by Joseph Green
(CV #35, March 15, 2005)
Entryism, factionalism and sectarianism rather than a Leninist struggle against opportunism
-- The period of open opposition to the struggle against opportunism
-- The reversion to factionalism
-- The "French turn" and entryism
-- The united front vs. the popular front
About working class trends in literature
-- The errors of the Proletcult
-- Trotsky on why there supposedly can't be working class art
-- Working class literature exists!
-- Fawning on the bourgeois intelligentsia
-- Overlooking materialism
-- The role of the internal contradictions
-- The importance of intermediate forces and situations
-- About "algebraic formulas"
Anti-Leninism in the name of Leninism
Assessment of the revolutionary experience of the 20th century
TOC for all four parts
Links to Part 1, 2, 3, & 4.
. Trotskyism is one of the main trends claiming to be Leninist that is encountered by activists in the anti-war movements and other struggles. It presents itself as the alternate to Stalinism. But in fact Trotskyism and Stalinism represent twin revisionist opponents of Marxism-Leninism.
Entryism, factionalism and sectarianism
rather than a Leninist struggle against opportunism
. Earlier in this series I showed that Trotsky's theories on factions were one aspect of his disregard of party-building. He held that factions and factionalism were the only way to carry out inner-party discussion and debate on important issues. He didn't just note that factions were inevitable, and even necessary, under certain situations, but he held that they were always the only alternative to inner-party stagnation and decay. This was the flip side of his blindness to the need for attention to party-building as a sphere of activity in his own right.
. Trotsky thus regarded factionalism as the only way to oppose wrong views and bad practices inside an organization. He had a similar attitude to the workers' movement as a whole. He tended to replace the Leninist conception of involving the masses in a conscious struggle against opportunism with factional struggle against bad leaders and schemes for bringing workers to revolutionary action automatically, without their conscious adoption of socialist consciousness. This was the basis for that peculiar combination of sectarianism and conciliation of reformism that has characterize the Trotskyist movement to this day.
. Early in his political life, Trotsky denounced Lenin for his struggle against the Mensheviks. Trotsky regarded this a tyrannical and brutal act against activists who he mistakenly believed would all ultimately unite in the socialist revolution. He was a Menshevik leader for awhile, but mainly circulated among the different groupings and sought to build up his own grouping. Later, when he joined the Bolsheviks, he would admit that he had been wrong to oppose the struggle against the Mensheviks. But he saw his error simply as a misestimation of particular leaders and a failure to exercise a sufficiently heavy-hand in organizational matters. As a result, he eventually fell back into entryism and other forms of conciliation of reformism. A large part of Trotskyist theorizing would be over which opportunist trends to "enter" or conciliate; should work be oriented towards the Stalinist parties or the social-democrats? the trade union bureaucrats or the supporters of various regimes in power? should it be "deep entrism" for a protracted period or brief "entrism" to obtain an immediate "regroupment"? This was one of the sources of the rightist nature of much of Trotskyist work.
. It may seem strange to talk of Trotsky's neglect of the struggle against opportunism, as Trotsky was known for his many bitter polemics against Stalin and a variety of other figures. But Trotsky often put this on a personal level. He fought for leadership, seeking to either displace rivals, or if that was not possible, to entice them into coalition, even privately addressing such appeals to the Central Committee of the Stalinist Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the mid-30s. Thus Trotsky's savage and mocking disparagement of other leaders and trends alternated with, or even coexisted with, attempts to conciliate the same trends and leaders. He held that, with a mere change of leadership, the opportunist organizations would be transformed into revolutionary ones; he didn't see the need for the relatively protracted work of building up an independent revolutionary trend, of establishing its traditions of party-building, and of developing its own self-life.
. Thus Trotsky ended up promoting a series of views and practices that undermined the struggle
against opportunism and confused what united front tactics are. Moreover, his rhetorical skill
masked the fact that he had difficulty seeing the theoretical and organizational errors of
Stalinism and other opportunist trends; his analysis tended to reduce the difference between him
and Stalinism to grand-sounding but empty formulas, such as that he was for permanent
revolution and Stalin was not, or he was for the united front but not the popular front. He had a
talent for making these formulas seem exciting, but when examined closely, it turns out that they
masked the fact that his views and practices were in many ways similar to those of the Stalinists.
. Trotsky often made it personal in his polemics. He might express his insults in political language, but he aimed to discredit his opponents by throwing a good deal of mud at them. The same individuals would be presented as sterling revolutionaries of wonderful character, or as bankrupt individuals, led by the crassest personal motivations to criminally betray the proletariat, as they agreed or disagreed with Trotsky.
. His enthusiastic biographic, Isaac Deutscher, denies this. He depicted Trotsky as a conscientious man, who was generous to his opponents and concerned with their honor. In the introduction to his famous three-volume biography of Trotsky, Deutscher wrote:
. "'Like Lessing', Shaw wrote of Trotsky, 'when he cuts off his opponent's head, he holds it up to show that there are no brains in it; but he spares his victim's private character. . . He leaves [his opponent] without a rag of political credit; but he leaves him with his honour intact. ' I can only regret that considerations of space and composition have not allowed me to show this side of Trotsky's personality in greater detail;. . ."(1)
. But take a look at Trotsky's polemics. He repeatedly descended to character assassination against a wide variety of opponents, including his own followers. For example, Victor Serge was one of the most talented Trotskyist publicists. His loyalty to Trotsky can be seen in the fawning and lyrical biography, The Life and Death of Leon Trotsky, which he co-authored with Trotsky's widow, Natalya, some years after Trotsky's death. Trotsky spoke highly of Serge until they disagreed on certain issues, whereupon he began to denounce him without restraint. The spirit of Trotsky's writing is reflected in the following passage that was found among his papers in Mexico:
. "What does Victor Serge represent today in the workers' movement? An ulcer of his own doubts, of his own confusion and nothing more [. . . ] What do people of the Victor Serge type represent? Our conclusion is simple: these verbose, coquettish moralists, capable of bringing only trouble and decay, must be kept out of the revolutionary organization, even by cannon fire if necessary."(2)
. Trotsky curses against Serge were not an isolated case. The Spanish Trotskyists of POUM were at one point the most numerous of Trotsky's followers, but due to their disagreements with him, they became the target of factional and undermining activity from the Fourth International. One of the disagreements was over whether POUM should even have been formed, or whether Spanish Trotskyists should have entered the Spanish social-democratic organizations. This is how Trotsky described the motivation of Andres Nin, a leader of POUM, in this dispute:
". . . To all our urgings that all attention be devoted to the Socialist Youth, we received only hollow evasions. Nin was concerned with the 'independence' of the Spanish section, that is, with his own passivity, with his own petty political comfort; he didn't want his captious dilettantism to be disturbed by great events."(3)
. Deutscher to the contrary, such polemics were not an attempt to preserve Nin's honor, but to picture him as a lazy dilettante. Indeed, Trotsky worked himself up to denouncing Nin as a "criminal". He based this on the argument that, if it weren't for Nin, all the social-democratic youth in Spain would have become Trotskyists. And how did Trotsky know this? He argued that it was obvious that they would have become Trotskyists, because they mainly became Stalinists. Those who think that Trotskyism and Stalinism are diametrical opposites might consider why Trotsky could imagine that activists becoming Stalinists, proved that they were just on the point of becoming Trotskyists. This is how Trotsky put it:
". . . The Socialist Youth then passed over almost completely into the Stalinist camp. The lads who called themselves Bolshevik-Leninists [i. e. Trotskyists] and who permitted this, or better yet, who caused this, have to be stigmatized forever as criminals against the revolution."(4)
. Trotsky treated the French Trotskyists in the same fashion, causing his son Leon Sedov, who was his next-in-command in the world Trotskyist movement, to complain that this was not a mere quirk, but a conscious method. He drafted a letter to his mother in which he exclaimed:
. "I think that all Dad's deficiencies have not diminished as he has grown older, but under the influence of his isolation, very difficult, unprecedentedly difficult, got worse. His lack of tolerance, hot temper, inconsistency, even rudeness, his desire to humiliate, offend and even destroy have increased. It is not 'personal,' it is a method and hardly good in organisation of work."(5)
. It's a method that Trotsky learned much earlier in his political life. It appeared already in his polemic against Lenin from 1903 to 1917. These differences began at the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP in 1903. Trotsky expressed his views on the issues of substance, vehemently opposing the struggle against opportunism: I will deal with this in the next section. But he sought to give his arguments force with an incredible barrage of character assassination. He presented Lenin as a new Robespierre, even a "caricature of a Robespierre", a "hideous", "dissolute", "demagogic", "maliciously and morally repulsive" person, an advocate of "ego-centralism", and on and on. (6)
. No doubt political polemics have often been accompanied by intemperate language and personal insults. But Trotsky was exceptional in this regard. Even his sympathetic biographer Tony Cliff admits that, as the split began between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, Trotsky was the worst in his mud-slinging and "outdid Martov, Plekhanov and Zasulich in the harshness of his attack". (7)
. Until he changed his attitude to the Bolsheviks in 1917 and joined them, Trotsky would continue this attack on Lenin's character. For example, in 1913 he wrote a letter to the Menshevik leader Chkheidze and claimed that "the entire edifice of Leninism at the present time is built on lies and falsification"; he called Lenin "a profound exploiter of every kind of backwardness in the Russian working class movement". (8)
. One might imagine that Trotsky had held a deep suspicion of Lenin from when he first met him, and then had found the political differences at the 2nd Congress to be a verification of his forebodings. But that wasn't the case at all. Trotsky had a favorable opinion of Lenin until the 2nd Congress. And then, after he joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, he retracted his denunciation of Lenin without comment. So it's clear that he had no reason to malign Lenin's character other than that he disagreed politically with him; somehow Trotsky always found that only people of bad character could disagree with him. He regarded such speculation on character as a useful and legitimate way to handle political differences. Or, as Leon Sedov put it with respect to Trotsky's later attacks on his own comrades' character, it wasn't personal for him: it was a "method".
. Trotsky used this method against a variety of opponents. This in itself didn't prove whether, in his various polemics, he was right or wrong on the political points at stake. That depended on the content of the issues involved. But there comes a point where the method of argument itself has political implications. Trotsky's mud-slinging reinforced his inclination to blame every setback on the mistakes or bad character of others, rather than seeing whether these setbacks required a reexamination of his own views and conclusions. It focused attention on individuals rather than on the analysis of objective changes in the world. And it helped establish the way in which comrades in the Trotskyist movement related to each other, as well as how they related to the rest of the world. Moreover, it provided an eery parallel to the eventual Stalinist character assassination of all opponents, whether Trotskyists or anyone else, as hooligans, criminals, fascist-lovers, or CIA agents.
. Thus Trotsky's example had great influence among his supporters and allies. His extravagant
personal attacks were one of the sources of the notorious sectarianism that remains one aspect of
Trotskyist practice to this day. This can be seen dramatically in some left-Trotskyist groups such
as the Spartacist League, who make a practice of finding reasons to use the ugliest language to
denounce many mass movements and demonstrations. It's also reflected in the internal
organizational practices of Trotskyism: the Trotskyist movement is well-known for the harsh
internal life of most of its groups. This occurs in Trotskyist groups of the most varied tendency,
whether they hold that Stalinist regimes are some type of workers' states, or they believe them to
be state-capitalist; whether they want to infiltrate the social-democratic parties or the Stalinist
ones; and whether they denounce mass movements or seek to win them over by hiding their
politics. It's inherited from Trotsky's method of leadership and his personal attacks. It's not just
Leon Sedov who noted that Trotsky's extravagant personal attacks were a conscious method.
Georges Vereeken, an important Trotskyist leader in Belgium who remained loyal to Trotskyism
despite being the but of Trotsky's ire, went further and noted that this method was imitated by
. "The fact of the matter remains that Trotsky bears a share of the responsibility for the caricature of democratic centralism practised at the present time by a number of Trotskyist factions and for the sectarianism and the factional methods of struggle which in certain cases must be condemned from the standpoint of proletarian morality."(9)
The period of open opposition to the struggle against opportunism
. Trotsky polemicized against Lenin for about 14 years, from 1903 to 1917. This was the period of Trotsky's open opposition to the struggle against opportunism. Despite his disagreements with the Mensheviks on the nature of the Russian revolution, he clung to them and denounced struggle against them. Moreover, he theorized vehemently against the struggle against opportunism, in effect denouncing it as the return of the worst excesses of Robespierre in the Reign of Terror.
