* Letter of August 25, 2003 from the FRP
* Back to the classics of Marxism-Leninism: Resolution of the League for the Revolutionary Party -- Sweden (FRP)
* Remarks on the resolution of the FRP, by Joseph Green, Sept. 11
* Additional remarks from the FRP, Sept.16 and 18
25 August, 2003
Dear Communist Voice:
. We are former adherents in Sweden of the brand of Trotskyism which is put forward by the LRP in the U.S. For the last few years, we have begun to reconsider, step by step, some of the main Trotskyist dogmas as being contrary to Marxism-Leninism. In this process, various materials published in Communist Voice have been very helpful to us.
. A resolution on the question of Trotsky, which we have recently adopted, is enclosed here in English translation. . . . As you can see, we approach the questions from a slightly different angle as compared to you, though, e.g. on the theory of permanent revolution or transitional demands. We also maintain our belief that the concept of "socialism in one country" is revisionist, but we await with interest what you are going to write about that concept in part two of your article on Trotskyism. We would as well very much appreciate any view or criticism of our resolution on your part.
With communist regards
FRP - Sweden <>
. The capitalist mode of production, due to the working of its inherent laws, drives workers to oppose exploitation. This opposition is being expressed continuously -- even in the simplest and most everyday forms. Simultaneously, the enslavement of labor under capital is being strengthened, and along with that also the split of the proletariat and the expansion of the labor aristocracy within it and the dominance of commodity fetishism and reification of all social relations. To emancipate itself, the proletariat must abolish the capitalist mode of production and thereby transcend itself as a class. This can be done only under the leadership of a communist party, a vanguard and general staff of the working class, composed of the most advanced elements of the class and armed with the revolutionary doctrine of Marxism-Leninism.
. Marxism-Leninism is a scientific theory -- committed, in the first place, to clarification of the relations which govern the development of society in general and the conditions for the transition from capitalism to communism in particular. Marxism-Leninism shows that communism is not only desirable, but actually possible to achieve (the most realistic, most reality-minded way out) and absolutely necessary as well. Marxism-Leninism shows the prospects and goal of the class struggle and provides answers to the burning questions of the day. It refutes the lies of the class enemy and the renegades and shows the bright future ahead.
. The task before communists is thus, right from the very beginning, when our forces still are insignificant, to carry the Marxist-Leninist ideas to the working-class movement. That is to be done by applying the mass line and work for communist leadership in each and every concrete fight, be it big or small, and prove to the masses the revolutionary significance of the experiences they are going through. This presupposes a conscious strategy and tactic in the least detail, developed through theoretical assimilation of the revolutionary lessons of the historical practice of class struggle. Therefore, communists must not, like the opportunists, handle theory as something lifeless and inert, a matter of form, a formula to mask unprincipledness or something that reduces itself to a program alone: we must study Marxism-Leninism in such a way, that we acquire good knowledge of its method, can grasp and deduce the essential from its texts and apply and further develop the general onto the situation of today with all its peculiarities.
. Such a stand is possible only if attached to the most irreconcilable demarcation and struggle against opportunism and revisionism of all hues. It is not a matter of different paths to the same goal, but of fundamentally different goals. For this to be pursued correctly, after a great many decades of opportunist and revisionist distortion, first and foremost a vast and thorough re-construction work is needed. As the initial step, the task must be put of going back to the classics of Marxism-Leninism. They provide the most consistent elaboration of the basic Marxist-Leninist principles and provide -- along with the example of the political activity of their authors -- a model of communist work, of communist world view.
. Since its coming into being, the League for the Revolutionary Party - Sweden has held that the classics consisted of the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We have defined our platform as "Trotskyist" and claimed the heritage of the Fourth International, the re-creation of which we have been advocating. Among the dividing issues at the break between us and our former fraternal organization the League for the Revolutionary Party - USA, one concerned Luxemburg's status as a classic, which we -- with all due respect for this outstanding revolutionary and communist -- contested, referring to her objectivist deviations. Since then, we have step by step reached the conclusion, that while this was correct, it was yet not consistent: the positive and negative aspects of Trotsky's activity must also be brought up for a renewed evaluation.
. Lenin provided several valuable examples of an all-round, principled and dialectical evaluation, e.g. of Luxemburg -- whom he, in spite of his sharp criticism, described as "an eagle". Of Plekhanov, one of the founders of the Marxist movement in Russia but later on a Menshevik and finally a social-chauvinist and opponent of the October Revolution, Lenin stated that "you cannot hope to become a real, intelligent communist without making a study -- and I mean study -- of all of Plekhanov's philosophical writings, because nothing better has been written on Marxism anywhere in the world. "
. Trotsky's best qualities were in his leadership abilities (despite that he, as Lenin remarked, tended to look primarily to the administrative side of matters). He played a central role in the 1905 revolution as chairman of the St. Petersburg Soviet. During the Civil War of 1918-21 he turned out to be a capable and efficient organizer and splendid commander-in-chief of the Red Army, and before that he had been, along with Lenin, a main architect behind the October Revolution. However, it was not Lenin and the Party, but Trotsky himself, that had had to take a big step leftwards in 1917 -- and that is the reason why he could be useful when "the old guard" vacillated. Trotsky's perhaps most advanced theoretical positions are to be found in his critique of the nucleus of modern revisionism -- the theory of "socialism in one country" -- and its implications for the world communist movement. The critique published under the title Third International after Lenin remains unsurpassed.
