A reply to Hugh and the other Trotskyists
Louis N Proyect
lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sat Aug 24 20:13:38 MDT 1996
Now that my participation in M1 is winding down, I want to step out
of character and try to explain in a straightforward manner to Hugh
why my polemics with him, Jim Miller, Adam Rose and other
Trotskyists has been so sharp. Like them, I believe that Trotsky was
correct when he said something to the effect that the crisis of humanity
boils down to the leadership of the proletariat. If humanity and other
forms of life are to prevail, capitalism must be destroyed. To destroy it,
we need battle-tested, disciplined revolutionary parties consisting of
the most advanced sectors of the working-class.
The contradiction, however, lies in the fact that efforts advanced by
such Trotskyist comrades to build such parties can not succeed. Let me
try to elaborate on this.
The Trotskyist movement has a terrible problem with sectarianism. It
is so severe that these comrades don't even appear to recognize that it
exists. They can not understand how mistaken it is to assume that 50
cadre--or 500, or 5000--in a country the size of England is not and can
not be the "nucleus of a vanguard", a term they use frequently.
The Bolshevik party was not based on such a highly specific program
as such that characterizes the typical Trotskyist party today. The
Trotskyist party demands fealty not only to the national program of a
section, but that of the international movement as well. Furthermore,
membership involves taking positions on all sorts of historical
questions that are not even relevant to the current class struggle. One
Trotskyist group will revile another for having had been too soft on
Mao or Tito, for example. This is not helpful.
If Lenin had made the same sort of demands on adherents to the
Bolshevik current, there never would have been a revolution in Russia.
If we are to move ahead politically, we must break with this basically
idealistic approach to politics.
Another problem with Trotskyism is the extreme dogmatism of those
who identify with it. In my two or so years on the list in debates with
Trotskyists, I have never seen the slightest bit of scholarly initiative. It
was only after a month of brutal polemics with Jim Miller, that he felt
the need to consult George Black's book on Nicaragua, an important
source of information.
The Trotskyist comrades have an incredible amount of overconfidence
in their ability to critique other currents, such as the FSLN or the
Cuban CP. The main reason for this is that they compare their own
spotless record to all of the dirty compromises of others in power. Of
course, they have never had to face the sorts of questions that Castro
has had to face. What if he had made the correct "criticism" of Soviet
intervention into Czechoslovakia as they had, what material
consequences might have this had on the Cuban people who relied on
When it comes to discussing Marxist economic theory, which both
Hugh and Jim have some facility with, they can present very powerful
arguments. But in both their cases, there is a disturbing unfamiliarity
with Marxist scholarship on Central America or Latin America
that is out of sync with their eagerness to hold forth on the
region. Anybody who wants to issue broad sweeping statements about
the region has to walk before they fly. I have been studying the region
in depth for 29 years, have read over a hundred books on the area, spent
time traveling there, so I tend to speak more forcefully on these
questions than I would on subjects such as the business cycle or the
character of transnational capital.
The simple fact is that revolutionary parties must include the most
advanced workers and intellectuals. Intellectuals have a responsibility
to think for themselves and not allow others to speak for them whether
the subject is the business cycle or Cuba. You can not simply assume
that Moreno had the last word on the Sandinistas. You must study for
yourself and think for yourself. No member of the Bolshevik Party
went around parroting a party line. The Bolshevik worker-intellectuals
were stubborn in their independence. Nobody could ever convince
Preobrezhensky to agree with Lenin just because Lenin supported
some position or another.
We, on the other hand, are faced with the continual phenomenon of
Trotskyists like Adam Rose, Hugh Rodwell and Jim Miller defending
every last detail of their party line. Do they do this because they fear
expulsion for breach of discipline?
For example, when Jim Miller changed his position that Buchanan
was a fascist, one that he had been defending passionately for a month,
to agree with the new SWP position that he wasn't, we had no idea
whether this was his true conviction or simply his following "Leninist
We need a movement where every idea can be examined on its own
merit. We are in a peculiar position on this list when we realize that
there are separate discussion rules for some members. Trotskyist
comrades wait until their pre-convention period in order to put
forward whatever ideas they have that differ from their party's. In
between conventions, they defend these ideas in public such as they do
on this list. This naturally prevents us from having a genuine
This is not how the Bolshevik party functioned. This mode of
functioning, characteristic of all Trotskyist parties, has to be destroyed
in order for us to grow as a Marxist current in the working-class.
