by Joseph Green
(CV #34, August 25, 2004)
--The search for an anti-imperialist dictator
-- The French revolution that wasn't
-- World War II would bring either world revolution or world totalitarianism
-- The supposed capitulation of the Chinese communists to Chiang Kai-shek
-- No intermediate trends
-- The abstract hypothetical
Disregard for party-building
-- Denigration of committee-members
-- Trotsky as disciplinarian
-- The history of the proletarian party
-- The International Left Opposition and the Fourth International
The cult of pure administration
-- The preconditions of centralism
-- The statization of the trade unions
TOC for all four parts
Links to Part 1, 2, 3, & 4.
. The Trotskyist groups claim to be Leninist and anti-imperialist. But in reality, they follow a revisionist theory which tramples on the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and has much in common with Stalinism. If Marxist communism is again to be the banner of the revolutionary proletariat, it is necessary to distinguish between revisionism, such as Stalinism and Trotskyism, and revolutionary Marxism. Part one of this survey of Trotskyist theory appeared in Communist Voice for December 2002 and dealt with the theory of "permanent revolution", Trotsky's version of the "transitional program", and his denigration of the right to national self-determination and of anti-fascist struggle. Part two, in Communist Voice for March 2004, dealt with "socialism in one country" and the nature of the transition to socialism.
. Trotsky's writing was spicy. He frequently backed his views by referring to mass upsurges and revolutions--that, however, never took place. He often wrote of the great things that would have happened, if only his prescriptions had been followed. It sounded great, but how was he sure about all this? In fact, his assessments were often mere guesses, and were sometimes ludicrous. They were illustrations of how things would have to work if his formulas were correct, not serious studies of the concrete situations he was supposedly talking about. It gave a shiny, superficial revolutionary sheen to his writing, but it was a revolutionism that trailed off into fantasy.
. Nor would Trotsky go back and correct his theory when his predictions turned out to be wrong.
He would just make more predictions. He would ignore his own blunders, or blame his followers
for the consequences of his own errors. This allowed him to live in a world of great events which
seemed always to be on the verge of happening, and just never seemed to actually happen. And it
led to his mistaken assessments and fantasies becoming models of Trotskyist reasoning down to
The search for an anti-imperialist dictator
. Trotsky, as all progressive people should have, opposed the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the mid-30s and supported the Ethiopian side of this war, but he mistakenly identified the cause of the Ethiopian people with the fate of the late absolutist ruler of Ethiopia, the emperor Haile Selassie. In an article of April 22, 1936, he wrote that the issue was "making a choice between two dictators [Mussolini and Selassie--JG]". He waxed enthusiastic about Selassie, comparing him to revolutionary heroes of the past, and bubbled with excitement that "the victory of the Negus [the Ethiopian emperor--JG] . . . would mean a mighty blow not only at Italian imperialism but at imperialism as a whole". He had no doubt about this. Said Trotsky, one must be "completely blind" to fail to be inspired by this prospect.
. Apparently Selassie and his royal entourage must have been among the blind people Trotsky was referring to. On May 2, 1936, just a week and a half after Trotsky called on the working class movement to choose between dictators and back Selassie, the supposed revolutionary emperor fled Ethiopia, leaving the Ethiopian people to continue fighting fascist occupation on their own, as they in fact did. Ethiopia was never fully pacified. But as for Selassie, it wasn't until 1941-2 that, side by side with a British force, his troops would reenter Ethiopia. Far from Selassie striking a blow at world imperialism, Western imperialism propped him back up on the throne.
. Trotsky's vision about Ethiopia sounded very revolutionary. He dazzled his readers with talk of the revolutions of the past, and the prospect of striking a blow at world imperialism as a whole. But it was a guess, not an analysis based on the internal situation in Ethiopia, and it was utterly at variance with the facts about the Ethiopian empire. Underneath the revolutionary sheen of Trotsky's verbiage, he was, in fact, taking a conservative stand, indulging in a conservative fantasy, because he ignored the need to build up an Ethiopian resistance movement independent of Selassie.
. But the story doesn't end here. Although Selassie fled Ethiopia, Trotsky never looked back. He
never admitted his error, never discussed what had led him to make this error, and never referred
to what was actually happening in Ethiopia. Instead, Trotsky's letter was circulated in the
Trotskyist movement, and became a model for how Trotskyists should approach the
anti-imperialist movement. Under the title "On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo", it appeared in
the June 1, 1936 issue of the American Trotskyist journal The New International. It became a
Trotskyist classic. The American SWP's Pathfinder Press included this article in its collection of
Trotsky's writings published in the 1970s. But, although the editors of this collection included
footnotes and explanatory material and occasionally discussed difficult points in Trotsky's
works, they didn't bother mentioning that Selassie had fled Ethiopia. They weren't embarrassed
by the contradiction between Trotsky's assessment of the struggle in Ethiopia and what actually
happened; they just swept it under the rug. (1)
The French revolution that wasn't
. Excited by the huge strike wave that broke out after the Popular Front won the national election of 1936 in France, Trotsky argued that the socialist revolution had begun. So said his article "The Revolution Has Begun" of June 9, 1936, which concluded that events were "heading towards a climax. . . . The choice lies between the greatest of all historical victories [proletarian revolution] and the most ghastly of defeats [fascism]." This can be found at the end of his 1936 pamphlet Whither France, containing articles from November 1934 to June 9, 1936 that argued that "henceforth remains the choice only between Fascism and the proletarian revolution", and that this choice was going to be made soon. But history records neither a socialist revolution nor a fascist regime in mid-1930s France.
. France did face the real possibility of a fascist takeover in the mid-1930s. But although workers mobilized in large numbers against fascism, they were not ready to, or in a position to, carry out a proletarian revolution. Trotsky couldn't deal with this situation. Instead he tried to prove that there was no immediate alternative but socialism or fascism. When reality refused to conform to his writing, he blithely blamed everyone else, including his own supporters as well as the reformists and Stalinists. On June 5, 1936 he denounced some French Trotskyists for having believed, since the outbreak of the major political crisis of February 1934, that the revolution "would take place 'tomorrow,'" and hence seeking "to perform some sort of miracle" and engaging in "adventures and zigzags that have retarded in the extreme the growth of the revolutionary movement". But at the same time, he himself spurred them on to continue to believe that the revolution would indeed come tomorrow; it was only several days later, on June 9, 1936, that he announced that the revolution was here.
. Trotsky never admitted that he had misjudged the situation. He insisted that he had always been
right because, in his view, there would have been revolution in June 1936 if only the French
workers had had "revolutionary leadership". Indeed, the revolution would supposedly have been
accomplished almost effortlessly. Meanwhile he quietly shelved his claim that France had faced
either proletarian revolution or fascism, rather than explaining why it had proven wrong; he
never considered which of the tactics and slogans he put forward were therefore also wrong; and
he never looked into whether it was his views that had spurred his followers into "adventures and
zigzags" in the search for "some sort of miracle". As a result, later Trotskyists have continued to
take Whither France as a model for dealing with mass upsurges. (2)
World War II would bring either world revolution or world totalitarianism
. Trotsky also predicted that World War II would bring either world revolution or the replacement of all bourgeois-democratic regimes with totalitarian ones. This was behind his declaration in 1940 that the current issue for the world was "either socialism or slavery", and "today it is a question of saving mankind from suicide". The choice was to take place quickly, and he stressed that the "great tasks" of the revolution "loom directly before us in the next two or three years, and even sooner". (3)
. Moreover, Trotsky was confident that the outcome would be socialism, because, among other things, the Trotskyist movement was supposedly infinitely more powerful than the left-wing socialists at the time of World War One. He wrote that, "The Fourth International in numbers and especially in preparation possesses infinite advantages over its predecessors at the beginning of the last war [World War One]. " But, Trotsky wrote in 1939, if the revolution should somehow fail to materialize, this would mean "the replacement of democracy wherever it still remained by a totalitarian regime". Moreover, it would mean that the "socialist program" was at fault, and Marxism would have to be replaced with "a new 'minimum' program . . . the defense of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society. "(4)
. World War II did usher in a series of revolutions and major changes. But this historic shake-up created a world far different from Trotsky's grandiose predictions. The result of World War II was neither world socialist revolution nor world totalitarianism. Bourgeois democracy, reformism, and intermediate forces of all types, far from being wiped up, remained important parts of the world political scene; and they are still with us to this day. Western Europe, for example, saw the beginning of a new reformist wave. And the pace of the world changes made a mockery of Trotsky's perspective. Instead of a quick revolutionary consummation in two or three years, there were protracted struggles, including the collapse of the old colonial system. World War II itself lasted until 1945, and the related revolutions and liberation struggles continued on long afterwards; for example, Chiang Kai-shek in China was finally overthrown four years later, in 1949, while the independence struggle in Vietnam continued till the mid-1970s.
. And what about Trotsky's prediction about the role of the Fourth International? Compared to the revolutionary socialists of World War I, the Trotskyists during World War II were infinitely less in numbers, contact with the masses, or activity. The Fourth International played no significant role in the revolutionary movements during the war; it was a minuscule fraction of the socialist movement of that time, deeply split ideologically and in decline; and its major achievement was simply to survive the Stalinist murder of Trotsky and the agony of the war.
. Trotsky's predictions were based simply on repeating his old formulas, which couldn't envision
any type of struggle but that for immediate socialist revolution. It is not Marxism, but
Trotskyism, which should have been discarded as a result of the experience of World War II.
And as to his talk of the great role the Fourth International would play, this was mere fantasy and
The supposed capitulation of the Chinese communists to Chiang Kai-shek
. While pretending that the Fourth International was a major force, Trotsky repeatedly denounced the Chinese Red Army and Communist Party. In his view, these were spent forces. So he was contemptuous of their struggle against Japanese fascist invasion. According to him, with proper revolutionary leadership, the Japanese invasion could have been defeated in a mere year or two, and he wrote "This war, now nearing its third anniversary, might long since have been finished by a real catastrophe for Japan" if it had been conducted properly. As usual, he gave no reason for this optimistic assessment, other than his belief that revolution would immediately sweep China and, posthaste, set the "Japanese soldiery aflame with its blaze". But, he claimed, this didn't happen because the united front tactics used by the Maoists had put them "in bondage" to Chiang Kai-shek, the Kuomintang, and the Chinese bourgeoisie. This, in his view, was why the war lasted more than a couple of years, and why the Chinese struggle was supposedly being crushed. (5)
. In fact, Trotsky sneered at the gigantic struggle unfolding in China because it didn't fit his formulas. He dreamed of the quick, shiny, ever-victorious onslaught, which existed only in his rhetoric, and closed his eyes to the need for protracted, difficult, and circuitous struggles such as the then-ongoing one in China. A beautiful fantasy, or protracted work mobilizing the actual mass forces in China, it was clear which Trotsky considered more revolutionary.