. The rest of Trotsky's analyses were often at a "journalistic" level, i. e. lacking the depth and sharpness which characterize Marx, Engels and Lenin. Underneath this, there is also a marked tendency towards a mechanical and formalist reasoning. What, at the first glance, may appear as a strength -- that he rarely gets stuck in "multi-factor" determinations as pragmatists are prone to do, with a great many aspects which are to be measured up against one another, without firm conclusions and with lots of space for slippery stands -- often is lost as he tends towards "one-factor" determinations instead, i. e. to pick out and isolate one single of these forms of appearance and then proclaim it to be the all-decisive one, instead of summing up the multitude and start a process of abstraction which can lay bare the essence of things. This provides Trotsky's characterizations a very drastic and edged style, which seems to "hit the nail on the head", but which at a closer look rather turns out to be sweeping, reductionist and sheer formal logic. Here we can see an explanation of his deviation in the trade-union discussion in 1920 ("militarize the unions") or in the fact that it was not he, but Lenin, who first paid attention to the problems of bureaucracy and initiated the struggle against Stalin et al. For Trotsky, bureaucracy was a mere executive structure. This had consequences not only for the analysis of the degeneration of the Soviet Union, but contain implications for class analysis, too -- as can be seen in how prone later currents, which base themselves on Trotsky, are to extend their definition of the proletariat to embrace vast sections of the middle strata.
. Our criticism of Trotsky's weaknesses stands in diametrical opposition to those attacks, that are usually directed against him from both Stalinists and others, including Pabloites, and the essential significance of which is to take over bourgeois and reformist criticism of Leninism. They regard "Trotskyism" as the most radical and irreconcilable, as something standing quite too far out on the left.
* * * * *
. 1. One example of this concerns the theory of permanent revolution. Our aim in criticizing it is not to create some pretext for backing away from the central role of the working class in our epoch or to kneel before petty-bourgeois leaderships. Indeed, the very concept of "permanent revolution" derives from Marx and was put forward already in 1850. That the working class has to be at the head even to carry out bourgeois-revolutionary measures, was emphasized by Lenin already in 1904. When Stalinists in the mid and late 1920's claimed that the old Bolshevik slogan of the democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants corresponds to the "anti-imperialist united front", they mixed the cards, since the last-mentioned was nothing but a new edition of the line which the Mensheviks had had. The Left Opposition's condemnation of the disastrous Comintern line in China in 1925-27 was, in fact, not compatible with an "anti-imperialist united front" strategy, since the Left Opposition warned against precisely the collaboration with Kuomintang in its entirety, including Wang Ching-wei's "left" wing -- but on the contrary very well suitable to a strategy aiming for a democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants. Our critique of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution is thus based on the view that it in the last analysis is a kind of rightist deviation. Not in its outer form, but in its method and, often enough, by its consequences.
. It has often been said that even though Trotsky was to the right of Lenin in his view of the party before 1917, he was nevertheless to the left of him when it came to the question of the character of the Russian revolution -- i.e. farther away from the Mensheviks than Lenin. Such a view does, however, not stand a closer scrutiny. The method behind a theory is always decisive. With the mechanical logic of the Second International, the Menshevik line could not possibly be wrong: first a bourgeois revolution, then, later on, a revolution led by the working class and the latter could only be socialist. Trotsky looked for a way to "jump over" the bourgeois revolution so as to arrive at the working-class seizure of power as quickly as possible. That he was firmly entrenched in the scheme of the Second International is clear from the fact that he could not solve the problem in any other way than by declaring that the revolution in such a case had to be socialist (thus the permanence) and that a revolutionary up-surge in West Europe was what would make this possible. Otherwise there would be no way to escape the Menshevik model. Lenin was, on the other hand, far more radical: to put workers' rule at the order of the day did not necessarily presuppose such an aid from abroad that would make it possible to skip stages. Workers' rule could be established even as the revolution was still in its bourgeois-democratic stage!
. First, this proves that Lenin always and in all circumstances sought to advance the positions of the working class as much as possible so as to facilitate the change in relations-of-strength that was needed to get further ahead, just as happened in 1917. The decisive break with the Second International was, thus, not in the abstract question of the character of the Russian revolution, but in the much more concrete question of the conditions for the working-class seizure of power. Second, Lenin -- by making clear that workers' power does not necessarily have to wait until the socialist revolution, but may be of a democratic character -- anticipated his later understanding that not even a socialist revolution like October in itself is the same thing as the abolition of capitalism, something that Trotsky never managed to grasp. Here we can, thus, see the indirect connection between the mechanical world view of the Second International at the turn of the century and Trotsky's just as mechanical view 30 years later of what a workers' state is. There is also the connection between Trotsky's workerism and spontaneism in 1905 and his later notion that the emancipation of the workers is carried out with the soviet power taking over the means of production.
. If the historical tasks of bourgeois revolution, in spite of everything, are resolved, there remains -- provided Trotsky's theory is to be upheld as something general and law-bound -- nothing but to flip from workerism and spontaneism over to substitutionist tail-ending. At this point later concepts get into the picture, like the Pabloite ones of "objective permanent revolution" and "deformed workers' states" (not to speak of the absolute extreme variety, according to which Cuba is regarded not even as deformed, but as a truly revolutionary creation , with Castro in the role of "non-conscious Trotskyist"). In the state-capitalism variety there is Cliff's "deflected permanent revo-lution". Somewhere in this abject morass is the explanation to be found of how some"Trotskyists" can claim that the "anti-imperialist united front" is an application of the theory of permanent revolution. That theory has then been stretched out so far, that it becomes meaningless -- an empty and hollow dogma, the sole function of which is to provide an aura of legitimacy to unprincipled maneuvering. Permanent revolution has here actually transcended itself, with Pabloites, Cliffites et al. firmly entrenched in the historical-determinist logic of the Second International, with the theory of productive forces as the driving force of history instead of class struggle.
