A Critical Attempt to Evaluate Trotskyism
From New Interventions, Vol.3 No.3, 1992
IT IS something of a banality to say that Trotskyism is in crisis, as this has been the case since the start of this particular current, the conditions it emerged from being of great defeats of the workers’ movement. But today we see the collapse of Stalinism, the dissolution of some CPs, and the ejection from state-power of others, and yet Trotskyism has not seen any strengthening as a result. On the contrary it has entered crisis itself. Events have bypassed Trotskyism, which always claimed to be the counter-position to Stalinism, the heir of Bolshevism, and Marxism in our time. Why is this so?
Below an attempt is made to sketch out some of the main causes. Obviously it must restrict itself to some themes, underlying theoretical problems, and pointers, but can’t pretend to deliver either the final word, or even a full historical-materialist treatment of the subject. Space doesn’t allow it, and it is taken for granted that readers are familiar with the historical events covered, the arguments of the protagonists, and the main source materials.
Trotsky the Revolutionary
I have seen no argumentation that the case had been proven, merely because Trotsky found himself in agreement with Lenin at that time, or that he should therefore apologise for his activity in the intervening years. The role of Trotsky stands up for itself in those years, and can be compared without any shame to that of the prominent old Bolsheviks.
Such a view takes as its starting point the idea that Lenin was the repository of total omniscience; that everything he undertook from 1903 till his death was correct, all negative results were the faults of others, and; that the October revolution was the logical outcome of his one-and-a-half decade fight to build this particular party. This ludicrous view is not only false, as Bolshevism only definitely separated itself as a distinct party after the revolution, but it is a moralistic and not a Marxist, historical materialist, one. It starts from a preconceived norm from which to judge. Unfortunately Soviet historical writing took that path, and logically ended up with Lenin as a God. Of course, it merely followed the party line. Stalin was Lenin’s heir. Sadly, Trotsky bowed to the Lenin-cult and thus undercut himself, as he could never claim to Lenin’s lifelong collaboration, and thus erased himself, either as an equal, or as an independent thinker of some stature.
If the organisation shaped by Lenin was so perfect, then how come he had to disown so many of its leading figures, and his hand-reared assistants, to threaten resignation from its leading body in order to appeal to the party rank-and-file against it in the 1917 events? Twelve years previous, in the 1905 revolution, his faction played no role until the end, and regarded its greatest creation, the soviet, with suspicion, as the workers had created it without their programmatic guidance.
Trotsky was known in the European labour movement as a writer before 1905, critical of Lenin’s concept of the party, he supported the Mensheviks for a while after the split; thereafter he would be independent of the factions. It was this that allowed him to play his role as Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet in 1905, and who can deny that it was a revolutionary one ?
The elaboration of the Permanent Revolution theory by Parvus and Trotsky, from their analysis of the 1905 revolution, and the publication of Results and Prospects in 1906, would not only help in changing the conception of the Russian revolution, but create a ferment in the German socialist movement too. Just as Lenin saw that the bourgeoisie would play no revolutionary role, that the revolution would have to be carried out by the workers and peasants, so Trotsky saw that it would have to go beyond bourgeois property relations and proceed to socialist ones; and that therefore it would have to take on an international socialist character in order to survive and flourish. The previous concept, developed by Plekhanov, was merely the appliance of the SPD’s [Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, the Social Democratic Party of Germany] linear concept to the conditions of Russian society. Thus Trotsky’s theory – like Lenin’s – was a revolutionary critique and a theoretical development of it.
In August 1912 a conference was held in Vienna, promoted by Trotsky, in order to try to unite the party factions. It failed and Trotsky criticised it in hindsight. This desire for unity is held by some to indicate Trotsky’s centrism at the time. Yet his understanding of the coming revolution placed him undoubtedly in the proletarian camp without any softness for bourgeois liberalism. The centrism accusation stems purely from his different concept of the party: that is, not a programmatic question but an organisational one.
When the war came in 1914, Trotsky would write The War and the International, a thoroughly revolutionary book. He advanced an internationalist line in the paper Nashe Slovo. He differed from Lenin on tactics.
Trotsky’s authorship of the Zimmerwald manifesto, from the September 1915 conference, again speaks for itself. Differences within the Zimmerwald movement are taken by some as proof of centrism, yet although some pacifists and centrists were involved, others like Luxemburg’s associates, differed on the foundation of the new International, again a tactical question. After noting his agreement with the Bolsheviks during the course of the revolutionary developments, Trotsky would join them at the August 1917 party congress. He would still have tactical differences with Lenin, at times he showed more astuteness (planning the uprising, opposing the march on Poland, etc., not to mention his military capability). His earlier critique of Bolshevism was abandoned and he thus minimised his past activity. From then on he not only became a "model Bolshevik", but until his elbowing aside by the triumvirate of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin, he shared responsibility for the actions of the Soviet regime.
Bolshevism in Power
As the civil war ended and the external threat receded, the opposition parties within the working class were suppressed. The Kronstadt revolt and peasant uprisings were put down. Then factional groups within the one party were ruled out, supposedly on a temporary basis.. The regime had already come into conflict with the classes it was supposedly based upon and in whose interests it was ruling. Trotsky’s views are set out in Terrorism and Communism, his reply to Kautsky. He became a partisan of "labour armies", and would call for the "militarisation of labour". These measures were in response to a desperate situation, but some people tried to make a virtue out of necessity.
At the Tenth Congress, the positions of the working class were raised by the Workers Opposition and Democratic Centralism factions. Whereas, "the extreme of ‘bureaucratic centralism’ was represented ... by Trotsky and his followers, who demanded that the trade unions be integrated in the machinery of the Government" (Deutscher, Stalin, 1966, p.227). Lenin pointed out, in seeking a compromise, that the Soviet state wasn’t a Workers’ State, as Trotsky was maintaining, but that it rested on two classes, workers and peasants, and that furthermore it suffered from "bureaucratic deformation". Deutscher expresses very well the outcome of the congress decisions. In saving the gains of the revolution, "the party was mutilating its own body and mind" (ibid., p.230). In reality the party members were disenfranchised and the party placed in the hands of its own apparatus.
There is no evidence that Trotsky was a friend of workers democracy during those times, quite the contrary, and some historians put down the failure of the workers to rally to him later to his earlier authoritarian traits. It would be Lenin who, noticing the growing bureaucracy, took steps to combat it. He set up the Workers and Peasants Inspectorate, but instead of acting as intended it became a source of bureaucracy (in his Testament Lenin criticised Trotsky for tending towards an "administrative" outlook, but he himself tended to seek out "organisational" solutions to political problems). As Lenin became aware of Stalin’s abuse of power and its concentration in his hands he sought out Trotsky to help him fight it. However the latter lot him down when he kept silent at the Twelfth congress in April 1923.
The summer of 1923 saw the outbreak of unofficial strikes and the discovery of secret factional groupings within the party. As well as reviving the Soviet economy, the NEP (New Economic Policy), introduced in 1921, was resulting in inflation, inequalities and working class discontent. The oppositions were demanding a restoration of internal life within the party. The triumvirs decided to repress them. In October, Trotsky wrote a letter to the CC with his proposals. Among other things, describing the Twelfth Congress, he wrote: "Many of the speeches at that time spoken in defence of workers’ democracy seemed to me exaggerated, and to a considerable extent demagogish, in view of the incompatibility of a fully developed workers democracy with the regime of dictatorship" (Documents of the 1923 Opposition, New Park, 1975, p.2). Trotsky sees a contradiction between workers’ democracy and its own class dictatorship. This was the point made by Luxemburg in her critical essay. The party rules in this schema of things and not the class.
A week later, 46 prominent Bolsheviks delivered their declaration, quite independent of Trotsky, to the Politburo. Pyatakov, Preobrazhensky, Sapronov and others had previously belonged to other oppositions. A picture of the bureaucratisation certainly emerges from their speeches in Documents .... Nothing came of the calls for reintroducing internal party democracy.
