[Marxism] Pablo, Mandel and Duncan Hallas!

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Fri Aug 13 13:16:20 MDT 2004

<Scotlive at aol.com> wrote:

"An interesting analysis of Trotskyism. Many who adhere to this doctrine would argue that the problem, as you assert, is not in the oppositionism of Trotskyism, but rather in the Stalinist form of top down state socialism which has been tried and, they would argue, has thus far failed. Which defeats of the revolutionary working class movement do you mean, by the way?"


I did not make an analysis, but a judgement. I refer to the defeat of mass uprisings in Germany and other European countries, the political counter-revolution in the USSR, the victory of the Nazis in Germany and the fascists in Italy and Spain, and so on. 
In seizing power, the bolsheviks had anticipated that they would trigger revolution in Germany, such that the German workingclass would be able to aid the development of socialism in Russia. But their assessment of European politics was faulty, and the revolutionary propensities of West European workers were much less than they anticipated.

For two decades from 1923, the level of workingclass militancy in Europe, which had surged after the end of the first world war, went into decline, as measured by the frequency and scope of mass demonstrations and strikes, the membership of political organisations and trade unions in many instances, the level of unemployment and fear of unemployment, and the evolution of popular ideology. Popular struggles either ended in defeat, or else in political stalemate. 

Trotskyism originally emerged as an oppositional movement to the Stalin faction in the CPSU, which reflected a political defeat of the workers and peasants in the Soviet republics by the Communist party-state, which after victory in the civil war, systematically eliminated or silenced all political opposition to its rule, and vested its absolute monopoly of political and legal power. 

Thus, Trotskyism grew as a defiant oppositionist ideology out of defeats and failures of the labor movement, in opposition to the CPSU-dominated communist movement internationally. Trotskyism aimed to preserve programmatically the revolutionary Marxism such as it was expressed prior to Lenin's death in 1924, and transmit that heritage to a new generation of workers. 

Trotskyists aimed to do this, under conditions where historical facts were systematically falsified, political opponents and dissidents were persecuted up to death, and political positions were misrepresented by the official communist movement, in order to justify and defend the domestic and foreign policies of the Soviet party-state, regarded as the "socialist fatherland". In other words, Trotskyists battled with a political culture which had become seriously dishonest.

In summary, Trotskyism specifically grew out of an historical experience of political failure and political tragedy, not out of an experience of political success (although it took its inspiration from 1917). 

As Trotsky put it, whatever partial social progress was made in the USSR, the new leaders of the CPSU had substantively "betrayed" the real political aspirations, intentions and goals of the Russian revolution of 1917, which had included a revolt against Czarist despotism and for popular democracy, more civil freedoms and rights (which were initially gained in 1917, but then taken away again), and effective assistance to socialists elsewhere in the world (the CPSU began to aid conservative forces, or at any rate hinder the progress of the socialist Left).

The basic problem of Trotskyism was that Trotsky and his leading supporters were themselves implicated in bad practices which they later criticised when the CPSU under Stalin's leadership universalised those bad practices. Trotsky himself had proposed the "militarisation of labor" during the civil war, he had endorsed the ban on political factions and political super-centralisation, and he had agreed with the political disenfranchisement of opposition parties. He was therefore not in a strong position to lead any mass opposition to the apex of the party-state.

On the one side, Trotsky, who was after his expulsion hounded by the entire communist movement, was forced into the position of defending every aspect of his political record, against people who wilfully misrepresented and falsified it. On the other side, the Trotskyists argued that justabout everything Trotsky had said and done had been correct (although e.g. Ernest Mandel later admitted that there had been "dark years" in the political career of Lenin and Trotsky, referring to the liquidation of political opponents). 

This dual trend was conducive to dogmatisation, and not to new political learning from new political experiences. Thus, Trotskyism which claimed to have the unique franchise on "real or true Marxism" became effectively a closed system of thought, permitting only of a limited range of permutations within the limits of what was considered "orthodoxy". 

Trotskyists were very concerned with the theoretical coherence and ideological consistency of Marxism as a theoretical system of thought, but in striving to be orthodox, they were often blind to new experiences which required innovative thought that reframed traditional ways of thinking. Fights continually broke out about how "orthodox" the orthodoxy really was, and splits occurred which had nothing to do with real political dividing lines in a country, but with doctrinal subtleties.

Thus, by its great insistence on "the Marxist tradition" and on theory, Trotskyism often became conservative, because it rarely contained a genuine dialectic of tradition and innovation rooted in workingclass practice. The richness of Trotsky's political thought provided categorisations for every conceivable political and economic event or situation, but being able to give a label to every aspect of politics, did not necessarily mean that an analysis was made which could lead to political success, or that questions were framed in a way that they could be successfully answered. It might only mean that new ideas were regarded as "dangerous deviations". 

Ultimately only those Trotskyist organisations have been successful, which found a real resonance with workingclass life, but there are rather few reaching that political maturation. Because as soon as new ideas arose, the instinctive response was to query whether they were compatible with Marxism, or how they could be assimilated to the existing system of thought. 

So there remains an irreducible element of dogmatisation and deification in Trotskyism, and the only way out of that, is to inquire into the whole process by which a Marxism is formed; because ultimately Marxism fails, through an unhealthy and wrong relationship between theory and practice. 

I think personally that to understand Trotskyism, it is useful to put side by side Lenin's "The three component parts of Marxism" and Ernest Mandel's "The place of Marxism in history". 

Lenin brazenly declares in his text that "Marxism is omnipotent because it is true", and he seeks to codify it as a clearly defined doctrine that could be propagated to the masses. In (slightly pretentiously) defining "the place of Marxism in history", Mandel does exactly the same, but basically imitates Lenin's original text, elaborating it here and there, and then concluding that really in the 1920s and 1930s, there were still few Marxists who had a really good knowledge of what Marx actually wrote. 

In that case, the unifying factor of the Marxists is a common doctrine, a doctrinalisation of Marx. But this isn't far removed from a religious catechism.

In reality, the unifying factor for the working class is not Marxism, but socialism as a movement and a goal - or, at any rate, a vision and practice aiming for a new social order, which emancipates people and provides greater justice, equality and liberty for all. 

But this interpretation inverts the whole Trotskyist procedure - rather than unifying the working class around a pre-existing Marxist programme, the political programme itself has to emerge out of the actual practices and experiences of the workers and peasants, in which Marxists can participate and make interventions, without however claiming to possess "the whole truth" already. 

Because if the latter happens, we enter the spheres of religion, which, however satisfying it may be, doesn't itself solve the practical problems that need to be solved :-)


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