. He even reconsidered the struggle against the so-called "Economist" trend that generally restricted agitation among the Russian working class to economic issues as it didn't believe that workers cared about politics. In the early sessions of the 2nd Congress, Trotsky had spoken ardently against the Economists, but as soon as he had differences with Lenin, he became ambivalent about the significance of Iskra's struggle against them. This was a major theme of his Report of the Siberian Delegation (1903) and Our Political Tasks (1904). He saw the struggle against Economism as being something aside from the working class, and wrote that "The period of Iskra was in its objective political meaning, the period of struggle for influence over the revolutionary intelligentsia", while the proletarian struggle remained "in the background". (Our Political Tasks, part 1.)
. In the wake of the suppression of the 1905 revolution, a section of activists became "liquidators", that is, they renounced support for an underground revolutionary party and became advocates of legalism at any price. This threatened to drown the working class movement in reformism. But Trotsky continued to oppose the struggle against opportunism as "intellectualist", contemptuously referring to it as the "ideological fetishism" of the "Marxist intelligentsia" who were engaged in a "struggle for influence over an immature proletariat". (10)
. Trotsky's opposition to the struggle against opportunism was connected to his attitude to party-building. In part three of this article, I pointed to his disregard of the process of party-building. He saw the revolutionary proletarian party as a useful tool, but he didn't see the need for attention to the protracted work of building up this party.
. I pointed out that, when he broke with Lenin in 1903, he put forward a series of theses denigrating part-building. He differences with Lenin began on organizational principles, and he backed the organizational amorphousness of the Mensheviks. He was still doing so when he united with the liquidators against the Bolsheviks.
. For the first part of this period, from 1903 to 1912, the Bolsheviks were a faction in a common party with the Mensheviks. This shows that the struggle against opportunism sometimes involves building a faction. And this is not of merely historical interest. No doubt the revolutionary section of the movement often today appears as a faction of a broader movement or of certain broader organizations.
. At this time, Trotsky denounced the Bolsheviks as a faction, something he then considered illegitimate. When the Bolsheviks constituted themselves as a separate party in 1912, it was harder to denounce them as a faction, so he also denounced them as splitters. He thus utilized the stock reformist complaint against revolutionaries, that they are factionalists and splitters. Later, when Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks, he renounced his opposition to the struggle against opportunism. He then held that the Bolsheviks had been right to oppose the Mensheviks, but he still identified their struggle as simply the building of a faction. He would thus maintain his former identification of the struggle against opportunism with factionalism, but now he lauded factionalism.
. But if the Bolsheviks had simply been factionalists, then they would have accomplished little. From the start, they stood for the development of an organized party linked with the working class and based on revolutionary principles. Their struggle wasn't waged simply to replace Menshevik leaders with Bolshevik leaders, or to discredit this or that individual, or to become the leaders of the amorphous circles that surrounded the Menshevik ideologues, but they sought to build up a solid party and organize the working class. When it proved impossible to win the party as a whole to these principles, and when the Bolsheviks had gained sufficient coherence as a trend, they in effect declared their existence as a separate party at the 6th (Prague) All-Russia Conference of the RSDLP in 1912 by expelling the liquidationist wing of the party. This allowed then to concentrate further on rebuilding underground organization, extending political agitation, and solidifying contacts with the working masses. Throughout this period, from 1903 to when Trotsky joined them in 1917, the Bolsheviks developed a new style of party-building, different from the model of the typical party of the Second International. Thus even for the close-to-a-decade that they were a faction inside a larger party, their organizational aim wasn't factionalism but party-building, and after 1912 they became an independent party.
. But, either prior to 1917 when he was denouncing Bolshevism, or subsequent to 1917 when he joined it, Trotsky could only see the formation of Bolshevism as a process of factional maneuver. In line with this, his biographer Tony Cliff lamented that, because Trotsky had stood aside from the Bolsheviks from 1903 to 1917, he had supposedly lost valuable experience in learning how to build factions. Cliff wrote that it was "the faction-fighting [that] sharpened the Bolshevik Party". He didn't point to the development of a communist forms of organization, nor the varied experience in different political situations from the revolutionary high tide of the 1905 revolution to the stagnant period of reaction that followed, nor the experience in bringing the proletariat into the revolutionary movement, nor the struggle against opportunism and reformism. No, in all this Cliff could only see "faction-fighting", and he glorified faction-fighting as the thing that "sharpened its [Bolshevik] theory and practice, selected its cadres and steeled them." Thus he sighed that "Alas, in this area, before 1917 Trotsky's ideas and practice proved weak."(11)
. In fact, Trotsky had extensive experience in factionalism during the period 1903-1917. True, he loudly denounced factions, and loudly declared that his paper was "not a factional but a Party organ", but meanwhile he quietly built his own faction of the moment. (12) His was the "'non-faction' faction", which described itself as "non-factionalists". His party life consisted in maneuvering between one group and another, seeking to attach some individuals to himself. He opposed the idea of an organized party, in which such maneuvering would be impossible. Instead he stood for an amorphous bloc of everyone: it was to be a loose bloc, within which personal diplomacy and the game of little groupings could continue. Such a bloc would give the maximum freedom to individual leaders to pursue the dance of evanescent ever-shifting combinations behind the back of the mass of socialist activists. Thus at one time Trotsky backed the idea of replacing the organized party with a broad legal workers' congress. Later he helped organize the "August bloc" of 1912 in which the Mensheviks, the liquidators, his own faction of "nonfactionalists", and everyone except the Bolsheviks boasted how they would build unity in contrast to Bolshevik party-building. But the "August bloc" -- a mere conglomeration of disparate factions -- began to decompose as soon as it was formed.
. Reformists are fond of claiming that it is the struggle against opportunism that is the cause of outrageous personal attacks and sabotage of common efforts. But it is the main opportunist leaders, and those who advocate unity with them, who commonly resort to these methods. Thus Trotsky, as an opponent of the struggle against opportunism, was one of the loudest mouthed of all the polemicists. He developed elaborate theories for the sole purpose of discrediting the Bolsheviks and the struggle against opportunism. His activities in 1903-17 illustrated that unity-mongering can the cover for the wildest sectarianism and factionalism.
. After he joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, Trotsky spoke in terms of the sternest struggle against Menshevism, opportunism, and centrism. So the period of his direct denigration of the struggle against opportunism came to an end. One might have expected that this political reversal would have resulted in his re-examining a number of views he had so vehemently put forward for almost a decade and a half. But he did nothing of the kind. Despite the dramatic change in his phraseology, he did not renounce almost any of his old ideas. As a consequence, to this day much of Trotskyist theorizing about organization consists in essence of rehashing Trotsky's old polemics from this period and upholding considerable parts of them; Lenin's tract against the Economists, What Is To Be Done?, is still a stumbling block for most Trotskyist trends.
. In his few statements about what was wrong with his pre-1917 stand, Trotsky seemed to regret only his wrong assessment of various individuals, and he didn't refer to his theories against party-building. He emphasized his wrong assessment of various Menshevik leaders, his personal affection for them, and his resulting failure to be strict enough with them. He admitted that he was wrong to have a "conciliationist" stand towards the Menshevik leaders, and that "when at certain moments I stove for the formation of groupings, . . . it was precisely on this basis". He now saw the need for "an intense and imperious centralism", but identified this only with the need for "absolute ruthlessness" with "individual members" and "whole groups of former associates". He did not admit that he himself had wrong political positions, including his failure to understand the nature and importance of party-building, and that this is why he had worked with the Menshevik leaders. Instead his conclusion seemed to be that he was always right and just hadn't been ruthless enough. (13)
. This self-criticism preserved a good deal of his denigration of party-building. Yes, he now stood for centralism. But he identified this to an astonishing extent with the stern rule of great leaders. Over the years, his writing returned a number of times to the glorification of, not class dictatorship, but "dictators". For example, he lectured British working class activists about the need "for the practice of personal dictatorship" and that "various classes, in various situations, and for various purposes, find themselves obliged, in certain extremely critical and responsible periods of their history, to assign exclusive power and authority to such of their leaders as most clearly and fully advocate their fundamental interests in the given epoch." (emphasis added) Thus instead of explaining the difference between a revolutionary class dictatorship and tyranny, he stressed the need for tyranny. If prior to 1917 he had bitter denounced Lenin by comparing him to Maximilien Robespierre, he now went out of his way to praise Robespierre. Moreover, he now praised Lenin by comparing him to Oliver Cromwell, saying that "We may say with a certain justification that Lenin is the proletarian Cromwell of the twentieth century." It's hard to say if this is an improvement over being compared to Robespierre. Yes, Cromwell was the most prominent figure of the English revolution of the 17th century, the leader of the victorious New Model Army, and the revolutionary who didn't shrink at executing the king. But he also drowned Ireland in blood; suppressed the plebeian left wing of the revolution, the Levellers and Diggers; and ended up ruling England by dividing it into 11 military districts, each administered by a major-general. For that matter, since Trotsky had the same attitude to Cromwell and Robespierre, speaking of them both in the same breath as the leaders who "most clearly and fully" expressed the revolutionary interest, it's clear that he was comparing Lenin to both of them. (14)
. It's true that Marxists have always regarded the major bourgeois-democratic revolutions of the past as among the great "locomotives" of history. Not just Trotsky, but Marx and Lenin, as well as numerous activists, have taken inspiration from them. These revolutions struck fatal blows at the old system of feudal oppression, allowed the masses to raise their heads, and cleared the way for social progress. Even the period of restoration that followed the English and French revolutions could not restore the old social conditions that had been shattered beyond repair. The memory of the mass action of the plebeians that brought these revolutions to their furthest point inspired the more dedicated forces of social change elsewhere. The same history has been loathed and despised by the conservative bourgeoisie, who feared that their own exploitation would be targetted by the masses if revolution came again. But Trotsky identified the role of these revolutions with the "personal dictatorship" of this or that leader, something which Marx, Engels, and Lenin never did.
. In Our Political Tasks, Trotsky had bitterly denounced Lenin for the statement that "A Jacobin who wholly identifies himself with the organization of the proletariat--a proletariat conscious of its class interests--is a revolutionary Social-Democrat."(15) Lenin pointed to the revolutionary working class movement, in its capacity as a revolutionary movement, being a continuation and extension of the best revolutionary traditions of the past, such as that of the Jacobins. But, while so saying, Lenin stressed that the communist is not simply any type of revolutionary, but one involved with the organization of the proletariat; he emphasized the conscious organization of the working class, not the wonders of some great leader. This didn't stop Trotsky from claiming, in 1904, that such a statement was support for the worst excesses of Robespierre. But it was Trotsky who, when he was converted to the need for centralism in 1917, praised the "personal dictatorship" of Robespierre and Cromwell. This was what his historical vision degenerated into, because he glossed over the class contradictions within the great revolutionary movements of the past and saw only the struggle against the traditional ruling classes. This is what his conception of centralism degenerated into. It showed that Trotsky still had a mechanical view of centralism, still didn't see the necessary connection between revolutionary centralism and mass initiative, and see didn't see the role of protracted party-building.
