Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘Trotskyism

In the Era of Wars and Revolutions. American socialist cartoons of the mid-twentieth century.

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 In the era of Wars and Revolutions. American Socialist Cartoons of the mid-twentieth century. Edited by Sean Matgamma. 

“Although in some places, notably in the Untied States, Trotskyism is able to attract a fairly large number of adherents, and develop into an organised movement with a petty Fuehrer of its own, its inspiration is essentially negative. The Trotskyist is against Stalin just as the Communist is for him, and, like the majority of Communists, he wants not so much to alter the external world as to feel that the battle for prestige is gaining in his own favour.”

George Orwell. Notes on Nationalism. 1945. ( Orwell and Politics. Page 355. Penguin 2001.)

In the Era of War and Revolutions publishes American left-wing cartoons for the most part long unavailable (even on the Web). They are largely from the papers of what became the Trotskyist American Socialist Workers’ Party, and their publications, such as Labor Action, the Militant, Socialist Appeal and New Militant, although there are some from the Communist Party (US), Daily Worker.

It is immediately striking that capitalists wear top-hats, and are corpulent. while workers are muscle-bound titans. No punches are pulled. Stalinism is a horror, American capitalism is embodied in Jim Crow and Lynching, As Sean Matgamma says in the Introduction, this is “clear and stark class-struggle politics, counterposed to both capitalism and Stalinism.”.

Orwell was simply wrong to say that Trotskyists were single-minded opponents of Stalin and Orthodox Communism. There  is an equal focus on capitalism, the 1930s struggles of the US labour movement, Fascism, and, as World War 2 approached, and was fought, imperialism.

It would have been useful to have outlined the political evolution of the SWP (US) and the publications in which the cartoons appeared.

Its opposition to American participation in the World War – the subject, or sub-text,  of many of the designs -  takes some explaining.

The SWP’s own supporters claim that (2008),

The Socialist Workers Party…… maintained the Marxist view that in the modern epoch there is no progressive wing of the capitalist class. The major industrialized capitalist rivals, dominated by finance capital—what Marxists term imperialism—are constantly driven to wars of conquest in which they try to redivide the world’s territories. The working-class vanguard, the party held, needs to explain the imperialist character of the war and why workers and farmers must oppose it, fighting instead for their own class interests worldwide.

Vanguard workers in the United States came under increasing attack as Washington sought to drum up a patriotic campaign in support of its war drive. The Smith “Gag” Act was passed in 1940, prohibiting the advocacy of “overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States.” Under this thought-control law, 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and Teamsters Local 544 in Minneapolis were railroaded to prison for their class-struggle course in the labor movement, including opposition to the imperialist war. They spent between 12 and 16 months behind bars.

Not everybody, one suspects, will have much sympathy with that stand. Apart from the wider problems it raises it stood uncomfortably close to the US ‘isolationists’ of the period.

Yet Stalinism, for all Orwell’s cavils, is something that was rightly a major issue for the American Trotskyists. In the Era reminds us that there were people on the left prepared to speak their opposition, and dramatically illustrate it in their publications. That some of the SWP became so obsessed with the Soviet Union that they became what would be later be called ‘neoconservatives’ perhaps shows the difficulty of maintaining a Thrid Camp position.

The SWP itself still exists, a small group of property developers who continue to publish Trotksy and use their other resources to back Cuba.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are to be congratulated for publishing this material. It deserves a place on every socialists’ bookshelf. For this Blogger, who has only a passing familarity with the American left, it is a useful reminder of its rich past.

In an era of wars and revolutions, by Carlo and others, edited by Sean Matgamna. 312 pages, £8.99. To order by post, pay £8.99 plus £1.60 postage here.

More information from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

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Note on some of the cartoonists -  Laura Gray (Slobe),

 From Labor Action.

Labor Action regularly published cartoons and caricatures penned by Jesse Cohen, who worked under the name Carlo, while the Militant ran graphics by Laura Slobe, whose party name was Laura Gray. Despite the new wave of public and scholarly interest in the history of comics and cartoons, neither Carlo nor Laura Gray has attracted much attention from historians of the graphic arts. Readers of this magazine might recognize Carlo’s work from the short profile we published in issue 37 (Summer 2004); now it’s Laura Gray’s turn.

