WOHLFORTH - ON THE PLATFORM OF SHAME
News Line 13 January 1977. Page 7
BY DAVE NORTH, NATIONAL SECRETARY OF THE WORKERS LEAGUE [USA]
Tim Wohlforth, who is presently a member of the revisionist Socialist Workers Party of the USA, will be one of the main speakers at the Platform of Shame meeting in London tomorrow, January 14th.
Wohlforth is better known as a former leader of the International Committee of the Fourth International who deserted Trotskyism in 1974.
The organisers behind the “Platform of Shame” rally claim it is for “workers’ democracy against slander”. But in reality its real purpose is to cover up the need for an inquiry into the circumstances of Leon Trotsky’s assassination at the hands of Stalin and the GPU.
For the first time ever, all the petty-bourgeois renegades from Trotskyism who have segregated themselves into a variety of small groups will hold a joint meeting at which they seek to disguise their true political character beneath a “Hate Healy” banner. (G. Healy is a member of the Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, British section of the International Committee of the Fourth International.)
Joseph Hansen of the SWP is the principle inspirer of this meeting.
As the leaders of these shrunken sects rub shoulders with each other perhaps they might ponder over the fact that on /august6, 1940, only two weeks before the murder his murder, Trotsky warned that the “assassins may use a ‘Trotskyite’ label”, and he was proven correct. Ramon Mercader claimed to be a disillusioned Trotskyist.
Whether they like it or not, all those who are participating in this meeting have fallen into the orbit of the GPU’s sinister plans.
By opposing an independent Commission of Inquiry into the GPU’s role in Trotsky’s assassination, because the “hate Healy” more than the GPU, they are providing the shadowy GPU men, who will no doubt attend the meeting, with a cover for new attacks on Trotskyism on the grounds that these have originated out of “a squabble” between Trotskyists.
This was the official excuse which the GPU used in explaining away the assassination of Trotsky.
If Wohlforth had been told years ago that he would find himself in 1977 on Hansen’s platform denouncing the International Committee and Comrade Healy in the company of Pabloites and state capitalists, he would have told the soothsayer to check into an insane asylum.
The Wohlforth who speaks in London on January 14 is but the hollow shell of the man who collaborated closely and faithfully with the International committee for 15 years.
The International Committee would never deny or belittle the contribution Worhlforth made to the building of the Trotskyist movement in the United States. It is Worhlforth, not we, who denies his past.
In this experience there are lessons of no small importance, as a brief review of his political history will show.
Worhlforth first came into the Trotskyist movement out of the wreckage of the Shachman group – a bad school, but it is to Wohlfortth’s credit that he broke from it.
When he joined the Socialist Workers Party in 1958 it was already charting its right-wing course back to revisionism. Wohlforth, as a founder of the SWP youth movement, the Young Socialist Alliance, came into conflict with the party leadership.
By 1960 he was collaborating with the International Committee, fighting against the preparations of the SWP leadership to break from Trotskyism an reunite with the old European Pabloites
Wohlforth formed an opposition tendency within the SWP to oppose politically the criminal liquidationist policies of Joseph Hansen, and for this he was removed from the party’s political committee. In 1964 when Worhlforth spoke out honourably against the treachery of Ceylonese Pabloites, who entered Bandaranaike’s bourgeois government with the complicity of the SWP leadership, Hansen booted him out of the Party.
Soon after, Wohlforth wrote The Struggle for Marxism in the United States, in which he assessed the role of Hansen inside the SWP.
“Only a person deeply sick with the disease of empiricism would ler such a person occupy a leading position in its central leadership.”
Wohlforth took the lead in forming the American Committee for the Fourth International which was transformed, after the Third World Congress of the International Committee in1966, into The Workers League.
Worhlforth became its National Secretary. Decisive in the founding of the Workers League was the struggle waged against the middle-class, nationalistic radical group called Spartacist which rejected internationalism and based itself philosophically on subjective idealism.