. Moreover, while Chinese communist strategy had its problems, it was absurd to say that the
Maoists had capitulated to the bourgeoisie. The Maoists led a revolution that would eventually
overthrow Chiang Kai-shek regime in 1949. They weren't enslaved to the old bourgeoisie, but
they were building up the strength to overthrow it. True, they ended up building, not a socialist
country, but a state-capitalist one, and they eventually replaced the old bourgeoisie with a
state-capitalist bourgeoisie. But as Trotsky not only denied that the Stalinist Soviet Union was
state-capitalist, but denied the very possibility that there could be a state-capitalist regime and
new bourgeoisie, his theories are useless in dealing with the errors and eventual tragedy of the
No intermediate trends
. Trotsky repeated denied the existence of intermediate political trends, to say nothing of the importance for revolutionary tactics of dealing with them. His theory was that, for example, the peasants could only follow either the revolutionary proletarian or the counterrevolutionary bourgeois policy, and so their specific class politics could be ignored. He would, for example, deny the existence of a non-socialist democratic revolutionary movement among the peasantry, saying that it wasn't a fully or genuinely independent trend, by which he meant a trend capable of pushing aside the proletariat and overthrowing the bourgeoisie by itself. This way of defining the specific class characteristics of peasant politics out of existence gave rise to many absurd assessments. (6)
. In the 1905 revolution in Russia, not just the workers, but the peasants rose up in a powerful revolutionary wave. They burnt down many landlord estates, peasant soldiers refused to obey tsarist officers in the army, and peasants organized their own congresses and councils. Yet Trotsky's major work on "permanent revolution" of 1906, Results and Prospects, was based on such assessments as that "that the peasantry are absolutely incapable of taking up an independent political role. "(7)
. It's not that Trotsky completely ignored peasant action. In his book 1905, written in 1908-9, chapter 17, "Peasant Riots", was devoted to the peasant movement. It gave a description of the peasant movement and even discussed the two national peasant congresses held in latter 1905. But what did he conclude from this? With a huge movement controlled by no other class, their own national gatherings, and their own political groupings, didn't this mean that the peasants had their own class trend? Not for Trotsky. He was dramatic and vivid where he pointed to the quaint peasant features of the congresses, but vague about peasant politics. Thus he wrote that "In a folkloric sense this [the Second Congress of the peasants union in Nov., 1905] was one of the revolution's most interesting gatherings; one saw many picturesque characters, provincial 'naturals,' spontaneous revolutionaries who had 'thought it all out for themselves,' village politicians with passionate temperaments and even more passionate hopes, but with rather confused ideas." And he couldn't resist giving "a few profile sketches" of these peculiar characters. But as to peasant politics, he was blind. He could see that the most progressive peasants, while diffuse and vague in their politics, were "adopting a revolutionary course". And perhaps he implied that they were simply following the proletariat when he cited peasant resolutions in favor of proceeding in agreement with workers and of the possibility of a general agrarian strike. But he couldn't see the emergence of a peasant trend which strove to put its own class features on the revolution. That's presumably why the chapter's title is simply "Peasant Riots". And then in chapter 22, "Summing Up", he hardly mentioned the peasant movement. (8)
. Again and again, Trotsky would wave aside the significance of the intermediate political trends and declare that they were going to vanish. Thus in Nov. 1934 he declared confidently that "Whatever path events take in France, Radicalism [the name of the liberal party in France] will disappear from the scene, rejected and dishonored by the petty bourgeoisie which it has definitely betrayed. " The masses following the Radicals, said Trotsky, were hesitating before deciding what to do. "This situation of hesitation, of irresolution, will not, however, last for years, but for months. "(9)
. Needless to say, the Radicals didn't disappear, nor did the political situation resolve itself in a mere matter of months.
. Unfazed by this, several years later Trotsky was again predicting the demise of the intermediate forces, this time in the coming war, World War II. This was part of his reason for believing that this war would give rise rapidly to revolution, in a mere couple of years. But in fact, despite the discrediting of the European bourgeoisie of many countries during the war, intermediate political forces continued to exist. Left-wing partisan movements in France, Italy and elsewhere had to contend with bourgeois-democratic trends of various types, both revolutionary and conservative, and the partisan movements themselves fought on democratic issues that the Trotskyists were skeptical of.
The abstract hypothetical
. Sometimes Trotsky's fantasies were expressed in his fondness for the rhetorical device of the abstract hypothetical question that omitted the concrete circumstances of the situation envisioned. He speared his opponent-of-the-moment with questions like "What if a dictator like Haile Selassie emerged at the head of the Indian struggle for independence?" He posed such problems as "What if British imperialism attacked the Vargas dictatorship in Brazil?" These questions were supposed to have easy and obvious answers. Anyone who tried to deal with these questions on Trotsky's terms would be forced to descend into his world, where politics and events always followed Trotsky's script, as that was assumed in the hypothetical question, and their consequences thus always turned out to be exactly what Trotsky said they were. (10)
. Trotsky generally left out the context to his hypothetical events. For example, when he painted the picture of an emperor like Haile Selassie being the leader of the Indian independence movement, he didn't bother to ask what situation in India could give rise to this, and what it would mean for the Indian struggle. Nor had he investigated the class and political background that gave rise to the empire and absolutist tyranny in Ethiopia; indeed, his hypothetical question was supposed to replace such investigation. But Ethiopia was an empire; India was a colony. Ethiopia lacked any significant proletariat; India, although a colony, was far more developed than Ethiopia and had a sizeable proletariat. Selassie's tyranny and oppression of non-Amharic nationalities had given rise to opposition among Ethiopians; there was a variety of class forces involved in the struggle in India. It would make sense to examine the different political forces in India, and what fate they had in store for India, but Trotsky's hypothetical actually detracted from that, with its implication that it didn't matter what force was at the head of the Indian liberation movement, and hence that any force could lead the resistance to Italian aggression in Ethiopia. Trotsky's hypothetical invited one to view things without their material or class background; one was supposed to reason simply from the abstract ideas of a revolutionary tyrant and a struggle for independence. This was supposed to be sufficient to allow one to formulate an anti-imperialist policy towards Ethiopia.
. Trotsky taught this method to his followers. In the real world, Trotsky's theorizing -- and his
mechanical rules -- again and again clashed with the events taking place. His followers learned
to ignore this in their own theorizing. Thus his fantasy about Selassie is still raised today by
Trotskyists who are arguing over whether to back a reactionary regime if only it is in conflict
with a stronger power.
. It may seem strange to talk about Trotsky's non-partyism. He was a leader of the Russian
Communist Party, and later founded the "Fourth International" of Trotskyist parties. He talked
about the need for the "revolutionary leadership" of the working class. But when one examines
his activity, it turns out that he had little to say about the process of party-building. He saw the
party as a tool he could use to accomplish this or that aim, and he would fight for the leadership
of existing parties, but he didn't care much about the process of building up the party. Moreover,
he championed a series of views that denigrated the importance of the party, presenting it as a
force supposedly holding back the self-activity and initiative of the revolutionary masses.
. From when he broke with Lenin at the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) in 1903 until he reversed himself and joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, Trotsky was a bitter opponent of Leninist views on party-building. One of the first slogans he raised against Lenin in 1903 was "substitutionalism": he cursed Lenin as a dictator and declared that the idea of a centralized party amounted to substituting the activity of the party for that of the working class as a whole. Trotsky appealed to the "self-activity" and spontaneity of the working class; he held that a disciplined, centralized party would crush the self-activity and even the very thinking of the masses, and be a dictator over the workers and even over the party members themselves. He thus counterposed the building of a centralized party to the spontaneity of the masses, and to certain mass organizations that he believed would incorporate proletarian self-activity.
. Similarly, he opposed the idea of fostering socialist consciousness in the class because this meant going against some of the spontaneous tendencies that arise among rebellious workers. This was part of the reason for his bitter attack on Lenin's pamphlet What Is To Be Done? It's true, of course, that class oppression drives the working class to struggle and makes it sympathetic to the demand for change. But the consciousness even of a rebellious class is bound by the fashionable ideas of its time, unless it consciously organizes itself to develop revolutionary theory and to apply it to the problems of the working class struggle. Revolutionary theory naturally must be tested against the experience of the mass movement and the class struggle, but this testing includes whether it can distinguish between the good and the bad tendencies that arise in the spontaneous movement, generalizing and promoting the positive tendencies and fighting the negative tendencies. For example, there has always had to be a conscious struggle against the ideology of pure-and-simple trade unionism in order to develop a political workers movement, moreover a revolutionary one, and today there also has to be a conscious struggle against the almost-universally held idea of the socialist nature of Stalinist state-capitalist society if communism is going to arise again as the banner of mass proletarian revolt. The consistent carrying out of such a conscious struggle requires the building of a consistently revolutionary party, which itself does not arise simply by spontaneity. But Trotsky demagogically attacked the need to go beyond spontaneity as the advocacy of dictatorship over the working class, and wrote, in his bitter attacks on Lenin in 1904, that "the development of bourgeois society leads the proletariat spontaneously to take shape politically". (11)
. Although Trotsky changed his mind on centralism when he joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, "substitutionalism" has continued down to the present to be a favorite theme of Trotskyist theorizing on the party. This concept is interpreted in different ways by different Trotskyist trends, but it leads them all to skepticism about party-building.
. Now, no doubt, there are more than enough examples of parties that have oppressed the masses, sometimes with great violence and savagery. Any party which has oppressed the masses in the name of serving their interests might be called "substitutionalist". The problem with Trotskyist theorizing isn't the term "substitutionalism" in and of itself. It's one of many terms that might be used to describe the oppressive behavior of certain parties, organizations, and institutions. But Trotsky used the term to hold that a revolutionary party would inevitably be oppressive, simply because it was a disciplined or well-organized party.
. Trotsky seemed to have felt that his views about organization were verified by the Russian revolution of 1905 and, in particular, by the emergence of the Soviets. Neither the Bolsheviks nor the Mensheviks nor any other party had foreseen the Soviets, which could thus be regarded as a creation of the self-activity of the masses. Moreover, no single party came to the head of the Soviets, but instead the various factions and parties cooperated. Trotsky held that, indeed, Soviet decisions were simply obvious and beyond party. As he wrote: "From the hour it came into being until the hour it perished, the [1905 St. Petersburg] Soviet stood under the mighty, elemental pressure of the revolution, which most unceremoniously forestalled the work of political consciousness. " And, he said, "Its 'tactics' were obvious. The methods of struggle did not have to be discussed; there was hardly any time to formulate them."(12) Moreover, Trotsky himself played a prominent role in the St. Petersburg Soviet, which, in his view, made him essentially the leader of the revolution and made his personal activity far more important than the influence of mere party organizations on the revolutionary movement.
. There is no doubt of the tremendous importance for the revolution of the spontaneous movement in general, and of the Soviets in 1905 in particular. But Trotsky's viewpoint was one-sided. Without the previously achieved level of party organization among the masses, the St. Petersburg Soviet and other Soviets would have been hamstrung from the beginning. Moreover, had the St. Petersburg Soviet lasted more than 50 days, it would soon had found differences among the different proletarian forces as to how to proceed, as the Soviets in 1917 did. Trotsky ignored the whole range of party work necessary if the Soviets were to play their revolutionary role, and glossed over the political complexities of the Soviets themselves.