Like Jesse Cohen, Laura Slobe attended high school in the 1920s, came of political age during the 1930s, and remained active on the far left after World War II. She was born in Pittsburgh, but grew up in Chicago, where she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before working for the Works Progress Administration Art Project. As a young, avant-garde artist she concentrated her efforts on painting and sculpture, which remained her lifelong passions. She joined the SWP in 1942, and her first cartoon appeared in the Militant two years later. The labor journalist Art Preis later remembered that, “From the first, her work added such a fresh, bright, satirical note to the paper that it was enthusiastically hailed by our readers everywhere.” According to another SWP writer, “The cartoon’s subject matter was on the agenda of the Militant’s staff meetings. After the staff discussed and decided what the topic would be, Gray would go home and start to draw.” In addition to serving on the staff of the Militant, Gray “worked at a series of jobs to support herself, including painting store mannequins and creating window displays for some of New York’s big department stores.” She remained the SWP’s in-house artist from 1944 until her death in 1958. Tragically, she had contracted tuberculosis in her early twenties, and had a lung removed in 1947. She died after a brief bout with pneumonia.

Stalin 5

Written by Andrew Coates

April 9, 2014 at 11:35 am

Socialist Action Defends Russian Army’s Rights.

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Back Russian Troops!

Much of the European left has either adopted a balanced position on the Ukrainian crisis (democratic, not taking the “camp” of  the ‘West’ and Russia), or has tended to be over-enthusiastic about the Ukrainian Maidan movement.

The Tendance backs the former view and rejects the latter.

There are good reasons to be sceptical about the interventions of the EU and the USA in the Ukrainian crisis, and, at the same time,  to back democratic and social demands, without either supporting the new government in Kiev, or en bloc the crowds that forced regime-change.

There are some, nevertheless, who take Putin’s side.

Shiraz Socialist points out, there are still neo-stalinists still around who justify this in the following way.

George Mellor writes,

For today’s neo-Stalinist the world is divided into Western imperialism on the one hand and China, Russia and other states (like Iran and Venezuela) that broadly identify with them against the ‘West’ on the other. Their conclusion is that socialists must stand up for China, Russia, or, indeed, any state or movement (eg the Taliban) that finds itself in conflict with ‘The West’. Seeing the world through this lens has led them to support Russian imperialism against Western imperialism, turning them into Putin’s Foreign Legion.

One of the strangest of these ‘multi-polarists’ (as they would no doubt never call themselves)  is the group known as Socialist Action.

This was originally Trotskyist and democratic Marxist  (indeed some of them were comrades of the Tendance in the International Marxist Group back in the 1970s).

Associated with Ken Livingstone it has somewhat disappeared from sight in recent years (that is, since its members lost their highly paid jobs with Ken).

But

“Its members have maintained leading positions in many campaigns – the National Abortion Campaign, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, National Assembly Against Racism and various coalitions against the wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, for example. As a result, Socialist Action exert an influence beyond that which might be expected from so small a grouping.

Socialist Action has also participated in Respect – The Unity Coalition since the 2007 split in that party.Several of its supporters became members of the party and one serves as its national treasurer.”

Their present line is this.

The confrontation playing out in Ukraine is however not fundamentally about the rights of the Ukrainian people but is the site of a massive attempt by the US to drive back Russia and destroy the capacity for any force to challenge it at a global level.

Russia may not be a second superpower anymore, but recent events on Syria have shown that – especially when in alliance with China – it is still powerful enough to obstruct the US’s plans.

US imperialism will not tolerate any challenge to its global hegemony, however weak and vacillating.

It demonstrated that recently in Iraq, in Libya, in getting rid of Morsi in Egypt, its sanctions on Iran and its offensive against Syria. Therefore it has decided Russia must be fatally weakened.

The US is not interested in ‘democracy’ in the Ukraine – if it was it would not team up with fascists.

The people of Ukraine are just a tool in its attacks on rivals and challengers, which in this case is Russia.

Defending the rights of the people of Ukraine means defending the rights of the east to resist the imposition of a US puppet government over it, defending the right to self-determination even to secession for all regions that want it, and defending the right of the Russian army to come to the aid of the eastern regions to prevent Kiev enforcing its control.

If you want to hear more of the same opinions you can watch Galloway below.

Unimportant downdate: Lenny au pays des Soviets (Ukraine: against infantile realpolitik).