Deutscher describes the situation thus: "The apathy, if not the hostility, of the masses drove [the revolution] to rely increasingly on rule by coercion rather than by persuasion" (Stalin, p.263). Did workers’ democracy mean the unbanning of the Mensheviks and SRs, asks Deutscher. Most of Stalin’s critics thought not. Trotsky merely demanded "a degree of administrative liberalism ... promulgated from above" (ibid., p.263). Trotsky had not appealed to rank-and-file party members and certainly not to the working class at large. As time went on, says Deutscher, Trotsky believed that things would get better, and coercion could be lessened and democracy expanded. This explains Trotsky’s real or apparent inconsistency. Deutscher touches on the fundamental reason for Trotsky’s attitude.
Trotsky was optimistic about the future while Stalin was pessimistic. One should remember that the hopes raised in Germany that year had led to nothing. Trotsky believed that if socialist policies were explained to the working class it would support them, while Stalin had a deep distrust of the masses and doubted whether they would support the regime if coercion was relaxed. Deutscher points out that here lies the fundamental difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism. This is also the historical turning point, when Trotskyism will begin to emerge a current. Upon the death of Lenin an ideology will take shape. Stalinism will emerge largely in response to attacks of Trotsky.
Deutscher describes Trotsky’s posture as characterised by "hesitancy" and "self-doubt". After all, as well as being a parvenu in the party, he also said that he agreed with Lenin’s measure banning factions, but that it was being abused. In the mid-1920s, one can see Trotsky’s half-heartedness and failure to present a coherent alternative to the triumvirate. This is illustrated by his shabby treatment of Max Eastman, first encouraging him to publish Lenin’s Testament, then disowning him. Likewise his disowning of others. It was precisely because of the half-hearted and hidden way he fought that his views were unknown within the CI sections at the time they were being condemned (of course, his positions weren’t spread for debate by the triumvirs). So, in brief, one can say that Trotsky was merely a critic of the regime at that time, but associated himself with it.
The Ideological Underpinning of Bolshevism
In essence the SPD was made up of two strands of political thought: the Marxist one, stemming from the party founded by Bebel and Liebknecht at Eisenach in 1869, would fuse with the ADAV [Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiter Verein, the General German Workers Association] of Lassalle in 1875 at Gotha, from whence the famous programme emerged. But the old Eisenach party had been heavily influenced by the ideas of Lassalle, and the programme of the fused party was clearly so, and would be subjected to a thorough criticism by Marx himself in one of his classic texts.
Some historians maintain that Lassalle’s ideas had a bigger impact on the SPD than those of Marx. Lassalle himself was heavily influenced by the philosophy of Hegel, especially its right wing school. In this view, historical development evolves towards a higher form of society, which is contained always within the existing one. It is only a question of the higher society attaining legal recognition, as in a constitution, for example. Already in 1849, Marx polemicised with Lassalle on this idea, as it concerned the Prussian state, and although he agreed that the higher form of society developed within the lower, he insisted that it would not attain its recognition by it being expressed in law, but only when the existing form, that is, the existing state and social order, had been ruptured.
Engels attempted to combat the influence of Lassalle by popularising the concepts of Marx in newspapers and small booklets, and by polemics such as Anti-Dühring. He himself would exercise a considerable influence upon the leading layer of the SPD, but the ordinary party members were influenced in the main at second-hand, by interpretations of that leading layer.
The turning point for the development of the SPD would be 1880, when the party became legal and would adopt a new programme in place of the one adopted at the unity congress of Gotha. The new one, known as the Erfurt Programme, would become known all over the world and greatly copied. it has a theoretical section written by Kautsky, and a practical one written by Bernstein.
In attempting to present a Marxist outlook in his maximum programme, Kautsky actually revises Marxism. He interprets the analysis of Marx as an industrialisation model. Rather than seeing Capital as an attempt to expose the essential laws of capital, he instead presents it as a portrayal of capitalist development in a model form. A model of industrialisation as it will proceed under capitalist forms, and thereby also a model which provides the basis for the socialist overturn of society. In his third stage of capitalist development, large-scale industry, the working class grows and becomes stronger; this strengthens the social-democracy and its influence in parliament.
This gradual accumulation of strength in parliament will lead to a gradual change of the state. This interpretation of Marxism, its solidifying into a model of industrialisation, permits it to fit in with the pragmatic part, where Bernstein has inserted a series of concrete aims for social-democratic policy.
Under absolutism the SPD had attracted a significant sector of petty bourgeois democrats, as it had been the only real democratic opposition party, and this sector would attain an ideological influence within it with the appearance of Bernstein’s Evolutionary Socialism, at the end of the decade. This book sees the third stage of development replaced by a fourth, in which share-capital will dominate. With the growing state-intervention, a democratisation of society becomes possible. This was a frontal attack on Marxism.
Kautsky attempted to counter Bernstein’s arguments, but he failed to get to grips with the fundamentals. This task was carried out by Rosa Luxemburg, who advanced a thoroughgoing proletarian viewpoint.
Plekhanov – the father of Russian Marxism – encounters the texts of Engels and Kautsky in Western Europe and becomes a convinced Marxist. He would see a linear development of Russian society and the bourgeois revolution as the necessary next stage. In reality he was merely taking up Kautsky’s view on Germany and applying it to Russia.
Hilferding would later supplement Kautsky and his interpretation of Marxism through his theory of Finance Capital. He too saw the proletariat taking over from the representatives of finance-capital in this final stage of capitalism, and thus painlessly moving into socialism. The state, in this view, isn’t to be smashed, it is the actual tool through which one directs the change of society. Kautsky would develop this further during the war with his theory of "ultra-imperialism", as a variation on the same theme, which is outside the framework of this particular text.
The Second International
At the bottom of all the deviations from, and revisions of, Marxism, lies the fundamental philosophical outlook stemming from Lassalle’s interpretation of Hegel: mechanical materialism replaced the dialectical approach.
The implications of the theories of Kautsky – the pope of the movement – and Hilferding were not seen by the Bolsheviks until the outbreak of the war in 1914, although the 1905 revolution had led Lenin and Trotsky to develop each their own concept of the coming Russian revolution and to reject that of Plekhanov. The portrayal of the development of capitalism, the economic analyses linked to it, were still held by the Bolsheviks and by Trotsky.
It was different in Germany. The 1905 revolution had a big impact there too. Luxemburg developed her theory of the mass strike out of it and attempted to show that the Russian workers had shown the way with their struggle and in the creation of the soviet, which was the new state form in embryo. She saw parliamentarism as having been superseded as capitalism left the phase of progressive evolution and began a reactionary, militarist, one, with a sharpening of class struggle as a result. Extra-parliamentary methods should be taken into use by the social-democratic movement. This begins the crystallisation of a real revolutionary current within the SPD, and sees the first signs of a crack appearing between the petty bourgeois and proletarian wings of the party.
Trotsky, in My Life, claims that on permanent revolution, Rosa Luxemburg "took the same stand as I did" (p.203). According to the two-volume biography of Luxemburg by J.P. Nettl, Trotsky noted this fact in his book 1905, but somewhat ungallantly removed it from later editions, as Luxemburg came under attack in the Comintern as a heretical deviation, and a spontaneity myth was spread.
After 1905 the SPD began to distance itself from strikes, to suppress them, and to exclude those party members actively involved in them. The centralised organisation – a product of the illegal period – undergoes a bureaucratisation process and becomes an instrument for crushing the initiatives of the workers. Robert Michels wrote his famous study Political Parties – a critique from the left-syndicalist viewpoint – basing himself on the SPD in the main. But this bureaucratisation didn’t arise from any "law of oligarchy" but from the specific outlook and tactic of Kautskyist centrism.
Until his break from Kautsky during the war, Lenin was an orthodox Kautskyist, as were the Bolsheviks in general. This was totally the case on the organisation question. The working class was seen as totally unable to rise above economic struggles, the bearing of socialist consciousness into it was the job of the intelligentsia. the two encounter each other inside the party. The party itself is the means whereby the working class attains socialist consciousness, and it is the guardian of this consciousness.
