Second wave Trotskyists

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Mon Aug 5 11:42:22 MDT 2002

Weekly Worker 420 Thursday February 21 2002

Second wave Trotskyists
Alfred Rosmer, Boris Souvarine, Emile Fabrol and Antoine Clavez - Trotsky
and the origins of Trotskyism - Francis Boutle Publishers/Socialist Platform
Ltd, 2002, 250pp, £10

This small book, with an introduction by Al Richardson (editor of
Revolutionary History), uses a variety of both source material and more
contemporary essays to expound a thesis on the origins of the Trotskyist
movement that many modern-day Trotskyists will find quite heretical. It is
divided into three parts, arguably the least controversial being the last:
Alfred Rosmer's extension of Trotsky's own autobiography (My life), written
at the beginning of his last exile, to cover the period up to his murder in
1940, which adds some valuable insights into Trotsky's last struggles.

However, the real meat of the book is in the earlier two parts, beginning
with three essays by prominent contributors to the critical Trotskyist
French journal Prométhée, which itself originated as a rather unorthodox
entrist current within the Communist Party of France (PCF). These essays go
into some detail into the process of the so-called 'Bolshevisation' of the
PCF, which was merely a part of the same malign process carried out in the
Communist International as a whole in the period beginning during the
illness and incapacitation of Lenin in 1923, and picking up momentum after
Lenin's death.

This process involved the purging of communist leaders with a real
independent authority and record in their own countries, particularly in
World War I. They were replaced by often shrill, inept 'lefts' who were
primarily servile to the new post-Lenin international leadership - the
so-called troika - that initially appeared to be centred around the
president of the Communist International, Grigory Zinoviev. It was
characterised by a drive for a monolithic leadership, servile to the
sectarian schemes of the Zinovievites and a mechanical, indeed maniacal,
practice of breaking up established CP branches and groups and their
replacement with often tiny, workplace-based 'cells', irrespective of
whether any real basis for this existed or not. Along with this
organisational adventurism went the first moves in the communist parties,
paralleling what was going on in Moscow, to gag and expel the supporters of
the incipient Left Opposition that was forming up around the figure of Leon

The central thesis of the book revolves around these events, and has a
number of interlocking strands. It is noted, both in the essays by the
Prométhée comrades and backed up in the source material by Rosmer and
Souvarine, that there were two distinct waves of left oppositionists,
broadly sympathetic to Trotsky's own struggle in Russia, that were driven
out of the CPs. The first was in the period of so-called Bolshevisation
during the apparent ascendancy of Zinoviev - it was then that a great deal
of effort was put in by the troika and their apologists to create a myth of
a coherent body of doctrine that they called 'Leninism', which had
supposedly all along been counterposed to its nemesis, 'Trotskyism', an
alleged form of Menshevism.

The first wave of Trotskyism internationally arose during this period, and
consisted of a politically varied group of comrades, from Ludwig Lore and
Max Eastman in the USA, to AE Reade in Britain, to Rosmer, Monatte and
Souvarine in France. These comrades were unfortunately depleted and
dispersed by the adverse and unclear circumstances prevailing in the early
period of the degeneration of the Comintern, and were thus not really able
to cohere themselves as an organised international force. This was
compounded by the fact that, in the early period of Trotsky's opposition
within the Soviet Union, when neither the future trajectory of the troika
nor the tactics necessary to combat them were particularly clear, even to
Trotsky himself, he for 'tactical' reasons repudiated some of the most
prominent writings and activities undertaken by prominent oppositionists
abroad. So, Max Eastman's book Since Lenin died, was cold-shouldered by
Trotsky, and Trotsky, again for reasons connected with his sensitive
position in the top echelons of the Russian Communist Party, called for
Rosmer's French opposition publication La Révolution Prolétarienne to cease
publication (Rosmer's response to this request is one of the key source
documents included in the collection).

This wave was succeeded by another layer of recruits to the opposition
cause, beginning in the later 1920s. However - and this is the historical
paradox - the key figures and many of their adherents were veterans of the
Zinoviev current of the early 1920s, who had implemented 'Bolshevisation' -
and had unfortunately been won to a conception of what constituted communist
organisation, with its exaggerated search for political rigidity and
homogeneity, that owed much to the 'Bolshevisation' campaign itself. As Al
Richardson notes of this 'second wave' in his introduction, "The majority of
its personnel were Zinovievists rather than Trotskyists. It is all the more
ironic that prominent in this second wave were [Albert] Trient, [James P]
Cannon, [Ruth] Fischer and [Arkadi] Maslow, Zinovievists who were largely
instrumental in excluding the first wave of Trotskyists in their own
countries. Against this background today's leftist rhetoric, manipulative
attitude to the mass movement, operation through 'front' organisations,
exaggerated pretensions to Leninism and Bolshevism, and unpleasant internal
regimes are all too easily explained" (p14).

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