An epideictic ethopoeia (as Seymour could call it) on Lindsey German,

“But since the theory is impossible to infer from German’s polemic, it unfortunately comes across as facile opportunism, and any theory that does now emerge to bolster it – even should it direct us to seize the ‘key link in the chain’ – will tend to look like a post hoc rationalisation.”

“Ukraine, New American Frontier” – Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

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Denounces Ukrainian Neo-Nazi US Hirelings. 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the Ukraine (25th February).

This time it’s a coup! And once again, as one expects, propaganda is in full swing.  The challenge is enormous and geopolitical. The offensive against Russia , led by the North Americans, in competition with the Germans in full swing. As is always the case, France has no independent policy….”

“Those in Europe and the United States who validate coups and insurgencies are preparing the way for tomorrow’s conflicts cross the continent. Russia will not let them get away with it. This is quite in order. Nor will the Ukrainian people let themselves be had.  The healthy part of the Ukrainian people, freed from the tutelage of the corrupt elite, who had emerged as their spokesman and their government will take the initiative. You can count on a popular reaction against the  extreme right coup that  holds power today to the cheers of “the West.” The danger is that this violence may  trigger the risk of a partition of the country that the “Western” offensive could cause. Without forgetting the traditional domino effects…..”

Mélenchon has since added – over the weekend -  this observation,

The leader of the Left party said it was “absolutely predictable” that Russia would take “protective measures” in Crimea against the new “neo-Nazi” power and “coup”in the  Ukraine.

…………

The former candidate for President believes that “NATO and North Americans have been engaged for months in a provocation against Russia”. This was possible because of “the corruption and brutality” of  the previous Ukrainian government. According to him, “thanks to the legitimate discontent of Ukrainians, the North Americans infiltrated people in their pay, including those who count amongst  the most despicable and dangerous , especially the so-called Svoboda, which is  a National Socialist Party that has engaged in  multiple anti-Russian provocations “

A huge row on the French left has erupted around these comments: Politis.

Amongst the reactions are accusations that Mélenchon is culpable of aligning himself with Russia’s President Putin and has insulted those killed by the Ukrainian riot police. His party, the Parti de gauche, as been called a “sect”.

The Fourth International has reproduced this  declaration over the weekend,

This statement was made by the Central Committee of the Russian Socialist Federation on 1 March 2014. [1]

War has begun. With the aim of protecting and increasing the assets of the oligarchs in Russia and in Yanukovich’s coterie, Russia’s leadership has undertaken an invasion of Ukraine. This aggression threatens catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples — most especially for the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Ukraine’s southeastern industrial regions.

For Ukraine, this will also mean an escalation of ethnic conflicts; for Russia, a consolidation of dictatorial power, repression, and chauvinist hysteria, with which the ruling elite will be able to neutralize mass anger against a backdrop of deepening economic crisis. We share the concern of residents of the southeast over the nationalistic tendencies of the new authorities in Kyiv.

It is, however, our firm conviction that freedom will be won not by Putin’s tanks, but by self-organization and the people’s own struggle for their civil, political, and socio-economic rights.

It goes without saying that the peoples of Ukraine have a right of self-determination, of full autonomy and independence. But what we are seeing today has nothing to do with the democratic will of the masses. It is a brazen and cynical act of Russian imperialism, aimed at annexing foreign territory and converting Ukraine into part of Russia’s protectorate.

Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the foreign policy adventurism of the current regime, which seeks collusion in forestalling its own end. The RSD calls on all sincere left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests. Our demands:

NO RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN WAR! NO PROVOCATIONS TO BLOODSHED IN UKRAINE!

NO PITTING AGAINST ONE ANOTHER OF THE PEOPLES OF UKRAINE AND RUSSIA!

NO INTERVENTION BY THE ARMIES OF RUSSIA OR ANY OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE AFFAIRS OF CRIMEA!

FREEDOM FROM DICTATORIAL ACTS AND PEACEABLE SELF-DETERMINATION FOR THE PENINSULA’S RESIDENTS!

YES TO THE UKRAINIAN WORKERS’ STRUGGLE AGAINST OLIGARCHS AND CORRUPT OFFICIALS! NO TO ETHNIC CONFLICTS!

Alex Callinicos Tells off Richard Seymour.

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Gives Seymour a Ticking off.