The Kautskyist view of the role of the intelligentsia, taken over by Lenin, is a clear revision of Marx. In Tsarist Russia certain historically specific conditions forced the Marxist movement to organise itself secretly and in a highly centralised fashion. This was forced upon it by circumstances. But if one then makes a virtue out of necessity problems must arise. The party, seeing itself as the bearer of consciousness in this way, is in fact an entity separate from the working class and not an integral part of it. Thus it cannot pick up and interact with the impulses coming from the class struggle; instead it has its own ready-made conceptions to impose on it. The best example of the latter came in relation to the soviet in the 1905 revolution, when the Bolshevik suspicion of it meant that they were marginalised. This example would repeat itself in 1917 when Lenin would have to seek support from the rank-and-file party members, so wedded were the leaders to schemas. Trotsky, as an outsider, came into his own in both situations.
Bolshevism and the Communist International
Trotsky, after more than a decade of hostility to Bolshevism, would liquidate his differences with it in the course of the 1917 events and join it. He explains this by its apparent sloughing off its "clannishness" and "sectarianism". He had the choice of maintaining the Inter-District group as an independent entity, or some other regroupment, but chose to throw in his lot with Bolshevism. After that he became a component part of it until he would be elbowed out; however, he still insisted that he was defending its traditions.
In Germany the organisation discussion would take place after the USPD broke with the SPD, and the centralisation of the old party would be rejected by the new one, and then by the KPD in turn when it split from the USPD. Having seen how an over-centralised party can either strangle the revolutionary impulses of the class or totally fail to interpret them, the revolutionary workers created structures which would hopefully counter such tendencies. The crack between the petty bourgeois and proletarian sectors of the membership had widened and the USPD was evolving towards communism under the pressure of the class struggle.
A commonly held belief among Trotskyists is that Luxemburg never broke with the SPD early enough. This stems from the above criticised party concept which sees the creation of the party as an act of the subjective will of the intelligentsia and not as the outcome of profound contradictions in the class struggle impelling the workers towards that end.
In reality, the foundation of the KPD(S) at the end of 1918 was premature and a great mistake, as Luxemburg realised during the congress itself. The membership became gripped by subjective desires and built their tactics upon them instead of on a Marxist analysis of the objective reality. Roughly half of them would go off into anarchosyndicalism and council-communism. Meanwhile the million strong USPD would evolve towards communism. This occurred as a product of the development of consciousness of the workers under the impact of the class struggle. The KPD(S) was acting upon this process as an outside factor instead of an internal one.
Another act defended uncritically by the Trotskyists is the foundation of the Comintern, its method and the timing of it. Elsewhere I have argued why this was premature. The Second International was reviving, but equally important, those parties that had broken from it (USPD, ILP, SPÖ [Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs], etc.) were for creating a new revolutionary socialist International. One could have worked within it as a means of gaining it for communism. However, the Bolsheviks created the Communist International in a rush in order to block that development. The CI was little more than themselves. They created, not a genuine International, but a regroupment of those willing to accept their leadership. It always had the character of an extension of themselves and the role of the Executive ensured it, as Paul Levi pointed out at the time.
Once again one sees an act which short-cuts the process of developing consciousness within the working class and leaves a sector of the most advanced workers outside it. The CI was founded in a voluntarist fashion, not as a conscious act of the revolutionary workers; and its first real congress would be in 1920, the so-called second one.
The Trotskyist view is that the CI broke with, and superseded, the Second International. While the problems of the latter were recognised to a certain extent it cannot be said that that they were investigated, laid bare and resolved. The bureaucratisation, corruption and separation into leaders and led, were all noted, but no thorough-going materialist explanation was elaborated. The old theory of a "labour aristocracy", the layer of better-paid workers, fat on the profits of super-exploitation in the colonies, was advanced to try to account for the strength of reformism. Linked to this was the view of a layer of "traitorous" leaders who continually misled a basically sound rank-and-file. This view has more in common with moralism than materialism and totally fails to grasp the problem of consciousness. This type of understanding could only lead to the organisational solution posed in the "21 Conditions". It was Levi who pointed out the danger in such a method: the political struggle was shifted onto the organisational plane.
The understanding of capitalist development (the model), the linear process, the "final" crisis, imperialism, etc., were not superseded. The party-concept, the understanding of the relationship of party to class, was essentially the same. Much of the basic conceptual baggage of the Second was carried over into the Third.
It must have appeared that capitalism was so groggy at that time that a few blows to the body and then on the chin would finish it off. The attempts by the working class in many European countries to launch themselves against it must have been crucial to the decision to create the new International in such haste. Obviously it was done with the view that the mass of socialist workers would rally to it very quickly. The decision to split the international trade union movement (the International Federation of Trade Unions, IFTU) and to create a Red Union Centre can only be understood in that light. Surely, nobody in their right mind could do such a thing unless one believed that the masses would flock to it fairly quickly. To split the world trade union movement as part of a long-term perspective would be suicidal for Marxism.
The Russian Revolution occurred owing to quite specific conditions, which were sharpened to the extreme because of the war. The chain broke at its "weakest link". It wasn’t merely caused by the existence of the Bolsheviks. Revolutions in Finland, Hungary and elsewhere failed. In Western Europe the specific conditions were, however, much different. Traditions existed of a belief in reformism, maximalism (revolutionary phrases), anarchosyndicalism, and pure bourgeois ideas. Democratic and parliamentary practise had a long tradition. Parties, organisations, and leaders existed, in which the masses had great confidence and a loyalty to. The Russian Revolution had a big attraction for them. They looked upon it with great sympathy. But it is something else again to expect them to erase their past and to rally around new parties and the Comintern. Such a change in consciousness could only emerge out of their participation in great events of the class struggle, as long as these events were interpreted properly, that is by Marxist analysis.
Unfortunately the Comintern became, right at the start, an extension of the Russian party, although it took it some time to stamp its authority upon it. Experiences were generalised from those of the Bolsheviks and imposed on the other parties. Rosa Luxemburg had persuaded the KPD(S) to oppose the foundation of the CI in 1919 because she knew that this would happen. The layer of theoreticians and worker-leaders influenced by her would carry into the CI some different conceptions. Also, they carried the germs of a break with, and supersession of, the theory of the Second International. The different methodological approach of these comrades would earn them the epithet "rightists".
This "rightism" expressed itself quite early in its opposition to putschism, and insistence upon work in parliament, local councils, trade unions and mass organisations, with the aim of reaching those workers under reformist, bourgeois and other influences. It also involved a different party-concept: this would be expressed in opposition to the putschism of the "March Action", and to the similar conceptions of the Fischer-Maslow leadership. It meant united front work, the development of transitional demands expressed in Action Programmes, the Workers’ Government demand. This signified seeing its role as raising the existing level of consciousness, not as being the bearer of consciousness into the class.
Unlike Lenin, they turned their backs on the KAPD [Kommunistische Arbeiter Partei Deutschlands, Communist Workers Party of Germany] and turned towards the USPD, SPD, etc. Already in late 1919 they recognised that the revolutionary wave of the post-war period was over and that new tactics to cope with reformism were required. It would be 1921, in the aftermath of the March Action, during the Third CI Congress, that this would be recognised by the CI as a whole. Lenin add Trotsky would be on the right at that congress, and the latter would attempt an analysis of the world situation.
A comparison of the initiatives taken by the KPD "rightists" in those years with those of the CI reflects badly on the latter. The CI material usually has a leftist kink, a tendency to propaganda and denunciation, rather than one relating to existing consciousness in a transitional way. This owed itself to the different concept of how consciousness was to be raised. In 1932, when the ILO [International Left Opposition] was preparing for a conference, a commission evaluated the CI political elaboration of the first four congresses. Van noted: "The first three congresses contribute little [to the united front]. It was put on the agenda with the situation in 1921 and the events surrounding it. An important article by Zinoviev posed it and at the Executive Committee meeting in February 1922 an important resolution was voted on this question, but following that there are no documents. Field examined the following material on workers’ control: the first and second congresses of the Comintern and the first three conferences of the German CP. The issue was ignored after the fourth congress" ("Minutes ...", October ’32, Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement, 1929-33, Pathfinder, p.167). This indicates just how little of lasting value came from the CI on the key areas of how to relate to workers’ consciousness in non-revolutionary situations. By the way, Alfred Rosmer (Lenin’s Moscow, Pluto, 1971) relates his experiences working with Zinoviev in the ECCI (Executive Committee of the Communist International), on how initiatives were doomed beforehand owing to the latter’s insults and moralising denunciations.