. Revolutionary centralism isn't just any centralism. It should be an expression of the revolutionary masses. Engels stressed the difference between revolutionary centralism and bureaucratic centralism, and thus also hit at the practice of mere personal dictatorship or Bonapartism, in a correction he made to his and Marx's Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League (1850). A passage in that work had debunked "the democratic talk of freedom for the communities, of self-government", and found it to be in contradiction to the idea that "As in France in 1793 so today in Germany it is the task of the really revolutionary party to carry through the strictest centralization". But Marx and Engels changed their minds about the role of self-government and its supposed opposition to centralism. Engels wrote, in a note to the 1885 edition of the Address, that
. "It must be recalled today that this passage is based on a misunderstanding. At that time--thanks to the Bonapartist and liberal falsifiers of history--it was considered as established that the French centralized machine of administration had been introduced by the Great Revolution and in particular that it had been operated by the Convention as an indispensable and decisive weapon for defeating the royalist and federalist reaction and the external enemy. It is now, however, a well-known fact that throughout the whole revolution up to the eighteenth Brumaire [the date that Napoleon seized power-JG] the whole administration of the departments [provinces], arrondisssements [an administrative unit smaller than a province] and communes [city governments] consisted of authorities elected by the respective constituents themselves, and that these authorities acted with complete freedom within the general state laws; that precisely this provincial and local self-government, similar to the American, became the most powerful lever of the revolution and indeed to such an extent that Napoleon, immediately after his coup d'etat of the eighteenth Brumaire, hastened to replace it by an administration by prefects [appointed officials], which still exists and which, therefore, was a pure instrument of reaction from the beginning. But just as little as local and provincial self-government is in contradiction to political, national centralization, so is it to an equally small extent necessarily bound up with that narrow-minded, cantonal or communal self-seeking which strikes us as so repulsive in Switzerland, and which all the South German federal republicans wanted to make the rule in Germany in 1849."(16)
. So Engels still advocated centralism in the revolution, but he now saw that local self-government might serve as "the most powerful lever" for that centralism and wouldn't necessarily turn into narrow-minded localism. Similarly, the initiative of party members should serve as a lever for party centralism. In part three, the previous section of this article, I discussed some of the conditions needed to ensure that this could and would take place. It is precisely Marxism's advance over previous conceptions of centralism and mass organization that constitute one of the greatest weapons of the communist movement.
. Trotsky, however, ignored the conditions for centralism, so he tended to relapse into old-style
conceptions of centralism, turning it into a matter of personal dictation or of pure administration.
He ignored the protracted work necessary to build a living party or to have a conscious mass
struggle against opportunism. In particular, despite his conversion to centralism, he still hadn't
grasped the significance of developing conscious struggle against opportunism among the mass
of activists and the working class, and its connection with party-building.
. During the period of his open opposition to the struggle against opportunism, Trotsky believed that the course of events would sweep everyone around the working class movement, revolutionary or reformist, into the proletarian revolution. He later wrote that he had "believed that the logic of the class struggle would compel both factions [Bolshevik and Menshevik] to pursue the same revolutionary line."(17) There was no need, in this view, to build up a trend capable of opposing the Menshevik reformism. Indeed, he saw party-building as a brake upon the spontaneity of the masses, as was discussed in the section on "substitutionalism" in part three of this article.
. This was the basis of his attraction to the similar spontaneist views of Rosa Luxemburg. She, and the Lefts in the German Social-Democratic Party who thought like her, not only polemicized against the Bernsteinian revisionists in the German Social-Democratic Party, but also opposed various stands of the main party leadership. Nevertheless, in the years leading up to World War I, she didn't see the point of seeking to build a truly revolutionary party that fought this reformism, as she saw conservatism coming from organization itself, just as Trotsky saw it coming from the committee-members of the party. Thus, she repeatedly opposed the struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks and the liquidators as factionalism and splittism. (18)
. Trotsky never really gave up these spontaneist views; they resurfaced later in various of his ideas. For example, his idea of the "transitional program" differed from the Marxist-Lenininst one. He didn't see transitional demands as demands specifically adapted to such situations as revolutionary upsurges when the old regime was beginning to topple. Instead he held that such demands should be used at all times, because when the workers were fighting for them, they would supposedly be fighting, without realizing it, for the overthrow of capitalism. This process was supposed to spontaneously revolutionize them; they would become socialists despite themselves. So he described transitional demands as the "bridge" between day-to-day struggles and the revolution. In part one of this article I discussed Trotsky's transitional program in more detail, pointing out that he "didn't see this bridge in the overall development of the class struggle, socialist agitation, and [the growth of] party organization. Instead he wanted an automatic preparation for revolution, something that would operate independently of the growth of socialist consciousness."(19)
. It is true that, in a mass upsurge, the workers generally progress from one demand to another, and this does reflect the growth of revolutionary consciousness. The masses become revolutionized in the course of a growing class struggle. But for their experience of struggle to be complete, it must include experience in consciously weighing the different political trends, and their role in the class struggle. It must include conscious attention to the socialist goal as well. No special demands will automatically make the working masses into revolutionaries despite themselves. The belief in the existence of such demands turns a large part of Trotskyist tactics and strategy into a search for ways to manipulate the masses.
. This manipulationist flavor also exists with respect to the Trotskyist idea of how to win the
masses over to revolutionary rather than reformist leadership. This too is mainly to be the
product of that same spontaneous development whereby the transitional demands mobilize the
masses for proletarian revolution despite their consciousness. This is reflected in Trotsky's
repeated belief that large organizations would become revolutionary immediately upon
replacement of their program with the transitional program, and their leaders with Trotskyist
The reversion to factionalism
. When Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks, it might seem as if he had put his factional past behind him. But the factional methods he used in his fourteen years of opposition to the Bolsheviks resurfaced as he dealt with the struggle inside the Bolshevik Party, and he formed one shifting faction after another within the Party leadership. A good part of Trotskyist writing on Soviet history is justifying each of Trotsky's factional alliances, and arguing that it is the fault of his factional partners that these alliances didn't work.
. The section on "factionalism" in Part III of this article discussed Trotsky's theories on factionalism, which he developed to justify his methods of work. Here I would merely note how attached Trotsky was to factionalism; he really had no perspective for any other way of opposing Stalinism. No matter how bad the situation became inside the Soviet communist party, Trotsky insisted that it could be dealt with via factional work within the party. When Trotsky was expelled not just from the party leadership, but from the party and the Soviet Union itself and when he formed an International Left Opposition outside the various communist parties, he continued to insist that the task was factional work. So he developed the theory of what later Trotskyists call the "external faction". The dictionary might define a faction as "a group or clique within a larger group, party, government, organization, or the like". (20) One might thus assume that after being forced out of the Stalinist organizations, the Trotskyists would seek to build up their own party organizations. But Trotsky insisted until mid-1933 that the International Left Opposition "regards itself as a faction of the Comintern and its separate national sections as factions of the national Communist parties". (21)
. Meanwhile, in the true factional spirit of reducing politics to deals among leaders, he went behind everyone's back, including that of the International Left Opposition, to address a secret appeal to the Politbureau of the Soviet Communist Party, i.e., to Stalin and the Stalinist leadership. He asked to it consider that "the most pressing and dangerous problem" that it faced was "mistrust of the leadership and the growing hatred for it. You are no less well informed about this than I am." One might have thought that, given the crimes of Stalinism, he would want to rally mass opposition to the Stalinist leadership. But no, instead he proposed that "the Opposition can help the Central Committee restore an atmosphere of trust within the party" if there were only an honest agreement between the Stalinists and himself. He asked for "the open and honest collaboration of the two historically rooted factions with the aim of transforming them into tendencies, and ultimately of having them dissolve into the party." This "open collaboration" was to be accomplished first of all by a secret deal, and there were to be "preliminary talks without any publicity", which should lead to "a preliminary agreement with the aim of preventing disturbances and a rupture. No matter how tense the atmosphere, its explosiveness can be removed through several successive stages provided there is good will on both sides."(22)
. Meanwhile he wrote an article for the Bulletin of the Opposition that he circulated inside the Soviet Union that stated "We emphasize: Stalinism has liquidated the party. . . Stalin has destroyed the party, smashed it in pieces, scattered it in prison and exile, diluted it with a crude mass, frightened it, demoralized it. It is perfectly true that the party as such no longer exists." But having said all this, and without mentioning his letter to the Politbureau, Trotsky concluded that what was needed was "an honest inner-party agreement" with the Stalinists. Thus on one hand Trotsky argued that the party was dead and terrorized and emprisoned, but on the other hand it would rise from the dead if only there were a deal with the Stalinists.
. In presenting this to his followers, Trotsky sugar-coated it. In his letter to the Politbureau, Trotsky had bluntly asked the Stalinists for a factional agreement for collaboration; he in essence pictured the two Trotskyists and Stalinists merging by dissolving away into the common party. But in presenting his proposal to his own followers, Trotsky presented it as "a revival of party democracy"; said that "it is not the Stalin clique who will carry out this work"; boasted that "the liquidation of the Stalin regime" was "not far off"; and talked of an "an honorable agreement before the eyes of the party and of the international proletariat." Right before the eyes of the proletariat, except that the text of the letter to the Stalinist Politbureau was secret; it had to be recovered from Trotsky's archives decades later; and for that matter, it was a proposal for secret negotiations with the Stalinists. (23)
. It's hard to know which is more astonishing: that Trotsky imagined that Stalin might accept his deal, or that he imagined that such a leadership shuffle would make much difference. But the offer of this deal was simply a continuation of the factional maneuvering which Trotsky was used to.
. It might be recalled that quite a few of the anti-Stalinist Opposition leaders in Russia, including Preobrazhensky, Radek, Pyatakov, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and others, had sought to reconcile with Stalin during the first Five Year Plan. They had made their own deals. This included a number of leaders from the Trotskyist faction as well as from other sections of the Opposition. They temporarily regained positions within the party bureaucracy, but were later subject to a renewed repression, and many were executed after public condemnation or even murdered in secret. The reason they came to terms with Stalin, as opposed to Trotsky and those Trotskyists in Russia who refused deals, has been explained by later Trotskyists as due to the personal and political deficiencies of these individuals. But Trotsky's letter to the Politbureau showed he himself offering such a deal to Stalin, and doing so at a time when the Stalinist repression was increasing.
. Four months after Trotsky sent his letter to the Politbureau, he concluded that the Comintern and the Stalinist Communist Parties were hopeless. Previously he had thought the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was dead and shattered into piece, but could be patched together and revived, but now the Stalinist parties of other countries were presumably really dead for real. He declared that "we cease to be a faction; we are no longer the Left Opposition; we become embryos of new parties. Our activity is no longer limited by the idea of factions."(24) So it might seem that now, at long last, Trotsky had cast off the idea of factionalism and sought to come out on the high road of party-building and encouraging a conscious struggle of the masses against opportunism. But not so fast.
. A website associated with the varied historical archives at Harvard University, including the one that holds Trotsky's papers, talks about Trotsky's approaches to the Stalin. It claims that, aside from the letter of March 1933 to the Soviet leadership, Trotsky "made at least two further attempts at reconciliation in the latter half of the 1930s". If this is true, then there were presumably two more secret letters to the Stalinist leadership. However, I do not have the text of these letters. It would be helpful if some activist fluent in Russian examined the Trotsky's archives at Harvard and obtained the text of these letters. (25)
. Aside from that, Trotsky soon began the process of conciliating social-democracy.
The "French turn" and entryism"
. At about the same time that Trotsky declared that the Trotskyist movement would emerge from the nether world of being a mere faction, he began to advocate the so-called "French turn". If the Trotskyist groups weren't supposed to be external factions of the Stalinist parties anymore, now the French Trotskyists were to become an internal faction of the French social-democratic party (the SFIO), and Trotskyists everywhere were supposed to imitate this tactic. This was the origin of what was to be called "entryism" or "entrism".
. In the first years, a few of the Trotskyist groups would grow as a result of entrism, others suffered fiasco, and some, like most Spanish Trotskyists, were read out of the official Trotskyist movement for refusing to practice entrism. There was an immense turmoil within the Trotskyist movement, with many leaders and groupings opposing entrism; some opposed the mechanical application of entrism to all countries and situations, while others opposed entrism on principle.
. It turned out that entrism would profoundly affect the world Trotskyist movement, and teach it to systematically conciliate reformism. It would drill the Trotskyist movement in how to combine a verbal leftism with the promotion of expectations among the masses about the great things that the reformist organizations were supposedly on the verge of doing. It would not just affect the Trotskyist attitude to the social-democrats, but it would lay the basis for those Trotskyist groups who made renewed attempts to work inside Stalinist groupings after World War II. It would end up affecting the viewpoint even of Trotskyist groups who maintained their own organizational structures and weren't formally part of other political groupings.