In the latest International Socialism SWP theoretician Alex Callinicos assesses Grangemouth.

The dispute at the Grangemouth oil refining and chemicals complex in Scotland,was the union face up to one of the nastiest bosses in the UK,Jim Ratcliffe.

In a frank interview in Le Monde 16.12.13. (without parallel in the mainstream  British Press), Ratcliffe poured scorn on trade unions, British workers, high European taxes, European social welfare charges, and the fact that people resisted his closure plans.

He remarked that in America or China nobody would even think of fighting the proposal to shut down  a loss-making plant.

Defeating the company run by such an individual, backed by the Coalition, the enitre business world, and most of the media,  would take more than Grangemouth

Callinicos imposes his Party’s way of looking at this industrial dispute.

I lost interest in this account when the learned Professor began talking about UNITE as a union “which centralised power in the hands of the general secretary.”

Not that I know of: UNITE is a “member led” union.

This was pure bravado,

But, as Jerry Hicks’s impressive performance in last year’s election for the Unite general secretaryship showed, a significant minority of activists are open to taking a more militant stance. Unite the Resistance has an important role to play in gathering these activists together and enabling them to fight more effectively, sometimes in alliance with left-wing officials, sometimes independently of them.

Hicks, as vain as the leader of his Party, Respect,  is unable to  gauge political reality.

He discredited himself during the Grangemouth dispute by slagging off UNITE to the Murdoch press.

Sources indicate Unite the Resistance seems to have died a death, and the SWP is presently engaged in its latest frantic front, Stand up to UKIP.

Still there are some gems in this article – about comrade Richard Seymour.

Richard Seymour, who, since breaking with the SWP last spring, has been working overtime to widen the gap separating him from revolutionary politics.

Seymour is apparently guilty of seeing UNITE’s side of the story.

Indeed he is culpable of worse,

Seymour’s apologia for McCluskey implies a fatalistic approach to history. For all his extravagances and ambiguities, Slavoj Zizek is much closer to a genuine revolutionary Marxist approach when he says that “authentic politics” is “the art of the impossible-it changes the very parameters of what is considered ‘possible’ in the existing constellation.

Now Callinicos then mounts a defence of “impossibilism”,. That is a matter of testing the limits of the possible.

Or, we would suggest, making impossible demands in the hope that your small Party will snaffle up recruits from those who fall for them.

Callincios – probably rightly – notes of the group Seymour is now part of, Left Unity, will “struggle” to get a hearing.

But one wonder who will hear this?

It is in any case important that the SWP will survive this crisis. The Gadarene rush by much of the radical left to find excuses for McCluskey underlines the necessity of sustaining an organisation that simultaneously works in a non-sectarian way with other forces on the left and bases itself on clear revolutionary Marxist principles. Indeed there is a strong sense in which Grangemouth settles the debate between Rooksby and Blackledge over whether there is a practical difference between left reformism and revolutionary social.

Even fewer is our guess.

Though this “non-sectarian” article in the same journal (Once more on left reformism)which attacks everybody on the left, from The People’s Assembly, Counterfire, the International Socialist Group and the International Socialist Network, Left Unity, Syriza, Die Linke, the Front de Gauche, Richard Seymour (” innocent of any sense either of how social movements are terrains of struggle”), and, j’en passe, does indeed claim that, “To work with people to our right is an elementary and fundamental aspect of revolutionary politics…”

Bless. 

Appendix.

Seymour’s reply.

Now, the ‘Seymour’ who appears in the pages of the ISJ may occasionally say fragments of things that I have said, but otherwise any resemblance to a real person is almost entirely coincidental.  That ‘Seymour’, it has been suggested to me, is a manifestation of the unconscious.  Against this, corrections and clarifications are futile.  Still, just this once, for demonstrative purposes, I will state a bit of the obvious.

You know, it really doesn’t take a professor of politics at Kings to remind me that the class struggle is a war.  Nor even that Thatcher instituted neoliberalism through brutal class and social warfare.  One is not – how do you mammals say? – ‘thick’.  I even wrote something about this for a small quarterly journal once.