It was Wohlforth who assembled the first cadres of the Workers League, insisting upon the continuity of Trotskyism through the International Committee, exposing the orientation of the SWP to the protest wing of the American middle class and its adaptation to Stalinism.
What Wohlforth had to say on these vital political questions are contained in numerous pamphlets which bear his name – none of which, it goes without saying, are sold today by SWP bookstores.
But Wohlforth himself came into ever-deepening political crisis as the development of the world capitalist crisis began to bring about sharp change in the objective political situation and the relation of the class forces within the United States.
His entire previous development – through no fault of his own – had taken place within the context of the post-war boom. While the American working class had gained enormous strength during this period within the framework of the mightiest trade union organisations, it was politically held back by the most corrupt and opportunist bureaucratic leadership.
The break-up of the boom from the late 1960’s on altered the situation. Wohlforth, who had for several years ably defended the ideas of Trotskyism, now had to make the change from a primarily propagandist practice to one which consciously turned the Workers League toward the American Working class.
Particularly after August 15, 1971 – when Nixon abandoned the Bretton Woods agreement by ending the convertability of the dollar into gold – the old practice of upholding correct ideas by writing certain pamphlets on various subjects was quickly revealed as totally inadequate in the new political situation.
Wohlforth had the responsibility of breaking sharply with the milieu and methods of American radical protest politics in which he himself had been originally trained and which dominated left politics in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.
He now had to concentrate on building the revolutionary party in the working class, intervening and recruiting in the struggle of workers, and especially the youth, and training and preparing theoretically the cadre to lead the socialist revolution.
This is where Wohlforth – as others, like Shachtman and then Cannon before him – became politically unravelled. Wohlforth did not break with the International Committee because of a misunderstanding. His subjective explosion over the case of his companion Nancy Fields was the form which his capitulation to the pressures of imperialism upon the working class and its revolutionary vanguard took originally.
The facts involved in the affairs of Nancy Fields have been so well documented that they need not be repeated at great length here. Briefly, Wohlforth became involved in a personal relationship with this woman and decided to conceal from the International Committee the fact that her uncle, Albert Morris, was a leading figure in the Central Intelligence Agency. (See report of the Commission of Inquiry, What Makes Wohlforth Run? Labour Publications, New York.)
Although Fields had been treated as an adopted daughter and financially supported by her uncle until the completion of her university education, this fact had not been declared to the Workers league of the International Committee by either Wohlforth of Fields.
Personal considerations overrode the clear political responsibility that Wohlforth had to obtain a security clearance for Fields. He failed in particular to do this, even after nominating her as a delegate to an important international conference.
For this reason, when the Workers League Central Committee learned of Field’s family connections with CIA personnel in August 1974, it had absolutely no alternative but to remove Wohlforth as national secretary, pending an inquiry, and suspend Fields from membership. Subsequently, a Commission of Inquiry was held in New York.
Both Wohlforth and Fields agreed to the procedure and voted for the unanimously-passed motions of the Workers League Central Committee.
But within less than a month, Wohlforth renounced his own vote and resigned from the Workers League. He abandoned the most basic revolutionary principles on the need for security within the revolutionary movement against police agents of the capitalist state.
Wohlforth’s subordination of Marxist Principles to the wildest subjective emotions meant his political doom as a revolutionary. He now became prey to all the reactionary social forces produced by imperialism in its death agony.
Revisionists all over the world recognised the completely anti-Trotskyist character of Wohlforth’s resignation from the Workers League. Overnight he became a hero in their circles.
When Wohlforth wrote a scandalous account of his removal as National Secretary which set out to frame Comrade Healy, Joseph Hansen immediately dismissed Wohlforth’s past disagreements and published his article in his house organ Intercontinental Press, commenting that Wohlforth’s “sincerity is undeniable and one can only wish him luck on his next venture.” (March 31, 1975)
Hansen then proceeded to take Wohlforth in hand in order to exploit his serious weaknesses for the most reactionary purposes. Wohlforth’s disregard for security procedures, an intolerable position in the revolutionary movement, fell right into line with Hansen’s policy of shielding GPU agents.