. For Trotsky himself, the "French Turn" may not have seemed like anything new, and he may have been surprised by the strong outrage against entrism that appeared in a large part of the Trotskyist movement. Entrism was, in essence, nothing but a continuation of his method of replacing party-building with factionalism within a larger grouping. What was new in the French turn was simply that the factionalism was supposed to be in the social-democratic parties rather than the communist parties. Before he believed the communist parties might be taken over ready-made, and now he thought that the Trotskyists could become a major political force by taking over much of the social-democratic movement.
. But entrism seemed to many Trotskyist activists to be a major change. It threatened to bring into the open some of the rightist stands that were hidden behind the shining facade of Trotsky's leftist rhetoric. Some Trotskyists worried -- and rightly so -- that it signaled a renunciation of the struggle against social-democracy, and others worried about the liquidation of independent Trotskyist organization. Whatever the underlying implications of Trotskyist methods, whatever the real meaning of being an "external faction", many Trotskyists had believed that they were building up their own groups, journals, and activities in various countries. True, the Trotskyist movement was split into a number of competing groupings in many countries. And few of these groups were anything more than strident sects. But each group could imagine that it was building an independent organization, especially as it had to withstand the pressure of the Stalinist organizations. Then Trotsky told them to proceed from being an "external faction" to building independent parties--but within a year was promoting entrism into the socialist parties (that is, into the social-democratic and reformist parties that called themselves socialist). This had an overwhelming effect on them. Despite high-flown words from Trotsky about how they would maintain their criticism of social-democratic leaders, entrism had the effect of teaching the Trotskyist movement to put its faith on working within opportunist forces.
. The "French turn" involved submerging Trotskyist organizations in the social-democratic parties. If they succeeded in getting into these parties, the small Trotskyist factions would have to abandon their independent organization to reorganize according to what was acceptable inside the social-democratic party of their country. What type organization they could openly maintain was dependent on what the social-democrats would allow. Trotsky didn't blink at even the possible loss of the Trotskyist press, saying
. "It is wrong to claim that we should not enter a Social Democratic party unless we are accepted as a statutory fact and allowed our own press, etc. No doubt it would be excellent if we had all that. But outside of France, where the SP had a quite particular structure and tradition, we never find such conditions."(26)
. Moreover, the political content of their agitation was affected. If they were in a reformist party, then what they could say or do became subordinated to what the reformist leaders allow. How far they could openly criticize the reformists depended on what the reformist party would allow. But aside from that, their criticism of reformism and social-democracy would be affected by their own orientation that social-democracy was where the revolutionary forces were to be found. They would be calling on workers to join them in the reformist organizations in the name of the great things that these organizations might accomplish.
. Trotsky expected rapid results from entrism. Encouraging the French Trotskyists to enter the French social-democratic party (the SFIO), he exulted that "We know of no law that says that a repetition of the Tours Congress is impossible". (27) The 1920 Tours Congress of the SFIO voted by over a two-third margin to join the Communist International, and thus the Communist Party of France was born. (A reformist split-off reclaimed the name SFIO and continued as the local branch of the Second International.) So Trotsky dreamed of winning over the SFIO as a complete party. But in practice, the Trotskyists ended up expelled from the SFIO fairly soon.
. While the results of entrism in the mid-30s were fairly modest, it set a pattern for future Trotskyist activity. Entrism wouldn't be restricted to social-democratic parties either. The Pabloist Trotskyists, for example, advocated "deep entrism" (that is, long-term entrism rather than simply a brief interlude) into the Stalinist parties. A good deal of Trotskyist argumentation is over which opportunist grouping to enter.
. But the influence entrism and the "French turn" can also be seen on various Trotskyist
groupings who have their own independent organization. The more leftist of such Trotskyist
groupings combine revolutionary declarations with expectations that the trade union bureaucrats
or other "working class" opportunists will mobilize the masses into struggle. And the more
rightist of such Trotskyist groupings tailor most of their agitation and practical work to
combining with various opportunist trends, although they maintain their own separate
organization for their core cadre. The agitation of such organizations amount to a political
merger with opportunism. Thus such groups as the Workers World Party in the US maintain
their own organizational structure. But in their work in the anti-war movement and elsewhere,
they downplay their politics and subordinate everything to coalitions with bourgeois liberals,
trade union bureaucrats, and opportunists of every sort. They sacrifice the independence of the
working class movement to these coalitions, and they water down their politics so far that it is
often hard to find their actual beliefs stated clearly in their press.
The united front vs. the popular front
. Although Trotsky vehemently denounced the Seventh Congress of the Cominterm of 1935, Trotsky's "French turn" has a good deal in common with it. The "French turn" oriented the Trotskyist organizations towards social-democratic politics and even outright merger with reformist parties via entrism. The Seventh Congress oriented the parties of the Comintern to look towards a global merger of the social-democratic and communist parties. Both the Trotskyists and the CI ended up with similar ideas about united front tactics, although with different political terminologies.
, The Trotskyists insist that they are free of the errors of the Seventh Congress and of Stalinism because they reject the "popular front" in favor of the "united front". According to them, the building of a "popular front" means betraying the working class to the bourgeoisie, but the building of a "united front" is a revolutionary policy. What does this distinction refer to? The Seventh Congress distinguished between what it called the "united front" of the working class, and the "popular front" or "broad people's anti-fascist front" which was to include the petty-bourgeois masses and the bourgeois liberals. This can be a rather artificial distinction because the reformist parties with influence on the working class are connected by a thousand threads with the petty-bourgeoisie and even the liberal bourgeoisie, and indeed bourgeois parties themselves often have some influence in the working class. It's possible that a country might have several working class organizations that are fairly distinct from all the directly bourgeois parties. But the usual situation is that one has to deal with the influence among the workers of social-democratic and reformist parties that are tied closely to the liberals.
. So when the Trotskyists denounce the "popular front" in favor of the "united front", they are closing their eyes to the real problems of united front tactics. Their fury at "popular fronts" actually bogs them down deeper in policies close to those of the Seventh Congress. It forces them to hold that all the parties that are influential among the workers are working-class forces separate from liberal and petty-bourgeois politics, on pain of otherwise not being able to approach the workers at the base with united front tactics. Thus there are arguments among Trotskyists about which reformist parties are workers' parties and which are bourgeois parties, as this determines which they can trail behind or vote for in the name of united front tactics. Yet generally all of the reformist parties have bourgeois politics and close ties to the bourgeoisie despite their working-class following.
. In some cases, their denunciation of "popular frontism" leads Trotskyists to denounce various struggles and movements because liberals are involved. The Spartacist League, for example, is notorious for denouncing demonstrations and movements as mere popular-frontism, because of the presence of liberal bourgeois trends within these movements and actions. But other Trotskyist trends such as the WWP participate in these same movements, prettifying and seeking alliance with various liberal personalities and elements of the Democratic Party within them. For that matter, even the most left-sounding Trotskyist groups, such as the Spartacist League, so quick to denounce mass demonstrations as mere liberalism, look towards the trade-union bureaucrats to set the working class in motion, and even rally to the defense of some of the most notoriously oppressive trade-union bureaucrats. They regard this as permissible, and indeed obligatory, because the unions are composed of workers, and so no matter what stands the pro-capitalist trade union leaders take, and no matter whether they support the liberal or conservative bourgeois politicians, alliance with them is "united front tactics" and not "popular frontism".
. In fact, the problem with the Seventh Congress wasn't that it recognized that united front tactics
had to extend beyond working class parties. The problem was that it had a wrong policy for
united front tactics in general. For example, in the name of united front tactics, the Seventh
Congress abandoned the criticism of reformism and liberalism, and closed its eyes to its class
nature; it put aside the orientation of using the united front to develop the mass struggle; it was
desperate to obtain deals from the top no matter what the stands of the reformist and liberal
organizations; and it increasingly looked to deals from the top to the exclusion of work at the
base. The Trotskyists denounce the "popular front" in favor of the "united front" because they
are unable to provide a real alternative to Seventh Congress politics.
About working class trends in literature
. Trotsky wrote a good deal about different writers and their books. Here, however, I am only concerned with the general question of whether there can be working class trends in literature, and whether communists should seek to promote such trends. This is a matter of practical concern for present-day communist activism. Literary and cultural activity inevitably develops around any mass movement. The question arises of whether communist organizations should seek to encourage the development of a proletarian trend in literature, encouraging proletarian initiative in writing as well as the socialist standpoint in literary criticism, or should they restrict themselves to lauding some positive features of general culture? Should they point out the different class trends reflected in literature, and or simply promote progressive literature as opposed to openly reactionary literature?
. Trotsky focused on the masterpieces of literature, literature that he thought might have a
permanent place in world culture and be recognized by all. His laudatory biographers promote
his place among the literary experts of his time, and his connections to famous writers and
cultural figures. But at the same time Trotsky denigrated the efforts of the proletariat to write, its
literary criticism, the development of a certain body of literature around activists and
revolutionary-minded workers, etc. He didn't see this as a trend in literature. He opposed, and
was correct to do so, the idea of the "Proletcult" of a separate proletarian culture which could
replace general culture. But in elaborating this criticism, he went on to denigrate the value of
proletarian trends within literature and art. As a result, much of Trotskyist writing on literature
has tended to fawn on the liberal bourgeois and petty-bourgeois culture. It is the result of the
idea that art, if only it is good art and true to itself, is inherently socialist.
The errors of the Proletcult
. When the masses overthrow the old regime, they also become more active in their attitude to literature, art, and culture. Revolutions have always been associated with a drive to literacy, in which millions of downtrodden people seek to read and to gain access to knowledge and culture. There are attempts by new authors and ordinary working people to express themselves in writing and song, and there may be a general flowering of mass culture. This is inseparable from the development of a critical attitude to the official culture of the old exploiting society. The old culture includes many backward values and aspects, such as religious obscurantism, disdain for the working people and physical labor, and belief in the inferiority of women, minority ethnic groups, and previously-oppressed nationalities, and revolution requires the spread of mass skepticism and disdain for the old way of thinking.
. This impetus existed in the Bolshevik revolution as it had in previous revolutions. Some writers and artists took this to an extreme, and believed that a new "proletarian culture" should be formed that would replace all the culture of the past, condemned for being exploiters' culture dominated by the ideas of past ruling classes. The mistake here was not the term "proletarian culture" in itself, but the replacement of work to utilize and transform general culture with the idea of developing a perfect new culture. Such ideas were particularly concentrated in the "Proletcult" (the Organization for Proletarian Culture). The Proletcult partly expressed the enthusiasm and drive of some activists to revolutionize culture, but its disdain for all past culture, its view that only proletarian writers were of value, and its pretensions concerning the contributions of its favored authors were a major obstacle for serious cultural work.
. The refutation of the errors of the Proletcult isn't simply of historical interest. There are probably still a few groups that promote the sectarian views of the Proletcult with respect to how a revolution should handle literature and art, and there are likely to be more in a period of revolutionary upsurge. But moreover, some views that flourished around the Proletcult are quite influential today. For example, some theorists of the time of the Proletcult believed that they could revolutionize philosophy and science by drawing vague analogies with the class struggle. For example, a philosopher might be discussed by saying that he regarded "matter" in the light of the proletariat, "force" in the light of an "organizing force" that was the bourgeoisie, and so the bourgeois nature of his philosophy would be seen by comparing the way he pictured nature to "a manufacturing enterprise."(28) This method of thought still exists today; it has resurfaced as postmodernism. It results in judging scientific theories are on a spurious political basis, rather than with respect to whether they correctly analyze the material world. It reduces the study of society and of the material world to a comparison of the different values held by different people.