. With Lenin's way of looking at the matter, one does not have to try to explain everything that happens as confirmations of Trotsky's theory and does not get stuck into objectivism when things do not proceed according to the original presuppositions. Lenin made the point more than once that there is nothing pre-determined in history and that the bourgeoisie will prove able to wriggle out of any tight spot if it just gets the opportunity to do so. Connecting this to his view of the relations-of-strength, this means that if the working-class movement fails to pursue its cause, then the bourgeoisie or its shadow will step in to fill the void thus opened. It is the fear of proletarian revolution that makes the bourgeoisie in our epoch unable to go the Jacobin path -- but if the relations-of-strength turn out to be such that bourgeois society is not threatened, then there might be some space for petty-bourgeois leaderships to carry out certain so-called national-revolutionary historical tasks for a certain time, in some cases with relatively vast concessions to the masses.
. As is known, Lenin did not regard the aim of a democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants as a dogma. As the relations-of-strength within that framework had been changed to such an extent that the framework could be surpassed, then he advocated surpassing it, showing how the new situation had led to the space for the old line narrowing and disappearing and that sticking to it would mean collapse into Menshevik strategy. The latter is what happened at that point to Kamenev, Stalin and some other prominent Old Bolsheviks. While Stalinists, like Mensheviks, base their stage theories on the level-of-development of the productive forces etc. , the Leninist stage theory is based solely on which possibilities the relations-of-strength admit; thereby, it is essentially relative. In his Letter on tactics from early Spring, 1917, Lenin explains that the democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants must not be understood as a fixed institution, but as an approximative formula conforming to a given political constellation --surpassed at the very moment of its fulfillment. Its concrete manifestation in the actual situation was the dual power.
. From the "Trotskyist" point of view, the theory of permanent revolution is usually being held forth as the thing which decisively outweighs Trotsky's wrong view of the party in the 1903-17 period. If the theory of permanent revolution was incorrect, however, then it means that Trotsky's role during that time, taken as a whole, can not be regarded as positive.
* * * * *
. 2. Another example of our point of departure in criticizing Trotsky concerns transitional demands. His line is not, in the first place, "too radical to be realistic"; our aim is not to retire to some kind of minimalistic position, but to avoid rightist deviations which easily may lead to structural-reformist illusion-mongering. Transitional demands are no "Trotskyist" invention; Trotsky took up something which already existed. Even Stalinists spoke of transitional demands at the time of the 6th Comintern congress in 1928. Transitional demands were for the first time put forward in Lenin's time in connection with united front tactics. The decisive difference between Leninism and Trotsky lies in the place transitional demands are given programmatically and the strategical consequences thereof.
. Communists base themselves upon the communist program (the maximal program) only. Other "programs" -- various action programs, for instance -- are rather more or less temporary formulations of demands and slogans and can thus not be programmatic documents in the strict sense of the word. Transitional demands, like strategical general lines and the arsenal of tactics for the period from now to the conquest of power, must link up with the maximal program and be drawn up in it. Like the LRP-USA, we, too, have understood this to be the original "Trotskyist" stand. The Fourth International did, however, at its foundation in 1938 adopt only the Transitional Program, which was declared to be "the FI program" without further references. Its official name was The death agony of capitalism and the tasks of the Fourth International. We have held that this means nothing, that it is merely a mediated expression, that it really means "the program about the program" etc. -- a view which does not stand a closer scrutiny. When Trotsky spoke of transcending the distinction between the old maximal and minimal programs, he did not mean to proceed from the maximal program and "stretch out" to the level of day-to-day struggle, but rather to place himself in between. Thus, the Transitional Program does not replace only the old minimal pro-gram, but both the minimal and maximal programs. This is related to Trotsky's view that establishing the workers' state in itself is the same thing as abolishing capitalism; then a program which puts forward the question of power appears, even if it doesn't go further than that, as a program for the emancipation of the working class. Therefore, the Transitional Program has to be regarded as an opportunist creation.
* * * * *
. 3. The same is the case with two other concepts, which were introduced wide-scale by Trotsky in the 1930's: entryism and voting for bourgeois workers' parties. Here, too, we encounter a mechanical and formalist attitude with sweeping perspectives. To Lenin, on the contrary, these were very limited tactics, proposed for Britain only; it was never mentioned for other communist parties, not even small ones. The very concept of "bourgeois workers' party" was, in Lenin's usage, not, as with a good many "Trotskyists", almost dualistic with emphasis on "worker's", but rather a dialectical unity of contradictions: both a bourgeois and a workers' party. Since reformism is not some kind of lower or distorted form of proletarian class consciousness, but an intrusion from the outside by the labor aristocracy and the labor bureaucracy, it is a matter of bourgeois ideology in the working-class movement, even though it uses elements of class consciousness in order to strike roots. Thus, there can be no reformist stage, which workers have to pass through in order to go further ahead; so, it's by no means self-evident that a bourgeois workers' party draws mass support for the same reason that a trade-union does, as the unions, however reactionary they might be, serve as elementary organs of defense against the bosses.