But Callinicos’s last sentence is puzzling, in that it suggests he isn’t at all puzzled by my last sentence.  He gets exactly what I’m talking about.  Outbursts of struggle are not in themselves sufficient to shift the balance of forces in favour of the working class or the left; you have to work on building up the infrastructure, the material conditions in which outbursts of struggle will have more chance of success.  This is actually made clear in the cited article from The Exchange, in the paragraphs immediately following those quoted, in which I say, among other things: “We need to begin a process of reconstructing class capacities, articulated with an equivalent process of rebuilding the left’s political capacities.”  

Not that opaque, surely?  And is the point in any way rebutted or qualified by stating (whether accurately or not) that the relative importance and effect of these conditions can “only be tested in struggle”?

If not, then the reason for the feint, and the non-sequitur, ought surely to be obvious.

If anybody can make much sense of the last sentence (or indeed most of this) please contact a very large dictionary. We assume it was quickly translated from the original Etruscan.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 8, 2014 at 11:51 am

Trotsky and his Critics. A Review.

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TROTSKY AND HIS CRITICS

Trotsky and his Critics. Revolutionary History Volume 11. Number 1. 2013.

For the revolutionary Marxist the struggle against reformism now changes itself almost completely into struggle against centrism. ….

Before taking seriously the fine words of the centrists concerning the “dictatorship of the proletariat” it is necessary to exact from them a serious defence against Fascism, a complete break with the bourgeoisie, the systematic upbuilding of a workers’ militia, its training in a will to fight, the creation of inter-party defence centres, of anti-fascist centres, the expulsion from their ranks of parliamentarians, trade-unionists, and other traitors, of bourgeois lackeys, careerists, etc. … It is precisely on this plane that one must now deliver the principle blows at centrism

Trotsky. Two Articles on Centrism. 1934.

Trotsky, the Editors of Revolutionary History note, was no “stranger to the cut and thrust of vigorous debate.” The leader of the Red Army and the Fourth International, “never hesitated, sharply to criticise the view of his rivals and to offer fraternal criticisms of those of his comrades and to reply to his critics with considerable energy.” (Page 5) However while his own polemics are widely available, “little of the material to which he was replying or which presented a critique of his views has been published.”(Ibid)

Others have been less generous about Trotsky’s “fraternal criticisms” and his energy-filled character. “Even Trotsky’s son Lev Lyovuich Sedov noted his “lack of tolerance, hot temper, inconsistency, even rudeness, his desire to humiliate, offend and even destroy, have increased. It is not ‘personal’ it is a method and hardly good in organisation of work.”(a never-sent letter to his mother Natalia Sedova 16th April 1936). (1)

A recent, hostile, biographer has observed, “Neither in private nor in public, though, did he suffer fools gladly; indeed he did not suffer them at all. He did nothing to correct the impression of being an arrogant know-all.” One could perhaps further illuminate Trotsky’s particular “polemical demeanour” with the observation that Trotsky saw “individuals as servants to an aim, and an idea rather than personalities in their own right.”(3)

Most of the articles in Trotsky and His Critics come from those on the sharp end of Trotsky’s polemics. They testify to the frustration of those attempting to debate about ideology and real political choices with somebody whom Pierre Broué called, “a giant dominating in his thought and his experience of a quarter of a century of revolutionary struggles” – a view, shared by the Bolshevik leader, that he was at few pains to conceal. (4)

The present volume of Revolutionary History presents newly translated contributions from a variety of sources. A common thread is that the majority come from those Trotsky described as “centrist”. That is, those democratic Marxists who rejected both Stalin and the ‘Third International’, then, Comintern, leadership, and the traditional social democratic ‘Second International’ of such bodies as the German SPD, France’s SFIO, and the Labour Party.

Nobody has written a satisfactory history of these organisations. They included the Independent Labour Party, ILP, (disaffiliated from Labour in 1932), the PSOP (Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan (founded after their explusion from the French Socialist Party in 1938), the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista), formed in 1935, with many smaller groups in Germany (represented here by the IVKO, Internationale Vereinigung der Komministischen Opposition) Holland (the party best known for its leader, Henk Sneevliet, and elsewhere.There was an centrist International, The London Bureau, or  International Revolutionary Marxist Centre (1932 – 1940) which liased between these organisations.