. Lenin opposed, not the energy and enthusiasm of the Proletcult activists, but their extreme and sectarian ideas about culture. He wrote that what was needed was "not the invention of a new proletarian culture, but the development of the best models, traditions and results of the existing culture, from the point of view of the Marxist world outlook and the conditions of life and struggle of the proletarian in the period of its dictatorship". And he proposed that the Proletcult should adopt a resolution that upheld the need for revolutionary cultural work to be "imbued with the spirit of the class struggle, that upheld the centrality of the "Marxist world outlook" to the "culture of the revolutionary proletariat", but that also noted that
"Marxism . . . far from rejecting the most valuable achievements of the bourgeois epoch" has "on the contrary, assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two thousand years of the development of human thought and culture. Only further work on this basis and in this direction . . . can be recognized as the development of a genuine proletarian culture."(29)
. But Lenin didn't write much about the Proletcult. Trotsky agreed with Lenin in opposing the
extreme ideas around Proletcult, and he went on to write quite a bit against it. Unfortunately, he
exaggerated the struggle against Proletcult. If the Proletcult exaggerated the natural
reconsideration of past culture and old ideas that flourishes in a revolution, to the point that they
wanted to fabricate their own artificial culture, Trotsky exaggerated the struggle against the
Proletcult to the point where he denigrated the struggle of the working masses to develop their
own literary trends.
Trotsky on why there supposedly can't be working class art
. Trotsky marshaled a series of arguments against the slogan of "proletarian culture". In part he ridiculed the Proletcult by pointing to the paucity of proletarian writers in Russia, specially of very skilled ones. But he didn't solely rely on the backwardness of Russia and the Russian masses to make his point. He argued in general that there couldn't be proletarian culture or art because the proletariat was too oppressed under capitalism to develop such culture and art; it will be too busy with conquering, defending and strengthening its class power during the period of the working class rule; and it would not be a proletariat but humanity in general when it creates culture and art in the communist classless society.
. For example, he argued in the early 1920s that the
"period of social revolution" will last "decades, but not centuries, and certainly not thousands of years. Can the proletariat in this time create a new culture? It is legitimate to doubt this, because the years of social revolution will be years of fierce class struggles in which destruction will occupy more room than new construction. At any rate the energy of the proletariat itself will be spent mainly in conquering power, in retaining and strengthening it and in applying it to the most urgent needs of existence and of further struggle. . . .
. "On the other hand, as the new regime will be more and protected from political and military surprises and as the conditions for cultural creation will become more favorable, the proletariat will be more and more dissolved into a socialist community and will free itself from its class characteristics and thus cease to be a proletariat . . . This seems to lead to the conclusion that there is no proletarian culture and that there never will be any and in fact there is no reason to regret this. The proletariat acquires power for the purpose of doing away forever with class culture and to make way for human culture. We frequently seem to forget this."(30)
. This led him to deny not just "proletarian culture" in general, but "proletarian literature". Thus, in the struggle against Proletcult he would discuss the possibility for "revolutionary art", but not for "proletarian art". Near the end of his life, he still held to the same position, and was responsible for a manifesto for artists entitled Towards a Free Revolutionary Art, which gives no class appeal at all. (31)
. But it is said that he who proves too much, proves nothing at all. And the problem is, Trotsky to the contrary, proletarian cultural activity and proletarian literature had already made its appearance in the world. Every time the working class has begun to stir, it has also displayed a keen interest in literature and art. The Chartist movement in England was accompanied by an outpouring of songs and writings of various quality. The struggles of the French proletariat led to the writing of the famed Internationale, written by Eugene Pottier, whom Lenin characterized as a "worker-poet". (32) And Engels had already noted in his famous work The Condition of the Working-Class in England
". . . in how great a measure the English proletariat has succeeded in attaining independent education is shown especially by the fact that the epoch-making products of modern philosophical, political, and poetical literature are read by working-men almost exclusively. The bourgeois, enslaved by social conditions and the prejudices involved in them, trembles, blesses, and crosses himself before everything which really paves the for progress; the proletarian has open eyes for it, and studies it with pleasure and success."(33)
. It might be argued that this hardly means that proletarian culture and literature could replace general culture. It could be pointed out that the English working-men, in reading the best products of modern literature and culture, were studying the work of scientists, philosophers and writers who were almost exclusively of other classes (although working people have achieved more in these fields than bourgeois ideologists like to admit). All this would make strong points against the Proletcult, and its version of proletarian culture. But none of this disproves that the proletariat was seeking to give its own stamp to the culture of the time, and to develop its own literary trends.
. Trotsky wrote that
. "Some may object that I take the concept of proletarian culture in too broad a sense. That if there may not be a fully and entirely developed proletarian culture, yet the working class may succeed in putt its stamp on culture before it is dissolved into a communist society. Such an objection must be registered first of all as a serious retreat from the position that there will be a proletarian culture. It is not to be questioned but that the proletariat, during the time of this dictatorship [the dictatorship of the proletariat], will put its stamp upon culture. However, this is a far cry from a proletarian culture in the sense of a developed and completely harmonious system of knowledge and of art in all material and spiritual fields of work."(34)
. So Trotsky threw aside the idea of developing a proletarian trend in literature and art on the
grounds that this would be a retreat from the more all-encompassing conception of the Proletcult.
Indeed it would be a different conception from that of the Proletcult. And so Trotsky denigrated
the need to look on this concept in its own right. Thus, for all Trotsky's opposition to the
Proletcult, his conception of culture revolved around that of the Proletcult. They held that the
development of proletarian literature could only be conceived as the building of a proletarian
culture that would replace all other culture, and he agreed that yes, that is what it would have to
be, and so it will never be. In so doing, he ignored the actual history of the development of
proletarian literature, and the importance of communists encouraging and helping to properly
Working class literature exists!
. Different class trends do get reflected in literature and cultural works. Despite the heavy load of political and economic struggle that the working class takes on--indeed motivated in large part by these struggles--the working class is intensely interested in the standpoint of what its reads, and it desires to express its own views and experience. The elements of a proletarian literary trend are manifested in such things as the following:
* the criticism and evaluation of literature from the proletarian stand,
* the spread of worthwhile literature among the masses, even though that literature itself may not have a proletarian standpoint,
* the creation of poems, songs, articles, stories, and novels by workers and people close to the working class,
* the creation of literature that reflects the oppression, life experience, and revolt of the proletariat, even if it isn't written by workers (however, the existence of any substantial amount of this literature will be dependent on its support by a large and dedicated readership from the working masses),
* literature that comes up around particular movements and organizations, created by activists and supporters of these movements, such as the Chartist movement in the 19th century in Britain, or the struggle against racial discrimination in the US, or around particular working class parties.
. Note that the question isn't to find a particular style of writing that is inherently proletarian. There may be some people with such a conception, but I would regard that as mistaken. The issue isn't the particular form of writing, but whether the writing reflects the concerns of the working masses, and/or is written by workers and activists.
. Would such activities create a body of literary works that would allow one to dispense with all other literature? Hardly. But that's not a reasonable criterion for judging proletarian literature, any more than it's reasonable to criticize other literary trends for not making it possible to dispense with all other literature. For that matter, socialist consciousness requires the working class to seek as clear a picture of the way of life and thinking of other classes, and not simply to concentrate on itself. And some of the works of non-proletarian literature are important in that regard.
. Would specifically proletarian literature be of equal literary quality to the famous works of general culture? But the significance of the development of a proletarian trend in literature is not measured by comparing how many masterpieces are produced, versus how many masterpieces are written by others. The significance is that it expresses the ideas of the working class; that it begins to give a voice to the working class; that it expresses criticism of the old ideas; and that encourages the further development of the proletariat.
. If the Proletcult seemed to be motivated by the idea of eliminating all of the bourgeois works, Trotsky sometimes seemed to be motivated by the desire to hobnob with the big names of the world. Much Trotskyist literature makes a big point of all the imminent people Trotsky knew or talked to, including the bourgeois writers, philosophers and politicians. This attachment to the big names even manifested itself in his political work. Trotsky explained his break with Lenin at the Second Congress by his sentimental attachment to the old revolutionaries Axelrod and Zasulich. His sympathetic biographer Isaac Deutscher notes that when he went to Europe in 1907-14, his "closest ties" were not with the German Left, many of whose political views were close to his, but with "the men of the center group", who were the big names of European social-democracy of that time, and that he "felt gratified by their friendship". (35)
. Similarly, in his opposition to the idea of proletarian art, there is just a little too much worry about the quality of the first stirrings of proletarian writing, and just a little too much reveling in the big names of fashionable culture. With respect to proletarian writing, he would push it aside, saying that "in reality, these revolutionary verses were a political event, not a literary one."(36) This reached the point that Trotsky not only denied the existence in principle of proletarian art in the Soviet Union, but wrote in the early 20s that, even with respect to the concept of "revolutionary art" that he accepted, "there is no revolutionary art as yet. There are the elements of this art, there are hints and attempts at it, . . . How long will it take for such to reveal itself more clearly? It is difficult even to guess . . ."(37)
. But the Russian revolution did give rise to a flowering of revolutionary and proletarian literature. Whatever one's assessment of the relative quality and quantity of this literature, it's clear that this literature has a tremendous significance for activists elsewhere as well. They give a feel for what a revolutionary epoch is, and they express concerns and deal with issues that matter only from the proletarian standpoint.
. The listing I have given above is not a strict definition of a proletarian literary trend, but just an
indication of some aspects of such a trend. It's clear that proletarian literature began to develop
not just during the revolutionary years of the Soviet Union, but also even in other countries. It
has developed not just during revolutions, but prior to revolutions, and even during
nonrevolutionary situations, if there was any substantial motion among the working masses.
Large numbers of workers and activists have a strong attachment to various forms of literature
and art. They will go to great lengths to find literature and art that express their needs, that helps
them make sense of the world, and their inspires them. And however rudimentary the state of
specifically working class literature and art in any country, it will play an immense rule in
encouraging the confidence of the working class in its ability to stand on its own feet as a
Fawning on the bourgeois intelligentsia
. When Trotsky denied that the existence of proletarian trend in literature, this opened the way to overlooking class issues in literature. I remarked above that the manifesto Towards a Free Revolutionary Art doesn't have a class appeal. It sought to find "a common ground" for "revolutionary writers and artists" in simply the independence of art from direct political dictation. It ended by defining its aims with the slogans "The independence of art -- for the revolution" and "the revolution--for the complete liberation of art".
. But what is "revolutionary art". The slogan of revolutionary art or culture is open to at least half of Trotsky's objections against proletarian art or culture. If "proletarian culture " means ignoring the rest of culture, then "revolutionary culture" would presumable mean ignoring all works that aren't consciously revolutionary, or that aren't left-wing.
. The slogan of "revolutionary art" is, however, not subject to the other part of Trotsky's objections against proletarian culture--if one's conception is that it is a nonproletarian sort of revolutionary art. Supporting the concept of "revolutionary art", if combined with condemning the development of developing a proletarian trend in art, implies promoting a non-class appeal. It means dropping the idea of seeking to influence artists and writers to come closer to the proletariat, and it means dropping the idea of influencing the proletariat to look at the class nature of the different trends reflected in literature and culture. Indeed such appeals don't appear in the manifesto Towards a Free Revolutionary Art.
. Trotsky hoped that this manifesto would provide the basis for uniting writers and artists into an organization called FIARI, the International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art. The lack of the class appeal to this manifesto wasn't an accident. It was not only consistent with Trotsky's general view on literature, but FIARI was designed to appeal to intellectuals who were demoralized about the prospects of the proletarian struggle. This isn't just my opinion. Trotsky himself said that
"You know for such disappointed elements we created FIARI. It is not only for artists; anyone may enter. It is something of a moral or political 'resort' for the disappointed intellectuals."(38)
. Moreover, Trotsky didn't have a different stand on art for more politically active or more proletarian elements. Towards a Free Revolutionary Art is taken by all Trotskyist sources that I am aware of as another elaboration of his basic stand on literature and art, which indeed it is, and as consistent with his other literary writings.
. Note that the point of this criticism of Trotsky isn't to ban the term "revolutionary art" any more
than the criticism of Proletcult is to ban any use whatsoever of the term"proletarian culture". It is
as legitimate to talk of a revolutionary trend in literature and art as a proletarian trend. But the
Trotskyist approach, by emptying the concept of revolutionary literature of any class content,
promotes a non-class viewpoint. This is reflected in a good deal of subsequent Trotskyist cultural
work. It attempts to present in social colors all important or useful or popular works of literature,
if only they are at least vaguely progressive, and if they don't go against particular political
campaigns of the Trotskyist group.