The claim by Trotskyists to stand – rather uncritically – on the first four congresses of the CI is meaningless unless it signifies a solidarity with its conceptions and methods. Yet I believe that it can be shown that the CI was faulted in these and that its hierarchical structure, its phoniness as a real International of equal parties, could only lead to an identification with the interests of the Soviet state eventually if no revolution occurred in, say, Germany, which could have altered its structure. But nevertheless the Trotskyists do not criticise the CI, they unquestioningly accept it.
Trotskyism Takes Shape
In mid-1927, the joint opposition received fresh wind in its sails as the Chinese communists were massacred by Chiang Kai-shek, to whom they had subordinated themselves in the course of the second revolution on advice from the dominant Stalin-Bukharin bloc, against the opinion of Trotsky. The other embarrassment was provided by the break-up of the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee by the British TUC leaders. Trotsky had criticised concessions to the British side of the ARTUC in connection with the 1926 General Strike, in which they played a dubious role and had been given "left-cover" by the Russian side.
Both these policies were symptomatic of the pessimism of Stalin in regard to revolutionary opportunities. This and his empiricism played a disastrous role in the case of the Chinese events. However, in Britain, though tactical errors were made, the optimistic scenario sketched by Trotsky in those years was never on the cards. Trotsky’s error stemmed from the false understanding of how consciousness is changed and the role of the party in it.
In September 1927 the joint opposition platform was presented to the party CC. It was, of course, a compromise between the Trotskyist and Zinovievist wings. On the domestic front the platform can’t be faulted on the economy but falls down on the question of democracy.[* Note] It only demands a return to the "resolution on inner-party democracy adopted by the Tenth Party Congress" and characterises "workers’ democracy" as meaning "freedom of open discussion by all party members" (Platform ..., p.70). As Deutscher commented on the 1923 opposition demands: "But was it at all possible that the party should be an island of freedom in a society doomed, for good or evil, to dictatorial rule" (Stalin, p.263). On the international plane the platform is a mixed bag. There’s a lot of nonsense about the threatening war against the USSR by "the imperialists". It wasn’t so. Neither can one talk of "the imperialists" as if they were a united bloc without contradictions between them. This was obviously a concession to Zinoviev or Stalin. The social democracy are seen as part of this plot. That too was false. The strongest part is on the Chinese revolution. The concessions to Zinoviev are not enough to gut it of a revolutionary posture. "Socialism-in-one-country" is countered. But in attempting to illustrate the temporary nature of the stabilisation, the British General Strike and Vienna uprising are utilised. The 1926 general strike was not the harbinger of great struggles to come but the last gasp of the post-war struggles. The Vienna events were likewise. In general this section tends to leftism inasmuch as it condemns any entry of the Soviet trade unions into the IFTU. Thereby it upholds the RILU [Red International of Labour Unions], a body in permanent decline, perpetuates the split in the international trade union movement and breathes life into the concept of red trade unionism which would emerge with a vengeance shortly after. While it demarcates itself from Katz, Schwartz, Korsch and Rosenberg, oppositionists expelled from the KPD, whom it describes as "ultra-left" (the latter had shifted to a rightist posture before leaving the KPD), it reaches out to those leftist groups still regarding themselves as oppositions, particularly the Urbahns group. It didn’t represent hundreds of thousands of proletarians, as the Plaftform claims. (See the article by Pierre Broué on the Left Opposition in Germany in Revolutionary History Vol.2, No.3, where its Zinovievist character, and influence, is discussed, particularly the election results for its own list.) The Platform sees the leadership of the most important CPs as having passed into the hands of the "right-wing". Such a statement can only be seen as bowing down before the deposed Zinovievist Left leaderships, which had caused such havoc in Germany among other places. It describes the German left as suffering from "(un)duly emphasising certain sharply polemical phrases used by the left partisans of Urbahns and Maslow (Platform ..., p.92). Going on to identify real ultra-leftists as those criticised by Lenin in Left Wing Communism – that is those refusing to work in trade unions or parliament, such as the KAPD – it claims that Lenin saw "opportunism" as the main enemy. When that debate occurred, Lenin was attempting to win the KAPD and its like, but he admitted later that this had been a mistake. By 1921 both Lenin and Trotsky were ready for a split with the lefts if necessary, and this included Urbahns and the like. Maslow was named by Lenin as requiring correction. (See "A Letter to the German Communists".)
The KPD had been gripped by a putschist fever in March 1921. It is commonly put down to urgings from Zinoviev via Bela Kun, but even people like Frölich and Thalheimer became infected by it, the latter theorising it even. The Platform clearly makes concessions to Zinoviev, most probably in order to utilise his co-thinkers In the different parties, without, it seems, seriously evaluating what they stood for locally as long as they supported the Russian Opposition.
Shortly afterwards, during the celebrations for the Tenth anniversary of the revolution, Trotsky and Zinoviev participated with their own slogans, and for this they would be expelled from the party. The Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union), in December, declared the opposition’s views incompatible with party membership. The Zinovievists capitulated and the opposition split. Later, Trotsky would be exiled to Alma Ata and eventually to Prinkipo in Turkey where he would start to assemble his international opposition. That period will be dealt with in the next part of this evaluation. Important books like The New Course, Whither Russia, etc., are outside the scope of this text. The "October Legend" and "Critique of the Draft Programme of the CI" will be taken up subsequently.
* Since drafting this essay I have become further convinced that it impossible to separate out the question of planning from that of democracy. Planning without democracy is not and cannot be socialist planning nor even planning in it fullest sense. [Back to text]
INSTEAD OF continuing chronologically from where the last part ended, a method which would entail going through all the disputes, petty or otherwise, of the last decade of Trotsky’s life, the intention is to take up themes and key ideas. All Trotsky’s positions were, in any case, determined by some basic conceptions which require examination. But does such a coherent body of ideas exist which can be termed Trotskyism? After all, Trotsky himself had a distinct conception of socialism, as his party-concept from 1903 to 1917 showed, contrary to Lenin’s but similar to Rose Luxemburg’s with whom he also shared a concept of the revolution itself. Apart from Trotsky’s illusions in Kautsky and the "orthodox centre" which he shared with Lenin, his body of ideas ("weltanschauung") was thoroughly revolutionary, different from Bolshevism and reflected classical Marxism as applied to Russian conditions. As I have written elsewhere, Lenin’s views were unorthodox inasmuch as he held a concept of the Russian revolution as bourgeois, thus his party-concept was bourgeois ("Jacobinistic"). Lenin to applied Marxism to Russian conditions, but his aim differed from that of Trotsky. So, contrary to the Trotskyist sects, I maintain that it was Trotsky who represented revolutionary Marxism in Russia until Lenin’s 1917 shift. Therefore we have various Trotskyisms to consider as Trotsky liquidated himself into Bolshevism from August 1917. We also have to examine whether yet another Trotskyism emerged during the 1930s. Let us look back at revolutionary Russia, later the Soviet Union.
Political Power and the Working CIass
"Social democracy arises simultaneously with the overthrow of class rule and the building of socialism. It begins in that moment the socialist party conquers power. It is quite simply the dictatorship of the proletariat."
She goes on to explain this and stresses that "this dictatorship is the work of the class and not that of a little minority in its name". Only total and consistent democracy could ensure the rule of the class and release its energies, but the Bolsheviks were departing from this. Reading this in 1991, written before a year had elapsed, isn’t it self-evident? She goes on:
"The tacit assumption underlying the Lenin-Trotsky theory of the dictatorship is this: that the social transformation is something for which a ready-made formula lies completed in the pocket of the revolutionary party, which only needs to be carried out energetically in practice." She foresaw that if such a route was taken it would have other results:
"... socialism will be decreed by a dozen intellectuals at some writing desks ... (political life would dry up) ... only the bureaucracy would remain as an active element ... (only a few leaders would govern and rule) ... Thus, in the end, a clique affair – a dictatorship right enough, but not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but that of a handful of politicians. It is dictatorship in a bourgeois sense, in a Jacobinist sense ...".
