The theoretical origins of the degeneration of the Fourth - Interview with Ted Grant

Ted Grant looks back at his experience in the 1940s and explains why the leaders of the Fourth were incapable of dealing with the situation. He outlines the difficult situation that emerged after the war and how it was necessary “to work out a new perspective”.

Q: In 1946 the RCP moved a series of detailed amendments to the Manifesto of the Fourth International written by you. What was the basis of the disagreements?

A: There were a whole series of disagreements of a fundamental character. After the death of the Old Man, the leaders of the Fourth International were completely out of their depth. Mandel, Pablo, Frank, Hanson and the others had a completely ultra-left position. They repeated what Trotsky had said in 1938 without understanding Trotsky’s method. As a result they landed in a mess.

Q: What was the origin of their mistake?

A: The Second World War developed in a way that could not have been foreseen even by the greatest Marxist. Not only Trotsky, but also Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had not foreseen what happened. The Second World War in Europe was really a gigantic battle between the Red Army and Hitler, with all the resources of Europe behind him. The victory of the USSR strengthened Stalinism for a whole historical period. At the same time the reformists and Stalinists saved capitalism in Europe.

This provided the basis for a recovery of capitalism that developed later into an enormous economic upswing. This meant that the forces of Trotskyism were in a difficult position because reformism and Stalinism were strengthened. The illusions in Stalinism were further strengthened by the victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949 and the overthrow of capitalism in Eastern Europe, albeit in a distorted bureaucratic way.

On the other hand, the road to the reformist workers was also closed to us. The economic upswing allowed the reformist leaders to carry out far-reaching reforms. The Labour Government in Britain was the only Labour Government in history that actually carried out its programme. There were enormous illusions among the workers. We were isolated.

The leadership of the British section of the Fourth International (the Revolutionary Communist Party) had already concluded that because of these developments the perspectives that Trotsky had outlined in 1938 had been falsified by history. It was necessary to work out a new perspective, taking into account all these developments. But the so-called leaders of the Fourth were blind to all this.

Q: What was their perspective?

A: They were completely ultra-left. They thought that revolution was just around the corner. They tried to deny that there was any economic recovery – when there clearly was. They talked about an economic collapse. We said that, on the contrary, for a number of reasons (which I later explained in my document Will There be a Slump?) there would be an economic recovery – although none of us thought it would last as long as it did.

Therefore, for a period, only modest gains could be made. It was mainly a question of educating the cadres, preserving our forces and winning the ones and twos or perhaps small groups here and there, and preparing for a change in the situation.

But Mandel, Pablo and co. would not accept the facts. They denied the possibility of democracy in Europe, and predicted Bonapartist (dictatorial) regimes. We opposed this madness, pointing out that there was a Labour Government in Britain and the Communist Parties were in the government in France and Italy – carrying out a counterrevolutionary policy, of course. But it was, as we explained, counterrevolution with a democratic guise. They understood nothing of all this.

Q: Did you go to the Congress of the International?

A: As a matter of fact I was unable to go because I could not get a visa. If I am honest about it, I was not particularly enthusiastic about going anyway, because I knew what it would be like. So we sent Jock Haston and Jimmy Dean.

Q: What did they think about it?

A: They were shocked by it. When they came back to London they reported that it was completely crazy – a mixture of ultra-leftism and opportunism. They were bitterly disappointed by the leaders of the Fourth – Pablo, Mandel, Pierre Frank and the others. I had already clashed with Frank in 1945 when he attended the RCP congress. He understood nothing, as Trotsky knew very well. He said that Frank should not be allowed to join the Fourth International. But they put him on the International Secretariat.

A: Did the British comrades have any support?

Q: We did get a certain echo, but they had the majority, of course. They did not like the RCP because we thought for ourselves and would take no nonsense from them. They could never beat us in a political argument, so they resorted to organizational intrigues and manoeuvres against us. This is death for a revolutionary organization.

A: Were there any other oppositional tendencies?

Q: In the American SWP there was the group around Felix Morrow and Albert Goldman. They had a better position than Cannon and Hansen. But they also made some mistakes, so we did not support them. But Cannon accused us of supporting them and of interfering in the internal affairs of the SWP. This was rich coming from Cannon, who had always been interfering in the affairs of the British section!

Q: What form did these manoeuvres take?

A: They could never convince either the leadership or the rank and file of the RCP through a democratic discussion and political argument. So they used a stooge to do the dirty work for them. This was Gerry Healy. He had no ideas of his own but acted like a complete zombie, carrying out the orders from Paris. He gathered a small group around him but they could never convince the majority. He was always 101 percent behind the International leadership. In fact, he was the original “Pabloite”, completely following Pablo’s line. But there is a law that if someone supports you 101 percent today, he will be 101 percent against you tomorrow. And that happened with Healy. Later he broke with Pablo and supported Cannon, until he broke with him too. In the end he fell out with them on every issue. That is how it goes with these people!

Q: So how do you explain the degeneration of the Fourth International?

A: It is always a political question in the end. In 1946 the leadership of the Fourth was politically ultra-left (although with these people ultra-leftism is always combined with elements of opportunism). Later they became complete opportunists. This is what happens to people who do not take a dialectical position. These people started by saying that every word of Trotsky was correct, without understanding the Old Man’s method.

One of them, Sam Gordon, I think, was in Britain in 1947 and we challenged him about what Trotsky had written in 1938, when he said that within ten years not one stone upon another would be left of the old Internationals (that is, the Social Democracy and the Stalinists) and the Fourth International would become the decisive force on the planet. He replied: “Don’t worry. There is still one year to go.” That was the extent of their understanding!