. Trotsky spoke in favor of dialectical materialism, but he frequently made use of undialectical
ways of reasoning and judging political events. This is notable among Trotskyists to this day.
They replace dialectics with a mechanical way of reasoning, and they replace investigation of the
concrete circumstances of a situation with appeals to what's true of the world situation in
. Dialectical materialism is the most advanced form of materialism. As such, it shows that revolution isn't simply a matter of people's view of what is desirable, but is based on definite material conditions. These conditions determine the existence of definite classes, and provide the basis upon which the class struggle and the entire political superstructure take place. Moreover, the tactics of a revolutionary party have to be based on a close study of the objective conditions that arise in both the economic and political spheres. Even if a country is economically ripe for socialism, there are objective conditions that determine when a revolutionary situation will arise. The existence of a revolutionary party with correct tactics helps determine whether a revolution actually takes place, and what its fate is, but the party can't simply create a revolutionary situation when it wishes.
. Trotsky recognized materialism in theory, but negated it in practice. In his view, the "productive-technical" prerequisites for socialism had existed for one or two hundred years prior to the 20th century, and the basic "social-economic" conditions had existed since, at least, the rise of imperialism. He argued repeatedly on the basis of the world in general being ripe for socialist revolution, and he didn't believe it was necessary to look too closely at the local conditions. He held that the Marxist idea of the division of revolutions into different social types, such as bourgeois-democratic and socialist, was obsolete, because world conditions were now ripe for socialism. And he was impatient with the idea that there were objective conditions determining the existence of a revolution crisis. Thus, his adherence to materialism was skin-deep, and he pooh-poohed materialism in practice.
. The theory of "permanent revolution" was based on establishing a single pattern for all countries that had any substantial proletariat, no matter what their particular conditions. True, he did see certain differences between countries. Just as the most convinced idealist and religious believer will nevertheless check to see if any cars are coming before crossing a street, and not just rely on god's grace to avoid being run over, so Trotsky would make certain distinctions between countries. But these distinctions were accordingly rough. In judging wars, for example, any regime of a country which was in conflict with a traditional imperialist power, would be regarded as leading a just anti-imperialist struggle, no matter what the war was over or what relationship the regime had to the local population.
. This led Trotsky to make some astonishing errors. He was convinced that socialist revolution
would break out, and briefly held that it actually had broken out, in France in the mid-1930s. He
jumped to this conclusion because he believed that, on a world scale, the only alternatives in any
major crisis were socialism or reaction. He thought that the despot Haile Selassie might be a
great anti-imperialist despot, simply because Ethiopia was a subordinate country. He didn't look
at the actual conditions of Selassie's rule. (39) He was convinced that "ordinary trade union
struggle for collective bargaining " was "utopian" when there were "two millions of partially or
wholly unemployed". In fact, under conditions of mass unemployment in the Great Depression,
the trade union struggle took on tremendous importance. (40) But this type of error is repeated
over and over in the Trotskyist movement, because it learned from Trotsky to reason from some
broad generalities, rather than examining the material basis of politics and class struggle.
The role of internal contradictions
. Perhaps the key dialectical aspect of dialectical materialism is that it focuses attention on the internal contradictions that in large part determine the character of a thing or process. For example, a country, a party, a government, and so forth are affected by other countries, parties and governments that oppose them, and this is recognized by mechanical materialists as well as dialectical materialists. But dialectical materialism highlights the internal conflicts and opposing forces that exist inside a country, party and so forth, and that account for why they react to external pressures the way they do. Mechanical materialists often overlook such things, and in a number of crucial situations, so did Trotsky.
. For example, seeing that the old ruling class was overthrown and thus had lost its control over the state sector, Trotsky regarded that the state sector of the Soviet Union was inherently socialist. He didn't see the importance of the internal contradictions in the state sector. He didn't think that, as regards its basic nature, it mattered how the state sector was organized, or whether the working class had lost control of it to a new bureaucracy. He thus could only see capitalist forces in the Soviet Union as being based outside the state sector, such as among the peasantry. So he couldn't recognize the Stalinist regime that became consolidated in the 30s as state-capitalism, because it was based on the predominant role of the state sector.
. This also appeared in the reasoning of the major Trotskyist economist Evgeny Preobrazhensky. He characterized the Soviet economy in the 20s as a "commodity-socialist economy". By this he meant there were two sectors in the Soviet economy, a socialist state sector and a commodity sector, and they were supposedly completely separate from each other. He sought to show that the state sector had nothing to do with commodity relations, which were supposedly completely external to it, and supposedly only existed in the private sectors of the Soviet economy. He thus sought to prove that the use by the state sector of all the categories of commodity production, from money to rent to interest and profit, was simply a surface phenomenon, with no real significance. And he also regarded the increasingly passivity of the working class, and its lessening control of the state surface, as also irrelevant to the character of the state sector. Thus he brushed aside all the internal contradictions of the state sector as insignificant. (41)
. Similarly, when it came to dealing with the situation in Ethiopia, Trotsky could only see the external factor, its struggle against Italian aggression. He didn't think that its internal factor, its class relationships and internal conflicts, mattered as far as the possible role of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia. As a result, he was unable to provide any realistic orientation for the resistance to Italian fascist aggression.
. To this day, most Trotskyists believe that the internal nature of a subordinate country in a conflict with a traditional imperialist power is irrelevant to the attitude to be taken to its regime. Most of them thus gave the "military but (supposedly) not political" support to Saddam Hussein in the first and second Gulf Wars, and couldn't see that the Iraqi masses faced two enemies in these wars, the Hussein regime and US imperialism. Some Trotskyists also regarded the Taliban as anti-imperialist insofar as it was in a war with US imperialism.
. Trotsky's view of the organizational nature of a revolutionary proletarian party also showed a
failure to deal seriously with internal contradictions. He repeatedly identified this nature as
simply strict centralism. He failed to deal with the fact that true Marxist-Leninist centralism is
not simply any type of centralism. He talked about the initiative of the masses mainly when he
was denouncing Lenin and supporting a loose, Menshevik-style party, and he dropped this
concern when he joined the Bolsheviks and supported a centralist party. But communist
centralism has to combine the initiative of party members and of the masses with centralism; and
serious organizational work has to pay attention as to what are the conditions that allow this, and
what are the methods that facilitate this. But Trotsky didn't pay serious attention to
party-building, and at most tempered his view of strict centralism by advocating that it should
somehow be combined with factionalism.
The importance of intermediate forces and situations
. Trotsky also had a mechanical way of reasoning that denigrated the significance of intermediate forces, such as the peasantry, the other petty-bourgeoisie, and so forth. It's not that he never referred to the intermediate strata, but he in essence denied that the specific features of these trends had to be taken seriously.
. For example, on the plea that the peasantry would always follow either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie, he ignored the specific political features of the peasantry in a democratic revolution. He imagined that if the proletariat could take the lead of the peasantry in a struggle on democratic issues, that the peasantry would simply continue following the proletariat on to socialism. He didn't take seriously that the peasantry might follow the proletariat on some issues, and then balk on going further, and that the continual support of the peasantry for the proletariat would generally be dependent on the development of a class struggle within of the peasantry. This was one of the main reasons that he didn't take seriously the difference between a democratic and a socialist revolution.
. At one point, Trotsky lectured others about the need to recognize intermediate situations. He wrote: "What would we say about an artist who could distinguish only between the two opposite colors in the spectrum? That he had no sense of color or was half-blind, and that he ought to give up the easel."(42) Yet this was the position Trotsky himself was in. He could recognize that there were some intermediate colors, but he didn't think they had to be taken seriously.
. Indeed, this very passage from Trotsky was devoted to a convoluted argument that one needn't worry about whether there objectively was a revolutionary situation in France in the mid-30s, because revolutionaries could compensate for this with the "subjective factor". Thus it was part of his argument that there were only two colors in the French spectrum in the mid-1930s -- imminent socialist revolution or imminent fascism. He was unable to deal with the orientation that a working-class party should take in a situation, such as that of mid-30's France, where there was a major mass upsurge but revolution wasn't imminent.
. Thus he not only didn't take seriously the significance of intermediate political forces, bit he often outright denied the existence of intermediate political situations. Just as he oversimplified the situation in mid-30s France, he also predicted that World War II would result either in world-wide socialist revolution or world-wide totalitarianism. And his version of "permanent revolution" held that a democratic revolution could only be the early stage of an immediately-following socialist revolution.
. These errors were not a matter merely of the mistaken assessment of certain situations; they were part of a general pattern. Trotskyism has serious orientation for immediate situations. The Trotskyist movement has denounced "stageism" -- the idea that there are intermediate situations, democratic revolutions, etc. -- as the gravest treachery to the revolutionary movement and to the proletariat. It is supposedly the essence of reformism.
. But it only sabotages the struggle against reformism to declare the situation revolutionary when
it isn't. One has to know how to advance the organization and fighting ability of the working
masses, how to contrast class struggle to class collaboration, in all sorts of situations, whether
directly revolutionary or not, whether intermediate situations or even backward situations. This
is the only way to build up a revolutionary proletarian movement. This requires close attention to
the actual level of struggle and to the objective possibilities at any time. Trotskyism, however,
denounces such attention as stageism; it is thus unable to fight reformist sabotage during an
intermediate situation. It often ends up faced with the alternative of either denouncing various
movements or struggles as reformism in and of themselves, or of pretending that they are
directly socialist or revolutionary struggles. This has resulted in the Trotskyist movement
repeatedly adopting reformist positions, but phrasing them in revolutionary language.
About "algebraic formulas"
. Trotsky repeatedly denounced the idea of "democratic dictatorship" of the workers and peasants as an algebraic formula, for example, he might say that it had "a certain algebraic quality, which had to make way for more precise arithmetical quantities in the process of historical experience", this arithmetic allegedly showing that the idea was wrong. (43) Thus he contrasted algebraic formulas to good old, time-honored, solid arithmetic.
. It has since become something of a shibboleth of Trotskyist reasoning to refer to certain political terms as "algebraic formulas"; this is usually meant as a denunciation, but it is also conceded that certain demands must, alas, have an algebraic character for the time being. But the difference between algebra and arithmetic is precisely that algebra is more dialectical than arithmetic. So Trotsky's elevation of arithmetic over algebra is about as close as one can get to seeing someone who claims to be a dialectical materialist attack dialectics.
. What did Trotsky mean when he called Lenin's views "algebraic"? He meant that Lenin talked about various things without specifying precisely what they were. Thus the existence of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry must require the existence of a certain peasant trend. But the term itself doesn't specify exactly what this trend was (is it a party? which party? etc. ). So Trotsky was presumably comparing Lenin's formula to algebra's use of unknowns, like "x", "y", and "z", which may represent any one of many numbers. But in fact, it is important to recognize the existence of an underlying class trend behind its many varied manifestations (a party? a series of demonstrations? resistance to grain collection?), rather than to be blind to a class trend unless it is represented in only one particular form (a party with a set of definite declarations, for example).
. For that matter, the term "class struggle" is itself an "algebraic formula", because it doesn't specify precisely what type of struggle (strike? rebellion? revolution? etc. ) and precisely how it is organized (a spontaneous walk-out? or called by a trade union? a party? a mass revolutionary movement?), but refers only to the class content of the idea, the fact that two (or more) classes are in struggle against each other. It would make socialist theory impossible if one had to abandon such algebraic formulas as the "class struggle".
. Trotsky's view was that the only way that the peasantry could be regarded as having their own
independent trend, was if it had a particular type of party. It wouldn't suffice for there to be
peasant congresses, peasants burning down landlord estates, peasants rebelling in the army, etc.
But usually, instead of setting this narrow and mechanical idea forward directly, he simply
denounced the idea of the peasant trend as an algebraic formula. This, however, basically meant
attacking the role of abstraction, which is necessary for formulating all social laws.
Anti-Leninism in the name of Leninism
. In the latter period of his life, Trotsky liked to speak in the name of Lenin, and often called Trotskyism "Bolshevik-Leninism". But in fact he discarded various characteristic features of Marxism-Leninism, and even various basic views from the days of Marx. Some of the differences between Trotskyism and Leninism which I have dealt with in parts one through four of this article are as follows:
* The Trotskyist theory of "permanent revolution" discards the Marxist view of the division of revolutions into bourgeois-democratic and socialist ones.