Luxemburg wasn’t a clairvoyant, but out of her understanding of just what constitutes the Marxist theory of how the working class emancipates itself it was clear that the methods of the Bolsheviks would lead to something else, to the rule of the bureaucracy where a handful of leaders rule.
Trotsky would appear to have abandoned his previous conceptions in the course of adhering to Bolshevism, conceptions he had shared with Luxemburg.
Elimination of Soviet Power
Rosenberg points out that "in accordance with the rebuilding of the army, from 1918 to 1920, a return to the centralised state was carried out in all fields, including (for the combating of the counter-revolution) a political police with extreme powers and a thoroughly centralised construction ... the Cheka". Moreover the Cheka was always "a reliable organ of the centralised state". At bottom it serves the government, in reality, the Bolshevik party. Yet another pillar of the bourgeois state had been reconstructed.
Victor Serge wrote in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary: "I believe that the formation of the Cheka was one of the gravest and most impermissible errors that the Bolshevik leaders committed in 1918, when plots, blockades and interventions made them lose their heads" (OUP, 1963, pp.80-81). Serge explains how an accountable organ could have been created if the will had existed.
Rosenberg writes that after 1918 "the soviet government in Russia was no more than a fiction". After the Left SRs left the government in mid-1918 and revolted against the Brest-Litovsk peace there was no other legal party in the country apart from the RCP(B), and thus elections to the soviet or any other organ had no meaning. Rosenberg calls such a soviet system the dictatorship of the minority over the the great popular majority". It was called the proletarian dictatorship but was in reality, the party or its central committee, which exercised a dictatorship over the whole people. Rosenberg sees Trotsky as identifying the party with its membership, whereas Lenin saw it in terms of the old guard of tried and tested leaders.
On the other hand, Victor Serge, then working for the Comintern writing about the Second Congress, in the spring of 1920, for which he translated Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism – his reply to Kautsky – describes it as "emphasising the necessity for a long dictatorship ‘in the period of the transition to socialism’, for several decades at least. Trotsky’s rigid ideas, with their schematism and voluntarism, disturbed me a little", he wrote (p.101).
"Bolshevik thinking is grounded in the possession of the truth. The party is the repository of truth, and any form of thinking which differs from it is a dangerous or reactionary error. Here lies the source of its intolerance" (p.134). Continuing his look at the "mentality" of Bolshevism, Serge relates how, with the NEP underway, Lenin purged the party during 1921, which led to "a dictatorship of the old Bolsheviks", as the disciplinary measures were not directed against "the unprincipled careerists and conformist latecomers, but against those sections with a critical outlook" (p.135)
The attitude of Lenin described by Serge certainly fits with Luxemburg’s 1903 characterisation of "night-watchman spirit", and Rosenberg’s view of his party-conception. But Trotsky never openly challenged Lenin’s attitude.
In his Stalin: A Critical Survey, New York, 1939, Boris Souvarine illustrates the degeneration process with quotes from the minutes of the RCP(B) congresses. During the Eighth Congress, March 1919, he points out that "Ossinsky and Sapronov had already criticised the rapid degeneration of the party and the Soviets into a parasitic bureaucratic system, and regardless of the Constitution adopted a year previous, the Central Committee was supplanting both the Council of Commissars and the Bureau of the Executive of the Soviets" (pp.239-40). Moreover, the CC was rarely meeting, one man was tending to take decisions. Officials were no longer elected, and the military and police organisms were a law unto themselves. In reality, everything was decided by six men: Lenin, Zinoviev, Trotsky, Kamenev, Bukharin and Stalin (by then Sverdlov had died). "These six men were really the secret directing group of the Party and the state, they were accountable to no one" (p.240).
Souvarine writes: "In 1920, at the Ninth Congress, there were signs of opposition against the dictatorial methods of the Central Committee, and energetic attacks upon the bureaucratic ‘degeneration’ of the ‘oligarchy’. According to Yurenev, the high officials of the Party stifled the right of criticism by getting rid of the protesters by measures amounting to administrative exile.... Maximovsky denounced the despotism of the ruling bureaucracy and declared: ‘Fish are said to begin to putrefy from the head downwards. The Party is beginning to suffer at the top from the influence of bureaucratic centralism’. Sapronov, becoming more and more the mouthpiece of these views, declared that no notice was taken of the decisions of the Congress of Soviets; commissars took on themselves the illegal arrests of ‘whole provincial executive committees’. Sapronov continued his description and concluded by saying: ‘this leads to the dictatorship of the bureaucracy of the Party’.... Lutovinov said: ‘The Central Committee, and especially its Orgbureau, has been transformed ... into an executive dealing with the most minute and unimportant matters’; it interfered arbitrarily in the smallest details, and nominated even the most obscure officials." Yakoviev described how comrades were deported to the Ukraine. This opposition demanded "democratic centralism" but were turned down by the CC. Sapronov and his comrades would be the most consistent democratic opposition in the RCP(B) (pp.268-69).
Later that year Trotsky raised the place of the trade unions in economic life, and the party veered towards a split. Trotsky proposed statifying them. Lenin opposed him, and a range of intermediate groups existed. The party congress was summoned to resolve the issue. Souvarine takes nobody’s part in the dispute. He says that only Ryazanov gave the trade unions no part in economic life, seeing them as defence organisations only. But Rosenberg sees Trotsky as, flowing from his view of the party and the role of the working class, making a bold move to reintroduce workers democracy by the trade unions penetrating the state apparatus and vice-versa. The slogan of "production-democracy" emerged. With the six million trade unionists controlling production, the rule of the functionaries would be over. Rosenberg believed that Lenin immediately saw through Trotsky’s attempt to break the grip of the party elite and moved to stop him. However one interprets it, it weakened Trotsky within the party, Lenin took a stronger grip on the party, utilising people of the calibre of Stalin, and Trotsky’s supporters were removed from key posts. His move, and the support he got, frightened the old Bolsheviks.
Not only did this congress ban factions temporarily, but it coincided with the Kronstadt revolt. Rosenberg saw it as demanding nothing more than a turn back to soviet democracy, and in fact likened its demands to those of the Workers Opposition (Shlyapnikov, Lutovinov et al.) at the Tenth Congress. Serge in Memoirs ... tells how the revolt began in solidarity with the Petrograd strikes, how the hundreds of party members at Kronstadt were involved, and how outrageous lies were spread about counter-revolutionaries, for "public consumption" internally, and for the international labour movement.
"At the beginning of 1923 the Party had 485,000 members, nearly all of whom were members of the bureaucracy" (Souvarine, p.136). Quoting the Menshevik Dallin, Souvarine says that "not more than five or ten thousand, a third of whom were intellectuals" was the human material possessed by Bolshevism at the start of the revolution. It was this elite which ran the country; a few of them still remained uncorrupted.
Lenin became aware of the mistreatment of the Georgians, the power accumulated by Stalin, the bureaucracy, etc., and approached Trotsky to help him combat the problems: this was late 1922 and early 1923. Trotsky responded to some proposals, but not to others. In the case of Lenin’s organisational measures, such as a larger CC, joint meetings with the control commission, it would merely add to, even advance, the bureaucratisation. It is noteworthy that Lenin resorted to such organisational measures. Trotsky’s failure to act on some proposals, particularly relating to challenging Stalin, could arise from his earlier defeat on the trade unions, or could owe itself to his lack of faith in such measures, which didn’t get to the root of the problem, or could even be based on his own self-assurance, mistakenly making him believe that he could deal with Stalin later, as Georges Vereeken thought (see The GPU in the Trotskyist Movement, New Park, 1976, last chapter). Surely it is the case that Trotsky grossly underestimated Stalin?
