[Marxism] A response to a proposal for an interntional gathering of "Trotskyists"
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Dec 8 00:09:18 MST 2004
Well, I am not going to get into a big discussion of why the current
rise of increase in Trotsky among REVOLUTIONISTS, not academics or
professional dissenters of any kind, is positive and important.
If Chavez decides to cite Trotsky's "The Permanent Revolution" on the
question of the need for international revolutionary action and
collaboration, I think we can assume that he finds ideas there that are
NEEDED and are presented more sharply perhaps because they were written
as a part of a debate with Stalin on those perspectives.
I have to admit that I had come to view permanent revolution primarily
from the standpoint of Trotsky's errors in the process of the Russian
revolution before 1917, some of which find a slight reflection in the
later 1929 book. Chavez's statement is a reminder of how The Permanent
Revolution can be of use to a revolutionist who needs no advice from
Trotsky on the peasant question, but learns things from it about the
world struggle with imperialism (above all, but not only, US
Is it different or better or more important than endorsements of Marx
and Lenin. No. But when Fidel said he was a Marxist-Leninist in 1962,
that was big news around the world and for good reason. I think if
Chavez recommends Trotsky's book, it is because he thinks his
recommendation should be heard, not ignored.
Anyway, the following is a letter I wrote to a number of fellow veterans
of my former Trotskyist milieu who raised the idea of an international
conference of "Trotskyists" to celebrate Trotsky's heritage in the light
of the new developments. I sent it to the Labor Standard list.
I am including a substantial section of the latest speech by Fidel
Castro to Cuba's Union of Young Communists. This deserves careful
Reading, which can be done by clicking on the web address below.
A growing body of revolutionists in Cuba and around the world are now
looking at Trotsky's ideas as a vital contribution to the
internationalist working-class perspectives. These revolutionists are
not taking up these ideas as ideologues or as individuals in transition
from social democracy or Stalinism to something called Trotskyism. They
are revolutionists trying to make real revolutions and who come to
Trotsky's ideas, as they do to Marx and Lenin, at a time when the
Stalinist obstacle that made it so difficult to find these ideas has
shattered and is disintegrating further. And when, despite the
disintegration of the workers' states in the Soviet bloc that
accompanied this progressive development, world imperialism is again
I think it is impossible to understand the gains occurring now without
looking back to "the battle of ideas" that the Cuban leadership opened
at the time of the US refusal to return Elian Gonzalez to Cuba in the
mid-90s. What we are seeing is not the rise of new "Trotskyist
oppositions" but Trotsky's ideas becoming part of the broad
revolutionary heritage of new generations of revolutionists. These
people are not going to become an ideologically "Trotskyist" movement
and that is not what the existing Trotskyist organizations and
individuals, and people who look to that heritage without claiming the
name, should be seeking.
To be fair, I want to stress that one of the first people to revive the
idea that Trotsky's ideas need to be studied and might be correct on
some important points was Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, the former leader of
the Stalinized Cuban CP, a leader of the Cuban revolution who is often
presented in "Trotskyist" circles as an unreconstructed Stalinist. In
1979, he published an article that noted that the entire debate over
permanent revolution in the Soviet Union in the 1920s had been distorted
and misrepresented, and indicated that some of Trotsky's criticisms of
Stalin's course in the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 had been correct.
The Trotskyist movement is still emerging from decades of largely forced
existence as an isolated ideological current defending some vital ideas
against Stalinism, a type of formation that has a certain necessarily
sectarian character in relation to the overall movement of the working
class and other oppressed classes and groups. These circumstances and
these tasks have given rise to some lasting sectarian habits. We have
to adjust to a new period where Stalinism is no longer winning the
ideological battle against Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky, as it was for many
>From that standpoint, I don't think that a conference on Trotsky's
heritage should be organized on the axis of building Trotskyist groups,
winning people to "Trotskiyism," or creating "the Fourth International."
We should be looking outward, acting as part of a growing convergence
around revolutionary ideas, and not focusing on ourselves as the
indispensable "Trotskyist nuclei" to which everybody who isn't a
"Trotskyist" must be won, albeit through fusions and regroupments as
well as individual recruitment.
We should encourage Trotsky's escape from the confines of "Trotskyism"
and discuss with others in the knowledge that they also have ideas and
experiences and understandings of Marxism and the workers and peasants'
movements that we ALSO have to learn from. The conference should be
a contribution to the process of a broader revolutionary movement that
is clearly not going to be ideologically Trotskyist, and neither can nor
should be completely homogeneous in the arena of ideas. A conference
that isn't in that spirit will be a step backward for the ideas of
Trotsky, his place in the Marxist tradition, and for the organizations
that have looked to him as a key continuator of Marx and Lenin (none of
ideas also don't have to be off limits to criticism).
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