‘Centrists’ while expressing respect for many of Trotsky’s ideas (above all his opposition to Stalinism), failed to live up to his expectations. They did not restrict their democratic demands to inner party freedom. The majority opposed Leninist “democratic centralism”. They remained wedded to Parliamentary elections. Centrists were known to be hostile to the use of terror, and recoiled from violence. They stood for what is now known as human rights. As a result Trotsky called the ILP a “miserable pacifist clique” (5) Not surprisingly the leader of the French PSOP said that the Trotskyists would only be welcome in his party if they abandoned their vicious factionalism and denigration of ‘centrists” (6)

Yet Trotsky was also the head of the Opposition. If anybody needs to be reminded of what he was opposed to and the measure in which his fight against Stalinism was justified then some of the texts, notably by John Lewis, which defend the 1936 Moscow Trials, are there to remind us of what was at stake during the “historical events” that shaped these exchanges.

Boris Souvarine.

The Letter to Leon Trotsky (1929) by Boris Souvarine is probably the most significant text in Trotsky and His Critics. Souvarine flashed like lightening on the Communist left during the 1920s. His early political career was bound up with the foundation of the French Communist Party (PCF), time on the Comintern Executive Committee and his decision to defend Trotsky. Souvarine was fiercely independent.

At the beginning of the October Revolution in 1917 Souvarine expressed the fear that Lenin’s party would establish a dictatorship over the proletariat. (7) Perhaps one should bear this in mind, In Stalin (1935) he was already far from Trotskyism. A famous postscript added in 1939 concluded,

The force of things and the behaviour of men have contradicted all Lenin’s optimistic forecasts, his hopes in a superior democracy as much as his semi-libertarian ideas expressed in the State and Revolution and other writings of the same period, at the dawn of the revolution. Nothing in the individual theses of Trotsky has stood the test any better, in particular his wordy and abstract theory of the “permanent revolution.” Lenin died too soon to write the epilogue to the miscarriage of Bolshevism. Trotsky has not availed himself of the leisure afforded by exile to make a true and conscientious examination; even his memoirs do not make the contribution to history, which one has the right to expect from such a protagonist; his articles and pamphlets vainly paraphrase a hackneyed argument without throwing light on a single problem. The miscarriage of Bolshevism in Russia is coupled with the irremediable failure of the International, and the lessons of experience go far beyond the sphere of civil war. Democratic socialism in its various forms, in the name of legitimate defence against fascism, is almost everywhere allowing itself to be led, circumvented and compromised by dictatorial communism. 

The Letter teams with thoughts, not always well organised. Leninism was “Marxism simplified”. Russia was not communist but dominated by “peasant mysticism”. Souvarine struck more directly at Trotsky by remarking that, “The opposition itself did not oppose the “divinisation of Lenin and the canonisation of his work, or even to propose burning the entombed corpse along with its mausoleum.”(Page 16) he compared Trotsky’s ‘clarity’ with a “gramophone record”: a repetitive strain of invective. “His analysis classes people as Marxist, centrist and opportunist. He shows that this schema has little historical use, “centrism serves for you to avoid appraisals.”(Page 28)

On a number of important issues Souvarine illustrates the harmful way of classifying politics in this way. Trotsky ranged communists on their line on a range of issues, political ones in Britain, economy ones in Russia and tactical ones in China. If he fails that, “you class him on that side of ‘the barricade’ where according to you are to be found the bourgeoisie, the social democracy and the ‘centre-Right Bloc’.”(Page 29)

Souvarine takes Trotsky’s Where is Britain Going? (1925) as an example. This book is essentially a lengthy polemic. It asserts, “We have shown above that the present British Parliament represent a monstrous distortion of the principles of bourgeois democracy, and that without the application of revolutionary force it will hardly be possible to archive even an honest distribution of the electoral regions in Britain, the abrogation of the monarchy and the House of Lords.”(8)

While awaiting this development Trotsky produced an account of how industrial conflicts, might end in the “strengthening of the revolutionary tendencies in the masses” and of the central role of trade unions as the “main lever of the economic transformation of country” A confident prediction that the Communist Party will take the place of the Independent Labour Party in relation to the Labour Party is marked by a complaint (with which we are already familiar) that the ILP itself is a “resurrection of centrism within the social-imperialist party” – of Labour.