At that time the secret communist opposition groups, Workers Truth and the Workers Group, emerged. The authorities set out to repress them. That is, five years after the establishment, supposedly, of the Proletarian Dictatorship, groups of communist workers had to operate secretly to avoid arrest! Again it was the old "left communists", such as Sapronov, Preobrazhensky, Pyatakov, et al., who took up the fight. Unconnected with them, Trotsky was less bold. But both oppositions had only appealed to the CC. When Trotsky’s articles appeared in print in December (The New Course), it caused a shock as the public assumed he was at one with the PB. From then on the fight against Trotskyism was undertaken by the triumvirate, heading the old guard.
The keenest opponents of Trotsky were the Zinoviev clique. When they fell out with Stalin over his leaning towards the "right" (Bukharin et al.), and a seeming accommodation with world capitalism, and were given a trouncing. Trotsky had at first remained aloof from both camps. Stalin had been benign compared to Zinoviev who had called for his gaoling. So it was a surprise when, after the purging of Zinoviev-Kamenev supporters following the Fourteenth Congress in late 1925, where super-Leninists of both camps tried to get the votes of the hand-raisers present, which resulted in Stalin’s victory, Zinoviev and Trotsky came together in a bloc. Stalin et al. denounced it as "unprincipled".
Zinoviev persuaded the remnants of the Workers Opposition to join it, which – writes Souvarine – "had been hostile to Trotsky" (ibid., p.417). The Georgian communists adhered, as did the Democratic-Centralists and other rump groupings. Serge says that the Platform was divided up for drafting: "Zinoviev undertook to work out the chapters on agriculture and the International in collaboration with Kamenev; the chapter on industrialisation was assigned to Trotsky; Smilga and Pyatakov, helped by some young comrades, also worked on the draft, which was submitted ... to our meetings and, wherever possible, to groups of workers" (Memoirs ..., p.222). If Serge is correct, then Zinoviev’s hand certainly explains the leftist nonsense I referred to in Part 1.
Souvarine wrote that Trotsky "achieved his final ruin as a political leader by this association with men devoid of character or credit ... he did not understand the nature of the evolution of Bolshevism.... He imagined that he had gained the adherence of the ‘Leningrad workers’ whom Zinoviev had deceived and can now undeceive. In reality he introduced the germs of panic and decomposition into the bloc" (Stalin, p.418). Trotsky hoped to win a big enough sector of the Party to make Stalin pause, but the Party no longer existed. He confused the masses by compromises with degenerate forces. He threw away his chances of appearing before them as the alternative. Anyway, the working class was so disappointed by the revolution after ten years of suffering and being lied to that it had no faith in any section of the party, according to Souvarine (at the time a key Trotsky supporter).
The bloc did disintegrate. Trotsky always defended his deals with Zinoviev et al. on the basis of them heading key sectors of workers but, in fact, in the end it emerged that they represented only a sector of the bureaucracy. According to Souvarine, "Sapronov’s group detached itself in order to take up a franker and more radical position" (ibid., p.453). They called for a return to the soviet state as set out in State and Revolution etc.
This is probably so, but hadn’t the Party divorced itself from the working class long before, as the above examples would seem to indicate? The same text discusses the Proletarian Dictatorship. Trotsky points out that up to the autumn of 1918 "the social content of the revolution was restricted to a petty bourgeois agrarian overturn and workers control over production". It was only later that year when the workers themselves began to manage the enterprises, and the state decreed nationalisation, that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat really began, he says. But this was confined to the Moscow principality of old, he says, and it took a three-year civil war to extend it to the periphery. Thus, up to 1921, that is the NEP, when leftists claimed it had ended, it didn’t exist. Therefore it never existed, Trotsky argues with them (ibid., p.106). Yet when discussing the Paris Commune, seen by Marx and Engels as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Trotsky says that "it was only because of the force of the possibilities lodged in it" (ibid., p.106). Trotsky points out its hesitations in overturning property relations. Nevertheless, in the superstructure it had carried out a political overturn from one class to another, and instituted the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
In The Workers State, Thermidor and Bonapartism, February 1935, Trotsky says that in 1926 the break between the Left Opposition and Sapronov’s Democratic Centralism group came because the latter insisted that Thermidor had already occurred, the proletariat had already lost power. Trotsky denied it. Thermidor began in 1924, he writes. In France, Thermidor led to Bonapartism (of course, Trotsky always insisted that historical analogies were only rough guides, nothing ever repeats itself in history). Trotsky always insists that the defeat of the Left Opposition, the "revolutionary vanguard", was decisive in putting power into the hands of the "more conservative elements among the bureaucracy and the upper crust of the working class". Talking of the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, or even the personal dictatorship of Stalin, Trotsky still maintains that the original production relations established by the revolution still signify that "the dictatorship of the proletariat found its distorted but indubitable expression in the dictatorship of the bureaucracy" (Writings, 1934-35, p.173). Despite monstrous distortions, "the Soviet state still remains the historical instrument of the working class insofar as it assures the development of the economy and culture on the basis of nationalised means of production and, by virtue of this, prepares the conditions for a genuine emancipation of the toilers through the liquidation of the bureaucracy and of social inequality" (ibid., pp.170-71).
It seems to me that Trotsky identifies the start of Thermidor – 1924 – at the time that no more real debate occurred in the party congresses. He says that the defeat of his own opposition determined the victory of the bureaucracy. Isn’t it arbitrary? Why wasn’t 1921 convenient? Rosenberg saw the end of real soviet government in 1918 when a one-party state was established. Trotsky clearly identifies the Party as the arbiter of events. When, in truth, it had become divorced from the working class long before 192314. The strikes, revolts among the peasants, and Kronstadt indicate just how much.
It also seems to me that Trotsky’s definitions are determined by him having accepted Lenin’s party-concept; rule by a vanguard party not the class. Also his Proletarian Dictatorship concept has the same source. Luxemburg couldn’t recognise it in autumn 1918, when she wrote her essay. Surely it is another deviation from Marx.
The last quote above, from February 1935, talks of the Soviet state still being the "historical instrument" of the working class, as long as it assured the "development of the economy and of culture" ... and prepared for the real "emancipation of the toilers through the liquidation of the bureaucracy ...". Well, the 1930s still require an objective assessment in terms of production, whereas "culture" turned out very uneven, and no emancipation emerged except through a collapse of the bureaucracy and a return to capitalism. So, if we were to judge the Soviet state by that criterion, we would have to say that, as it began to stagnate economically in the 1970s, was making negligible economic growth in the 1980s, and stopped in the 1990s, it had thus ceased to possess that progressive social content. But when and how did this occur? And regarding emancipation of the toilers – they have been liberated only for capitalist exploitation.
Perhaps the criteria used by Trotsky were wrong. He was always ready to re-examine his analyses. One should take into account The Revolution Betrayed and In Defence of Marxism in considering his views. He does admit that the hithertofore unseen form of Bonapartism represented by the bureaucracy, which itself had attained a never before seen degree of independence from the class it was parasitic upon, could loosen its bonds and become an agency for capitalism. But surely, the Trotskyists were not equipped to foresee or grasp the developments which have occurred lately in the Stalinist bloc? It can’t be Trotsky’s fault, he died half a century ago, it must be laid at the door of the epigones. But it does raise questions about Trotsky’s analytical method.
Of course, having no other example for study, everyone utilised analogies with the French Revolution: Thermidor, Bonapartism, even the factions and the personalities (though Trotsky didn’t see Stalin as great as Bonaparte), but can it really be acceptable? After all the French Revolution liberated the productive forces to undertake a capitalist development, and although the bourgeois class didn’t rule itself, Bonapartism ruled on its behalf, and as Trotsky argued, this was common in capitalism (Hitler etc.), this phenomenon cannot be paralleled in the socialist revolution, as its aim is the emancipation of humanity, through the proletarian dictatorship as its first step; and the re-arrangement of the economy is only a means and not an end in itself.
