The first three articles reproduced in this pamphlet were written by members of the Vern-Ryan Tendency inside the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of the United States in 1952-53. They demonstrate beyond all doubt the capitulation of the POR, the Bolivian section of the Fourth International, before bourgeois nationalism during the Bolivian revolution – a capitulation that was politically supported by the leadership of the International, the International Secretariat (IS) under Michel Pablo, and by the leadership of the SWP under James P. Cannon. To our knowledge, Vern-Ryan was the only tendency in the Fourth International to oppose the Bolivian capitulation.
We also include as an appendix two brief articles translated from Quatrième Internationale, the organ of the International Secretariat. These articles illustrate the IS’s endorsement of the POR’s Menshevik line as described by Vern-Ryan. The endorsement occurred before the major splits that the International underwent in 1953 and afterwards; it was the shared responsibility of all the major Fourth Internationalist tendencies, Pabloite and “anti-Pabloite” alike.
The appended articles also show that the POR was an active force, not merely a commentator, in the revolution. This last fact is important for the political conclusion we draw from the Bolivian events. Just as Trotsky considered that the Third International’s demise was proved in 1933 when it failed to protest the German Communist Party’s collapse in the face of Hitler’s assault on the proletariat, so too the Fourth International perished as a revolutionary organization because of its inability to criticize the POR’s betrayal in action in Bolivia.
Of course, Bolivia in 1952 did not hold the same world importance as Germany between the World Wars. The German defeat signified an immediate, massive smothering of the proletarian struggle on a world scale as well as the political destruction of the International. The Bolivian debacle was a conclusive defeat for the International, and only in this sense was it also an important setback for the world proletariat.
Why was Bolivia crucial for the Fourth International? While the Third had been both a vanguard and a mass organization, the Fourth was largely restricted to a fragile vanguard. But in Bolivia the Trotskyists played a significant role in a living revolution. They had a strong working-class based section that influenced key sectors of the proletariat. But they surrendered the independence of the proletarian party before bourgeois counterrevolutionary forces and thereby helped pave the way for reaction. Although the Fourth International had capitulated to Stalinism previously, this had been done predominantly through resolutions, theories and ideas. Bolivia was a test in practice, and for Marxists – materialists – practice is the decisive proof.
As students of Trotsky, we understand deeply that the gains achieved by the workers must be defended until the last minute, until every possibility is conclusively exhausted. That is why we date the restoration of capitalism in the USSR as late as 1939, much later than the centrist state-capitalist and third-campist tendencies. That is why we believe that even under restored capitalism the Stalinists have been unable to eradicate all the gains of the Bolshevik revolution. Likewise we place the end of the Fourth International as late as possible: when it was absolutely clear, by the test of practice, that the progressive proletarian character of the organization was extinguished.
Imagine what a successful revolution, led by Trotskyists, would have accomplished! Bolivia was not Germany, but the objective opportunity existed for a major reversal of the history of working-class setbacks that dominated the period during and following World War II. Mass upheavals were soon to take place in East Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. A victorious workers’ revolution, even in a small country, could have positioned the Fourth International realistically as the revolutionary proletarian leadership so desperately absent in all these revolts. A Bolivian workers’ state, even though subjected to attacks by imperialism, would have stood as a brilliant beacon to the world proletariat, a reflection of the Soviet workers’ state at the end of World War I.
But the Trotskyist movement of the time had pictured workers’ states emerging throughout East Europe and in China, Korea and Vietnam. Although it labelled them “deformed,” the very notion of “workers’ states” created without proletarian revolutions (and, in most cases, by suppressing proletarian uprisings) had corrupted the Fourth International’s perceptions. It could no longer appreciate what a genuine workers’ revolution would have meant, how differently it would have acted toward fellow revolutions, what a compelling image it would have presented to the cynically misled workers everywhere.
This capitulation by the would-be Trotskyists to Stalinism in theory contributed mightily to its betrayal in Bolivia (and subsequently in Algeria, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, etc., etc.) After all, if the petty-bourgeois Stalinist intrusion into the working class could make the socialist revolution, why not radical nationalists like the MNR or the Castroites? The road to Menshevism described by Vern-Ryan was certainly foreseeable.
It would be misleading to assume that the FI’s capitulation was a consequence of the “socialist” victories of Stalinism in East Europe and Asia. No, the focal point for the Pabloist betrayals was at home, in the countries of the various national sections. They had abandoned the independence of the vanguard party in favor of an adaptation to the petty bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisified layers of the working class, at home.