The Letter observes that all this relies on “far too strict transposition of continental revolutionary processes into the British setting…”(Page 31) With the Stalinists you “both believed that the British industrial crisis was opening up revolutionary period.”(Page 31) Both were wrong. “You know as well as I do that communists do not exist in Great Britain.”(Page 32) Showing probably a greater unfamiliarly with British socialism Souvarine asserted that the British trade union left remains “disciples of Mill and Spencer.”(Page 34) There was a deeper fault. Working class reformism “is deeply rooted in the economy of capitalism, and its ideology is fed from abundant and diverse streams which you will no way uncover by crying betrayal, or choke them off by indiscriminately condemning all who contradict you by using one and the same sentence”(Page 37) The problems in Trotsky’s stand on Britain are repeated in your “position as regards the non-communist working class of every land….”(Page 35)

In short, Trotsky’s belief that he could dictate “day to day” tactics” for the left in other countries was already one of his characteristics before his expulsion from the Soviet Union gave him free-rein to do so. It can be traced to a wider tendency. In the famous debate on China, and the relations between the country’s Communists and the Kuomintang we already saw efforts, by both the Stalin-led (in fact still partially collegiate) leadership and Trotsky to “impose a Russian leadership upon a Chinese movement.”(Page 43)

One would like to have known more about the exact nature of Souvraine’s  later anti-Communism. If it bore a Cold War stamp the impression of complex, passionate and stimulating thought remains.

Spain and the POUM.

Souvarine remarked to Trotsky “anyone who contradicts it is more or less a traitor or a counter-revolutionary.”(Page 35) Few would be astonished to find themselves quickly anathematised. More unpleasant is the lingering stench from Trotsky’s efforts to tell the Spanish left what to do during the Popular Front and Civil War. He baldly declared in 1939 that, “is it not now clear that the POUM’s fear of the petty bourgeois public opinion of the Second and Third Internationals and above all of the anarchists was one of the principal causes of the collapse of the Spanish revolution?” (9) This Leyenda Negra of the cruel stupidity of the POUM   has been repeated many times since.

Wikebaldo Solano, in a more recent retrospective, tries to find excuses for Trotsky. Andreu Nin was a great friend of the leading figure of the Russian Revolution. But there were faults. Trotsky wrongly compared the French and Spanish Popular Fronts. The latter was not an “organic coalition” but an “electoral front”. Trotsky showed “total incomprehension” (Page 152) Trotsky initially greeted the 1936 victory. His latter judgements- that is his efforts to run a minuscule faction that would attack the PSOE was perhaps misjudged. But Trotsky had few real possibilities of being “informed about the Spanish revolution…”“Trotsky’s information was very deficient and always late in arriving.”(Page 155)

Ignacio Iglesias is less forgiving. Trotsky’s “illusions were basically wanting to see everywhere a repeat of the Russian October Revolution. “(Page 158) His analysis boiled down to pinning the defeat of the Republic on the lack of a Bolshevik-Leninist party in the Spanish revolution. Not even speaking Spanish he attempted to dictate policy. Above all, “Trotsky, just like Stalin, and just like Lenin before them suffered from a very serious fault, a real perversion of the spirit, in that his intolerance would turn political difference into heresy or even apostasy.”(Page 159)

Centrism’s Legacy.

There is much further interesting material, by the (later Stalinist) Mark Schmidt, on Spain. The articles by the German Opposition, and Jay Lovestone (who became a Cold Warrior) with a critical view of  Soviet Policy and World Revolution, are of interest. It would perhaps have been useful to introduce some of the debates on the ‘centrist’ that is independent anti-Stalinist left, to which we have already alluded to. Marceau Pivert is relatively unknown to an Anglophone audience, though the group he participated in, the Gauche Révolutionnaire  and subsequently the PSOP, were influential.

Pivert had a very different take on another Popular Front, the French Front Populaire, to the myths spun by Trotsky regarding the “betrayal” imminent revolution there. If his writings no longer hold many people’s attention, Pivert and his party, the PSOP, have had an enduring influence, both within the Parti Socialiste (he rejoined, post-war, its forerunner, the SFIO), and within the Front de gauche (FdG). Indeed it is hard to understand the importance of social republicanism and secularism in French left politics without him.

Stalinism.

In case we need reminding of how right Trotsky was on some issues the editors have included a text by a certain John Lewis.