It then became for Hansen a matter of encouraging and egging Wohlforth on in his process of political debasement. Hansen applauded when Wohlforth slashed away at all the threads of his past and opened up the pages of Intercontinental Press for every new lie. Hansen said “Get Healy, and Wohlforth responded like a horse to the spurs of his master.
A quarter of a century ago Trotsky issued the following warning to the SWP minority in 1940:
“Comrade Abern in his appreciation as in his perspective is moved by hatred. And personal hated is an abominable feeling in politics.” (In Defence of Marxism, New Park Publications, page 195)
Wohlforth resolutely turned his back on Trotsky’s warning and crawled closer to the ex-collaborator of Abern, who is none other than Joseph Hansen. In an introduction to a new SWP bulletin entitled Healy’s Big Lie, Wohlforth writes today that he left the Workers League because of “Healy’s bullying.”
Does Wohlforth seriously believe that he can explain his own political evolution over the past two years with such a miserable and petty slander? Trotsky once wrote:
“What is the revolutionist worth who leaves his party simply because someone has sharply criticised his ideas? Petty bourgeois sympathisers who look upon the party as a salon, a friendly club or a masonic lodge are worthless in a revolutionary epoch. If they cannot endure rather sharp remarks, they only show thereby their inner emptiness: These people are only looking for a pretext for deserting the barricades.” (Writings 1938-1939 Merit Publishers, page 123)
Perhaps Wohlforth should ponder this: It is neither the International Committee nor Comrade Healy who are sharing a platform with their enemies of the past 2o years. That sorry fate has befallen Wohlforth himself. It is not what Wohlforth may claim or say or claim he is going to do, it is what he is doing that is decisive.
The men on that platform and those who are unseen but orchestrating the meeting from the side-lines hated the International many, many years before 1974 and have long been waiting to hold this “Hate Healy” rally.
It is Wohlforth who has joined them and that is as a result of his basic political evolution and not at all over an argument with Healy. Such arguments and the security issue of Fields are entirely subordinate to Wohlforth’s political positions today.
For example, Wohlforth will be sharing a platform with the state capitalists with whom he broke in 1957, with Ernest Mandel whose rump “Unified Secretariat” was fought by Wohlforth from the day it was founded, and with Pierre Lambert of the French revisionist OCI with whom Wohlforth split in 1971 in solidarity with the International Committee. There will also be Michel Raptis (Pablo) who, as former International Secretary, has done more to liquidate the Fourth International than any other revisionist alive.
And, of course, Wohlforth will be speaking as the emissary of Joseph Hansen, of whom he wrote on June21, 1974, in the pages of The Bulletin, newspaper of the Workers League:
“Joseph is at it again. Hansen has functioned for over ten years as the chief advocate, apologist and downright liar for the Socialist Workers Party in its struggle against the Fourth International.”
Nothing shows Wohlforth’s degeneration more clearly that his hysterical accusation, made in his “introduction” commissioned by Hansen for their latest document, that “the resemblance between Healy’s methods and those of Stalin in the Moscow Trials is striking.”
Here Wohlforth has come full circle. What originally brought him to the Trotskyist movement nearly two decades ago was his struggle to grasp the Marxist analysis of the Soviet state and the origins of Stalinism. He fought against and rejected the subjective, petty bourgeois, anti-communist approach of Max Shachtman to this basic question.
He learned in the course of this struggle against Shachtman that Stalinism was a class question. He learned that Stalinism was a product not of personalities, but of specific class forces and definite historical conditions. In relation to these, the “personality” question is entirely subordinate.
Wohlforth came to understand, and later taught others, that the growth of the bureaucracy within the Soviet Union was the product of the low level of productive forces within the first workers’ state, the weakening of the Soviet working class during three years of civil war, and the isolation of the Soviet State due to the delay and then defeat of social revolutions in Germany and other European countries.