* * * * *
. 4. The slogan of "military but not political support" has got two flaws. First, it usually proceeds from the assumption that one always must choose side in a conflict between an imperialist state and a non-imperialist one. Here is the same line of thought as in the view that one always must vote in an election of there is a bourgeois workers' party in the picture, and that the vote then must be for that party. It is an abstract and formalist attitude, since it concretely closes the eyes to how such a side-taking affects the class struggle. Second, there is the idea that war and politics can be regarded as separate things, as if they had nothing to do with one another. War is, however, nothing but the continuation of politics by other means. In cases when, from communist point of view, military defense is on the agenda, it is quite unavoidable to deal with the very political question of what to be defended and how, by which means. This was not least clearly visible in the case of Nicaragua after 1979, where the FSLN actually undermined the defense against imperialism by dismantling the gains of the revolution.* * * * *
. 5. Or take the view of the socialist revolution and proletarian dictatorship. After 1917, Lenin over and over again stressed that the question of power certainly is the indispensable key to anything else, and in that sense the main question of the revolution, but that the capitalist mode of production doesn't disappear with the ouster of the bourgeoisie, the nationalization of industry and trade, etc. Only when socialism, the first, or lower, phase of communism, has been reached, is the re-making of the relations of production carried through to the end. There is nothing in between, something supposedly "neither capitalism nor socialism"; that which, during the transitional period, is not yet socialist, is still capitalist. This is why Lenin used concepts like "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat", described the workers' state as "a bourgeois state without a bourgeoisie", etc. Trotsky, to the contrary, took over Preobrazhensky's view on the whole, according to which relations of production are reduced to property relations. This erroneous view played a key role in disarming the Left Opposition ideologically before Stalin's break with Bukharin in 1928-29, the termination of NEP, the collectivization of agriculture, the industrialization program of the First Five-Year Plan, etc. Unlike many others, Trotsky never capitulated, but not even a few years into the 1930's, when he, quite correctly, had reached the conclusion that Stalinism had turned counterrevolutionary through and through, was he able to understand social counterrevolution as anything else than the re-establishment of private property. In spite of his recognition that the task no longer was limited to reforming the bureaucracy, but necessitated an outright uprising, he saw it as a mere political revolution.
. The concept of "degenerated workers' state", which we hitherto have accepted as valid for a short phase up to the completion of the social counterrevolution about 1938-39, is actually a hybrid construction: it attempts to "catch" a process into a qualitatively peculiar situation, demarcated both back and forward in time. It can, therefore, but have statical implications. It's no accident that Pabloites of various shades have permanented it as long as Stalinism remained in place, thereby getting into a direct contradiction with the understanding of the counterrevolutionary character of Stalinism. Regardless of Trotsky's own intentions, his method has become an excuse for many forms of capitulation before Stalinism and other forces, and a hindrance to upholding the independent proletarian class stand. In fact, the Stalinist counterrevolution was by its character intertwined: social by interrupting and defeating the process of social revolution, but political insofar as capitalism had not yet been overcome before that. Our characterization of the chain of events about mid-1930's does not have to be formulated in Trotsky's terminology, but would more correctly be described as the bureaucratic-revisionist degeneration of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet state -- having been under way for long, turning worse step by step -- at a certain point was accentuated, and that this, by a few years' margin, led to the counterrevolution getting completed.
* * * * *
. A multitude of other examples could be mentioned here as well. An absolute majority of all opportunists and revisionists who deliver critique against Trotsky do so from a rightist position, while we do the very opposite.
. For the reasons mentioned above, Trotsky can not be held to be one of the classic teachers of
Marxism-Leninism. He was one of the great revolutionaries in history and he did never betray,
but ended his days as a martyr and will always be honored by communists and class-conscious
workers. To count classics from that viewpoint alone would, however, not make sense. The
conclusion the League for the Revolutionary Party - Sweden draws, is that the classics of
Marxism-Leninism are the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin. <>
by Joseph Green
11 Sept. 2003
. Thank you for your e-mail of 9 Sept. . . .
. And I also want to thank you again for sending us your resolution Back to the classics of Marxism-Leninism, which revises your past view of Trotsky and holds that he "cannot be held to be one of the classic teachers of Marxism-Leninism". I think it is very important that you have begun to re-examine your views of Trotsky's doctrines. I know that such reconsideration of strongly-held views is painful and difficult and takes a great deal of courage. In our history, we have also had to go through periods of reconsideration, and I have great respect for others who are determined to do the same. But I hope that your resolution marks, not the end of your theoretical work, but a new beginning. While I have a lot of differences with your resolution, and while I will express them at some length in the rest of this letter, I hope that this will contribute to an exchange of views. I hope to learn more about the history and activities of the FRP.
. We at Communist Voice believe that the struggle against revisionism is crucial for resolving the theoretical crisis of communism. If Marxism-Leninism is to become the banner of the world revolutionary proletariat again, it has to deal with the experience of the last century of the workers' movement and the outcome of the great revolutions of the 20th century. It has to advance theoretically, and it has to repudiate the distortions, apologies and lies set forward by the state-capitalist apologists who have spoken in the name of Marxism and socialism. And in our view, Trotskyism has proven itself to be, in large part, simply Stalinism in reverse: some different and opposing formulas, but often enough the same result. For example, both Stalinism and Trotskyism see state-ownership, even when the working class is not in control of the economy and the regime, as the criterion of socialism. Both Stalinism and Trotskyism have abandoned the class criterion in dealing with anti-imperialism, and Trotsky's attitude to Haile Selassie paralleled Stalin's attitude to the Emir of Afghanistan. Both Stalinism and Trotskyism have promoted an ugly, bureaucratic idea of party-building. Both Stalinism and Trotskyism have failed in dealing with such issues as the nature of the transitional economy, united front tactics, the attitude towards bourgeois-democratic movements, the nature of present-day imperialism, and the tasks needed for re-establishing an independent workers movement in a period of disorganization and despair. And so forth.