. Trotsky was influenced in his anti-organizational views by the stand of a number of socialist leaders in Germany, Austria and Poland. His view of party organization was particularly close to that of Rosa Luxemburg. Luxemburg stressed the role of the mass strike and revolutionary mass action in opposition to the growing conservatism of much of the German socialist leadership. She was no doubt right in this. But she saw the growing conservatism as the inevitable result of party organization, thus denigrating party organization rather than seeking to build up truly revolutionary organization. Moreover she thought that the conservative party leaders would be forced, at the moment of crisis, to go along with the revolution by the spontaneous mass upsurge. This too denigrated the need to build up revolutionary organization. And her views on organization were widespread in the left-wing of the German socialist movement.
. This view of the party was reflected in the way the Social-Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPL), in which Luxemburg did much of her work, was organized. The leadership of the SDKPL was informal; the leaders weren't too concerned about organizational matters; and they weren't bound by holding definite posts. One of her serious biographers, J. P. Nettl, claims that
"At some stage a formal party decision was reached that she should not concern herself with organizational matters at all, that she should not participate in any of the official conferences or congresses; in public, at least, Rosa Luxemburg ceased from 1901 to have any official standing in the party at all! Not that she relinquished for one moment her say in matters of importance. On the contrary, she continued to formulate the party's strategy and much of its tactics, and it was her pen that provided the vivid and uncompromising presentation of its case. . . . And nothing shows more clearly the orientation of the SDKPiL as a pressure group, exercising influence on other parties rather than power in its own back-yard. "(13)
. This system meant that the leaders of the SDKPL weren't bound by any discipline. However, the members of the SDKPL were bound by decisions taken by these leaders -- at least to a certain extent. It seems that "Central control [in the SDKPL] was loose enough to permit those whose ideas on organization differed from the elite consensus to do what they pleased in their particular territory." So long as the SDKPL leadership didn't have to worry about it, a local region might be organized along strictly centralized lines or loose lines, as the local leadership might see fit. (14)
. Luxemburg and some other prominent SDKPL leaders also worked in the left-wing of the
German Social-Democracy, and their theories on spontaneity reinforced similar tendencies
among other German leftists. The result of this denigration of party organization was that the
German left found itself at a loss during World War I. The official Social-Democratic Party
wasn't rejuvenated by the crisis; on the contrary, its leadership utterly capitulated to the
chauvinism of the German bourgeoisie. It was necessary for the German Lefts to decisively
separate from the opportunist leaders and to build their own party organization. They weren't
prepared for dealing with this, and this hindered their struggle a great deal.
Denigration of committee-members
. From the start, Trotsky's slogan of substitutionalism was connected to the suspicion he raised about "committee-men" in general. The committee-people were those who took part in the underground and illegal committees of the RSDLP. Trotsky found the source of conservatism and substitutionalism in the party in the full-time revolutionary workers on the committees and in the committees themselves. Trotsky recognized that it was indispensable to have some committees, and hence committee-people, but Trotsky denigrated what could be expected from the committees. Now, no doubt there is no guarantee that committee-people will have proper views. They are subject to the same struggle of views that the revolutionary movement as a whole is subject to. But Trotsky found the source of wrong views among committee-people to reside precisely in their being committee-people.
. The denigration of the committee-people, however, is denigration of work to build up the structure of the party. It is impossible to build up a strong, stable proletarian party without the utmost effort to the building up of party committees. It takes effort to learn how to connect these committees to the masses, and to train revolutionary workers and activists so that they know how to run committees.
. Trotsky, however, presented his denigration of committee-people as if it were a defense of rank-and-file supporters of the party from the leadership. But this is not so. At the same time as he began to curse Lenin and deprecate committee-men, he defended the right for certain leaders to have a permanent position in the party no matter what their current political stands and activities. Indeed, he first broke with Lenin at the Second Congress of the RSDLP precisely over who would be on the editorial board of the Party's main journal. He was fond of various of the major figures of the Party leadership and felt that they should be above judgments by the Congress. He told the Congress that it had "neither the moral nor the political right to refashion the editorial board". (15) In his autobiography Trotsky wrote
"In 1903, the whole point at issue was nothing more than Lenin's desire to get Axelrod and Zasulitch off the editorial board. My attitude toward them was full of respect, and there was an element of personal affection as well. . . . My whole being seemed to protest against this merciless cutting off of the older ones. . . "(16)
. Now, Axelrod and Zasulich were not underground committee-people in Russia. They had
worked abroad on Iskra, the party journal, and they were not involved in organizational work in
Russia. Trotsky thus defended part of the top party leadership from a Congress where mere
committee-people and other delegates could have a say about its work. He didn't invent some
plan whereby the masses of the workers could spontaneously judge who should be on the
editorial board. Instead, his denigration of committee-people went along with his advocacy that
the top leadership of the party would be free from any discipline whatsoever to the whole party.
Trotsky as disciplinarian
. When Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, he changed his views on party organization. As a leader of Bolsheviks, he became a zealous partisan of centralism. Indeed, he became not only a centralist, but a notoriously heavy-handed one, so much so that his enthusiastic biographer Isaac Deutscher describes him repeated as a "disciplinarian", indeed as "one of the sternest disciplinarians". (17) Discipline is important in a revolutionary party, but Trotsky may have been something of a martinet. And this was true not just within the party, but in his attitude to the relation of the masses to the party. He could--and did--take centralism to an ugly extreme, as in the trade union controversy of 1920 where he wanted to rebuild the trade unions as institutions that imposed the state's views on the workers rather than representing the views of their members.
. It wasn't until several years later, when he found his leadership position threatened, that Trotsky began to worry about inner-party democracy. But he maintained his belief in centralism until his death, and it is centralism that he held to be the main feature of the Leninist view on party organization. So the question arises: did his belief in centralism mean that, from 1917 on, he had finally recognized the role of party-building?
. No, it did not. Trotsky reduced the issue of party-building simply to strict centralism. In his autobiography, he explained his change of view on party affairs by saying that formerly, "I thought of myself as a centralist. But there is no doubt that at that time I did not fully realize what an intense and imperious centralism the revolutionary party would need to lead millions of people in a war against the old order. "(18) But he did not see the need to revise any of his former views denigrating party-building. Formerly he had denounced the centralism of the Bolsheviks as something that would crush the self-activity and initiative of the masses. Having become a strict centralist, he did not bother to explain why centralism and mass initiative were now compatible.
. But centralism, important as it is, is only one aspect of a revolutionary party. If it is wrong to regard a centralized party as automatically "substitutionalist", it is also wrong to regard centralism as the sole feature of revolutionary organization. There are different types of centralism, and there are prerequisites for the development of a true revolutionary centralism, and for it to be a democratic and revolutionary centralism.
. In the statement cited above, Trotsky claimed that he had always seen himself as centralist. This is hard to take seriously with regard to the period of his open fight against Leninism of 1903 - 1917; but there is a grain of truth in it. Prior to his split with Lenin at the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP, he had dreamed of a rigorous centralism. In 1901, he wrote:
. "If one of the local organizations refuses to recognize the full powers of the Central Committee, the CC will have the strength and the right not to recognize this organization. It will cut if off from the revolutionary world by breaking its links with it, it will stop sending it literature and other working material; it will dispatch into the field of its activity a team of its own and, having supplied it with all the necessary means for action, declare it to be the local committee. "(19)
. A Party might well endow its Central Committee with the right to reorganize local organizations that radically deviate from party policy and that resist all efforts to resolve the situation. But Trotsky gave an extreme formulation of this. He exuberantly described how the offending organization and its comrades were to be strangled by being deprived of materials; and they were not only to be cut off from the party, but from the revolutionary world. And such a penalty was suggested in 1901, at a time when the political basis for the unity of the Russian proletarian party hadn't yet been established, as a way of enforcing the full powers of the Central Committee.
. Then, at the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP in 1903, Trotsky coined one of the most extreme formulations of centralism. He described party rules as a system of "organized distrust" of the Party towards its organizations. (20) But as soon as he split with Lenin later at this Congress, he began cursing centralism with the same exuberance as he had embraced it.
. So Trotsky had originally envisioned a strict centralism. He returned to it when he joined the Bolsheviks in 1917. And later he maintained a strict centralism in his Fourth International. The Statutes of the Fourth International adopted at its founding Conference in 1938 focused mainly on the rights of the International Executive Committee and the smaller International Secretariat, including the right to immediately expel national sections or individual members. Point IV did say that the internal structure of the Fourth International was supposed to be based on democratic centralism. But it only explained this as the need for submission to international discipline -- the national sections "are required to observe the decisions and resolutions of the International Conference, and, in its absence, of the International Executive Committee, represented during the intervals between its meetings by the International Secretariat", although the sections do have the right of appeal from one body to a higher body or to the International Conference. There was no mention in the Statutes of the elective principle, or of the general responsibility of higher bodies to lower bodies or the membership as a whole. The closest thing to this is Point VII, which specified that the International Conference was the supreme authority for the Fourth International. It was supposed to be composed of the "delegates, or their mandated representatives, of all sections". (21) But in practice, the International Conferences could not be organized in any regular fashion; and who was represented there depended largely on the International Executive Committee and the International Secretariat.
. Point III of the Statutes said that the national sections "are formed on the platform and in accordance with the organizational structure defined and established by the founding congress of the Fourth International (September 1938)". But, aside from passing comments in resolutions devoted to particular countries, the Statutes themselves are the only document of the Congress dealing with organizational structure. There was no other general document on party-building or general organizational problems. And the Statutes said nothing about the internal organization of the individual sections, other than that there is only supposed to be one in a country--and despite Trotsky's efforts, that provision was often honored in the breach rather than the observance. The basic principle of the organizational structure was simply submission to international discipline. (22)
. Something similar to Trotsky's swing between anti-centralism and over-centralism can be seen with respect to the SDKPL. As remarked above, Rosa Luxemburg and others of its leaders held ideas denigrating party building and centralism. But for several years, the SDKPL went to the opposite extreme, and the leadership was subordinated to one individual, Leo Jogiches. Nettl says that
"from 1907 to 1911 for all intents and purposes the SDKPiL was Jogiches. . . . He could be an extremely harsh and intolerant leader who brooked little opposition; . . . Those who disagreed with him found it simpler to resign, and between 1908 and 1911 several prominent members of the SDKPiL Central Committee . . . quietly dropped out. Those who remained were subjected to increasingly rigid discipline and cavalier treatment--the choice was to put up and shut up, or go. "(23)
. But this didn't mean that the SDKPL discarded its disdain for organizational matters during this
period. The SDKPL leadership didn't abandon its anti-organizational theories. It simply
vacillated at the top between informal looseness and subordination to one individual. This
vacillation was facilitated by its disdain for party-building.
The history of the proletarian party
. At this point, it will be useful to digress into the history of party-building itself. It shows that, while Trotsky counterposed organization to workers' self-activity, one of the key measures of the progress of the workers' movement was the extent and type of organization it created.
