Trotskyism as anti-communist propaganda
jorn.andersen at vip.cybercity.dk
Sat Sep 14 18:50:55 MDT 1996
Louis Godena's post deserves a reply. Or rather parts of it do. This is
because his arguments are also the arguments of a lot of others on the
left. And on this list they are very dominant.
The point is that we should forget about Stalinism vs. Trotskyism - it is
an outdated debate, now it is time to move on. Such debates were debates
>from miniscule sects of the 70's etc. (Others - not Louis G - go much
further: Let's forget about revolution vs. reformism, let's unite all that
To do that it is necessary to either forget or re-write the history of most
of this century. Louis G prefers to do some re-writing - and then to
forget. File closed.
I think this is very dangerous - deliberately wiping out experiences which
have been paid dearly for. I will come back to that. First Louis's post.
Louis starts off trying to be serious and to the point, but can't stand the
temptation to include the usual stalinist slander - and then reaches the
conclusion that Trotskyism as well as Stalinism are outdated and that we
should move on.
I will try to skip the slander - even without it it is difficult enough to
have a serious debate between one (Louis) who (with some reservations) sees
Stalinism as a Communist current (maybe distorted etc. but still) and one
(me) who sees Stalinism as the butcher of the Communist movement worldwide
and more specifically of the Russian Bolsheviks.
So I will just make a few points:
1. I agree that Trotskyism would not exist had it not beeen for Stalinism.
Louis sees "socialism in one country" as "an attempt to defend the October
Revolution". From this follows that Stalinism is the continuity from
Marxist tradition - and Trotskyism a "deviation" (or worse..). I, on the
contrary, see the Marxist heritage in the writings and actions of Trotsky
and his defeated followers.
This probably comes as no surprise. The point however is that as well as
the socialist movement was split historically between reformists and
revolutionaries by the outbreak of WW1, so did this happen again in the
late 1920's. It is also quite clear that it was the Stalinists who came out
victorious - the Trotskyists became an often tiny and defeated minority.
The facts which need reflection are that the first - and until now only -
succesful workers' revolution ended - not with international revolution,
but - with a historical split in the socialist movement. A split which has
not yet been overcome - and we can't overcome it just by forgetting it.
2. This meant that anti-Stalinism sometimes came to dominate the Trotskyist
parties/groups to an extent which made it difficult for them to build. This
is not an argument for softness on Stalinism, but rather to say that if you
were a revolutionary socialist in the West in the 30's, 40's or 50's you
would have to focus on the big reformist parties rather than the Stalinist
parties. Trotsky argued this himself very often in the late 30's, but not
I think this can explain why some of those who later became
arch-right-wingers in the Cold War had a temporary flirt with Trotskyism.
But having said this, I think it is not true that very many Trotskyist
*parties* compromised with their own bourgeoisie. I'd say surprisingly few
did. And certainly to a much lesser extent than did the Stalinist parties.
3. A short note on "permanent revolution". Louis is right that Trotsky
developed Marx's concept - but it was developed not in the 20's + 30's, but
around 1905-6 to describe the general characteristics of the coming
Russioan revolution. It was not until the defeat for the Chinese revolution
in 1927 that Trotsky generalized it to a theory for taking the anti-feudal
or anti-colonial struggle further to workers' power. This of course was the
opposite of the Stalinist Popular Front, which - as Adolpho so clearly has
demonstrated - means class collaboration at the expense of the working class.
4. Louis is right that as Stalinism has collapsed, Trotskyism will not be
the same. It's anti-Stalinism will play a smaller role in practical terms -
for one simple reason: We do not have to face Stalinist arguments to the
extent that we did before Stalinism collapsed. What will remain is the
Marxist tradition of socialism from below.
But even though Stalinism has only a minimal influence amongst ordinary
workers, it still has some influence on the left. As long as this is still
the case we will have to make clear that we have nothing to do with it, and
the term Trotskyism is still necessary.
Wiping away the experiences of the socialist movement this century is of
course a non-starter. We can't just start from the experiences pre-1917, as
Louis P. has argued. These were experiences of a still young capitalism and
a young workers' movement. Now capitalism is much older. The working class
is no longer a minority internationally, but the largest class. And we have
had the experiences of a dozen or two attempted workers' revolutions + lots
of struggles for national liberation etc. As well as we have experienced
fascism in power in almost half of Europe in the 30-40's etc. etc.
These experiences should not be wiped aside - but be built on. But it makes
a difference with which glasses we look at them. With capitalism now in its
deepest crisis since the 1930's we need to to be clear on why Hitler could
smash the strongest working class ever, why revolutions such as Spain 1936,
Hungary 1956 or Poland 1980-81 failed. If not we are doomed to make the
same bloody mistakes once more. And with the level for the means of
destruction which capitalism now supports these next lessons could well be
even more bloody unless we have success the next time we get a chance.
So in order to win we have to find our way thorugh this century - which
means we have to come to terms with Stalinism as well as Trotskyism. I
would argue that the influence of a reformist trade union bureaucracy hand
in hand with two generations of Stalinist dominance on the left share
between them most of the responsibility for our defeats or for our missed
opportunities. So whether we like it or not I guess we will still have to
have these debates on the left - as one base for moving forward.
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