. I know that, while criticizing Trotsky's errors, you don't have the same view as us on the intimate relationship of Stalinism and Trotskyism. But I hope that the slogan of "Back to the classics" leads you to examine further the revolutionary framework set forward by Marx, Engels and Lenin, and to contrast it to the views and practices you have seen in the Trotskyist movement. Our experience, and our theoretical work, convinces us that the Marxist framework remains valid. At the same time, we believe that Lenin was right when he said that Marxism was not a final and completed theory, but had to be continually advanced. We must subject the Marxist-Leninist framework to new tests, and advance it, by dealing with such questions as the transitional economy, the nature of the state-capitalist regimes, the current problems of revolutionary work, etc.
. Your resolution expresses the fact that the FRP has started to look at the foundations of Trotskyism. You see various of the rightist errors committed by most Trotskyist trends. For example, your resolution denounces the slogan of "military, but not political support", by which the Trotskyists have defended various reactionary regimes. This is an important issue especially right now, as various Trotskyist trends including the LRP of the US rendered "military support" to Saddam Hussein's regime under this slogan. Your resolution opposes the Trotskyist practice of trailing behind social-democrats and reformists, and of sometimes even abandoning separate party organization through the practice of "entryism" into the reformist parties. It denounces the glorification of various state-capitalist regimes as "deformed or degenerated workers states". It notes that Trotsky couldn't see "social counterrevolution as anything else than the re-establishment of private property". And so on.
. Moreover, your resolution takes the important step of linking up some of these issues with Trotsky's own views. You don't say that all these rightist practices are simply errors of this or that organization, or misapplications of Trotsky's writings. Instead you trace errors back to Trotsky's own theorizing. This is a crucial step. And in this regard, your resolution thus punctures some of the myth-making of Trotskyist theorists. For example, the LPR of the US departs from Trotsky's view that capitalist restoration couldn't happen without privatizing the state sector. It recognizes that the Stalinist Soviet Union was "statified capitalism" (it's term for state-capitalism). But its theorist, Walter Daum, pretends that Trotsky talked about the possibility of Soviet state-capitalism, and misquotes Trotsky's writings to prove it. (See our review of Walter Daum's book The Life and Death of Stalinism at www.communistvoice.org/19cDaum.html. )
. Also, your resolution points out that you have criticized the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, and this was one of the issues that led you to break with the LRP of the US. Your resolution talks of "objectivist deviations". I'm not sure I know what you mean by this, although I might make a guess. But in any case, I think it's important that you have examined her theorizing critically. I agree with you that she is an important revolutionary, but there are problems with various of her theories. And I presume that, in criticizing her writings, you may have criticized certain views of "left communism".
. But, it sees to me, your resolution still embraces much of the left-phrasemongering foundation
of Trotsky's theories. When this foundation gives rise to rightist errors, you denounce those
rightist errors. But you are reluctant to directly oppose left-phrasemongering. You seem to be
afraid that to oppose left-phrasemongering is to be a rightist, a reformist, a social-democrat. As a
result, your resolution still upholds a number of "left communist" errors. It doesn't see how this
"left communist" framework, when applied to practical work, gives rise to the rightist errors that
The relation of reform struggles to revolutionary work
. For example, your resolution denounces Trotsky's Transitional Program, which was adopted as the program of the Trotskyist Fourth International at its foundation in 1938. Your aim is "to avoid rightist deviations which easily may lead to structural-reformist illusion-mongering". Thus you note various rightist consequences of the transitional program. But you share with Trotsky the disdain for the minimum program, and write that we must base ourselves "upon the communist program (the maximal program) only". You don't seem to see that the communist program embraces both the maximum and minimum programs. Instead, your resolution apparently would accept the Transitional Program if only it had confined itself to eliminating the minimum program. You write that "When Trotsky spoke of transcending the distinction between the old maximal and minimal programs, he did not mean to proceed from the maximal program and 'stretch out' to the level of day-to-day struggle, but rather to place himself in between. Thus, the Transitional Program does not replace only the old minimal program, but both the minimal and maximal programs. " And your resolution says that while there may be temporary demands and slogans, they "must link up with the maximal program and be drawn up in it. "
. You do have a valid point that Trotsky's Transitional Program replaces, to some extent, the maximum as well as the minimum program. Among the problems of the Trotskyist transitional program, is that various ordinary reforms were dressed up as revolutionary demands that went beyond the bounds of capitalism. Thus the Transitional Program obscured the nature of the revolution needed to really break away from capitalism. However, any attempt to eliminate the minimum program will inevitably result in either denouncing and boycotting reform struggles, or presenting them as inherently revolutionary and anti-capitalist light. Thus the "left communist" stand of denying the minimum program will eventually lead to problems similar to the Transitional Program. Indeed, while Trotsky's Transitional Program does obscure the real nature of the maximum program, its motivation was to deny the minimum program.
. Naturally Trotsky couldn't completely deny the minimum program, so he hedged. He wanted the Transitional Program to serve as a "bridge" between the minimum and maximum programs. Thus he didn't see that the real bridge between these programs was the overall development of the class struggle, socialist consciousness, and party organization. If the immediate struggles help build the class struggle and increase proletarian consciousness and organization, then they will help bring the revolution closer. This wasn't good enough for Trotsky, who wanted a guarantee that these struggles would always be revolutionary. But there are no such guarantees in politics. A mass revolutionary proletarian party can only arise out of the soil of innumerable struggles, but there is no guarantee that any particular period of struggle will give rise to a revolutionary mood among the masses, or to the establishment or growth of a proletarian party.
. Your resolution agrees with much of this Trotskyist framework on the transitional demands. It agrees with Trotsky in denouncing the minimum program. It disagrees with Trotsky in talking, not of a "bridge" between the minimum and maximum programs, but of "stretch(ing) out" the maximum program to "the level of day-to-day struggles". This phrase apparently goes further than Trotsky's in eliminating the minimum program in favor of the maximum program. But, in essence, there's not much of a difference between these two phrases, since the minimum program is presumably still there, now in the guise of "day-to-day struggles". So it doesn't really look like a disagreement in essence. The two concepts appear to be similar.