. Indeed, when Marx and Engels called on the working class to build up their party, they didn't simply endorse the existing idea of a party, nor simply call for centralism. They worked throughout their lives to create a new type of party. For that matter, the development of the mass proletarian party strongly influenced the development of modern political parties in general.
. At the outset of their political activity, Marx and Engels participated in the Communist League, for which they wrote the Manifesto of the Communist Party. The CL was an international organization of communists, mainly workers. Marx and Engels worked to rid it of a conspiratorial character, and to provide it with a more scientific doctrine based on the class struggle. Many of its members went on to be leading members of the most radical trends in the revolutions of 1848-9, but they mainly participated individually in the movement as the CL was too narrow to be able to directly influence the revolutionary movement. In 1852, with the end of hopes for the revival of the revolutionary wave of 1848-49, the CL dissolved.
. Over a decade later, Marx and Engels sought to have the International Workingmen's Association unite the socialist activists of each country, divided into separate doctrinal circles, into a common organization devoted to the ongoing workers' struggle. It also established links with the mass economic struggle. Its mobilization of international support for strikes created a sensation in the working class, and forever changed the general idea of the nature of political activity. At the same time, while mass meetings of strikers voted to join the IWA, and many unions affiliated to the IWA, only a core of its members played a direct role in it. As one history of the IWA puts it,
"Of course, these collective adhesions did not amount to an actual joining up of the masses at large with the International; but active individuals and groups, becoming segregated from the mass, constituted the effectives of local branches, and these formed a moral link between the organisation and the toiling masses. In this way, the political and moral influence of the International steadily increased. "(24)
. The Congresses of the IWA were the scenes of important and influential political debates about the relationship of economic and political struggle, but the IWA itself couldn't achieve any lasting unity on these issues. There were different trends in the IWA aside from revolutionary socialism, with the reformists pulling it one way, the anarchists another. At the apparent height of its influence and power after the working class uprising of the Paris Commune, the International essentially broke into parts at the Hague Congress of 1872. The official International ended in 1874, while the anarchists established their own "IWA" which gradually dwindled away.
. There were attempts to rebuild an international through holding new congresses, such as the Universal Socialist Congress at Ghent in 1877 or the International Socialist Congress at Coire in 1880, but these congresses didn't give rise to anything. Organization can't simply be called into existence at will. The next step in the proletarian political organization required the development of nationwide political agitation, something which the First International hadn't really achieved. The success of the German social-democrats in this helped spread Marxist influence, and paved the way for the formation of the Second or Social-Democratic International in 1889.
. At its best, the Second International fostered a form of mass socialist workers party that had never been seen before. It did not have the narrow conspiratorial form of many revolutionary circles of the past. It was intimately connected with both the political and economic mass struggle. It took part in the ideological struggle of trends. Also it had a mass membership, but these members enrolled individually and were supposed to come to party meetings, read the party press, and take a certain part in activities. As well, they were supposed to elect the party leadership and determine party policies. The Communist League had also had an active -- and quite dedicated and talented -- membership, but it had been a narrow group with limited links to the masses. The IWA had a broad membership, but much of it had been enrolled en masse. What was new was the fusion of political activity and a mass character. At its best, this allowed the masses to put their stamp on politics in a way never achieved before.
. Like the IWA before it, the Second International changed the conception of working-class political action forever. It also gave rise to a wide spread of socialism among the masses. But it wasn't always at its best. Some social-democratic parties could be quite detached from mass struggle, arguing that nothing could be changed until the revolution, and they could restrict activity to parliamentarism. They might only penetrate among a certain section of workers, and in general barely penetrated among the most nationally-oppressed workers. As time went on, the Social-Democratic International grew numerically, but it came to be dominated by its opportunist and class-collaborationist wing. The crucial moment came at the outbreak of World War I, when most of official Social-Democracy went over to a social-chauvinist position of defending the war effort of its own national bourgeoisie against the workers of other lands.
. This gave rise to the task of developing truly revolutionary workers parties to replace those of the Second International. It wasn't just that there were some bad leaders in the Second International, but the very structure of these parties had failed in the face of the revolutionary crises brought by World War I and its aftermath. The Bolsheviks came from within the Second International, being originally a faction of the RSDLP. But the party organization built up by the Bolsheviks was different from that of other Second International parties. This was partly due to different conditions: the RSDLP was built up under conditions of Tsarist dictatorship and illegality rather than the milder and legal conditions facing the main parties of the Second International. But the Bolsheviks also developed a party of a different character from the ordinary party of the Second International: for example, they persisted in the struggle against reformism, their party apparatus threw itself into the revolution rather than recoiling from it, and they were more tightly linked to the mass motion of the working class.
. After World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, the Third or Communist International sought to build up this new type of party internationally. The crises and revolutionary ferment that followed World War I provided conditions for the development of these parties. It was more centralized than most social-democratic parties, and it required a higher level of discipline. But it was also fostered a higher level of independent activity from its members, a greater role in mass action, and a higher level of theoretical knowledge and consciousness. At their best, the communist parties showed an outstanding ability to maintain an independent stand despite repression and persecution from the bourgeoisie, and to lead revolutionary struggle. They also spread to sections of the masses that the social-democrats tended to ignore, such as the colonial world and nationally-oppressed workers in the industrial countries; the communist banner was planted firmly in the midst of the national liberation and anti-imperialist movements.
. But the Third International parties too weren't always at their best. They were faced with having to transform themselves rapidly, generally under harsh conditions of bourgeois repression and reformist obstruction. They had to overcome social-democratic carry-overs and develop new organizational traditions, develop new leadership cadre, learn methods of winning the masses to support militant initiatives in the face of reformist and social-democratic opposition, and deal with the crisis of revolutionary theory that broke out in conjunction with World War I. They had some remarkable achievements, but overall they had mixed results, and rough organizational methods were sometimes used to force the pace of change, or to achieve unity. Moreover, Stalinism eventually corroded the Third International and turned the communist parties into an ugly caricature of what they had been. Centralism usually remained, but it was now bureaucratic centralism to subordinate the rank-and-file to whatever policy the leadership wanted. In the Soviet Union and other state-capitalist countries that developed, the parties became parties of the new state-capitalist bourgeoisie, whose role was to suppress any resistance from the working class.
. Today revolutionary activists face the task of assessing the experience of party-building in the past. We have to see what general lessons can be learned from this history to help guide the building of anti-revisionist parties in the future. Today the working class movement is disoriented and disorganized everywhere. But as the movement revives, the issue of political organization will again come to the fore.
. Trotsky himself lived during a period when the methods of party-building and the forms of organization were being tested, questioned, and revised. This was the period when the transition between the social-democratic and communist methods of organizing was on the agenda. He began his political activity in the period of the crisis of social-democracy prior to World War I. He joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917 as it decisively separated from the Second International by carrying out the Bolshevik Revolution. He was a leader of the Bolsheviks in the early days of the Third International, which sought to build a new type of party world-wide. And he later sought to build up a supposed Fourth International.
. Yet it is notable how oblivious he was to the history of party-building. His polemics on substitutionalism were little more than the old polemic of direct democracy against representative democracy. They were abstract, detached from the history of what organization had meant for the proletariat. He didn't examine the attempts to develop revolutionary organization, and so he couldn't see the level of party-building as itself a reflection of the degree of revolutionary maturity and readiness of the working class. He simply counterposed spontaneity to party committees, and he didn't see the continuing struggle to develop forms of party organization that expressed the revolutionary initiative of the working class. He didn't notice that the development of the socialist party with its dread committees and committee-people, far from repressing the initiative of the workers to express their views, had in general encouraged an unprecedented outpouring of worker activism and initiative in politics and in theoretical matters. And he didn't see the lessons about the role of centralism, and the conditions for centralism, that are suggested by the history of party-building.
. Throughout Trotsky's political life, he was concerned with who is in the leadership of a party,
which he might call the problem of "revolutionary leadership". But he never dwelt on the tasks
of party-building in themselves. He never considered the momentous changes in the nature of the
party organization itself that were taking place during the period of his activity. The party
organization was for him a mere tool, that could be fashioned at will by its leaders.
The International Left Opposition and the Fourth International
. After Trotsky was exiled from the USSR, he organized an international organization of his supporters, the International Left Opposition, in 1930. In 1934 it became the International Communist League, and in 1938 the supposed Fourth International. One might expect that, as part of his appeal for workers to rally around this trend, he would put forward an appeal for workers to take part in party-building, and that he would contrast his view of party-building to that of the social-democrats and of the Stalinists. But this was absent from Trotsky's calls to build a new international.
. Indeed, he was impatient with this issue. In the mid-20s, the CI undertook what it called the Bolshevization of the communist parties. The idea was that it wasn't sufficient that the parties maintained the old social-democratic party organization, but with communist leadership. Instead they should transform the basic organizational structure of the parties. Trotsky couldn't see anything in this but an anti-Trotskyist ploy. In a major article, The Third International After Lenin, he wrote that
"If by Bolshevization is understood the purging of the party of alien elements and habits, of social democratic functionaries clinging to their posts, of freemasons, pacifist-democrats, idealistic muddleheads, etc., then this work was being performed from the very first day of the Comintern's existence; at the Fourth Congress, this work with regard to the French party even assumed extremely sharp combat forms. . . . Of course, the work of purging was also necessary after 1924 and alien elements were quite correctly removed from many sections. But taken as a whole, the 'Bolshevization' consisted in this: that with the wedge of the Russian disputes . . . the leaderships being formed at the moment in the communist parties of the West were disorganized over and over again. "(25)
. Thus Trotsky pooh-poohed the need for fundamental changes in these parties, other than their adapting Trotskyist leadership. For Trotsky, the task of overcoming social-democratic traditions was mainly purging the membership and leadership of these parties, and he particularly mentioned the struggle against allowing French communists to be Freemasons. This was an example of how he approached what he called the "problem of revolutionary leadership". This was, he believed, all that was required for them to be carry out the various policies that he advocated. He didn't see that the changeover from social-democratic to communist parties marked a new development in the meaning of party organization, as had the change from the Communist League to the IWA, and from the IWA to the Social-Democratic International.
. The CPUSA, for example, strove, among other things, to deal with putting units on a factory basis; with integrating the party's foreign language federations into the common organization of the party; and with not only fully integrating African-American comrades into the party's work, but orienting the party toward a consistent and aggressive struggle for the rights of black people and other minorities. It had some successes and some failures in these attempts. But despite the increasing Stalinist domination of the CI, and the eventual elimination of the CPUSA's revolutionary character when it degenerated into a left-fringe of the Democratic Party, in the meantime it set a new standard for revolutionary working class organization in the US.
. There was, as mentioned earlier, one issue of party organization that Trotsky was concerned with, namely, maintaining strict centralism. The organizational plans for the International Left Opposition, the International Communist League, and the Fourth International were similar in insisting on strict world centralism, administered by a small leading group. In between international conferences, affairs would be handled by an International Bureau (later called the International Executive Committee) of 15 members. And the functions of this group would be exercised between its meetings by an International Secretariat, which could have as few as three members. They would rule on all the main affairs of the Trotskyist organizations of different countries. The main feature of the world Trotskyist organizational structure was the power given to these bodies.
