yet drawn up a real balance sheet on its work over the last eight years. Surely, we cannot simply go from alliance to alliance without making an analysis of each concrete experience through which the International Committee has passed. Without such an analysis we will face greater and greater confusion which inevitably, if not corrected, will produce political disasters within the sections. No matter how promising certain developments within the national work of the sections may appear—such as our own experiences in various trade union struggles—these will not produce real gains for the sections involved unless such work is guided by a scientifically-worked out international perspective. The more the Workers League turns toward the working class, the more we feel the need for the closest collaboration with our international comrades to drive the work forward. The degeneration of the Socialist Workers Party, culminating in the open split with Mandel, is the greatest historic vindication of the struggle you waged against Pabloism. We are proud to have been your students in this struggle. But the new stage in the crisis of imperialism and Stalinism and the break-up of revisionism poses the necessity of a great development in our theoretical work and practical activity. We believe that this development requires a renewal of our struggle against Pabloite revisionism—above all, against the manifestations of its outlook within our own sections. Let us begin this work by availing ourselves of the opportunity presented by the scheduled IC meeting to prepare the foundation for an exhaustive discussion on international perspectives, aimed at the drafting of a comprehensive international resolution. The time has certainly come for the International Committee to issue its reply to the attacks of the SWP neo-Stalinists on the Theory of Permanent Revolution and to demonstrate that it remains the indispensable scientific foundation for the building of the World Party of Socialist Revolution. It might be of assistance to the preparation of the coming meeting if an agenda were drawn up and made available to the sections’ leaderships before they arrive in London. We are looking forward to collaborating closely with you in beginning this work.

With warmest fraternal regards,
David North

cc: Cde. Gerry