* The Trotskyist version of the "transitional program" discards the Marxist view of the division of demands into a minimum and maximum program.
* Trotsky paid little attention to party-building; he mainly noted much the centralized aspect of a proletarian party; and his organizational writings are mainly marked by anti-party theorizing, whether it is his early direct writings against centralism or his later theories on factionalism. Leninism on the contrary is in large part the theory of building up a new type of proletarian party.
* Although Trotsky was noted for his vehement polemics, he often combined this with conciliation with opportunism. From 1904-1917, Trotsky opposed the Leninist struggle against opportunism. Later Trotsky's "French Turn" inaugurated the period of Trotskyist "entrism" into reformist parties. Instead of a consistent struggle against opportunism, Trotsky combined sectarianism with entrism.
* Trotskyism saw the state sector, if the old ruling class has been dispossessed, as always basically socialist. But Lenin raised the issue that the use during the New Economic Policy of business-accounting methods in the state-sector affected the class nature of the state sector.
* Trotsky denigrated the right to national self-determination, only seeing its value if secession would lead directly to socialist revolution, or at least weaken one of the main imperialist powers. Lenin on the contrary emphasized the role of the right to self-determination, of letting the oppressed nationality itself decide whether to form its own country, in ensuring proletarian unity. He maintained this even in cases where secession wasn't advisable. And he did not restrict the right of self-determination to nationalities dominated by imperialist governments, but regarded it as a general principle applicable to other countries, and even retaining its validity under socialism.
* Trotsky's view of anti-imperialism negated examining the internal situation of subordinate countries, while Lenin connected anti-imperialism and the class struggle inside the subordinate countries.
* Trotsky denigrated the significance of intermediate forces and situations, while Lenin laid stress on them.
. Trotskyism differs from Leninism, but shows remarkable similarities to Stalinism. Aside from various theses which it picked up from "left communism", it is in large part simply the flip side of Stalinism, or Stalinism "turned inside out". Many of the Trotskyist theses which have been reviewed in this article are similar to those of Stalinism, even if the Trotskyists present them in their own language:
* Trotsky's view of the inherently socialist nature of the state sector, no matter what the relationship of the working class to the new ruling class, is similar to that of Stalinism.
* Trotsky's "French turn", entrism, and attitude towards the social-democrats are reminiscent of the policies put forward at the Seventh World Congress of the CI, which also sort to ensure communist and social-democratic unity. In both cases, political independence was sacrificed to the pursuit of unity with the social-democrats.
* The Trotskyist movement and the Stalinist regime both ended up painting various nonrevolutionary regimes as anti-imperialist or even revolutionary. Moreover, under the rubric of giving "military but not political support" to various regimes, the Trotskyists have ended up providing support for vicious regimes involved in fierce suppression of the working masses, as the Soviet revisionists have done under other pretexts.
* Most of the Trotskyist movement has promoted that Stalinist state-capitalist regimes are economically socialist, and some Trotskyists have practiced "deep entrism" into Stalinist parties.
* The harsh internal life of Trotskyist parties, and Trotsky's sectarian mud-throwing at those who
differed with him, resembles similar practices of the Stalinists.
Assessment of the revolutionary experience of the 20th century
. Revolutionary theory can't afford to stand still; it must continually be tested against the experience of the revolutionary movement, and it must continually evolve to deal with the result of such tests as well as deal with changes in the world economy and political situation. If Trotskyism, despite all its other failings, had at least promoted sensitivity to the changing circumstances facing the working class, and provided a framework for summing up revolutionary experience, it would have made a valuable contribution to proletarian theory. But the dogmas of Trotskyism has proved particular rigid and unable to deal with the experience of the century since the Bolshevik revolution. It is Marxism-Leninism, and not Trotskyism, that has the necessary ability to grow further and provide a basis for revolutionary work in the coming period.
* For example, one of the key issues raised by the experience of the last century is the analysis of attempts to build socialism, and the repudiation of the oppressive Stalinist state-capitalism that resulted from the degeneration of the Bolshevik revolution. Lenin's ideas on socialist transition, the experience of a number of countries, and the sad experience of Stalinist state-capitalism provide important lessons for future attempts at socialism. The Bolshevik revolution dramatically advanced revolutionary theory; for example, it brought to the fore the question of the nature of the transitional economy that exists after the revolution but prior to the achievement of a classless, communist society. But this experience has to be analyzed, and revolutionary theory can't simply rely even on the best formulas achieved in the Bolshevik revolution or elsewhere. There has to be analysis of the nature of the transitional economy and of its difference from Stalinist state-capitalism. But Trotsky couldn't do this, and orthodox Trotskyism still regards Stalinist regimes as essentially socialist.
. Thus Trotskyism has been spectacularly unable to deal with the question of state-capitalism regimes. Even those Trotskyist trends which recognize the existence of revisionist state-capitalism are still stuck with Trotsky's own formulas about the state sector, formulas that aren't that different from Stalin's. They don't recognize the connection between workers' control over the state sector and its basic economic nature. Thus Tony Cliff's theory of state-capitalism is that, no matter how oppressed the workers, state ownership meant that the Stalinist economy operated like a single enterprise. It was supposedly a fully planned economy that would have had no capitalist features at all if it weren't for its external trade with the world market: it might still have been repulsive and non-socialist, but it wouldn't have been capitalism. Walter Daum's theory of state-capitalism recognizes that the Stalininst economy was state-capitalism (he calls it "statified capitalism") independent of its foreign trade. But he doesn't see that whether, and to what extent, the workers actually control the economy determines the nature of state-ownership; instead he tends to discuss the degree of state-capitalism as depending simply on how far state-ownership actually centralizes the entire economy. And his idea that the main features of the Stalinist economy are explained by there being a single "national capital" has much in common with Cliff's view of the state-capitalist economy working as a single enterprise.
* Another key issues facing the working class movement is the nature, and methods of organization, of the proletarian party. The Communist International sought to build up a new type of revolutionary party, but the ugly Stalinist caricature of the party threatened to bring this into disrepute among activists. It's necessary to analyze the positive and negative experiences of the communist parties in order to guide the building of future anti-revisionist communist parties. But Trotsky's denigration of party-building has left Trotskyism incapable of this task.
. Trotsky could only see centralism as the main aspect of the communist party; he couldn't deal with the preconditions for centralism and the difference between revolutionary and bureaucratic centralism. To this day the Trotskyist movement combines extreme centralism internally with a denigration of party-building that keeps it arguing and rearguing the rights and wrongs of Trotsky's polemic against Lenin's famous work What Is To Be Done?
* There is also the question of the changes in world capitalism and imperialism since the Bolshevik revolution. For example, as a result of the national liberation movement, there are few outright colonies left in the world. Some former colonies and semi-colonies are today important regional powers and/or imperialists or would-be imperialists. Trotskyist theory, which had difficulty even in dealing with the anti-colonial struggle, has dramatically failed to deal with the new situation. Most Trotskyists hold that it is impossible for new imperialisms to arise; supposedly only the traditional great powers of a century ago can be imperialist.
. Trotskyism reaches this conclusion by reasoning from basic Trotskyist principles, rather than by examining the world. For example, they argue that, for a former colony or semi-colony to become a new imperialism or even have real national independence, would mean that it had solved various of "the national and democratic tasks of the revolution". But the theory of permanent revolution says that this is impossible, unless the proletariat has taken power and broken with world capitalism. So, without examining the actual role of these countries and their local bourgeoisies in the world today, it may simply be assumed that "clearly, the nationalist struggles under bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership have been incapable of establishing new imperialisms to rival the existing ones. They have all been subordinated to imperialism, which is why 'real' national independence cannot be achieved outside the conquest of power by the working class."(44)
. Some Trotskyist trends, such as the Morenoists and Lambertists, have gone even further and argued that there couldn't be any real development of the productive forces any more. Such growth would contradict their conception of the nature of the present imperialist epoch. Thus instead of analyzing the actual economy, they reason from a priori general principles. Other Trotskyists accept that economic expansion has taken place, but still deny that new imperialisms can exist.
. This denial is one of the reasons that Trotskyism often finds itself in the position of offering "military but (supposedly) not political support" to reactionary regimes, if they are in conflict with the traditional imperialist powers. The Trotskyists may end up siding with one imperialism against another, because they don't recognize the existence of new imperialisms. And in general, the Trotskyist trends have repeatedly failed to recognize that the working class must fight both the traditional imperialist powers and the local reactionary forces. This led many Trotskyists to regard the Taliban and the Saddam Hussein regimes as forces waging an anti-imperialist struggle. Trotskyism claimed that the theory of "permanent revolution" would prevent the subordination of the working masses to the local bourgeoisie of the subordinate countries, but the advocates of "permanent revolution" have turned out to be the champions of such subordination.
* In the present world situation, the working class is disorganized, and it has before it a difficult struggle to reconstitute itself as an independent revolutionary force. The working class has been involved in a number of the democratic upheavals that have taken place around the world, but socialist revolution is not imminent. Trotskyism is unable to deal with this situation, as it is stuck with its by-word that there will either be socialist revolution or fascism. It is faced with either pretending that various movements are socialist, and thus retarding the development of an independent working class force inside the movement, or denigrating the struggle altogether.
. Overall, Trotskyism is an obstacle to the development of a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the world situation, and to the development of independent working class movements around the world. It poses as anti-Stalinist, but it is not an anti-revisionist theory. The restoration of the revolutionary content of Marxism-Leninism, its rescue from the distortions of the past and its adaptation to the new conditions of the present, requires a struggle against Trotskyism as well as Stalinism.
(1) Isaac Deutscher, the Preface to The Prophet Armed/Trotsky: 1978-1921, p. viii. In the quotation from Shaw, the words in brackets are from Deutscher. (Return to text)
(2) "The Serge-Trotsky Papers", edited and introduced by D. J. Cotterill, p. 155, which footnotes this passage of 1939 to Writings of Leon Trotsky, Supplement (1934-1940), Pathfinder Press. (Text)
(3) "The Dutch Section and the International", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36), p. 368. (Text)
(4) Ibid. (Text)
(5) The Serge-Trotsky Papers, edited and introduced by D. J. Cotterill, p. 155. It's dated 16 April 1936, and footnote 24 points out it was never sent, but "was found in the Boris Nicolaevsky Collection, Hoover Archive, Stanford University, series 231." Moreover, the footnote continues, the letter "was also cited by Dale Reed and Michael Jakobson in 'Trotsky Papers at the Hoover Institution: One Chapter of an Archival Mystery Story,' American Historical Review, vol. 92, no 2, April 1987, p. 366." (Text)
(6) This list of insults from Trotsky's "Report of the Siberian Delegation" (1903) and his pamphlet "Our Political Tasks" (1904) is taken from vol. 1 of Tony Cliff's laudatory biography of Trotsky, Trotsky: Towards October/1879-1917. (Text)
(7) Cliff, Ibid. , p. 50. (Text)
(8) The quotes from the letter are from vol. 3, p. 83 of Cliff's Trotsky: Fighting the Rising Stalinist bureaucracy/1923-1927, who footnoted them to Stalin's Works, vol. 6, pp. 365-6. Isaac Deutscher also referred to this letter in vol. 2 of his biography of Trotsky, The Prophet Unarmed/Trotsky: 1921-1929, p. 33; moreover, in the Trotsky Archives at Harvard, he found a letter of Trotsky to Olminsky (Dec. 6, 1921) where Trotsky admitted that he had written this letter to Chkeidze, but asked that it be kept secret. (Text)
(9) Georges Vereeken, The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement, 1976, p. 371. (Text)
(10) Cited by Lenin in "The Historical Meaning of the Inner-Party Struggle in Russia", 1910, Collected Works, vol. 16, pp. 374, 386, referring to an article by Trotsky in the German journal Neue Zeit. (Text)
(11) Cliff, "Chapter 3: The 1903 Congress" in Trotsky: Towards October/1879-1917, p. 36. (Text)
(12) "Trotsky uses the boldest type for his assertions--it's a wonder he never tires of making solemn vows--that his paper is 'not a factional but a Party organ'", wrote Lenin in "Trotsky's Diplomacy and a Certain Party Platform", Dec. 8, 1911, Collected Works, vol. 17, p. 360. (Text)
(13) My Life: At Attempt at an Autobiography, pp. 162-3. Also see Chapter 1, "The enforced nature of this work, and its aim", The Permanent Revolution, pp. 173-4 of the Pathfinder Press pamphlet The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects. While he admitted that he had tried to create certain groupings, probably referring to the August Bloc among other things, he denied that he had strove to create a grouping on the basis of his theory of "permanent revolution". Thus he continued to cover up and defend most of his factional activity prior to 1917. (Text)
(14) Trotsky, "Two Great Traditions: The Great Rebellion and Chartism", Leon Trotsky on Britain, Pathfinder Press, p. 110. Actually, the passage on Cromwell extends on for a number of pages, and there are as well several other laudatory references to Cromwell in Leon Trotsky on Britain. He also identified defense of Ethiopia against Italian fascist aggression with support for the dictatorship of Haile Selassie. He wrote that "a dictator can also play a very progressive role in history", and compared Haile Selassie to Robespierre and Cromwell. This is discussed in my article "Anti-imperialism and the class struggle" in Communist Voice #29, June 20, 2002. (See the section "Trotsky and the Emperor of Ethiopia", which refers to Trotsky's article On dictators and the heights of Oslo: A letter to an English comrade, April 22, 1936".)