. But your resolution doesn't explain what this "stretch(ing) out" consists of. And perhaps we will
discuss this more in the future. But for now, it seems to me that while your resolution denounces
some of the rightist problems of the Trotskyist Transitional Program, it hasn't got beyond the
"left communist" errors that led Trotsky to the Transitional Program.
United front tactics
. Your resolution also has trouble dealing with united front tactics. Here again it opposes rightist stands of the Trotskyist movement, but is bogged down by some of the "left communist" baggage of this trend.
. On one hand, the resolution opposes a number of rightist practices which various Trotskyists defend as supposedly united front tactics. It opposes the Trotskyists trailing behind the social-democratic and reformist parties (and, we might add, the labor bureaucrats). This trailing behind the reformists sometimes takes the form of entryism, in which a Trotskyist trend liquidates its own party and forms a faction in a reformist party. This trailing may also take the form of the Trotskyists maintaining their own party, but providing political support for the reformists and the labor bureaucrats.
. But on the other hand, the resolution has a hard time dealing with the argument that this rightism is supposedly what Lenin recommended in 'Left-Wing' Communism, an Infantile Disorder (LWC). Your resolution reduces the issue of Lenin's recommendations to whether to vote for the British Labor Party in certain elections, and thus concludes that Lenin only talked about "very limited tactics". But the basic framework set forth by Lenin in LWC is of general value for the communist movement. Among other things, LWC helps establish the basis for what is elsewhere called united front tactics. It is only from the point of view of "left communism" that such issues can be shuffled aside as of minor and limited concern.
. In LWC Lenin stressed the role of the communist party, and he talked about how it is built up in the course of struggle. This is the diametrical opposite to Trotskyist entryism. And he showed how the communist party, while never abandoning its criticism of reformism, might support voting for some reformist candidates in certain circumstances. This was not out of the belief that the reformists were objectively progressive, but in circumstances where it might help the masses learn from their experience of the treachery of the reformists, and in LWC Lenin gave an example of such circumstances. This, too, is diametrically opposed to the attitude of many Trotskyist trends which create an attitude of expectation towards either the British Labor Party, or various pro-capitalist trade union bureaucrats, or other reformists.
. In essence, Lenin illustrated how proper united front tactics did not contradict general
communist tactics, but flowed from it. This is extremely important. Today we are faced with
providing a further elaboration of what united front tactics are. This work wasn't finished while
Lenin was alive, and the Communist International degenerated prior to solving this task. Indeed,
the Seventh Congress of the CI, which was devoted to united front tactics, set forward a
revisionist line. The orthodox Trotskyist view, which thinks it has solved the problem when it
denounces "popular fronts" in favor of "united fronts", is also bankrupt, and it is notable that the
Trotskyists have as many illusions about the social-democrats and pro-capitalist labor
bureaucrats as the Stalinists. We communists of today have to provide our own elaboration of
united front tactics, through study of the past, through consideration of our own experience, and
through consideration of the tasks of today, and through our own theoretical analysis. It's not that
these questions are simply subordinate and temporary issues, limited to this or that country or
time. They are among the key issues of communist strategy and tactics.
. Your resolution criticizes Trotsky's version of "permanent revolution". It finds it responsible for the Trotskyist prettification of various state-capitalist regimes. And the resolution says that it regards Trotsky's version of permanent revolution as "in the last analysis . . . a kind of rightist deviation".
. However, I wasn't quite sure what the resolution was saying on this question. I found this section of the resolution particularly hard to grasp, and I may have misunderstood your reasoning. Among other things, I wasn't sure what the resolution criticizes in the general Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. Most of the resolution's theoretical discussion on this issue seemed to be repeating the usual Trotskyist phrases. Aside from that, the resolution's main criticism seems to be that Trotsky wanted to "jump over" the bourgeois revolution, because that was the only way to establish workers' rule. But the resolution says that "workers' rule" can be "established even as the revolution was still in its bourgeois-democratic stage".
. It is true that Trotsky denigrated the concept of the bourgeois revolution. Nevertheless, Trotsky himself would say that the revolution would establish, not socialism, but the proletarian dictatorship, or workers' rule. He distinguished between workers' rule and "socialist government", on one hand, and socialism on the other. I think that he could say, as the resolution does, that "workers rule" could be "established even as the revolution was still in its bourgeois-democratic stage". At least, he would certainly say that the democratic revolution would lead to workers' rule.
. But that raises the question, doesn't the resolution itself "jump over" the bourgeois-democratic revolution by insisting that it will establish workers' rule? You may call it a bourgeois-democratic revolution, but is it?
. Indeed, your resolution talks of both the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the socialist revolution producing a workers rule, but not socialism, thus putting in doubt what difference you see between them. You say the democratic revolution only produces workers' rule, not socialism. But you also say the same thing about the socialist revolution. Thus, your resolution says that the October Revolution established workers' rule, but not socialism, and it criticizes Trotsky's "notion that the emancipation of the workers [in the Bolshevik revolution] is carried out with the soviet power taking over the means of production. " It is not clear to me what you are saying about the revolution of October 1917. But in any case, your resolution does appear to distinguish between the socialist revolution, and the actual construction of a socialist economy.
