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Joseph Carter

A Meeting of Bankrupts

(May 1938)

From New International, Vol. IV No. 5, May 1938, pp. 139–141.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE CONFERENCE OF THE International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity held in Paris, February 1938, is hailed by its organizers as “A New Hope for World Socialism”. [1] The active participants of the conference are old adherents of the Bureau: the Independent Labour Party of England, the Socialist Workers Party (SAP) of Germany, the Workers Party of Marxist Unity (POUM) of Spain, the Italian Socialist Party (Maximalists); and in addition the International Communist Opposition (Brandler-Lovestone group which for about two years has been working with the Bureau). Among the other organizations represented at the conference are the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (RSAP) of Holland and the Archio-Marxist Communist Party of Greece; observers were present from the American and French Socialist parties.

In August 1933 almost five years ago, the International Communist League (the predecessor of the Fourth International) proposed to the chief organizers of the recent conference, the ILP and the SAP, mutual collaboration in the elaboration of programmatic documents for a new Fourth International. The ILP rejected this proposal out of hand: “Now is not the time to build a new international.” In reality it was still flirting with the Communist International. The SAP formally acepted collaboration with the Bolshevik-Leninists but in practise chose the Norwegian Labor Party and the Doriot group instead. It also shouted: “Now is not the time to organize the new international. We must wait until objective conditions are more favorable. With this as a pretext the SAP did not proceed to work out common documents for a new international; or criticize the documents submitted to it (in draft) by the International Communist League. It preferred to organize the still-born “International Committee for the Struggle for Peace” on a program calling for disarmament, for “international democratic control over war preparations”, etc. (See Leon Trotsky, Centrist Alchemy or Marxism? On the Question of the Socialist Workers Party (SAP) of Germany, New International, July 1935.)

During this period the Brandler-Lovestone group, whose strategy was the reform of the Stalinist International, condemned the Trotskyists as counter-revolutionists who were becoming the leader of centrist groups. The first two Moscow trials were defended by it as proof of the validity of its attack on Trotskyism. The counter-revolutionary attacks of Stalinism against the Spanish revolution and the POUM and the purging of the Red Army shook it out of self-complacency. However, instead of re-evaluating its own past, its support of Stalinism and struggle against Trotskyism, instead of probing the roots of the catastrophic destruction of the Russian Bolshevik party and the Comintern – the only guide to revolutionary politics today – it tenaciously defends the fundamentals of its old course. Today as yesterday this group remains the inveterate opponent of Trotskyism, that is, consistent revolutionary Marxism.

The Paris Conference marked the formal marriage of the Brandler-Lovestone group and the London Bureau. Its decision to organize a world center of revolutionary socialists “who, without adopting the position and the sectarian and factional tactics of Trotskyism, stand for the principles of the proletarian class struggle”, a center that would be preparatory to “a Revolutionary Marxist International” was merely a reiteration of the old position of the London Bureau.

Had the London Bureau and its affiliates reacted correctly to the world-shaking events of the past years? Did experience show that changes in policy, in method, in organization were necessary? Or did it vindicate the previous program of the London Bureau?

Fenner Brockway, who made the main report, repeated the well-known criticisms of the Second and Third Internationals but had not a single word to say about the past policies and activities of the London Bureau and its affiliated organizations. The omission is hardly accidental. In fact, it is the key to the real character of both the old and “new” London Bureau. For a critical analysis would have revealed the platonic nature of its revolutionary socialism and internationalism; the contradiction between its words and deeds; the absence of agreement on any fundamental question; its belated condemnation of the Moscow trials, not to forget Brockway’s proposal for an “impartial committee” to investigate the Moscow trials (four social-democrats) which would also be an “enquiry into the role of Trotskyism in the working class movement”.

Nor do we find a bill of particulars on “the position and sectarian and factional tactics of Trotskyism”. What position? Which tactics? War? People’s Front? Spain? Soviet Union? Moscow Trials? Nothing in the report indicates that any discussion took place on Trotskyism. In any case, the conference agreed to condemn it – each participant for his own particular reason. All were anxious to avoid a serious analysis of the Trotskyist criticisms of the London Bureau, the ILP, POUM, SAP, ICO, etc. For their unity, platonic “revolutionary socialist” resolutions and a joint attack on Trotskyism were sufficient! All the characteristic traits of centrism mark the Paris Conference!

1. Basis for Collaboration

The seven-point basis for collaboration (included in the invitation to the conference) repeats the general revolutionary formulae on the class struggle, rejection of Popular Frontism, against civil peace in wartime, support of the colonial peoples, defense of the Spanish revolution and the POUM, defense of the Soviet Union and for proletarian democracy in Russia, for the overthrow of the capitalist state apparatus and the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship which will destroy the capitalist power, provide the maximum of workers’ democracy and “not repeat the errors and terror of the Stalinist regime”.

