Trotsky and Catasthrophism

John Paramo albatrosrojo2000 at
Tue Nov 12 00:46:11 MST 2002


Louis Proyect wrote:

"This analysis of the world situation was strongly
influenced by Trotsky's conceptions from the start of
the second world war which were of a "catastrophist
nature". He could not anticipate any new upturn in
the world capitalist economy based on Keynesianism and
arms spending. Trotsky's catastrophism can be traced
back to the early days of the Comintern...

"...What is not commonly appreciated is the degree to
which Trotskyism has a lineal
descent to the ultraleftism of the early 1920s

I think Louis fell for the "interpretation" of
Trotsky, rather that what Trotsky actually advocated.
The paragraphs above are more related to the SWP,
post-war "interpretations" of Trotsky's "death agony
of capitalism" characterization, that the actual
theoretical work of Leon D.

At the end of the 30s, Trotsky characterized
capitalism as being in its "death agony." But he went
to great pains to explain, once and again, that "death
agony" did not mean "deceased" or "about to die" but
the stage of "death agony" - and he used the
comparison with human nature - is when the body
mobilizes all its reserves of antibodies and other
defenses to fight for survival.

Capitalism, and its political/economic system, was in
a deadly lock by fascism/Nazism. It is no question
about the counter-revolutionary nature of fascism and
the effect of its victory would have had BOTH in the
capitalism system and its democratic bourgeois
political regimes. Both would have disappeared. The
Nazis were introducing a sort of colonialism in the
heart of Europe, attacking the basis of modern
capitalist social relations, and altering the
relationship between the classes, the state and the
means of production an even re-introducing slavery ...
in Europe!

On the other hand, capitalism, and fascism were
threatened by workers' revolution. Capitalism was in
its "death agony" and mobilized all its resources,
economic and political, to survive. And it did survive
essentially because the help it received from the
leaderships of the working classes, particularly in
the imperialist countries and from the Soviet Union.
Socialism or barbarianism was the two poles of the
war, socialism represented by workers' revolution and
barbarianism by the potential victory of fascist.

Those two poles marked the "death agony" of
capitalism, and the ruling classes knew it. That is
what explains Roosevelt, Churchill, Wallace, the new
deal, the compromises of Yalta and Potsdam, the calls
for dismantling British and French colonialism, the
drop of the atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima,
etc. There was no one antibody, a defense that
capitalist did not used to save itself from its "death
agony" stage.

Trotsky also explained repeatedly the differences
between the ultra-leftism of the "Third Period" of
Stalin and his own revolutionary characterizations and
explained in a number of texts how, while both may
have appeared similar in the surface, were
antagonistic points of view, characterizations and
program. This was particularly an intense battle of
Trotsky since some Russian oppositionists, confused by
Stalin's "Third Period", capitulated to him.

The 1946 "Theses" of the SWP, which is the document
Louis referred to was too a caricature of Trotsky's
positions as it was the "Third Period."

I agree with Louis, however, in that the
"catastrophic" visions of the world were maintained by
the Comintern and many Trotskyists and many others -
even today there are Stalinist parties with "Third
Period" positions - in BETWEEN stages of the two
"death agony periods" through which capitalism went
through in its short life. The Third International,
Lenin and Trotsky were right in 1917-19 to have that
characterization, but they changed it - or at least
Trotsky did since 1925 (Lenin was already dead) to
again re-float it in the mid or late 30s.

It is the continuation of the characterization of the
"death agony" between periods of acute crisis of
capitalism - when the situation is relatively
stabilized or under control again - that is
"catasthrofism" - vulgar Marxism -, not the analysis
of the two periods of death agony when they were a

Same thing happened to many Marxists in the 80s. Many
characterized the world situation as revolutionary
from all sides. They did not realize that the workers
and peasants were engaged in defensive struggles, the
last ones before the nefarious 90s. But that is
another discussion.


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