. Now, yes, it is true that the socialist revolution will not immediately produce a classless, fully socialist society, but instead ushers in a protracted transition period in which not only are the means of production taken away from the ownership and control of the former capitalist ruling class, but this is only the start of the transition. In the transition period, the working class increasingly develops its ability to run the economy, and to run it in a new way. Nevertheless, although the socialist revolution does not immediately bring a fully socialist society, it does usher in this transition process. The bourgeois-democratic revolution, on the contrary, clears the way for the further and more rapid growth of capitalist relations. The bourgeois-democratic revolution might, in some circumstances, be followed rapidly by a socialist revolution. But it brings a very different class alliance of forces to power. For the bourgeois-democratic revolution to go on to a socialist revolution, this alliance of forces will have to change. Thus even if the proletariat succeeds in leading the democratic revolution, and even if a workers party is a majority in a revolutionary-democratic government, there is still not a workers' rule in the full sense of word. There is a very big difference between the proletariat leading the working masses, when they are only are willing to fight for a democratic revolution, and leading the working masses in a fight for socialism. For example, the peasantry as a whole might support a democratic revolution, but the better-off peasants, and any other peasants who also still see their salvation in private agriculture, will not support a socialist revolution. If the peasantry as a whole allies with the revolutionary working class in a democratic revolution, this doesn't mean that it will continue to follow the working class right into the socialist revolution. The peasantry will split into different class sections, with different attitudes to the socialist movement. Something similar can take place among the urban petty-bourgeoisie as well. Trotsky obscures this change of class alliance between the democratic and socialist revolutions, and this is one of the major theoretical errors of his version of permanent revolution. Your resolution also obscures this.
. Your resolution also supports some other left-phrasemongering theses of Trotsky on these questions. For example, it denigrates the issue of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants, without entirely negating it. This is in line with how Trotsky deals with it throughout his writing on the theory of "permanent revolution". And your rationale also seems to be similar to one of his. Your resolution argues that since Lenin was not satisfied with the formula of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants in the period of transition to a socialist revolution, you conclude that this formula is suspect for the democratic revolution.
. Your resolution also seems to agree with Trotsky's theoretical framework by denouncing the idea that the character of a revolution is related to the basic economic structure of the society. You write that it is Stalinists and opportunists who "base their stage theories on the level-of-development of the productive forces etc. , the Leninist stage theory is based solely on which possibilities the relations-of-strength admit". But, it would seem to me, that the economic structure of society and the extent of development of the various classes is crucial for grasping the possible relations of strength. This would seem to be a basic point of Marxism, a point that was central to the theorizing of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. It is one thing to oppose reformist and false estimates of what's possible on the basis of a certain economic base, and another to deny the importance of the economic base.
. Your resolution also apparently denigrates the idea of alliances with revolutionary-democratic
trends as "kneel(ing) before petty-bourgeois leaderships" or as the "anti-imperialist united front".
But the resolution doesn't discuss what it means by an "anti-imperialist united front", nor does it
give a general view on the issue of alliances. So I don't know whether you are simply opposing
various mistaken alliances or alliances in general. In any case, I will leave further consideration
of this issue aside for now.
Reducing matters to slogans
. In general, it seems to me that the resolution often reduces matters to brief slogans, like for or against "stage-ism", "socialism in one country", and "the anti-imperialist united front". As a result, I often found it hard to understand what your resolution was saying on a number of issues, and what your reasoning is. Maybe your resolution was simply abbreviating your thinking on these matters for the sake of brevity. But I think that, in order to fight the theoretical errors of Trotskyism, one has to avoid the sloganeering legacy of Trotskyism. The basic theoretical framework of Trotskyist politics tends to become reduced to brief formulas, which are analyzed on the basis that such and such a person or trend supported them, rather than looking deeply into the class issues involved.
. Both your letter and your resolution raise the issue of "socialism in one country". You call this concept revisionist. But you don't describe what this thesis is. Since you are re-examining and criticizing Trotsky, I would not assume that you are just repeating Trotsky's views on this question. So, to understand your views, I need to know what you mean on this question. What is it that you don't believe can take place in a single country, or perhaps anything short of the entire world, and what do you think can take place in a single country? Do you believe that there can be socialist revolution in one country? Do you believe that there can be workers' rule in one country? Is it acceptable for a country moving towards socialism to call itself socialist, or was it revisionist for Russia to ever call itself a union of soviet *socialist* republics? Is the issue only whether full socialism can be achieved in one country or in one group of countries?
. Your resolution raises that "Trotsky's perhaps most advanced theoretical positions are to be found in his critique of the nucleus of modern revisionism -- the theory of 'socialism in one country' -- and its implication for the world communist movement". In this regard, you praise his long article of 1928 The Third International After Lenin and say it remains unsurpassed.
. The Third International After Lenin is supposed to be an assessment of the program for the Communist International that was adopted soon after at the Sixth Comintern Congress. This program sought to give a comprehensive exposition of the strategy and tactics of the communist movement, from the colonial countries, to the advanced capitalist countries, to the Soviet Union, and so on. How can this be reduced to the implications of the slogan "socialism in one country"? I apologize for my bluntness, but I think this is ludicrous. For example, when one is dealing with how to carry out united front tactics, what alliances are acceptable and what aren't, what attitude to take to the national liberation movement, what is prospect for the development of various classes, it doesn't help one to say that Stalinism is wrong because it believes in "socialism in one country", and we're right because we don't. It doesn't get one a step closer to knowing the correct position. The controversy over "socialism in one country" could refer to certain definite issues, but it couldn't explain every issue under the sun.
. However, I think that your resolution has accurately caught the spirit of the article The Third International After Lenin when it describes it as centering on the issue of "socialism in one country". But one of the reasons that Trotsky tends to reduce politics to this or that slogan, is that it obscures the weaknesses of his views. This article is lengthy and says a lot to justify Trotsky's past formulas, to review past controversies, to refight old battles, but it is difficult to get definite views from it about strategy and tactics in themselves. For example, the article says a lot about China. But in fact, he didn't have much idea about what should be done next in China, or how the struggle should be waged in the colonial and semi-colonial world. This is the background to his remarkable blunders about China and Ethiopia in the 1930s.
