The End of Trotskyism?
TimW333521 at aol.com
TimW333521 at aol.com
Fri Sep 15 10:11:54 MDT 1995
The discussion of Alan Wald's "The End of Trotskyism?" comes to the end
itself in the current issue (#58) of Against The Current. I urge all to read
this exchange. The following are some thoughts stimulated by this
The heart of the matter, it seems to me anyway, has been the discussion of
Cannon's thesis on "The Coming American Revolution", written in 1946. While
there is general agreement that the revolution didn't come (kind of like the
agreement among Adventists today that the world didn't end in 1844!), there
remains disagreement over Cannon's assertion that: "The revolutionary
vanguard party, destined to lead this tumultuous revolutionary movement in
the U.S. does not need to be created. It already exists and its name is the
Socialist Workers Party."
Steve Bloom, for example, claims that this assertion would have been
perfectly in order IF revolution had been on the agenda. The problem then,
as well as today, in Bloom's opinion, does not lie in Trotskyism, or in
Cannon interpretation of Trotskyism, but in the unfavorable objective
conditions. Such a view leads its adherents today to build miniscule sects
which will lead the masses when a revolutionary situation does occur.
This approach was fallacious then as well as today. The reality was that the
SWP had less than 2,000 members in 1946. Its relative strength in the labor
movement was expressed in its inability to develop an independent caucus in
the UAW, the central union of the period. It had to maneuver back and forth
between the Thomas-Addes (CP supported) and Reuther (SP supported) caucuses.
A revolutionary upsurge, if it had occurred, would have largely benefited the
CP. The extremely difficult task facing the much smaller SWP would have been
to facilitate a break away from the CP as well as encourage new forces
evolving out of the ferment in the labor movement (like the Muste grouping in
the 30s), labor party initiatives, etc.. Thus, if the revolutionary venture
was to be successful, some form of regroupment would have been essential.
Whateverwould have led the American Revolution, if there had been one, it
would not have been the SWP as constituted in 1946.
But the utterly false understanding of the world situation held by Cannon in
1946 is not a matter to be dismissed lightly. The sad truth is that the
overwhelming majority of the Fourth International at the time -- including
Pablo, Healy, Mandel -- had no understanding of the process of capitalist
restabilization going on. This disorientation persisted until at least
1948-49. Those who grasped reality: Jock Haston and the RCP in England,
Albert Goldman and Felix Morrow in the U.S., swiftly dropped out of the
This raises two interesting questions:
(1)What actually is the role of Marxists in non-revolutionary times? Surely
it must be more than "keeping the faith" in little groups. My view is that
it is the task of Marxists to defend the working class (in its broadest
sense, including minorities, women, gays, etc.) as effectively as possible
under given objective conditions. Leadership in the working class can only
be gained through effectiveness NOW. Workers will not look in the future to
those who stood by and did not aid them in the past.
Bloom quotes Lukacs about expressing the "actuality of the revolution" in
non-revolutionary times. To Bloom this means "preparing" for the social
revolution. How does one do that? Give members numbers instead of names as
MIM does? I am afraid it means for many Trotskyists building the little
sects. What it should mean is being the best, most intelligent, and
effective fighters for the interest of the working class today.
(2) Considering how much wishful thinking colored Trotskyists' understanding
of the objective reality in 1946, can we trust Trotskyists to understand
current reality? Well lets see. I will simply state the obvious and we will
see if we have agreement:
(a) Capitalism is doing extremely well and socialism is having a Hell of a
time of it.
(b) Here in the United States the political climate is conservative. The
struggle at the moment is between the right and the middle with the left
simply not even in the debate.
(c) The working class does face extremely serious problems as the nature of
the productive process changes, requiring less labor, while a high technology
sector grows. Further, world competition is driving down wages, working
conditions, and increasing joblessness in the older industrial nations.
(d) The above problems do not represent a "crisis of capitalism" and
certainly not a "depression." They are part of the continuing revolutionary
impact upon social relations of the development of capitalism. The "crisis"
we face is a crisis of the working class. This is where we need to give
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