. These bodies were copied from the Communist International, which had a powerful Executive Committee and a Political Secretariat. The CI had mixed experience with international centralism. The CI mandated organizational and political changes that helped convert the socialist left-wing from World War I into a durable international movement. But some of the methods of CI influence on the national parties were rough, and the Stalinists eventually perverted centralism into a form of behind-the-scenes dictation to the parties. Trotsky didn't analyze this experience, but simply copied a few features, and turned it into a cover for his own personal dictation to the Fourth International. He didn't bother about the preconditions needed for revolutionary centralism, and didn't consider whether they existed in the Trotskyist movement. Lenin had written that "Without these conditions, all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat and end in phrase-mongering and grimacing. "(26) I will return later to what these conditions are. For now, it suffices to note that "phrase-mongering and grimacing", along with a myriad of splits, is an apt description of the internal disorder that has always existed in the world Trotskyist movement.
. The International Bureau and the International Secretariat, while given total responsibility over the Trotskyist movement, never developed any real cohesion. Their composition continually changed radically as many of their members left or were denounced by the Trotskyist movement; the relationship between the International Bureau and its own International Secretariat was at one time a matter of dispute; and Trotsky's personal intervention also incited splits. Moreover, the apparatus was infiltrated by the Stalinist secret police. For example, Mark Zborowski, better known in the Trotskyist movement as "Etienne", was one of the main workers in the Trotskyist apparatus, with the full confidence of Trotsky and of Trotsky's son, Leon Sedov. He worked at the International Secretariat, often as the most influential leader after Sedov. But Etienne was a Stalinist agent, and there were others. Thus, in the case of the Fourth International, hostile agents repeatedly found their way to the very helm of its international headquarters. (27)
. An example of Trotsky's version of centralism can be seen in his fight against the Spanish Trotskyists of POUM. Because of its role in the Spanish Civil War, POUM is one of the best-known of the Trotskyist parties of that period. In the mid-30s, it achieved a certain mass support and was larger than the rest of the world Trotskyist movement combined. But due to differences between Trotsky and POUM's leadership, it was regarded with hostility by the official world Trotskyist organization. The differences weren't dealt with by comradely means but by raw sectarian pressure; Trotsky sought to destroy the POUM. He denounced its leadership in harsh terms as bankrupt, criminal, betrayers of the working class. In 1936 the International Secretariat sent people to Spain to form a Trotskyist "section" in Barcelona with the intention of replacing POUM; it spent a good deal of its time issuing material denouncing POUM, but accomplished little. And Trotsky promoted the development of factional work within POUM. (28)
. Meanwhile Trotsky and the International Secretariat (IS) pressured Trotskyists elsewhere to denounce POUM; for example, Trotsky turned on Victor Serge and others, calling them "strikebreakers" for their friendly relations with POUM. The intervention by the IS in the factional disputes of various other Trotskyist sections was made dependent on the attitude of the local Trotskyist leaders towards POUM; it wasn't sufficient for Trotskyists to have criticism of POUM's policies, they had to be hostile to POUM. For example, the Belgium Trotskyist leader Vereeken was critical of the POUM leadership, but wouldn't call them "traitors" or "renegades". As a result, while Trotsky and the IS agreed with Vereeken on the main local dispute of the moment among Belgium Trotskyists, they denounced him anyway, saying he "wants to separate the Belgian question from the Spanish question". World Trotskyist organization amounted to mechanical dictation against its local sections. (29)
. The murderous Stalinist repression against POUM put Trotsky's attacks on it into the background. The Stalinists killed large numbers of members and leaders of POUM, and viciously slandered POUM in order to justify these murders. But Trotsky's campaign against POUM illustrates his own attempt to deal with differences by suppression.
. Overall, Trotsky as leader of the Fourth International didn't pay serious attention to building up
durable organization, but reduced matters to centralism alone, and he created a repulsive form of
centralism. From an organizational point of view, the world Trotskyist movement of that time,
and since then, has displayed two contrasting aspects. The many splits--along with the theorizing
on factionalism that will be mentioned in a moment--gave rise to a loose splintered movement,
while the official movement around Trotsky, and some of the subsequent Trotskyist
organizations, was rigidly and bureaucratically centralized. This was not party-building, but a
caricature of it.
. Some of Trotsky's methods reflected that the purpose of the Fourth International was to capture larger organizations, rather than build up its own. At first the International Left Opposition insisted that it wasn't building separate parties. As late as 1933, an ILO conference insisted that it "regards itself as a faction of the Comintern and its separate national sections as factions of the national Communist parties. This means that the Left Opposition does not regard the organizational regime created by the Stalinist bureaucracy as final." As a result, it wasn't clear to some Trotskyists "whether one ought to limit oneself to internal work with the Communist Party or create independent ties with workers outside of the party". It wasn't until July 1933 that Trotsky changed his mind and wrote that the task is "preparing" to build new parties and a new International. (30)
. This made the Trotskyists into a strange sort of faction of the CI, namely, an external one. Be that as it may, the orientation was to capturing Stalinist organizations rather than building up new ties among the working class. It wasn't just that their ability to build these new ties would be limited by the small size of the Trotskyist grouping, but putting effort into building these ties would be a violation of their view of their task of factional work within another party. Moreover, even after Trotsky decided that new parties had to built, indeed even after the Fourth International was proclaimed in 1938, the orientation remained towards winning over or capturing other organizations. The emphasis shifted, however, to capturing social-democratic organizations. Such orientations diverted attention from party-building and building up a proper organizational life, and focused attention on the means of factional struggle.
. This was reflected in Trotsky's occasional use of the term "regroupment", and this term has become even more widespread among Trotskyists after Trotsky's death. It's not party-building, but the "regroupment" of revolutionary elements from other parties and trends that Trotskyism worries about. Here the problem is not the term "regroupment" in itself, nor the idea that there are periods of major regroupment in the working class movement. Clearly there are dramatic periods where parties splits, trends disassociate, and new political groupings come rapidly into being, or a previously existing trend can grow rapidly. But this is only one aspect of the life of a revolutionary trend. Indeed, what can be accomplished in such a period depends on whether the new trend has achieved a certain development prior to a period of regroupment. If a new trend hasn't gained a certain size, organization, and political clarity prior to a regroupment, it will suffer for it afterwards. It will either have to find some way to painstakingly accomplish all the work it has neglected, or it will break up in disappointment and confusion. Moreover, if a trends succeeds in consolidating itself after a regroupment, it will be faced with the task of further growth through its own development, not just dramatic further regroupments.
. For example, the mass parties of the Second International weren't formed mainly by regroupment, but by the gradual building of what then was a new type of party. The Third International was created rapidly during a turbulent period of crisis and with many regroupments, but its parties in various countries only proved durable to the extent that they were able to gradually and painstakingly, over a period of time, transform themselves into a new type of party. Moreover, this was only possible because the Bolshevik Party and Leninist theory had developed previously through a protracted period of revolutionary struggles. If the Bolsheviks had simply waited for regroupment, or focused their tactics on it, they wouldn't have gained the mass experience and built up the organizational structure that served them so well in the revolutionary crisis of World War I. Instead, they would have had the same problem as the German Lefts, who were faced with having to make up in a short time for their denigration of party-building prior to World War I. The German Lefts merged in December 1920 with a large part of the Independent Social Democratic Party, which had split from the official social-democrats, and this was a crucial political event that multiplied the size of the new German communist party. But it didn't make up for the previous lack of attention to party-building.
. But the Trotskyist slogan of regroupment centers attention only on dramatic and rapid change,
in particular, on mergers of groups. Anything else is denounced as reformist gradualism. In a
discussion with American Trotskyists, Trotsky said: "In the good old times the social-democrats
would say: Now we have only 10,000 workers, later we'll have 100,000, then a million, and then
we'll get to power. World development to them was only an accumulation of quantities: 10,000,
100,000, etc. , etc. Now we have an absolutely different situation. We are in a period of declining
capitalism, of crises that become more turbulent and terrible, and approaching war. "(31) Thus
Trotsky ridiculed the work of expanding revolutionary consciousness and organization among
the masses. He regarded it as mere quantitative work, supposedly unsuitable for the present era
of crises and cataclysms and unworthy of real revolutionaries.
. Trotsky's definition of the International Left Opposition as a faction, rather than an independent organization, went along with his general tendency throughout his political life to resort to building factions. Sometimes, such as during the years of his denunciation of Lenin, he built his faction in the name of opposing all factions. Sometimes, as with the International Left Opposition, he built it more candidly. But the best known aspect of Trotskyist theorizing on factionalism is the putting forward of the demand for freedom of factions as the supposed revolutionary alternative to Stalinist forms of party organization (although I don't think that Trotsky himself was likely to use the phrase "freedom of factions").
. A faction isn't simply any group of people with common views or with dissenting views. A full-blown faction is an alternative party-within-a-party. It has its own discipline, formally or not, and its own group decisions which it pursues within the party. The idea of a party as a union of factions is sometimes defended as a way of providing rights to those with different views. And no doubt, if a faction decides matters prior to the party meetings which are supposed to assess situations, and then pushes through its prior decisions, it magnifies the power of these views. The internal decisions of the faction become the real source of party decisions; the internal organization of the faction isn't subject to the rules binding others; and it can act clandestinely behind the back of other comrades. The meetings and elections where other party members expect comrades to set forward matters as impartially as possible, so they can be judged, instead become forums for the factions. In such a situation, all members who aren't in a faction become relatively powerless. The life of the party then centers more and more on the struggle between the dominant factions, and on the decisions of the factions, rather than on the declared resolutions of the organization.
. The appropriate attitude towards factions depends on the type of organization. There is no one common organizational structure good for all types of organizations -- parties, unions, representative councils, neighborhood councils, etc. -- and for all situations. But the history of Marxist party-building shows a continual struggle to surmount factionalism and to create a class-based centralism. With respect to his work to develop a mass proletarian party, Marx sought to have the IWA gradually dissolve away the sectarian nature of a number of the activist circles in different localities. He wanted it to develop in conjunction with the general movement of the working class rather than as a grouping of factions with special sectarian views. As he said: "The history of the International was a continual struggle on the part of the General Council against the sects and amateur experiments which attempted to assert themselves within the International itself against the genuine movement of the working class. "(32) The Second International at its best developed the idea of the individual adherence of workers and activists to the party and its common program rather than simply being a collection of different groupings in different localities. The Third International at its best attempted to develop parties of revolutionary action that would be free of the reformist wings which, at crucial moments, paralyzed the parties of the Second International. This meant that Marxist party-building needed to find pro-party methods of fostering discussion of differences and further development of revolutionary theory rather than fostering the wrangling of sectarian and factional groupings. The progression from the IWA to the Third International is, in part, a history of the attempts at developing such methods of party life.