. Proceeding to another issue concerning slogans, your resolution writes that "the very concept of 'permanent revolution' derives from Marx and was put forward already in 1850". This, I believe, is a claim generally made by Trotskyists. And it's true that Marx and Engels used the term "permanent revolution" in their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League in March 1850. But the analysis of the bourgeois-democratic revolution that they gave is opposite to that of Trotsky's version of "permanent revolution". It is only because the Trotskyist movement reduces politics to a slogan, that it can take the fact that Marx and Engels used the term "permanent revolution" as a source of Trotsky's theory. The same words are used, so the Trotskyists don't have to look at what Marx and Engels actually said. Even a brief look at the alliances suggested by Marx and Engels in Part IV of the Communist Manifesto would reveal the great gulf between their views on democratic revolution and those of the Trotskyist version of permanent revolution.
. Moreover, in their article on "permanent revolution", Marx and Engels didn't describe the democratic revolutions of that time as led by the workers; they expected that victory over the old oppressors would result temporarily in the rule of bourgeois-democratic forces. They looked toward the proletariat taking state power as the last act of the revolutionary drama, when the struggle against the new bourgeois-democratic governments had replaced the struggle against the old oppressors. Marx and Engels weren't advocating that there were the same class alliances in the democratic revolution and the struggle for workers' rule, but stressed the change in alliances that would take place. They called for the proletariat to prepare in advance by forming its own party in the midst of the democratic revolution. This is the basic point of Marx and Engels' article. Thus the last point of the last paragraph, which ends up in the demand for permanent revolution, was that the workers must form "an independent party as soon as possible".
. True, back in March 1850 Marx and Engels expected that the revolutionary wave that began in
1848 would continue until the workers took state power and began the transition to socialism.
But Engels wrote later, in reference to this expectation, that "History has proved us, and all who
thought like us, wrong. It has made it clear that the state of economic development on the
Continent at that time was not, by a long way, ripe for the elimination of capitalist production; it
has proved this by the economic revolution which, since 1848, has seized the whole of the
Continent. . . . it is just this industrial revolution which has everywhere produced clarity in class
relations . . . " (Engels' introduction to the 1895 edition of Marx's The Class Struggles in France,
1848 to 1850. See the Selected Works of Marx and Engels in Three Volumes, Vol. I, pp. 191-2)
Here Engels refers to the importance of the level of economic development, in contrast to the
"left communist" theorizing that regards this as irrelevant. Also note that, although Marx and
Engels' hopes for the continuation of the revolution were dashed by history, yet the same history
verified the revolutionary tactics set forth by them in the Communist Manifesto for the
revolutions of 1848-49, and also verified their conclusion in their article of 1850 that the
proletariat must form an independent party. Thus, aside from the fact that their conception of
how the bourgeois revolution would be superseded by the socialist revolution differed from the
Trotskyist version of "permanent revolution", the core of Marx and Engels' tactics in the
democratic revolution wasn't the prediction that the revolutions would immediately continue to
the socialist stage.
Back to the classics
. Your resolution calls for a return to the teachings of the classics of Marxism-Leninism. To do this, you will have to go beyond the simple slogans "stage-ism", "socialism in one country", etc. , and look at the analysis given by Marx, Engels, and Lenin on various political questions. This has to be done much more seriously and comprehensively than it is done in Trotskyist literature. It requires examining revolutionary strategy and tactics not mainly to deal with who was right in the disputes of such and such a moment, but dealing with the main principles underlying social development and revolutionary tactics.
. Moreover, you have to go beyond the factional justifications and special pleading that appear in so much of Trotsky's writings. Your resolution seems to display a knowledge mainly of some basic controversies among Trotskyists, and there is a larger and broader world in the left than this. It is necessary not just to readjust some of his arguments, but to examine what the experience of the revolutionary movement of the last century has been, and to examine non-Trotskyist theorizing.
. However, it's possible that I have misunderstood some of the points you made in your
resolution. If so, I'm sorry. As I have remarked above, I found it hard to see what some of the
points were. I would welcome learning what you actually meant on unclear points. In any case, I
have put forward the points above in the hope that it would lead to more discussion. I look
forward to further contact and discussion with the FRP. And I appreciate the importance you
have given to looking into these matters of revolutionary theory, and your determination to
persevere even at the cost of the loss of some of your former friends.
Joseph Green <>
. Thank you for the comments on our resolution (and the corrections). As you pointed out, there are weaknesses in our stands; we are working on a reply, which will take some time, but for the moment we would just like to confirm that the resolution is the starting-point, not and end, i. e. it serves to initiate a process of anti-revisionist critique. It is also true that parts of it has got a rather "internal Trotskyist" character, referring to formulas and concepts which have a certain meaning in that context, but which otherwise becomes obscure. We are going to explain these things. As for your possible misunderstanding, we think you have misunderstood only one thing, namely, our position on Lenin's formula "the democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants", which we believe was correct and in many cases still applicable; we expressed ourselves in a rather unclear way about that. However, we are going to explain that, too.
. For now, allow us to express our conviction that this will be a very useful discussion.
With communist regards,
18 Sept. 2003
Dear Communist Voice,
. We agree that you publish everything that you consider to be of value -- both the resolution itself and things from our correspondence. Indeed, if you would publish our critique of Trotsky, it would hopefully stimulate debates and the necessary re-thinking of much that is being taken for granted in the Trotskyist milieu. . .
With communist regards,
Last modified: October 16, 2003.