4 Apr 2020
Michel Pablo was the pseudonym of Michalis N. Raptis. A Greek citizen born in Egypt in 1911, he became a controversial and innovative Marxist leader. By the 1950s he was one of the most prominent leaders of the Fourth International . The Fourth International (FI) had been created as a new global Communist organisation, after Stalin’s rift with Trotsky. Backed by the US Socialist Workers Party, Pablo had played an important role in uniting the International and shaping its strategic direction, but by the early 1950s the new perspective he was advancing for the organisation caused bitter dissent. He argued that the strength of official Communist Parties, the relative weaknesses of the Trotskyists, and the likelihood of World War Three occurring, suggested a new tactic. Supporters of the FI were to secretly join Communist Parties or social democratic parties as a long-term project to exploit the subsequent divisions caused by likely war. While this might be seen as an imaginative way of leveraging power for a relatively small political organisation, it was perceived understandably by many of Pablo’s comrades as scandalous, given that Stalin had had Trotsky murdered. Pablo's politics are discussed in greater detail here.
Fast forward to the 1980s, Pablo had long been expelled from the FI and his Trotskyist international was a tiny organisation. He continued to innovate; anti-colonial struggles had been one intervention. Older members of Socialist Self-Management such as the physicist and former Bristol West Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate John Malos , whom I met, were proud of their role in the Algerian independence struggles of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Challenging bureaucratic forms of socialist planning, Pablo embraced workplace democracy, thus the title Socialist Self-Management reflected the core of his political philosophy. He acted as an economic advisor to Chile’s socialist President Allende before the 1973 coup. Feminism was another passion, the Pabloites were early advocates of what now might be termed intersectionality. Ellen Malos authored The Politics of Housework, published in 1980 along with Housework and the Politics of Women's Liberation.
Ecological politics was another focus. Australian members of the Pabloite International were early advocates of what we might term ecosocialism. My involvement came after reading Alan Roberts’ book The Self-Managing Environment. Like John Malos, Roberts was another Australian physicist. The Self-Managing Environment’s Freudian Marxism linking an alienated workforce to the existence of an ecologically damaging consumer society looks rather dated at first sight, another iteration of Marcuse perhaps. However, in robustly criticising the Malthusianism of 1970s environmentalists like Paul Ehrlich, defending the concept of commons and taking a nuanced view of technology innovation, I think it remains an important book for those of us advocating green politics today. I picked up a copy of the Self-Management Papers in Camden’s radical bookshop Compendium, put together by an Oxford student using the pseudonym Harry Curtis at some point in the mid 1980s. When Socialist Alternatives came out I was a keen reader. Not having seen an issue for a month or two I asked the people behind the counter in my then local radical bookshop Full Marx in Bristol . They told me that one of the production team supported their bookshop, I was introduced to John and Ellen Malos, who whisked me down the M4 for regular meetings in London with ‘Harry Curtis’, Peter Tatchell and, of course, Keir Starmer.
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