. But the Third International decayed, and Stalinism eventually perverted democratic centralism into bureaucratic tyranny. The Stalinists present such tyranny as proletarian unity, discipline, and centralism, and denounce any opposition as impermissible factionalism. Yet the history of Trotskyist organization, with its attempt to implement some sort of freedom of factions, showed that it was no alternative. Trotsky and the International Secretariat often took hasty administrative action, and demanded that their followers accept it in the name of following discipline. And since then, militant Trotskyist organizations have tended to have a harsh and barren internal life, similar to that of Stalinist organizations. The freedom of factions did not promote a satisfactory internal life, nor did it even allow activists with some differences to remain together in a common organization. Far from Trotskyist theorizing on factions allowing organizations to reconcile unity with a vigorous internal life and differences of opinion, the Trotskyist movement, both during the life of Trotsky and afterwards, has been notoriously splintered. It has split over every issue that it has confronted.
. Trotskyist theorizing on factions has diverted them from a serious struggle to develop an alternate style of organization from that of Stalinism. It does not show how to develop a true democratic centralism. Moreover, Trotsky himself had a difficult time reconciling the demand for freedom of factions with his own view of party centralism. His actual theory on factions was more complicated than a simple demand for freedom of factions, was not altogether consistent, and doesn't seem to be completely worked out in any one writing. He demanded freedom for Trotskyist factions when they were working inside other political organizations, or for factions that he approved, but would not grant such freedom to other factions. There are several aspects to his position on factions:
* He held that "The discussion of serious questions is inconceivable without groupings" or tendencies or temporary factions. (33) Thus Trotsky denied the possibility that ordinary methods of party life could be developed to deal with differences, new ideas, the research of troubling issues, etc. He assumed that anyone with an idea must a be factionalist or a pre-factionalist, and that theoretical work and the discussion of differences always took the form of factional fighting. This resulted in Trotskyist theorizing about party life getting reduced to centralism on one hand, and factionalism on the other. And it would imply that factions are not only acceptable, but are a necessary aspect of party life that must be encouraged, so long as they don't become "permanent" and "ossified" and thus "troubling". After all, "wherever there are two opinions, people inevitably group together". (34) Just as Trotsky reduced the main point of Leninist organization to centralism in and of itself, thus creating an empty parody of Leninism, he reduced the question of political differences within a party to the conflict of groupings and factions.
* Trotsky also held that factions were undesirable. In 1923, in giving a list of factions that had arisen among the Bolsheviks, he pointed to some that might have split the party if they had existed for a few more months. (35) In 1935 he would give a different list of factions to try to show that they really weren't that serious. Yet he still held that "permanent factions" were "a disturbing symptom that signifies either that the struggling tendencies are totally irreconcilable or that the party as a whole has reached a deadlock." Moreover, he was also concerned that factions might resort to "extreme measures". This was acceptable when working as a faction inside a broader organization and seeking to isolate reformists, but it would be wrong to "transfer such methods to work inside a revolutionary organization". He looked towards the development of "a sense of proportion" in factional struggle. (36)
. Thus Trotsky sought to establish rules of factional warfare. He hoped that the "program and definite tactics" of "a revolutionary party" would place "definite and very distinct limits on the internal struggle of tendencies and groupings in advance. " He failed to see that the very organization of factions meant that the usual methods and limits of internal party discussion, whether well-considered and desirable ones or crude and harmful ones, were being set aside. And in fact, the history of the Fourth International shows that the Trotskyists never found a way to civilize factional warfare. Of course, if everyone would agree beforehand on the limits of factional dispute, and on who was still a revolutionary and who was a reformist, and on the serious political issues, then things would go well -- but in that case, why was there a need to form factional groupings in the first place? In fact, factional warfare has its own logic. And this logic was never more evident than in seeing Trotsky's own angry pronouncements towards those he had differences with in the Trotskyist movement.
* Trotsky held that "it is impossible to avert such a situation [the creation of "permanent factions"] . . . by simply banning factions. To wage a war against the symptom does not mean to cure the disease. "(37) Such considerations were supposed to prove that a party must allow freedom of factions.
. There's no doubt that a revolutionary party can't be guaranteed against factions by decree. But, for that matter, there is not a single organizational rule or political decision whose implementation can be guaranteed by fiat. The implication of Trotsky's argument, however, is that there is one sphere of organizational life where rules may be enforced mechanically and immediately, and another sphere -- that of the factional struggle -- where rules are harmful because one has to look for the cause of problems. In reality, there isn't such a distinction. It is an important principle of party-building to avoid mere administrative action in all issues.
. To deal with the cause of problems, rather than symptoms, it is important, not to specially exempt factionalism from condemnation, but to strive for proper methods of party-building. For example, the late Marxist-Leninist Party of the USA, from which the Communist Voice Organization is descended, stressed the need for party bodies to "strive to avoid arbitrary, administrative actions and . . . instead made wide use of the method of consultation and education". Moreover it held that "the authority of the Party's decisions is not based solely on their being majority decisions", and hence attention has to be paid not just to making decisions on this or that issue, but to whether there is a basis for making a decision. It was held that "if no basis exists to take a decision on a matter of principle", then there should be work to establish such a basis by means such as "the accumulation of further revolutionary experience on the issue" and "theoretical work". (38) The MLP wasn't always successful in implementing this ideal, but this was what it strove for, and the desirability of avoiding bare administrative action was a repeated theme of inner-party organizational life. On some difficult issues of revolutionary theory, while comrades and party units had their own views, the MLP put off an overall decision for years while having the Party as a whole work to establishing the basis for a decision. It was precisely because the MLP was opposed to factionalism, that it developed a number of methods of internal party life, consultation, discussion and research. If attention is focused on forming groupings and factions, then it is not going to be focused on other ways to deal with political issues.
. What was the Trotskyist alternative? Trotsky imagined that he was treating the cause of the inner-party diseases, rather than dealing with mere symptoms, but this simply meant the Fourth International would give a political reason for its administrative actions. Neither Trotsky nor the International Secretariat showed any recognition of the limits of immediate decision from above. The Fourth International would constantly judge between various factions of its supporters and demand that they immediately merge or otherwise accept a decision on the rights and wrongs of political controversies. (39) The supposed freedom of factions provided little protection for any of Trotsky's followers who differed from him on any issue. Trotsky and the International Secretariat often took hasty administrative action, and demanded that their followers accept it in the name of following discipline.
* Trotsky held that it was desirable to form factions in other left-wing organizations, or in that of rival sections of the Trotskyist movement. The Trotskyists would insist on freedom of factions for their own work. But if the work was successful, and Trotskyists won over the left-wing organization, Trotsky held that it should lead to the expulsion of various former leaders. They and/or any faction of theirs would be banned, and the organization should be turned into a centralized Trotskyist party.
. Thus workers might well believe that they were defending the right for Trotskyists to be in some workers' party because it would be repressive Stalinism not to allow factions. The Trotskyist rhetoric about factions would probably be understood this way by most people. This is a natural interpretation because it is the only way in which factions can provide a safeguard against repression by the leadership. But if the Trotskyists ever obtained a majority in the workers' party of interest, they would--if they followed Trotsky's advice--then proclaim a different principle, and expel certain wings of the party. However consistent these two different principles might appear to the Trotskyists, it would no doubt be regarded as a hypocrisy by large numbers of those who had been trained in the defense of the freedom of factions.
. Thus Trotsky was not actually a defender of freedom of factions in general. He held that such freedom would be extended only to revolutionary groupings. This indicated that Trotsky had come to believe that a revolutionary party should not contain reformists, which was correct to that extent. But it also meant that his talk of not banning factions was relative. In his view, the party leadership would judge which factions to ban and which to tolerate. It might not ban factions simply on the grounds of their being factions, but it could and should do so for undesirable ones. But if so, factions couldn't provide a safeguard for dissidents, because the factions would need the approval of the party leadership. And if so, it would be just as legitimate for other organizations to ban Trotskyist factions, if they believed the Trotskyists were disruptive, as it would be for Trotskyist-dominated organizations to ban those they believed to be reformists, Stalinists, or otherwise nonrevolutionary. All this means that the Trotskyist stand on factions doesn't guarantee a satisfactory internal life for a political party. This is verified by the harsh attitude of most Trotskyist organizations to dissident groupings in their own ranks.
. Trotsky's dual attitude to factions was outlined, for example, in his discussion with American Trotskyists in 1938 concerning how to deal with a Labor Party, if such a party emerged. He thought that only a "loose opportunistic party" would accept that the Trotskyists enter as a party. And "If in the labor party we become the predominant tendency, . . . then we become the advocates of centralizing this loose party. We demand that the workers eliminate the fakers, etc." (40) It is of course legitimate and even necessary for a truly revolutionary proletarian party to exclude reformists. But that can't be done while accepting the rights of factions, except, at base, via double-talk and hypocrisy.
. Thus Trotsky sought to reconcile factionalism and centralism through a complex series of ideas
about how factionalism should be regulated and which factions should be accepted. Trotskyism
is not a theory of party-building but in large part a theory of factional-maneuvering and how to
take over other parties. When Trotsky's conceptions about factions are examined as a whole, they
are consistent only in their directing attention away from party-building; they denigrate the need
to find and test more appropriate methods of party life. Any organizations that tries to follow
these rules will be at risk of fostering the evils of factionalism without, however, having obtained
a safeguard against bureaucratic abuses.
. Throughout his life, Trotsky set forward many views that deprecated the role of party-building, but he was attracted to the idea of administration. His ideas often revolved around the thought that a better administrator would solve whatever the problem at hand.
. This colored his ideas concerning the party. Party-building was viewed in the light of an administrator selecting good subordinates and ensuring that they follow one's own views. This conception can be seen in a passage where Tony Cliff, a major Trotskyist leader in his own right, seeks to explain why Trotsky put forward directly anti-party views prior to joining the Bolsheviks; Cliff points mainly to Trotsky not being involved in administration previously:
. "Trotsky's wrong practice fed his wrong theory of the party. Having no cadres to deal with, he did not have to choose people of advanced views, weld them together into a tightly centralised organisation, build a machine, and if need be, wrestle with this machine." (41)
. Cliff was trying to contrast party-building to Trotsky's practice prior to 1917, and he paints a picture mainly of administrative work. There is no conception here of the party as a living organism in its own right, which develops out of the views and experiences of the masses. But contrary to Cliff, it is the party which develops and selects its administrators, not the administrator which calls the party into existence.
. And indeed, Cliff correctly depicted how Trotsky later sought to build up the Fourth
International and its predecessors. It was very much a top-down apparatus, with Trotsky seeking
to provide the slogans, tactics and organizational form for the local sections in each country. He
"chose people of advanced views" and would seek to "weld them together into a tightly
centralised organization", and he certainly "wrestled with this machine".