. Robespierre played a major role in a number of important events of the French revolution, although he did not have the predominant role among the Jacobins that Cromwell had in the English revolutionary movement. Even during the period of Jacobin rule, the Robespierrists were, until the last few months, only one of the three major Jacobin factions. Indeed, when Robespierre triumphed over the other factions, in March-April, 1794, this was the beginning of the end of Jacobin rule. Naturally, however, Robespierre is largely identified with this last period of his activity, when he achieved his greatest domination of the Committee of Public Safety, when he beheaded the leaders of the other Jacobin factions, and when he intensified the revolutionary terror beyond all reason -- "to a pitch of insanity" is Engels' phrase in his letter of Dec. 4, 1889 to Victor Adler. When Trotsky denounced Lenin as a Robespierre it was this period of Robespierre's activity that he was presumably referring to. When he later praised Lenin by comparing him to Robespierre, he left aside his denunciation of this period.
. In this regard, there is an astonishing defense of Robespierre in the laudatory biography of Trotsky by his widow Natalya Sedova and Serge. They wrote that "during the French revolution, the upstarts and the corrupt, supported by the exhausted masses, had decapitated the Jacobin party and stabilized the bourgeois regime at the very moment when Robespierre and Saint-Just were preparing to ameliorate the lot of the poor." (Ch. 4, Section VIII. "Economic Problems" in The Life and Death of Trotsky) Actually, prior to the overthrow of the Jacobins and paving the way for it, it was Robespierre who "decapitated the Jacobin party". Literally. It was Robespierre who had such major Jacobin leaders as Ebert, leader of the leftist Jacobins and the Parisian sanculottes, and Danton, leader of the rightist Jacobins, guillotined: the Ebertists in March 1794, the Dantonists in early April 1794. But Sedova and Serge's defense of Robespierre is in line with Trotsky's identification of Jacobin revolutionary rule as simply Robespierrism: he identified the tremendous mass activity of the sanculottes in 1793, which was closely associated with the Commune and its Ebertist leaders, simply with Robespierrism, when he wrote of "the period of the Jacobin, sanculotte, terrorist, Robespierrian democracy of 1793". (Results and Prospects, ch. III) Thus Trotsky, like Sedova and Serge, covered up that it was Robespierre who eventually took it upon himself to decapitate the mass organizations in Paris and break the power of the sanculotte masses organized in the revolutionary-democratic Paris Commune of 1792-4.
. It's also a myth that Robespierre and Saint-Just were just about to institute far-reaching measures that would have ameliorated the lot of the poor. On the contrary, after the execution of the Ebertist leaders of the Paris Commune, the Robespierrists loosened price controls (the so-called "maximum" of prices), thus worsening the condition of the poor and causing widespread discontent among the Parisian sanculottes. Then, a week before their downfall, the Robespierrists instituted wage-controls, thus extending the "maximum" to wages. Faced with demonstrations against this step, the Robespierrists were on the verge of renouncing wage-controls when they fell from power. But it was too late. When the rest of the Jacobin leadership turned on Robespierre, the sanculottes didn't care. It is reported that some sanculottes, shouting "fucking maximum", mocked the Robespierrists while they were being led to the guillotine. (Albert Soboul, Ch. 7, "The 'Maximum' of Parisian Wages and 9 Thermidor [July 27, 1794]", Understanding the French Revolution, pp. 105-113) Thus the Robespierrists were on the verge of renouncing one of their own economic steps when they were overthrown; this was only taking place under pressure; and this is hardly the impression given by Sedova and Serge when they drew a picture of the Robespierrists being on the verge of saving the poor. True, soon after the fall of the Robespierrists, the Jacobins as a whole fell from power. This resulted in a far greater deterioration of the living conditions of the sanculottes than had occurred in the few months of Robespierre's predominance, and caused them great distress. (Ibid. , p. 116) (Text)
(15) Part Q. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, emphasis as in the original. (Text)
(16) Marx and Engels, Selected Works in Three Volumes, vol. I, pp. 183-4. (Text)
(17) Ibid. , Ch. 1, The Permanent Revolution. (Text)
(18) Luxemburg's denigration of party-building is discussed in part III of this article, see Communist Voice, vol. 10, #2, Aug. 25, 2004, p. 36 col. 2 - p. 37 col. 1. This was closely tied to her attitude to the struggle against opportunism; it meant that despite her criticisms of the German party leadership, she didn't see the role of the struggle against opportunism in shaping the party itself. For example, Lenin cited her proposal to the International Socialist Bureau in December 1913 that all the different groups in Russia should compromise and unite, as the struggle between them was supposedly simply a "chaos of factional strife", and her denunciation of the Bolsheviks as the most factional of all. See "Report to the C. C. of the R. S. D. L. P. to the Brussels Conference and Instructions to the C. C. Delegation," June 1914, Collected Works, vol. 20, p. 498. In fact, the International Socialist Bureau did decide to hold the Brussels Conference of July 16-18, 1914, where the majority, in the name of unifying the Russian social-democrats, in effect demanded an end to the Bolshevik struggle against opportunism and liquidationism. The Bolsheviks defied the decision of the Conference. (Text)
(19) See the "The transitional program" in "An outline of Trotskyism's anti-Marxist theories (pt. 1)", Communist Voice, vol. 8, #3, Dec. 15, 2002, p. 34, col. 2. (Text)
(20) Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1991, definition 1 of "faction", emphasis added. (Text)
(21) See the section "Faction and Not Party" in "The International Left Opposition, Its Tasks and Methods", January 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-33), p. 54. (Text)
(22) "A Letter to the Politburo", March 15, 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-33), pp. 141-2, emphasis as in the original. An "Explanation" by the Editorial Staff of the Bulletin of the Opposition, dated May 10, 1933, was appended to the version in the Writings. It stated that the Politbureau rejected the letter, as illustrated by a "new orgy of arrests", etc. , so that the letter was now being sent to "responsible (party and government) personnel". The existence of such a note suggests that the letter might have been considered for publication in the May 1933 issue of the Bulletin, but the Writings said that it got the letter from the Harvard College Library (presumably the Trotsky archives), not the Bulletin, although it footnoted other materials directly to the May 1933 issue of the Bulletin. Also, in May 1933, Trotsky publicly revealed the existence of the letter, although not its text, to a journalist. He emphasized that he maintained the same proposal "absolutely independently of the present leading group's [of the CPSU] attitude to it." ("An Explanation", May 13, 1933, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-33), p. 235. ) (Text)
(23) "We need an Honest Inner-Party Agreement", March 15, 1933, from #34, May 1933 of the "Bulletin of the Opposition", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1932-33), pp. 164-8. (Text)
(24) "For New Communist Parties and the New International (July 27, 1933)", Writings of Leon Trotsky (1933-34). (Text)
(25) See www. fas. harvard. edu/~hpcws/resources. htm, which is the website of the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies, which works with the relevant historical archives at Harvard, including the Trotsky archives. The section of the this web page on "The papers of Leon Trotsky" discusses his approaches to the Stalinist leadership in the 30s. (Text)
(26) "Perspectives in Poland",July 18, 1935, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-56), p. 45. (Text)
(27) "The League Faced with a Turn", June 1934, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1834-35), p. 34. (Text)
(28) See the excerpts from Shulyatikov's The Justification of Capitalism in West-European Philosophy (from Descartes to E. Mach) given in vol. 38 of Lenin's Collected Works. In particular, see Shulyatikov's remarks on Cartesianism on pp. 492-3. (Text)
(29) "Rough Draft of a Resolution on Proletarian Culture", Oct. 9, 1920, Collected Works, vol. 42, p. 217, emphasis as in the original. And "On Proletarian Culture", Oct. 8, 1920, Collected Works, vol. 31, pp. 316-7. (Text)
(30) "What is Proletarian Culture and Is It Possible?" in On Literature and Art, a collection of writings by Trotsky with an introduction by Paul N. Siegel, p. 45. (Text)
(31) This manifesto is included in the collection of Trotsky's writings entitled On Literature and Art, where it is asserted that it is mainly Trotsky's work although it was published in the autumn 1938 issue of Partisan Review over the signatures of Diego Rivera and Andre Breton. (Text)
(32) Lenin, "Eugene Pottier: The 25th Anniversary of His Death", Jan. 3, 1913, Collected Works, vol. 36, p. 223. (Text)
(33) Cited in Marx and Engels, On Literature and Art, p. 164. (Text)
(34) Ibid. , "What is Proletarian Culture and Is It Possible?, pp. 47-8. (Text)
(35) Chapter VII. "The Doldrums: 190701914", The Prophet Armed/Trotsky: 1879-1921, pp. 182-3, 185-6. (Text)
(36) "Class and Art" in On Literature and Art, p. 65. (Text)
(37) "Communist Policy Toward Art" in On Literature and Art, p. 59. (Text)
(38) He said this in a conversation with American Trotskyist leaders in Coyoacan, Mexico on April 5, 1939. See Leon Trotsky on Black National and Self-determination, edited and with introductory notes by George Breitman, Merit Publishers, 1967, p. 35. (This book identifies FIARI as the "International Federation of Revolutionary Writers and Artists", but all other Trotskyist sources I have seen give FIARI's name as the "International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art"). The discussion of April 5 concerned whether to found a special organization for black people. Trotsky noted that in this discussion the American Trotskyist leaders were concerned mainly with "disappointed Negro intellectuals [who] looked for a new field on the basis of the Negro question. Of course we must utilize them, but they are not a basis for a large mass movement." He then contrasted the building of the mass movement to the project of building up FIARI, saying that one might use disappointed intellectuals in a project like FIARI, "that is one thing, but you consider these Negro intellectuals for the directing of a mass movement". (Text)
(39) See the section "Fantasy assessments" in part three of this article in Communist Voice #34, August 25, 2004. In particular, see the section "The French revolution that wasn't", p. 32, and "The Search for an Anti-imperialist dictators", pp. 31-2. (Text)
(40) Sec. 1, "Once Again, Whither France?" in Whither France, p. 62. (Text)
(41) See "Preobrazhenskyideologist of state capitalism (part one)" in Communist Voice #18, August 1, 1998. (Text)
(42) Near the end of the first section of "Once Again, Whither France?", as in the pamphlet Whither France, Merit Publishers, 1968, p. 60. (Text)
(43) Section 10. "What is the permanent revolution?: Basic Postulates" in The Permanent Revolution, as in the pamphlet The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, p. 277. (Text)
(44) Phil Hearse, "Permanent Revolutiona Reply to Doug Lorimer", The Activist, November
1995, at the website www. dsp. org. au/dsp/19990801. htm. (Text)
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