In Luxemburg’s 1918 critical essay this point is central. Socialist revolution is a conscious act, and taking over and running society begins from day one. Exploitation and alienation, not forgetting inequality, are targets for elimination. The rule by a vanguard party of the elite runs contrary to any conception of Marxian socialism.
Therefore it seems to me that, rather than engaging in Talmudic hair-splitting over Trotsky’s texts, we need to question the series of events well before Trotsky’s 1923/24 date of Thermidor’s beginnings. I will be bold and say that 1921 – Kronstadt and all that – marked the end, not the start. The institution of a one-party state, with all it entails, ends rule by the working class and represents rule by a self-elected elite (some have described it "of the intelligentsia"). This could only lead to emancipation by its overthrow, either by an internal workers’ revolt, or by an impulsion from an external successful revolution. No amount of "do-gooding" from above could lead to socialism: the words of "The Internationale" express it well in all languages:
"no benefactors from on high deliver
Rosa Luxemburg thought that the heroic and honourable Russians should not besmirch themselves with foul methods but go down fighting with honour, thus creating another Commune, a beacon for the next uprising to follow.
Trotsky in Exile
Another problem, a more serious one, was that the ILO organised itself around Russian factional problems; it internationalised them and insisted that everyone take a certain stand. This was a key criticism of the "Right" Opposition, the "Brandlerites" or IKVO [Internationale Vereinigung der Kommunistischen Opposition – International Union of the Communist Opposition], who opposed making Russian factional issues the basis of an international oppositional tendency, seeing it as artificial. Trotsky criticised their attitude, seeing it as dishonest, but it stemmed from a different conception of the International: whereas Lenin-Trotsky conceived of it as one world party with sections in each land, the Luxemburg tradition tended to see it as composed of equal and independent parties. The CPSU wasn’t regarded by them as the leading party, but only as the "first among equals". Thus, every party should determine its own strategy and tactics, including the CPSU.
Therefore they opposed the ILO concept and did not adhere to any Russian faction. (The term "Bukharinist" used in Trotskyist circles is false, as while Bukharin attempted to moderate Stalin’s policies by going along with him to a degree, and encouraged his allies to do likewise, the forces allied with Brandler were not prepared to – see Robert J. Alexander, The Right Opposition, Westport, Conn./London, 1981.) Trotsky’s concept led to various negative features: attraction for those with an intellectual critique of the SU, as opposed to concrete differences over national policy in the native class struggle, with the consequent difficulties of turning such forces towards an active intervention, and an inbuilt bias against working class elements, who wouldn’t tend towards sophisticated critiques of the SU or its international policies, but would be more concerned with concrete issues in the daily struggle.
The mode whereby Trotsky organised his faction, fairly rigidly around his own view of things – after all, unlike in the Russian LO, he had no equals – meant that a living tendency with vibrant debate over differences, with a basis amongst sectors of workers, in which views could be tested out, wasn’t possible. It became a narrow sect-like entity revolving around Trotsky, and few of the workers’ leaders and experienced militants capable of challenging him remained for long. The Italian followers of Bordiga were squeezed out early on, although Bordiga was communism in the eyes of Italian workers until post 1945 (the Gramsci cult began by Togliatti was to combat Bordiga). Most of Trotsky’s earliest supporters broke with him: Hugo Urbahns’ Leninbund in Germany, then Fischer and Maslow (though the German LO was composed of people with an ultra-left past often, as well as some Stalinist agents). In Spain, the POUM was alienated, Alfred Rosmer, Boris Souvarine, etc., in France, and Vereeken in Belgium (see G. Vereeken, The GPU ... for interesting reflections on this problem, including Trotsky’s psychology).
A certain schematism whereby Trotsky described his faction as the communist left, meant that the ILO attracted militants and intellectuals with a leftist/sectarian bent. For Marxists, being stuck in a left or right posture is nothing to be proud of, and is a negative feature in reality. It implies a ready-made recipe "on the left" always to be applied in any situation. But Marxism adopts its posture based on its latest analysis of concrete reality, and hopefully, if one is successful, avoids deviations of a right or left character. But, in the real world, the party never existed which went "right down the middle", and as long as one exists in material reality one will feel the pull exercised by class forces. Whether to support a strike or not: syndicalists (the SWP too) would say always, the Marxist would weigh up the balance of forces. Thus, one can end up being too careful, out of touch, taking a "right" deviation, or in another circumstance be too optimistic and make a blunder in a "left" adventurist direction.
The Russian LO began life opposing Stalin-Bukharin from the left, but the latter had been a "left". Trotsky, Radek, Pyatakov were seen as "rightists" in Germany. Zinoviev and Kamenev had always been rightists in the SU, but seen as leftists abroad. Stalin was always cautious in all cases, that is until he turned left in 1928. Trotsky saw him as the "centre", the representative of the bureaucracy, and a "centrist" politically. The point is, such labels are conjunctural, in permanence they are meaningless.
Trotsky’s schematism in respect to his "three tendencies in communism" view was well criticised by Jakob Walcher representing the SAP [Sozialistische Arbeiter Partei] in discussions with Trotsky in August 1933 (see Oeuvres, Vol.2, as yet not in English [a translation has since been published in Revolutionary History, Vol.5, No.2, 1994 – ed]). When the KPO were designated as the right, the KPO-minority led by Walcher/Frölich, which split away and entered the SAP, a confused centrist swamp, would appear to be shifting even further right, according to the schema, yet they took over the SAP in early 1933 and approached the ILO. From 1928 to 1935 most German oppositions, of right and left, were opposing Stalin from the right, against "red unions" and for a workers’ united front, prior to the Nazi take-over.
Walcher also took up Trotsky on the nonsense peddled by his supporters on the "German October", and appears to reach an agreement that a revolutionary opportunity was missed, but earlier in the year. Anyway, in the rivalry with Brandler the 1923 affair became a part of the Trotskyist mythology, in spite of its originating with Zinoviev’s scapegoating in 1924, and being taken up by Stalin in the early 1930s, when Brandler’s criticism of "third periodism" began to attract support. Today it is broadcast by the Trotskyists (see my "Germany 1923 ...", unpublished [since published in Revolutionary History, Vol.5, No.2, 1994 – ed]; articles in Revolutionary History; A. Rosmer, Lenin’s Moscow; V. Serge, Memoirs; A. Rosenberg, History ...).
Trotskyism as Bolshevism?
Trotsky himself is responsible for many of the sectarian features of his own movement, inasmuch as he thought it possible to build a cadre outside of the labour movement. Of course, objective conditions played the major part. He tried to involve all the members in the problems of all the sections. If one reads the volumes of the Writings one notes the constant disputes arising, with which he tried to familiarise everyone. Because of the often quite sectarian and/or petty bourgeois nature of his adherents, a type of militant emerged who regarded himself as an expert on every major issue in the world class struggle, but often was incapable of talking to workers, never mind recruiting any. This phenomenon is with us today. Steen Bille Larsen, in his book Mod Strommen, on the communist oppositions in 1930s Denmark, tells of the turmoil in the social-democratic youth in 1934-35, after the collapse of the SPID in Germany and the fightback by the Austrian party. United Front, Defence Squads, etc., became the talking point, and an opposition emerged. It was eventually crushed, but SBL remarks that it is quite strange to see how little the Trotskyist group concerned itself with the social and economic issues of the day, as opposed to the Stalinists, and thus couldn’t intervene in the youth movement, composed of apprentices and young workers, as an alternative leadership, restricting themselves as they did to the international issues and the anti-fascist fight. (See The Right Opposition, p.100, for an exposition of that criticism.)
While it regarded itself as a communist opposition, Trotskyism was quite a threat to Stalinism. Brandler’s tendency was also a threat; it had strong workers’ leaders, some large parties and sections with roots in the movement. Trotsky’s followers were largely outside the movement, but what characterised both oppositions was a set of coherent poficies to put in place of Stalin’s. As long as the CI was attracting the most conscious workers, and as long as the SU was regarded by them as a "Workers’ State", the oppositions represented another leadership waiting in the wings. But Trotsky threw this away and did his movement untold harm by his decision to declare the CI as "dead for the purpose of revolution", and to work towards setting up a Fourth International.