Collaboration on the above program “does not mean the formation artificially [!] of a new International” (p. 10). On the contrary, it spells the continuation of the old line of the London Bureau, the complete national independence of each affiliated group which in practise will be free to violate the abstract “revolutionary” resolutions on the pretext of “national peculiarities”.

At a time when a strong international center is the crying need of the working class movement, the Paris Conference decides on three practical steps: publication of an international news service, publication of an international discussion journal, and an international fund for revolutionists suffering from persecution. The actual preparation of a new International, the elaboration of programmatic documents, the formation of a strong center, these are postponed to the indefinite future. The old formula of the London Bureau is constantly presented anew at each international conference.

For Lovestone the present London Bureau is practically tantamount to his “new International”:

“We need an International that will be a world federation of parties standing firmly on the same international foundation of revolutionary socialism but each self-reliant and independent in its organization, each itself determining its policy, strategy and tactics on the basis of its own conditions and the needs and interests of the masses.” (Workers Age, March 19, 1938.)

2. The People’s Front and Spain

For example, we may add: the London Bureau long ago condemned People’s Frontism. The SAP supported People’s Frontism on the grounds of the peculiarity of the German situation. The POUM entered the Catalonian People’s Front government of Companys, the Stalinists and the anarcho-syndicalists in view of the “national peculiarity” of Catalonia and the “peculiar” character of its petty bourgeoisie.

At the Paris Conference the SAP and the POUM support the resolution against Popular Frontism. Yet, the conference “places on record its agreement in principle, without reserve, with the fundamental political line” of the POUM. The SAP’s Popular Frontist line is overlooked. Why interfere with the “self-reliant and independent” sections so long as they accept revolutionary-sounding resolutions!

Not that criticism is forbidden. On the contrary, even affiliates of the London Bureau may criticize one another. But not at conferences; not in resolution form, in a word, not in a meaningful manner!

At one time, for instance, Fenner Brockway did criticize the POUM’s entry into the Catalonian government. Writing after the May events in Barcelona, he stated:

“The entrance of the POUM into the Government also reflected a considerable departure in policy.”

When the government included socialization of industry into its program, Nin entered the Generalidad.

“Before long the Economic and Military Councils were abolished and the Government took over their duties.

This was the second stage in the restoration of the power of the capitalist State machine.

“At the time the danger was not fully recognized though Marxist principles should have provided a warning. What has subsequently happened in Barcelona proves how accurate was the analysis of the founder of scientific socialist theory.” (The Truth About Barcelona, emphasis in original.)

Brockway of course does not add: “and how justified was the sharp timely criticism of the POUM’s policy by the Trotskyists” at the moment it was being supported by Brandler, Lovestone and Brockway himself!

“Marxist principles” were reiterated at the Paris Conference but in a characteristic abstract, academic manner, unrelated to the actual experiences or practises of the participants. To criticize the POUM or the SAP at the conference would have been ... “sectarian and factional Trotskyism”! But what is the value of Marxist principles – and what is involved is the Marxian theory of the state! – if they can be violated with impunity?

3. The Struggle Against War

Similar “internationalism” is displayed in connection with the struggle against war. The conference resolution [2] condemns “the illusion that peace can be maintained by any ‘Collective System of Peace’ operated by Governments in a Capitalist world, and above all, by the League of Nations ...” (p. 25). In another resolution the policy of appealing to capitalist governments for sanctions against Japan is criticized as “wrong in principle and dangerous in practise” (p. 39).

Taken seriously, these views are in conflict with the position of the Brandler-Thalheimer-Lovestone group. A little over two years ago, during the Italo-Ethiopian war, Thalheimer went to great lengths to defend the position of collective security. (I do not know of any repudiation of this position since then.) In the pages of Controversy, the discussion organ of the ILP (Jan. 1936), he polemized against the ILP opposition to government sanctions and advocated “pressure on the capitalist governments and the League in the direction of application of sanctions against Italy ...” (p. 13). He alleged that the British workers were becoming class conscious only “because the working class raised the demand of sanctions towards the capitalist government” and that an opposition to this policy “is obviously for the benefit of Mussolini, and it has a damaging effect on the struggle for independence of the Abyssinian, the Egyptian and the Italian people ...” (p. 13). The ILP position against sanctions was welcomed by Trotsky, he wrote, “on the ground that it leads actually, and objectively, into an hostile position towards the line pursued by the Soviet Union in the Abyssinian conflict” (p. 14). Apparently Trotsky opposed sanctions because they would help the Soviet Union! Today Brockway and Thalheimer join forces to condemn “the position and sectarian and factional tactics of Trotskyism”.

But has the Brandler-Lovestone group changed its position? It is true that the Workers Age criticizes the Stalinist collective security proposals and at the same tune advocates a governmental embargo or economic sanctions against Japan! (See editorial, Dec. 25, 1937.) It supports the program of the “Keep America Out of War Committee” which demands “American cooperation for peace”. Combine the two proposals and you have international cooperation for economic sanctions against Japan, collective security!