The absence of direct material support from a victorious revolution in an advanced capitalist country intensified the economic crisis within the Soviet Union, exemplified by the growing split between the proletariat in the cities and the multi-million peasantry in the country-side.
The bureaucracy emerged as a petty-bourgeois stratum within Soviet society. It was a material expression of the pressure of world capitalism bearing down on the isolated workers’ state. The pressure and influence of this bureaucracy was reflected within the Bolshevik Party. The political expression of this influence was the theory of “socialism in one country.”
As Trotsky explained many times, it was the bureaucracy as “the policeman of inequality” which created Stalin, not Stalin the bureaucracy. Without the material basis of this bureaucracy there could not be Stalinism.
The pressures of the bureaucracy reflected originally in the right-centrist politics of the Stalinist faction in the Bolshevik Party led to catastrophic defeats of the working class in China and Germany.
These defeats in turn strengthened the bureaucracy which now completed its destruction of the Bolshevik Party and the Third International. Stalinism became the main counter-revolutionary force within the international workers movement, responsible for the defeats of the European working class in the 1930s.
This was for many years the ABC of political life for Wohlforth. Now, as if he has never heard of the classics of Trotskyism – The New Course, The Third International After Lenin, The Revolution Betrayed – Wohlforth writes the “Healy’s methods” are “similar” to Stalin’s. Such is the epitome of the political degeneracy.
Wohlforth cannot, of course, point to a state bureaucracy sustaining the International Committee. He is well aware of the conditions under which his ex-comrades of the IC are obliged to work.
They are the conditions of many members of sections of the Pabloite international. In this wild distortion and abandonment of long-held political convictions is expressed the disorientation of the unstable middle class intellectual beneath the impact of the crisis.
The fact is that Wohlforth’s lies serve a definite political end; to cover up what is apparent to everyone, that he has shifted politically to the right. His hatred of Comrade Healy is his hatred of his own past. He is the real practitioner of the “big lie” and not Healy.
The source of his political shift to the right lies not in Wohlforth as an individual, but in the enormous intensification of the world capitalist crises and the class struggle on an international scale.
Contained within the movement of Wohlforth over the last two years, which seems astounding in its breathless about-face is the movement of the crisis itself. He has been propelled into the “Platform of Shame” by the most conscious enemies of Trotskyism.
Having broken with every Trotskyist principle he once fought for, Wohlforth is stripped naked of all political independence. He is Hansen’s plaything, to be used for whatever unscrupulous purposes hedeems necessary. Hansen can afford the luxury of “Fusing” Wohlforth into the SWP Political Committee … he likes to keep his footman closed to him.
Secretly, the sincere SWP members have nothing but contempt for Wohlforth. He ranks in their midst as a man who is nothing more than a petty-informer, who at the moment any crisis crops up that upsets his personal pride will immediately denounce his comrades of yesterday – without the slightest regard for truth or principles. For, like it or not, that is his role.
Such instability has a political logic of its own. Those who are aware of his disastrous subjective weaknesses deliberately pander to Wohlforth in order to drive him down further into the gutter. Hansen is an expert at this, and the results are not pleasant to see.
Wohlforth’s London performance directly assists Hansen’s desperate efforts to cover up the GPU killers who murdered Trotsky in 1940 and who are at work today. Trotsky is dead but the GPU lives on. The very tran of Stalinist agents who were involved in the assassination of Trotsky – With Ramon Mercader himself – are once again preparing for “active” service as they get ready to follow the arch Stalinist Dolores Ibarruri back to Spain.
What is the result of Wohlforth’s unbridled subjectivism? To argue beneath the fraudulent banner of “workers’ democracy”, the case of Joseph Hansen; for the right of GPU agents to infiltrate the Trotskyist Movement and the right of their accomplices to suppress the evidence of their crimes.
What Trotsky said of Shachtman in 140 applies with greater force to Wohlforth:
“Had conscious agents of the class enemy operated through Schachtman, they could not have advised him to do anything different from what he himself has perpetrated.” (In Defence of Marxism, page 210)
[This article may be incomplete – Editor]