Lewis was a Unitarian Minister in Ipswich during the 1930s. Extensive research (asking around) has shown that he was controversial – prone to argue with the congregation from the pulpit, and apparently a ‘Ladies Man’. Edged out, or simply moving on, Lewis went on to work for the Left Book Club, and became a leading figure in the Communist Party of Great Britain, where he edited its Modern Quarterly. An advocate of “socialist humanism” and Christian Marxist dialogue, paralleling efforts by the former French hard-line Stalinist, Roger Garaudy. Louis Althusser famously attacked him for these ideas.

Lewis’s ‘humanism’ had a distinct cast in the Stalin era. Cited by E.P.Thompson this was expressed by praise of the Soviet achievement. In 1946 he noted, that the “most cautious investigators” reveal “a respect for personality, an achievement of freedom from want an insecurity, an equality of opportunity, that has filled the Soviet people with boundless confidence and hope.”(10)

Perfectionists and the Moscow Trials. (1937) is included in Trotsky and His Critics . It is, the editors state, from “textual analysis” probably by John Lewis.

Lewis talks of social perfectionism, which means that people strive for the perfection of God. In reality Christians must have “to share in the responsibility for blunder suffering and crime.”(Page 126) He then helpfully announces, “there was neither blunder nor crime in the ruthless judgements in the Moscow trials (they) were a protective reaction against the most reckless political conspiracy that was ever directed ageist the lives and existence of a whole people; that at no previous stage in history could the treasonous acts of idealists have struck as deadly a blow to a vast population…”(Page 126)

This is the “Trotskyite idealist who is prepared to destroy Socialist reality for the sake of his perfectionist fantasies.”(Page 128) The Trotskyists could not admit that Stalin’s position was “anything but the ruin of the revolution.”(Page 127) They thus act as “if they had been right” and had “resolved to remove Stalin and his supporters from power in order to change the policy of Russia, stop industrialisation and collective farms, reverse the development towards democracy in Russia both internally and externally.”(Page 127)

As they could not win the masses to this policy of” self-destruction”, the masses had to be manoeuvred into doing so. The “apparently fortuities destruction of industrial plant was bound to undermine confidence in the government”(Ibid) These “wrecking activities of the Trotskyist ran parallel to the endeavours of the German and Japanese secret agents.”(Page 127) “Leon Trotsky…had got in touch with the German and Japanese authorities in view of an eventual war,”(Page 127)

And so it goes…

Trotsky and his Role.

Pierre Broué’s loyal biography of Trotsky dismisses those, like Isaac Deutscher, who would have preferred that after being forced out of the Soviet Union his subject had not founded the Fourth International, or to have tried to intervene in the day-to-day politics of the left in countries about which he was, at best, imperfectly informed. (11) Even had he withdrawn to a Watchtower, many of us would have been wary of such a political analyst or prophet, given Trotsky’s less than democratic record in the early years of the Soviet Union. The present texts, well-presented and explained, largely confirm this judgement.

Yet this article of John Lewis brings something to the fore: it shows what Trotsky was up against.

  1. Page 236. Victor Serge. The Course is Set on Hope. Susan Weissman. Verso 2001.
  2. Page 337 Trotsky: A Biography. Robert Service. Macmillan. 2009.
  3. Page 80. Stalin’s Nemesis. The Exile, Murder of Leon Trotsky. Bertrand M. Patenaude. Faber & Faber. 2009.
  4. Pierre Broué. Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution Fourth International, Vol. 4 no 1 April 1967.
  5. Leon Trotsky. Where is the PSOP Going? A Correspondence Between Marceau Pivert, Daniel Geurin and Leon Trotsky. 22 December 1938 March 1939.
  6. Le PSOP et le trotskysme. Marceau Pivert. Juin 36. 9th of June. 1939. “s’il abandonne les méthodes fractionnelles, le noyautage commandé de l’extérieur, les moyens de pression et de corruption ou de dénigrement systématique destiné à isoler ou à développer tel ou tel militant qualifié pour la circonstance de « centriste » en vue d’une opération analogue à la préparation d’une « citronnade », alors comme courant politique, le trotskysme peut et doit trouver place au sein du PSOP. »
  7. Les Vies de Boris Souvarine. Critique Sociale. 14 October 2008.
  8. Page 72, Where is Britain Going? Leon Trotsky Socialist Labour League. 1960.
  1. Where is the PSOP Going? Op cit.
  1. Page 318. The Poverty of Theory. E.P.Thompson. Merlin Press. 1978.
  1. Trotsky. Pierre Broué.1988