Episodes from American Trotskyism
Jose G. Perez
jgperez at SPAMfreepcmail.com
Mon Dec 27 10:44:25 MST 1999
>>There is much to be learned from the example of the American Trotskyist
movement, just as we can learn from studying the Communist Party. They won
strikes, built antiwar movements and fought against racism. Each had its
strengths and weaknesses. But the underlying and defining organizational
principle--namely, the umbilical cord to the USSR--has been severed. This
brute fact will do more than anything to heighten interest in genuine
Marxist initiatives, which can only emerge from the native soil.<<
At the risk of seeming absurd, let me point out that there was a "slight"
difference between the Trotskyist and (pro-Moscow) Stalinist currents that I
believe goes even deeper than the underlying and defining organizational
And that is that the Trots stood on the Manifesto, advocating the political
independence of the working class, while the communist party since the 1930s
has made support of "progressive" bourgeois candidates in the elections the
axis of its work.
As for the issue of concern to you here, I *think* you're tending to elevate
the question of organizational form to a level of importance it simply does
not have. Organizational forms are concrete and arise from the real
struggle. Following the victory of the October revolution it was inevitable
that advanced workers throughout the world would try to emulate the
Bolsheviks, just as revolutionaries throughout Latinn America tried to
replicate the Cuban "model." I think in the case of the Bolsheviks, the
workers were sold a bill of goods, i.e., not really what the Bolsheviks had
been like leading up to the revolution at all, but a super-centralist,
From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com>
To: marxism at lists.panix.com <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Saturday, December 25, 1999 8:56 AM
Subject: Re: Episodes from American Trotskyism
>>I remember back in 1973 in the Los Angeles branch of the SWP, Milt Zazlow
>>(Mike Bartell), was applying to rejoin the SWP, and some of these points
>>were made. A comrade, Peter Herresshoff, whose father David had been a
>>prominent Cochranite, got up and said, "well, what you're saying is, 'if
>>you're so smart, why aren't you rich?'
>>Yeah, I think that about sums it up.
>>(a confirmed "Cannonite")
>Ah, yes. 1973. Those were the days. Branches in every major city in the
>country. Subscription drives of 35,000 Militant newspapers. Walter and
>Miriam Schneir got an assignment from the NY Times magazine section to
>profile the SWP, but the article they wrote was rejected because it was
>considered fawning propaganda. Then it all collapsed.
>You have to put the American Socialist in its proper perspective. It is
>part of a 150 year old effort to create an indigenous Marxist movement in
>the United States. Periodically there is evidence that support for such an
>initiative exists. The first example was the 'Yankee International' led by
>Victoria Woodhull, which unfortunately even Karl Marx himself did not fully
>understand the importance of. He backed the dogmatic Sorge against
>Woodhull, the very same Sorge who while paying lipservice to orthodoxy,
>supported exclusion of Chinese workers from the trade unions.
>Then Debs's Socialist Party came along, cheek by jowl with the IWW. While
>both of these formations had the possibility of transforming themselves
>into a genuine Marxist party, they were sidetracked into 2 losing efforts,
>the Stalinist and the Trotskyist movement, both of which shared the rather
>regrettable notion that the example of the Bolshevik party could be cloned.
>The only exception to this during the heyday of American communism was A.J.
>Muste's Workers Party, which sought to translate Marxism into the American
>idiom. Poor Muste was outmaneuvered by James P. Cannon and his party was
>The next initiative was the Socialist Union and the magazine associated
>with it, the American Socialist. Unfortunately this was like trying to
>start a garden during a drought.
>There is much to be learned from the example of the American Trotskyist
>movement, just as we can learn from studying the Communist Party. They won
>strikes, built antiwar movements and fought against racism. Each had its
>strengths and weaknesses. But the underlying and defining organizational
>principle--namely, the umbilical cord to the USSR--has been severed. This
>brute fact will do more than anything to heighten interest in genuine
>Marxist initiatives, which can only emerge from the native soil.
>Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org/
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