Later, when events were carved on their noses, they performed a 180 degree somersault over our heads and took the opposite position – that Trotsky was completely wrong. They naturally ended up with a completely revisionist position. The result was a complete mess.

Q: And in organizational questions, Zinovievism?

A: They were complete Zinovievists, that is to say, they tried to use organizational methods to solve political questions. That is something the Old Man and Lenin never did, and nor did we. It means the destruction of the organization. The Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky was the most democratic party that ever existed. It would have been unthinkable for them to use organizational methods against their opponents. This later led to the destruction of the RCP. The leaders of the International were responsible, although they did it through Healy.

Q: Can you give an example of their behaviour?

A: There are many examples! They were constantly intriguing against us because they could never convince us politically. They used their stooge Healy to foment a split in the RCP. He could not get a majority so he split. I remember on one occasion we had a disagreement with the leadership of the Fourth over the question of Eastern Europe. We put forward the slogan for the withdrawal of the Red Army from Eastern Europe.

Healy opened up a furious struggle against the “anti-Internationalist leadership of the British Section”, we were revisionists and so on. We sent a telegram to Paris asking for clarification of the International’s position. They had reconsidered their earlier position and realised it was untenable. They wrote back saying that they were for the withdrawal of the Red Army.

We did not tell Healy about this letter but kept it in a drawer. We let him rant and rave for a while, then Jock Haston, without saying a word, produced the letter and handed it to Healy. He read it and then said “All right. So we got agreement!” So that was it. They got agreement – by letter! This was typical of these people and their stooges.

I remember some years ago I was in Paris and had a conversation with Raul, an old friend of mine who was a Lambertist. He asked me if I would meet Lambert. I was not very keen, but out of friendship I finally agreed. Then I found out that Lambert had expelled one of their leaders, Saint Just. Not only did they expel him but anyone who defended him was also expelled. When I found this out I was furious. I told Raul that I would not meet Lambert. I said: “Anyone who behaves in this way will never build a revolutionary party in a thousand years.”

But they all behaved in much the same way. That is another reason for the destruction of the Fourth International.

Q: To go back to the political disagreements, what was the RCP’s position, in a few words?

A: In a few words, we predicted a long period of bourgeois democracy in Europe, and we said the Fourth International must draw the conclusions and act accordingly. The leadership of the International had a perspective of Bonapartist dictatorships everywhere, of war and revolutions. This was entirely false and ultra left. They made every imaginable mistake because they would not listen to us. History showed that we were right and they were hopelessly wrong on every question.

If they had listened to us things would have been different – but only up to a point. The main reason why the Fourth did not take off was the objective situation itself. We would have to fight against the stream for a long time – for a whole period, in fact. But we would have preserved the cadres, kept the movement together, and prepared for new advances when the situation began to change, as it did change, and is changing now.

Q: What was the role of the leaders of the Fourth?

A: Only that they were not up to the level of the tasks posed by history. Marx once said that he had sown dragons but reaped fleas. Trotsky could have said something similar. We used to think: “Ah well, they are at least manure for the future.” But they were not even that. Pablo, Frank, Mandel, Cannon, Healy, Maitan – they succeeded in completely disorienting the movement, leading it from one crisis to another. In the end, they destroyed it.

Of course, anyone can make a mistake. But if you make a mistake you must be honest about it: admit you have made a mistake and learn from it. That was always the method of Lenin and Trotsky. But these people made one mistake after another and were never prepared to admit it. That is why they hated the RCP leadership – because they knew we had been right and they could not accept it. It hurt their prestige, which they put before the interests of the movement. There is nothing more destructive as prestige politics!

It is true that anyone can make a mistake, but if you always make the same mistake and do not correct it, then it is no longer a mistake but an organic tendency. What we have here is an organic tendency – a petty bourgeois tendency, if we are to call things by their right name.

They have absorbed all the nonsense of the petty bourgeois – woman’s lib, gay lib, black nationalism, guerillaism – you name it! Not a trace of the old ideas remains. In fact, some of them like the American SWP no longer even call themselves Trotskyists. That is history’s revenge for the policies and conduct of the leaders of the SWP in the past!

The French Mandelites have abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat (that is, revolutionary Marxism). They even called on the French workers to vote for Chirac in the Presidential elections, supposedly as “the lesser evil” as opposed to Le Pen. The Old Man must be turning in his grave!

And naturally they are splitting in pieces everywhere.

Q: So what is left of the Fourth International today?

A: There is nothing left – except the ideas, methods, programme and traditions of Trotsky and the Left Opposition. And you can only find these in our tendency – the tendency that we founded, that used to be the Militant and is now Socialist Appeal and

We have kept the banner flying. It has been very hard, but we have kept the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky alive and handed them over to the new generation. And we were the only ones to do so. I might add that over the past forty or fifty years, I have made a modest contribution to the ideas, adding to them and extending them on the basis of experience.

Everywhere you look now on a world scale, the sects are in disarray. They are unlucky at fusions and lucky at splits! They have no future at all because they lack the ideas and are completely divorced from the mass organizations of the working class. They are busy building phantom “mass revolutionary parties” in the clouds. We wish them well as we wave them goodbye and get on with the serious work of building the genuine forces of Trotskyism, nationally and internationally.

Q: And what are your plans for the future?

A: Well, unfortunately I have not been able to be as active as I was in the past. But as you see I am still a young man and I am as fit as ever and optimistic about the future. We have a galaxy of talent with us now, nationally and internationally. The future of the Fourth International is our future!

October 2004