Comrades like Hugh Rodwell, Adam Rose and Jim Miller don't notice
this tendency on their part since they agree--we would assume--with
all of the major positions of their party. If it came to a point where
they couldn't, they would leave. This might satisfy their own personal
needs, but it doesn't satisfy the needs of the working-class and its
The Trotskyist movement chews people up. It will take young people
and make them zealously devoted to the program in all of its
encyclopedic detail. When people join in an upsurge, this can make for
a very powerful political force. Two or three thousand highly
motivated individuals in a disciplined group like the SWP actually got
a lot done in the 1960s and 1970s.
The problem, however, is that these groups are ill-equipped to deal
with major shifts in the class-struggle. In the mid-1970s, it was
imperative for everybody in the SWP to take a cold and objective look
at the class-struggle in the US and choose tactics that were appropriate
for the period.
Instead, the leadership--and the leadership alone--misjudged the
objective situation and proceeded down a destructive workerist path in
the hopes that the US was entering a pre-revolutionary situation. If
there had been an open and free atmosphere in the group, perhaps
such a big mistake could have been prevented.
However, this type of structure which prevents free and open
discussion from happening except for one month or so every two years
during preconvention periods, and then only among people who you
agree with completely on most questions, tends to produce a
membership that lacks intellectual and moral fiber. It makes it
impossible for them to think for themselves. Independent thought is
not just necessary because we believe that a mind is a precious
commodity, it is necessary in order for political groups to be able to
correct themselves and adapt to changing conditions. What we get instead
>from the Trotskyist movement is extreme rigidity.
This rigidity makes it virtually impossible for people to stay in the
organization for long periods of time unless they decide to just go
along with the party line. Stiff-necked people like myself don't last
very long. The problem is that the revolutionary movement needs stiff-
These groups are revolving doors. Every country has thousands and
thousands of ex-Trotskyists that dwarf the membership figures of any
current group. This is a waste of precious cadre.
The basis for building a revolutionary party has to be much broader
than the Trotskyist comrades realize. It can not be based on "state
capitalist" theory. It can not be based on an almost religious belief that
the tiny Simon Bolivar brigade in Nicaragua was more important and
more revolutionary than the FSLN. These types of beliefs are not the
sorts of things one picks up by oneself, but ones tend to be
indoctrinated into. Indoctrination must come to an end.
My own goals on this list have been much more limited than the
Trotskyist comrades. I never once tried to recruit anybody to the CofC.
Even when people sent me private mail expressing interest, I tended to
minimize the importance of belonging to this group or that. The
important thing right now is to agree on a vision of what kind of
movement is needed. This is what I concentrate on.
I also concentrate on the importance of rigorous Marxist analysis. I
have tried to do my own independent analysis but more often I have
been satisfied to present the work of others much smarter than me. I
have presented such thinkers as Isaac Deutscher, E.H. Carr, Loren
Graham, James O' Connor, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Perry Anderson,
Lenin and Trotsky of course, with as much integrity and in as clear a
manner as possible. If you want to master the Marxist method, you
should apprentice with these sorts of people even in the case when
strictly speaking they are not Marxists, such as E.H. Carr.
The ruling-class does not build cults and sects to defend its interests.
The intellectuals of the CIA, the State Department, etc. are absolutely
required to speak for themselves. There is of course a tendency for
careerism to exist in such institutions, but nothing as bad as what I
used to see in the SWP.
The Internet can serve as a platform for Marxists of all persuasions to
exchange ideas. For this to work, we have to view this as a permanent
pre-convention discussion. I realize the Trotskyist comrades risk
expulsion if they behaved in such a fashion. The irony of course is that
this mailing list on its best days had much more in common with the
Bolshevik Party in its free-wheeling openness to controversy than any
Trotskyist group today.
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