The preconditions of centralism
. But revolutionary centralism can't be achieved simply by administrative action. Earlier in this article it was pointed out that the Fourth International was an object lesson for Lenin's view that attempts to establish discipline and centralism, if the necessary preconditions are absent, simply lead to "phrase-mongering and grimacing". Now it is time to examine these preconditions. Lenin described some of them as follows:
". . . how is the discipline of the revolutionary party of the proletariat maintained? How is it tested? How is it reinforced? First, by the consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, . . . . Secondly, by its ability to link itself with, to keep in close touch with, and to a certain extent, if you like, to merge with the broadest masses of the toilers--primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian toiling masses. Thirdly, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard . . . , provided that the broadest masses have been convinced by their own experience that they are correct. . . . these conditions cannot arise all at once. They are created only by prolonged effort and hard-won experience. Their creation is facilitated by correct revolutionary theory, which, in its turn, is not a dogma, but assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement. "(42)
. Trotsky saw the administrative side of centralism: the organizational rules, and the top administrative bodies, which have their place and their importance of course, and the process of intervening in local problems, which also has its place and its importance. But he didn't consider that centralism depends on more than this. Indeed, according to Lenin, it even depends on things external to the party. It requires a certain ferment among the masses, who become convinced by their own experience of the need for the party and the correctness of the revolutionary views. It requires the proletarian party to be linked with the workers, and even with non-proletarian toilers. It is facilitated by a correct theory, but this theory too requires more than just the work of the party.
. But for Trotsky, the objective conditions for revolution and for immediately implementing strict
centralism in a proletarian party had existed ever since the emergence of imperialism or
monopoly capitalism, and they existed on a world scale. And moreover, he thought that he
already had a finished revolutionary theory. Supposedly the Bolshevik revolution verified all his
ideas, and there was no need to worry about the further development of theory in conjunction
with the experience of the revolutionary movement. Indeed, wasn't his theory verified by the
numerous predictions, hypotheticals, and imaginative descriptions in his books and articles? So
all that was left was to administer an organization on the basis of this theory, and to blame bad
individuals for the failure of this organization to thrive.
The statization of the trade unions
. During the Soviet trade union controversy of 1920-21, Trotsky took the coercion and militarization used during War Communism to an extreme. He wanted to solve the problems in the railroad unions by subjecting them completely to administration by the state. He wanted the state to appoint all their officials; indeed, he advocated in general the statization of all the unions and the complete militarization of labor. Nor did Trotsky advocate this as an unfortunate temporary measure, but instead put it forward as the implementation of socialism. He theorized that the "militarization of labor . . . is the inevitable" organization of labor during "the period of transition from capitalism to socialism". Trotsky was going to implement this through a policy of "shaking-up" the trade unions. Meeting opposition from within the party, including from communists in the trade unions, he denounced opposition to his policy as the advocacy of "pure and simple trade unionism", and he formed a faction on the trade union issue in preparation for the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party. (43)
. Trotsky's views were based on the idea that, following the proletarian revolution, there is a complete identity between the state and the will of the working class, and hence what remained was simply an administrative problem of organizing production. He even argued that, under these conditions, there was no distinction between voluntary and compulsory labor. (44) Any political or social obstacle to pure administration was to be cast aside.
. Lenin famously opposed Trotsky's theses on the trade unions in a series of articles such as Once Again on the Trade Unions, The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin. And after the 10th Congress, as the New Economic Policy developed, Trotsky dropped the demand for complete statization and pure administration. But he never conceded that he had been in error. He even retained a trace of the old "shake-up" slogan. In discussions with American Trotskyists, he raised that "The duty of our party is to seize every American worker and shake him ten times so he will understand what the situation is in the United States." (45)
. Instead of recognizing an error, Trotsky denied that the dispute made any difference. In his autobiography, Trotsky wrote that his proposals were merely a technical matter to deal with the situation of scarcity; supposedly the whole debate over the nature of the state and the character of the trade unions was irrelevant. He said:
"A discussion flared up in the party; it was actually beside the point. The party was considering the rate at which the trades-unions were to be converted into a part of the state mechanism, whereas the question at issue was really one of daily bread, of fuel, of raw material for the industries. The party was arguing feverishly about 'the school of communism,', whereas the thing that really mattered was the economic catastrophe hanging over the country. . . . During the debate at the congress, I gave warning that the resolution on trades-unions adopted by the majority would not live until the next congress, because the new economic orientation would demand a complete revision of the trades-union strategy. And it was only a few months later that Lenin formulated entirely new principles on the role and purpose of trades-unions, based on the new economic policy. I expressed my unreserved approval of his resolution." (46)
. The new orientation referred to by Trotsky was Lenin's The role and functions of the trade unions under the new economic policy. However, this didn't cast aside the principles Lenin had set forward in opposition to Trotsky's trade union platform, as Trotsky brazenly claimed, but instead developed these principles further. In the trade union debate, Lenin had stressed that one couldn't simply say that the Soviet state was a proletarian state, but had a "bureaucratic twist", and he referred to a certain type of economic struggle that the trade unions would have to wage against bureaucratic distortions of the state. (47) Now Lenin developed this in more detail; among other things, he referred to "a certain conflict of interests" between the workers and state sector. This further showed the error of Trotsky's earlier purely administrative approach to the trade unions.
(To be continued) <>
(1) Trotsky's stand toward Selassie is discussed in detail in the article "Anti-imperialism and the class struggle" (Part two of The Socialist Debate on the Taliban) in the June 20, 2002 issue of Communist Voice. See the sections "Trotsky and the Emperor of Ethiopia" and "Donovan and the Emperor of Ethiopia". This material not only describes the theoretical basis of Trotsky's error, but gives a brief account of the nature of the Ethiopian empire; why Selassie fled (in part out of fear of being attacked by oppressed nationalities inside Ethiopia); who actually resisted Italian invasion after Selassie fled; and Selassie's conservative influence on the subsequent anti-colonial movement in Africa.
. Trotsky's article "On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo/A Letter to an English Comrade, April 22, 1936" can be found in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1936-36), Pathfinder Press, Second Edition 1977, pp. 317-320. Footnote 339 identifies the text as reprinted from the June 1936 issue of New International. (Return to text)
(2) The statements from Trotsky between November 1934 and June 1936 are taken from the pamphlet Whither France?, Merit Publishers, 1968, which translates into English the original pamphlet of 1936 and adds an introduction. Trotsky's denunciation of his own followers is on p. 146, in the article "The Decisive Stage", June 5, 1936. Trotsky's subsequent claims about the lack of revolution being due only to the lack of revolutionary leadership can be found in a number of other places, such as "The New Revolutionary Upsurge and the Tasks of the Fourth International", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36), July 1936, p. 336. Indeed, he claimed that, with proper leaders, a socialist revolution could have been accomplished in June "almost without civil war, with a minimum of disturbance and of sacrifices".
. Merit Publishers, which put out the 1968 edition of Whither France, was one of the predecessors of Pathfinder Press, and was SWP's publishing house. In the "Publishers Note" to the 1968 edition the SWP drew a parallel to the events in May/June 1968 in France; said this is why Whither France was being reprinted; and hinted that socialist revolution was imminent, saying that the factory occupations "squarely posed the question of power, Which class was going to rule France?" So in the mid-30s, Trotsky, unable to indicate what workers could expect to accomplish in the mass upsurge and political crisis of the times, unable to show how revolutionaries should utilize mass upsurges that aren't at the level of revolution, lost his head and predicted imminent revolution. And 50 years later, the SWP could think of nothing better than to hold this up as a model for revolutionaries to repeat. (Text)
(3) See the section "Either Socialism or Slavery" of the "Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution", May 1940 in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1939-1940), Pathfinder Press, 219-220.
. In discussions in Mexico with leaders of the American SWP in 1938, Trotsky had been even more optimistic about how fast World War II would give rise to revolution. He said that "What is clear is that in the countries involved in the war the collapse will come in not four to six years but in six to twelve months, . . . And the revolution will come not after four years but much earlier, after some months. " ("Discussion of March 23, 1938", included under the title "A Summary of Transitional Demands" in the second or 1974 edition of the pamphlet The Transitional Program for the Socialist Revolution, pp. 237-8.) (Text)
(4) For his assessment of the strength of the Fourth International, see the "Manifesto of the
Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution", May 1940 in
Writings of Leon Trotsky (1939-1940), Pathfinder Press, 219-220. His statements of 1939 are
from "The Present War and the Fate of Modern Society", which is part of a a letter to James P.
