Louis Proyect

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 20 17:50:22 MDT 2002

Patrick Ryan wrote:

>I was reading over some of the things on your site (Louis Proyect),
>excellent reading, for every radical leftist, but I wanted to know
>your position on Trotsky himself.
I consider Trotsky to be a great thinker and fearless revolutionary. But
on the question of Trotskyism itself, I tend to agree with Bert Cochran
who left the Trotskyist movement in the 1950s:

The very formulations of the International Resolution must lead us to
the conclusion that the revolutionary parties of tomorrow will not be
Trotskyist, in the sense of necessarily accepting the tradition of our
movement, our estimation of Trotsky's place in the revolutionary
hierarchy, or all of Trotsky's specific evaluations and slogans. We in
the United States had precisely this experience where Trotskyists fused
with the small Muste organization to form the Workers Party in 1935. The
fusion occurred only after we had overcome considerable resistance in
the Musteite ranks to accepting the special characteristics of
Trotskyism by assuring them that we had no special sectarian axes to
grind. How much more operative will this be when the left wing develops
through its own specific experiences and the merging of different
currents and groups inside the big centrist or reformist mass movements.

Our analysis and our tactical orientation would remain like a knife
without a blade if we do not follow through with the necessary
conclusion. And this conclusion is that in the present historical
conditions, our cadres have to take the whole body of Marxist theory and
struggle, including Trotsky's contributions to it and translate them
into the language of our lifetime, and into the language of the existing
movements of the various countries in which we are situated.

The worst error is to think this mainly a job of clearer language, or
for our cadres to start masquerading as simple homespun mechanics who
have none too secure a mastery of grammar or syntax. What is involved if
we are to integrate ourselves in the mass movement and to begin
functioning effectively as its Marxist wing, is that we have to rid
ourselves of all faction spirit and too narrow understanding of the
Marxist's role in the centrist and reformist milieus of our time.

Our purpose is to bring our ideas into the mass movement, and to
gradually raise the consciousness of the ranks to the historic tasks.
But the last thing in the world we should attempt is to inculcate the
ranks with the necessity of adopting our specific tradition, and
impressing upon them the truth of all the evaluations and proposals
broached by Trotsky from 1923 on. The thought that in the coming period
of our activity we have to go out of our way to mention the name and
work of Leon Trotsky, and the name and the existence of the Fourth
International, shows how far all of us have become infused with narrow
group thinking, and organizational fetishism, how far we have traveled
from the outlook of Frederick Engels, who warned the Socialists in
America not to publish the Communist Manifesto, as it was based on
old-world experiences, and that the American labor movement, developing
under different conditions, would not understand it, and would not know
what Marx and Engels were talking about. Why isn't it possible for us to
take this simple thought of Engels and apply it to ourselves and our
work? If Engels didn't think this was putting a question mark over his
revolutionary integrity, why should we?

We said before that only by integrating ourselves within the existing
movements could our cadres survive and fulfill their mission. We will
now add to that proposition this corollary: Only by dropping all
sectarian notions of imposing our specific tradition upon the mass
movements which developed in different circumstances and under different
influences, can our approach register successes and guarantee the future
of our precious cadres. What is involved, it is dear, is not any
modification of programmatic essence, but a sharp reversal of
organizational concepts and perspectives on the nature of the
development of the mass revolutionary parties of tomorrow.

There remains to say a word whether this course does not contain dangers
that the cadre will get lost in the mass movement and therefore become
liquidated as a specific revolutionary current Of course, the danger
exists, just as there is danger every time a revolutionist takes a job
as an official in a union, and begins to live in an opportunist
environment Some succumb to material blandishments. But if the cadre is
cohesive, and firm in its revolutionary convictions and aims, the losses
are few and the gains are many. Events will justify the necessity for a
Marxist policy and prove its effectiveness in action. The dangers will
be counteracted by the struggle Itself. We have an additional guarantee,
insofar as there are any guarantees in these things, in the clarity of
our views, the devotion of our ranks who have been tested over a long
period of time, in our ideological solidarity, and In the unifying
element of an international center. If we try to impose additional
guarantees by adopting narrow group viewpoints, and sporting narrow
group ideologies in the mass movement, we will vitiate the whole
concept, and defeat our common purposes.

Although in the United States the situation is unique as the working
class is still not organized into its own political party, the
orientation here discussed operates with full force. One has to dwell in
the never-never land of a Cannon to seriously promulgate the theory that
the American working class, which has not yet attained labor party
consciousness, will pass, with the next struggle, to the banner of
Cannonite revolutionism, or what amounts to approximately the same
thing, will in rapid-fire fashion, plunge in and out of a labor party to
join up with Cannon and his lieutenants to storm the barricades. We have
correctly stated before that the American workers will move massively
through their organizations, and not jump over the heads of their
organizations. That implies that they will move in deliberate stages,
not when the forward columns are ready, but only when sizable phalanxes
of the class are prepared to move.

Basing ourselves on this analysis, we have oriented towards the
organized labor movement, especially the mass production unions of the
CIO, as the battleground of the big future class developments, and the
repository of the forces that. will advance the working class to Its
next political stage with the formation of a labor party. That does not
mean that we are absolutely certain that a labor party will be formed.
What the perspective does base itself on with certainty is that the
inevitable political regroupment will pass through existing channels of
the organized labor movement and have a political character capable of
uniting masses at a minimum level. The broad character of this movement
will provide room for the various existing political tendencies,
Stalinists, Social Democrats, centrists and Marxists to operate within
it That is why, whatever the vicissitudes of the struggle may bring,
whatever forms it may assume, whatever channels it may take, the
strategy of basing ourselves on the organized labor movement, and
particularly its mass production sectors, and directing our main
attention to it, is the correct one and will provide us with the
necessary sustenance to carry on, and in due course, to establish
ourselves in conjunction with allies as the left wing of a growing
political movement.

Of course, as we tried to explain to the SWP, between the present and
the next developments exists a more or less protracted period of time,
and a political tendency cannot deduce its day-to-day tactics solely,
directly and immediately from the grandiose strategy, but must seek out
and find every possibility for advancement of its program and its
influence, be It on the most limited basis, and from sources that by
themselves will not necessarily be the main forces of the big labor
advance. That is why in many localities, where trade union avenues are
not open to us for one reason or another, we must seek out other
milieus, whether of the Stalinist variety, or student circles, or
various liberal or minority groups.

We approach all these strata, however, in the spirit of Marx's Communist
Manifesto which proclaimed that the revolutionists had no interests
separate and apart from the working class, that we are not a special
sect, cult, or church, which seeks to draw people out of the broad
currents into its backwater, but rather as American Marxists, we seek to
join with others in advancing the existing struggles to a higher stage
and on a broader front. We are convinced that out of these struggles and
experiences, even before big mass forces take to the field, Left
currents will arise with which we shall be able to cooperate and fuse;
that the American Marxist tendency, as a stronger formation than at
present, will thus be able to discharge its role as a left wing in the
big movement--as part and parcel of the struggle to create the mass
revolutionary party in the United States. That is our perspective.

full: http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/ibt08.htm

>How do you feel about John Reed?  Do you think he would have done
>better then Cannon?
Well, as it turns out I am planning to write a very extended review of
Warren Beatty's "Reds" as soon as I get the chance. All I will say at
this point is that John Reed (Warren Beatty) told off Zinoviev (Jerzy
Kosinski) in the film, while Cannon maintained all his life that he was
a Zinovievist. I'm with Reed. More later.


Louis Proyect

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