The disaster in Germany provoked Trotsky’s decision. First he wrote off the KPD, then he did the same for the CI, after it justified its policy in Germany. Trotsky utilised an analogy with the collapse of the Second International on 4 August 1914. But even if we accept that the 4th of August really did signify that, and I believe that it can be argued that Lenin’s view was very much mistaken, can one put a retreat without a fight based on sectarian policies, then their cover-up in a blustering and dishonest fashion, on the same plane as the 4th of August? After all, the CI had been creating fiascos throughout its life, and more and more covering them up with dishonesty and scapegoating. Was 1933 qualitatively different from 1923, the "March Action", the Chinese Revolution’s defeat? Though it was a severe defeat, representing a bankrupt leadership in the KPD/CI, it didn’t mean that the communist workers in their parties had become counter-revolutionary, and they themselves didn’t believe so. Neither had the SU changed its nature in any fundamental way, which meant that the most conscious workers would still relate to it, and thus to the CI and its sections. In And Red is the Colour of Our Flag, Oscar Hippe relates time and time again how KPD workers would agree with his criticism of their party, but not accept the need to create a new one.
Luxemburg opposed Lenin over abandoning the old parties during the world war because she knew that the workers wouldn’t just leave them at the say so of small groups of intellectuals. The CI was an artificial entity when set up, it rested only on the prestige of the October Revolution and its leaders, but it attracted the great mass of conscious workers in the few years after the war, when revolts and seizures of power occurred throughout Europe. Lenin assumed that the old parties would vanish, and when setting up the RILU he also assumed that it would replace the IFTU. This was not to be. As soon as the revolutionary wave ebbed the CI and its RILU were stranded, while the old parties recovered, actually increased their strength, even formed governments, and the IFTU marginalised the RILU. Lenin’s tactics were based on misunderstandings of the hold of reformism on most European workers. His view of a workers’ aristocracy, a thin crust of traitorous leaders etc., and his erroneous view of the capitalist crisis. His speeches from 1919 are filled with false optimism.
Trotsky then repeated the mistakes of Lenin from 1919. Tragedy repeated as farce. To declare the CI dead is to cut oneself off from the communist workers. It also puts the Trotskyist militants at risk from violence, as it provokes anger and gives justification in the eyes of communist militants for Stalinist slanders about "agents", "provocateurs", etc. Moreover, it impels sectarianism in the Trotskyist militants, who now turn their backs on the CPs, or develop an intense Stalinophobia, some making dubious alliances in the fight against Stalinism (the US section in particular).
Having declared the CI dead, the ILO had then to set itself up as the real Bolshevism, and to contend for leadership over the workers. But it was neither fish nor fowl. It accepted many of the features of degenerate Bolshevism. To be a revolutionary alternative to Stalinism – described by Trotsky as "bureaucratic centrism" – one would have to break with many of its concepts. But whereas the other oppositions, from Paul Levi to the KPO/IVK0, the German Left groupings, the Norwegians, etc., had objected to the way the CI functioned, and/or criticised the CPSU, or the Soviet regime, proposing more democratic alternatives, the ILO – then ICL – accepted the way the CI operated originally, and the CPSU and the Soviet regime, until the 1923/4 period, when degeneration supposedly manifested itself. The ICL, the Fourth Internationalist movement, wasn’t as great a political supersession of the CI as the CI had been of the old Second International. In fact it took over some of the faulty conceptions the CI had itself taken from the latter in its time. The Trotskyists had some validity as an opposition within communism, but as an alternative they had none.
This is not to say that had they done this or that h would have turned out more successful, this was not the case, the tide running against the oppositions was too strong. In Spain, for example, the CP would grow from a few hundred to a mass party in the course of revolutionary events because it had the SU behind it. Stalin would destroy any prominent figures who might have removed him in accordance with the lines projected by the oppositions through his show trials and connected purges. In 1938 the IVKO ceased to exist. The Moscow Trials and the defeats in Spain demoralised the movement in general. But at this time Trotsky insisted on founding his Fourth International.
Karl Fischer and Georg Scheuer, delegates from the Austrian Revolutionary Communists, participated in the founding conference of the FI and voted against it, advancing similar arguments as the Poles, developed by Isaac Deutscher. They pointed out that "most of the Trotskyist ‘sections’ were not represented" and that "not one of the hitherto existing bodies functioned". They proposed that the gathering discuss practical tasks in the coming war instead. In such a situation the FI would be "still-born". Furthermore, they objected over the failure to invite them in good time. As their views were known they saw that as deliberate chicanery. Max Shachtman chairing, threatened to exclude them: "Do you really think that you are cleverer than the Old Man in Mexico?" was his reply to their objections. He also questioned their revolutionary honour though both had been gaoled under the Austro-fascist regime (see In den Gulag von Ost und West, Fritz Keller, ISP, Frankfurt/Main, 1980, p.42). The contributions, and even the attendance, of the Austrians were censored from the published minutes, only recently re-appearing in the French FI documents. (Karl died aged 45 after spending 13 years of his life in gaol or concentration camp, latterly as a prisoner of the NKVD. He authored the Buchenwald Manifesto.)
Georges Vereeken advanced arguments similar to Deutscher. The FI was premature, and:
"We have only weak groupings which, for the most part, are cut off from the working masses. On the other hand, if the international proletariat is worried about the policies of the Second and Third Internationals, it would however be wrong to say that they are resolutely turning their backs on these organisations, much less that they are becoming conscious of the need for the creation of a new International.... For an International to be able to be created, to live, develop and become the historic instrument of the proletariat, it must be the emanation and product of the proletariat itself, it must above all be the product of its struggles against capitalism and its lackeys. Now, our organisation has not reached that point yet. It "is composed only of members who have left the Second International and especially the Third International. It is not a direct product of the struggles between capital and labour, but in large part the product of the struggles of tendencies within the old degenerated workers’ organisations, not a direct product of social struggles but an indirect product. Now, just as the vanguard cannot substitute itself for the proletariat in order to make the revolution, it is also incapable of creating the instrument of the revolution without the support of the proletarian masses, that is, of their most active sections. A vanguard which substitutes itself for its class is taking the opposite road to Marxism. Our centre is on such a road and must turn back" (The GPU ..., pp.297-98).
It is pointless to continue this evaluation into the war and post-war, as the FI ceased to exist as a Marxist centre not long after its foundation. As a leadership, having parted company with Sneevliet, Vereeken, and their like, it had virtually only one experienced workers’ leader with a grip of Marxism – Trotsky himself, and he would soon be assassinated. J.P. Cannon became the main leader of the FI, a man schooled largely in Zinoviev’s style of party-building. A Marxist centre having no real leaders tried and tested in the class struggle is bluff. The post-war FI was deeply degenerate, making political adaptations to Stalinism, reformism and nationalism. Organisationally, the Zinovievist methods from pre-war were replaced by Stalinist ones. We have all suffered from them.
The objections of the young Austrians to founding the FI were based on the practical realities. They had worked underground and demanded a realistic perspective for the war and its aftermath. Vereeken advanced arguments based on Marxism and its historical experience, like Deutscher, and methodically the same as Luxemburg’s objections to the Third. Trotsky fell into his determinism and voluntarism again and created a freak. However, what is significant is that, in supporting the "legalisation of soviet parties" (Transitional Programme), he broke from Bolshevism again. It is unthinkable that his views would have not developed further from it had he survived.
P.S. After checking Les congrès de la quatrième internationale, La Brèche, Paris, 1978, Vol.1, I found that it admits that "(t)he minutes make no mention of the presence of two Austrian delegates, Georg Scheuer and Karl Fischer, representing the Revolutionary Communist (RK), nor do they mention their contributions. These delegates launched a bitter criticism of the Fourth International based on ultra-left conceptions. Their group in exile will distance itself more and more from the movement" (p.202). But even this recognition does not fit with the account by Karl Fischer, and the distancing would be by the FI leadership, which ceased to function and decamped to New York, becoming an annexe of the SWP via a dubious "emergency conference".