Cannon of September 12, 1939. It is in the pamphlet "In Defense of Marxism", which is a
compilation of writings by Trotsky which was issued by the SWP in 1942 through their
publishing arm of that time, Pioneer Publishers. Its text is available on-line at
www. marxists. org/archive/trotsky/works/1942-dm/ch01. htm. (Text)
(5) He denounced the supposed capitulation of the Chinese communists repeatedly. See "The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International" in Spring 1938. (Look under "Backward countries and the program of transitional demands" in the pamphlet The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, p. 98. ) Also see "The Great Lesson of China" in Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution, May 1940, Writing of Leon Trotsky (1939-1940), p. 203, which is where he talked of how fast the Japanese invaders should have been defeated and claimed the Chinese communists were in "bondage" to Chiang Kai-shek. (Text)
(6) The distinction in the class stands of the peasantry and the proletariat is discussed in the section on "permanent revolution" in Part One of this article in Communist Voice of 15 December 2002. In particular it points out that "In a country with a large peasantry, the workers might be allied with the peasantry as a whole in a struggle against large landlords, foreign colonialists or other oppressors who weighed down on all the peasants. But the richer peasants would not back socialism. It was only the poor peasants and agricultural laborers that could provide a firm agrarian class support for socialism, and only when they no longer saw obtaining or clinging to their own small plot of land as their salvation. " It criticized Trotsky for not taking serious account of the fact that the democratic and socialist revolutions therefore involved "different class alliances". See in particular CV #33, p. 30, col. 1 and p. 31 col. 1-2. (Text)
(7) Ch. V, Results and Prospects, p. 72, emphasis as in the original (all page references to Results and Prospects or to Permanent Revolution are to the English-language pamphlet The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, Pathfinder Press, 1986). Trotsky believed that recognizing the existence of an independent peasant movement would mean renouncing the struggle for proletarian hegemony in the revolution. In other words, he made the struggle for proletarian hegemony into a matter of rhetoric, by defining the peasant trend out of existence, and a matter of fantasy, by imagining the most favorable outcome to any revolutionary measure he could imagine, and recoiled before the real tasks of providing proletarian guidance to the revolutionary struggle. (Text)
(8) 1905, Translated by Anya Bostock, Vintage Books, 1972, pp. 193-4, 195, 250-274. Trotsky's "Preface to the First Edition" pointed out that the book was basically written in 1908-9, but a good part of the text was lost, and so had to be rewritten in 1922. (Text)
(9) Section 6 "Must the 'middle classes' inevitably go over to fascism?" of the article Whither France? in the pamphlet of the same name, pp. 17-8. (Text)
(10) With respect to Selassie, see "On Dictators and the Heights of Oslo", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36), p. 317. Of course the point is not that Trotsky's opponent of the moment in this article was correct. On the contrary, Trotsky was arguing against Maxton, who was betraying the anti-fascist and anti-colonial struggles by taking a hands-off attitude to Mussolini's aggression against Ethiopia. But Trotsky's method of argument backed up his own errors. With respect to Vargas, see "Anti-imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-39), p. 34. (Text)
(11) Part IV: "Jacobinism and Social Democracy" in Our Political Tasks (1904), sixth paragraph. This raving polemic against "Maximilien Lenin" (i. e. he denounced Lenin as Maximilien Robespierre, the head of the Reign of Terror in the French revolution) isn't easily, if at all, available in print, but it can be found on-line at www. marxists. org/archive/trotsky/works/1904/1904-pt/ch05. htm. (Text)
(12) Trotsky, Ch. 8 "The Creation of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies", 1905, p. 106. (Text)
(13) J. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg, vol. I, p. 265. Nettl could not find a direct record of this decision, but says that Luxemburg repeatedly referred to it in letters. ("SDKPiL" is another way of abbreviating the name of the SDKPL.) (Text)
(14) Nettl, Ibid. , p. 262-3. (Text)
(15) Cited from the Minutes of the Second Congress by Lenin in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. See section M. "The Elections. End of the Congress". Collected Works, vol. 7, p. 314. (Text)
(16) Leon Trotsky, Ch. 12 "The Party Congress and the Split", My Life: At Attempt at an Autobiography, p. 162, Pathfinder Press. Zasulitch is the old transliteration of a Russian name, and is now more commonly transliterated as Zasulich. (Text)
(17) Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed/Trotsky: 1921-1929, p. 29, also pp. 30, 32, 51 and more. (Text)
(18) Chapter 12, "The Party Congress and the Split", My Life, p. 162. (Text)
(19) As cited in Trotsky's later Report of the Siberian Delegation, 1903, which identifies this as from a document written two years earlier. The original document is not available. The 1903 report can be found at www. marxists. org/archive/trotsky/works/1903/siberian. htm. (Text)
(20) Trotsky's statement is cited from the Minutes of the Second Congress in section H. "Discussion on centralism prior to the split among the Iskra-ists" in Lenin's One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. See Collected Works, vol. 7, pp. 254-5. (Text)
(21) "Statutes of the Fourth International", Documents of the Fourth International: The Formative Years (1933-40), Pathfinder Press, 1973, pp. 177-179. (Text)
(22) The Trotskyist IEC seems to be modeled on the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI), and the Statutes are reminiscent of the regulations concerning the ECCI in the Constitution and Rules of the CI adopted at the Sixth Congress of the CI of 1928. The Sixth Congress tended to go overboard on everything, and the Constitution and Rules were no exception; they went overboard on the issue of centralism. But the Statutes of the Fourth International were even worse. The CI Constitution described democratic centralism as including both centralism and the elective principle, and it also mandated reports by higher Party committees in general to their constituents; the FI (Fourth International) Statutes only referred to centralism, and only to international discipline at that. The CI Constitution was concerned not only with the international bodies of the CI, but with the structure of the national parties; the FI Statutes were not. The CI Constitution preserved the basic principle that a member of a Communist Party must work in a basic unit of the party; the FI Statutes replaced this requirement with the demand for working under "centralized international leadership". Perhaps Trotsky still didn't concede that he had been wrong at the Second Congress of the RSDLP in 1903 to oppose the view that only those who worked in a party organization could be regarded as party members. (Text)
(23) Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg, vol. 2, p. 570. (Text)
(24) G. M. Stekloff, Ch. 7: "Development of the International--The International and Strikes", History of the First International, pp. 96-7. (Text)
(25) Section 2, Part 4, Subsection 11: "The Question of the Internal Party Regime", in The Third International After Lenin/The Draft Program of the Communist International: A Criticism of Fundamentals. This work is available at www. marxists. org, and this passage at www. marxists. org/archive/trotsky/works/1928-3rd/ti07. htm. (Text)
(26) See Chapter II, "One of the fundamental conditions for the Bolsheviks' success", in Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder". (Text)
(27) For the instability of the leading Trotskyist committees, see Tony Cliff, Chapter 12: "Why the Fourth International failed to take off" Trotsky: the darker the night the brighter the star 1927-1940 (Vol. 4 of Cliff's biography of Trotsky), pp. 302-3. Etienne's importance in the Trotskyist movement and his role as an agent of the Stalinist secret police is well-known. See for example Isaac Deutscher's The Prophet Outcast/Trotsky: 1929-1940, pp. 347-9, 366, 390-6, 405-10, 422. For more on Etienne and the general problem of the infiltration of the Trotskyist movement, see the book by the major Belgian Trotskyist Georges Vereeken, The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement. The irritability of Trotsky towards his own followers, his intolerance of any differences, was notorious in the Trotskyist movement. It was, for example, one of the themes of Vereeken's book, Vereeken himself having been a victim of Trotsky's ire. In his book, the ever-loyal Vereeken tried to shield Trotsky personally from much of the blame by pointing to provocative maneuvers by Etienne and other agents. But even Vereeken pointed out that it was the Trotskyist movement's own "sectarian and sterile methods of discussion" that "opened the door wide to the Zborowskis and their like" and that Trotsky himself bore some responsibility for this. (p. 375). More accurately, Trotsky inspired this sectarianism in the Trotskyist movement. (Text)
(28) See Vereeken, Chapter 11 "The Spanish Civil War" and Chapter 13 "The final break between the International Secretariat and the POUM", The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement. Trotsky defended carrying out "factional work" within POUM and other dissident Trotskyist organizations in "Once More on Comrades Sneevliet and Vereecken", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p. 33. (Text)
(29) For Trotsky's denunciation of Serge as a strikebreaker, see "Discussions with Trotsky, March 20, 1938" in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), pp. 287-8. For Trotsky's connection of Belgium and Spanish issues, see "Two Manifestations of the Same Tendency, May 12, 1937", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1936-37), p. 290. (Note that "Vereecken" is apparently an older spelling or transliteration of Vereeken. ) Vereeken wrote that all the fuss was "because we had not used the terms traitor and renegade in referring to the leaders of the POUM". (Vereeken, Ch. 14, Ibid. , p. 193) He also sought to soften Trotsky's responsibility for the wrecking campaign against POUM by noting that Trotsky tried to send a private letter to Nin and other POUM leaders in 1936 with a more conciliatory approach. (Ch. 11, Ibid. , p. 164-6) It doesn't strike him that there was something two-faced in Trotsky's combining a private approach to POUM leaders with a continuing public campaign against them -- and anyone who would talk to them -- as strikebreakers and class traitors, and that this showed a contemptuous attitude on the part of Trotsky towards the world Trotskyist organization as well as towards POUM. (Text)
(30) The first quote is from "The International Left Opposition, Its Tasks and Methods", a document from the International Preconference of the International Left Opposition, Feb. 4-8, 1933, Documents of the Fourth International: The Formative Years (1933-40). The second quote is from "Again on 'faction' and 'second party' in "On the state of the Left Opposition, December 16, 1932", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-33), p. 30. The third quote is from "It is necessary to build communist parties and an international anew, July 15, 1933", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-33), p. 311. (Text)
(31) "How to Fight for a Labor Party in the U. S. , March 21, 1938", The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution with introductory essays by Joseph Hansen and George Novack, Pathfinder Press, p. 121. (Text)
(32) Letter of Marx to Bolte, 23 November 1871 Correspondence 1846-1895/A Selection with Commentary and Notes, International Publishers, p. 315, emphasis as in the original. (Text)
(33) "Factions and the Fourth International, 1935", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36), p. 188. A footnote by Pathfinder Press indicates that this article was from the Trotsky archives in the Harvard College Library, and it "was not published anywhere". Yet it is one of Trotsky's few later statements on the general issue of factionalism. (Text)
(34) "Chapter 3: Groups and Factional Formations, December 22, 1923" from the pamphlet "The New Course", The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25), p. 79. (Text)
(35) "The New Course", Ibid. , pp. 81-3. (Text)
(36) "Factions and the Fourth International", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36), pp. 184-9. (Text)
(37) "Factions and the Fourth International", Ibid. (Text)
(38) See "On the organization of the Party" in "Documents of the Second Congress of the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA", The Workers' Advocate, January 1, 1984, pp. 51-2. Although it doesn't say so, this section is essentially an extract from the General Rules of the Party. (Text)
(39) For example, the Founding Conference of the Fourth International passed a resolution "On the Greek Question" that demanded that the two competing Greek factions "shall fuse immediately, combining themselves in a new organization under the name 'Revolutionary Socialist Organization (Greek section of the Fourth International). " p. 271, And the Emergency Conference of the Fourth International passed a "Resolution on the Unification of the British Section" that demanded that the four separate British factions adhering to the Fourth International "give up their separate organization" and merge "into one powerful organization". Documents of the Fourth International: The Formative Years (1933-40), pp. 271, 359. Many more examples could be given. What's the difference between demanding that the separate organizations or factions merge, and banning the separate organizations and factions? (Text)
(40) "Three Possibilities with a Labor Party, July 23, 1938", The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution with introductory essays by Joseph Hansen and George Novack, Pathfinder Press, p. 155. (Text)
(41) Tony Cliff, Ch. 5 "An explanation of the break between Lenin and Trotsky," Trotsky: Towards October 1879-1917, p. 78. (Text)
(42) Lenin, Ibid. , p. 6-7, emphasis as in the original. (Text)
(43) For Trotsky's statement about the militarization of labor as an inevitable transitional measure, see Tony Cliff, Trotsky: The Sword of the Revolution 1917-1923, p. 167. See p. 171 for Trotsky's demand for the union officials to be appointed. This demand is also made in Trotsky's theses for the Central Committee, and is cited by Lenin in "The Trade Unions, the Present Situation and Trotsky's Mistakes" (December 30, 1920), Collected Works, vol. 32, p. 41. For Trotsky's denouncing opponents as pure-and-simple trade unionists, see Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 32, p. 72. For Trotsky's "shake-up" policy with respect to the trade unions, see Lenin, Ibid, p. . 75, 76.
Cliff discusses aspects of Trotsky's stand on pp. 171-82. He notes that "The underlying assumption [of Trotsky's stand] was that the workers could have no interest distinguishable from the Soviet state as a whole" (p. 180) and admits that Trotsky's policy was simply one of administrative measures. He repeats uncritically Trotsky's fatuous assertion that the discussion on the role of the trade unions was irrelevant. Isaac Deutscher also refers to Trotsky's demand for appointing trade union leaders; says that Trotsky "wanted the trade unions to be deprived of their autonomy and absorbed into the machinery of government"; and says that this plan meant that "the leaders of the unions would, as servants of the state, speak for the state to the workers rather than for the workers to the state". Deutscher sums up Trotsky's view at this time as the "idea of complete state control over the working classes". (The Prophet Armed/Trotsky: 1879-1921, pp. 502-3, 507-10, 516. ) (Text)
(44) Cliff, Ibid. , pp. 167-9 quotes Trotsky on this. (Text)
(45) See "Completing the Program and Putting It to Work, June 7, 1938" in the pamphlet The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, with introductory essays by Joseph Hansen and George Novack, Pathfinder Press, p. 145. (Text)
(46) Leon Trotsky, My Life: At Attempt at Autobiography, with an introduction by Joseph Hansen, Pathfinder Press, p. 466. (Text)
(47) Collected Works, vol. 32, pp. 24, 48, 100, etc. (Text)
Last modified: February 14, 2009.