Lovestone can support an independent working class, anti-sanctionist position at Paris and, in New York, carry out the opposite in practise. He can support the “above-class” Keep America Out of War Committee – with its non-working class appeal and set-up – and make speeches in Paris against those who seek to build an anti-war movement not based upon the working class. In all this he does not violate his own conception of “internationalism”.

4. The Soviet Union

The Conference did not adopt a definitive resolution on the Soviet Union. The majority draft – proposed by the SAP and adopted as a basis for discussion – avoids all consideration of the class character of the Soviet State; by implication it denies that it is a workers’ state. “It sees in the system of collectivism in USSR, even though it be bureaucratic, an enormous advantage for the world-wide proletariat. This requires of us the defense of the USSR” (p. 53). The resolution further condemns the Moscow trials, the social and foreign policy of the Stalin regime and calls for a return to proletarian democracy “expressed through the application of full democracy within the Communist Party and in an electoral system which gives political freedom to all workers and peasants” (p. 54).

There is no analysis of the causes of Stalinism nor the general strategy for the restoration of proletarian democracy in Russia. It is precisely the failure of the London Bureau to undertake a thorough analysis of the situation in the Soviet Union which resulted in its miserable – at best, petty bourgeois liberal – reaction to the first two Moscow trials. Now it seeks to perpetuate this situation, to satisfy itself with general phrases about the Soviet Union instead of making an exhaustive study of the problem, or a direct critical analysis of the documents of the movement for the Fourth International on the subject.

For the present, it suffices to say that the majority resolution proposal for “the application of full democracy within the Communist Party” is a Utopian demand which shows a complete failure to understand the situation in the Soviet Union and the needs of the working class.

The ILP, the ICO and the Socialist Party of Sweden introduced their own minority resolution on the Soviet Union. (The official report on this and other questions gives the impression of complete unanimity. A summary of the report of the spokesman for the majority resolution is given, no mention is made of a minority nor is the minority resolution itself given.) From the Workers Age report (April 2, 1935) we learn that the resolution “called for the defense of the Soviet Union as a workers’ state with a socialist [!!] economy; for democracy in the CPSU, the Soviet trade unions and the Soviets; for the struggle against Stalinism and solidarity with the revolutionary opposition to the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union”.

In other words, the Brandler-Lovestone position that the CPSU is basically sound, “only” Stalin has to be removed – a task which can be accomplished by “peaceful” means. (The gyrations of Brandler-Lovestone on the Soviet Union have been analyzed in the Socialist Appeal and in the April 1938 and current issues of The New International.) There is little sense in asking Lovestone (or Brockway) what “revolutionary” opposition they propose to support in the Soviet Union or how they intend supporting them. For their resolution on this question will remain as platonic as the others.

It is not accidental that Lovestone in his speech at the conference, where he briefly dwelt on the origin of the Communist International, “overlooked” Lenin’s attacks on centrism in the wotking class movement. For Lovestone (as for Brockway) the term centrism no longer exists in his political vocabulary. For a centrist the term is merely an epithet!

It is thus seen that the centrist parties and groups – now joined by the shell of the old Brandlerist “International” – insist upon continuing their old course. Despite them, however, the need for creating a strong international center of revolutionary Marxists is now greater than ever before. The British New Leader compares the Paris Conference with the left wing Zimmerwald conference of 1915, but forgets that even then Lenin demanded the formation of the Third International. (By the way, how many “Zimmerwalds” does Brockway desire? His bureau has been in existence for about six years!)

The task of the international conference of supporters of the movement for the Fourth International which will convene shortly in Europe is enormous. Despite its small numbers, it will have to take bold steps forward in the creation of the world party of the working class, the Fourth International. The movement will be built against the sham internationalism of the London Bureau and its adherents. For revolutionary Marxists the struggle for proletarian revolution dictates a merciless struggle against centrism as well as reformism and Stalinism. Along this road the masses, including the proletarian revolutionists in the centrist parties, will be won to the banner of Marx and Lenin, the program of world socialism.


1. A New Hope for World Sociatism, Resolution adopted at the Revolutionary Socialist Congress, Paris, February 19–25, 1938, together with the Introductory Speeches. International Bureau for Revolutionary Socialist Unity, London.

2. The International Communist Opposition delegates voted against the majority war resolution, according to the Worker’s Age (April 2, 1938), because it calls for “revolutionary defeatism” in capitalist countries allied to the Soviet Union. The problem requires greater analysis than is possible in the present article. The phrase in dispute has been given various conflicting interpretations. In view of this, the meaning of the Conference resolution, which calls for the concentration on the overthrow of every capitalist government, including those allied to the Soviet Union, “using all means, including revolutionary defeatism”, suffers from the characteristic vagueness of the other resolutions. In reality, revolutionary defeatism neither defines special “means” nor is it a slogan (as Thalheimer contends); it rather summarizes a particular strategy.

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