The collapse of the International took place in a time of growing apparent prosperity in the West, which meant the expansion of labor-aristocratic forces within the working class – as well as the burgeoning of middle-class layers between bourgeoisie and proletariat. The Pabloite strategy of deep entry was not confined to the Stalinist parties; they also entered the social-democratic and Labor parties in countries where these dominated working-class politics. The adaptation was domestic and nationalist in its roots.
This fact was also reflected in the degeneration of the Fourth International into a bloc of national groups, each finding its own particular brand of Stalinism or social democracy to adapt to. The crucial dispute in France was not over differences on the Russian question nor over whether to surrender the revolutionary party’s independence – but over which reformist trend to tail, the SFIO (and the Force Ouvrière) for Lambert versus the PCF (and the CGT) for Pablo. In the United States, the greatest problem between Cannon and Pablo was that the American nationalist Cannon would not permit any foreigner to tell the SWP what to do on its home ground. That is also the key to the still-enforced pact that keeps the openly anti-Trotskyist SWP of today in the same “international” with Mandel.
In sum, the method of all the degenerate Fourth Internationalist tendencies – Pabloites, “anti-Pabloites” and the Shachtman-Cliffites as well – was the same: adaptation to national imperialism through the intermediary of petty-bourgeois layers inside and outside of the proletariat. Their differences reflect their different national roots and different layers within each national petty bourgeoisie – and the fact that the petty bourgeoisie is an inherently divided force.
Stalinism, of course, was ultimately responsible for the degeneration of the Fourth International. Its usurpation and smashing of the Soviet workers’ state poisoned international working-class politics. Stalinism’s Russian nationalism gave cover to the nationalism of the Comintern, which then spread throughout the workers’ movement. Above all, the crushing of the workers’ uprisings after the war in both East and West Europe permitted the imperialist revival. The end of the Fourth International derives from this material cause. Bolivia was only the final proof.
A word about the Vern-Ryan documents. We print here only those which bear on the Bolivian events. The bulk of the Vern-Ryan campaign against the SWP leadership was devoted to their analysis of the Russian question and the spread of Stalinism. These concerns are reflected in the documents here, and we disagree firmly with the Vern-Ryan analysis. Among other things, we hold with Trotsky that Stalinism had become an unambiguously counterrevolutionary force by the late 1930’s (see our article on the Communist Parties in Socialist Voice No. 3.) Nevertheless, the Vern-Ryan comrades do expose the contradiction that the “orthodox Trotskyists” encountered in trying to make this view jibe with the “deformed workers’ state” theory. The point is further elaborated in our article “Re-Create the Fourth International,” in Proletarian Revolution No. 28.
In this reprinting we have added several articles and excerpts from Labor Action, the newspaper of the Independent Socialist League of the U.S. from 1952 to 1954. These reports are apparently the “non-Trotkyist sources” cited by Vern-Ryan. They are part of a compilation by the editors of Revolutionary History magazine, which reprinted a longer article by the same author in its Vol. 4, No. 3 issue (Summer 1992), and are printed here by permission. The comments that follow are adapted from the introduction in Revolutionary History.
The ISL, previously called the Workers Party, was led by Max Shachtman; it had split from the SWP, the U.S. Trotskyist group, in 1940. The reports on Bolivia appeared over the pseudonyms of “Juan Robles” and “Juan Rey.” Why the author saw fit to change his pen name is not at all clear, any more than his real identity. But it is almost certain that he was the Peruvian Trotskyist Emilio Adolfo Westfallen [Bestfalling], a founder of the GOM, which changed its name to the POR [Peru] in l947. He was a supporter of Shachtman.
The material printed in Labor Action shows that his informant in Bolivia during the forties had been a supporter of the Bolivian Socialist Workers Party (PSOB), a split from the POR led by Tristan Marof in 1938, which once had four parliamentary seats and considerable trade union support; by the mid-forties it had lost most of its influence because Marof had accepted office under President Hertzog.
According to Guillermo Lora, the PSOB was only able to bring out its paper at this time due to financial assistance from the United States, and this may explain why Rey/Robles is anxious to prove that the POR’s own alliance with the MNR was with a fascist party (on the basis that the MNR gave its support to an attempt by Argentina to form a general organization of Latin American trade unions on a Peronist basis). This charge was rebutted in the American Militant, October 21, 1949.