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Raising Atlantis? Review: The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited, Sean Matgamna. Workers’ Liberty. 2015.

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Raising Atlantis?

Review: The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited Sean Matgamna. Workers’  Liberty. 2015.

“Les bruits lointains d’une atlantide disparue, de cette ville d’Ys engloutie que chacun porte en soi.”

The distant sounds of a vanished Atlantis, of that sunken city that everybody carries inside.

Ernest Renan. Souvenirs d’enfance et de Jeunesse. 1883.

Ten years after the 1989-91 fall of Soviet-bloc Communism, Perry Anderson wrote, launching the Second Series of New Left Review (NLR) that, there was “no longer any significant oppositions” “within the thought world of the West”. The governing and intellectually dominant neo-liberalism had no rival on the radical left. Amongst the aftershocks of the collapse of the USSR, “Virtually the entire horizon of reference” for his generation on the left, “the landmarks of reformist and revolutionary socialism”, Bebel, Bernstein, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Jaurès, Lukács, Lenin, Gramsci and Trotsky, have been “wiped away”. For students they had become “as remote as a list of Arian bishops.” (1)

The second volume of The Fate of the Russian Revolution is, like the first, aimed at re-establishing, in the face of Anderson’s verdict, the present day importance of one of those distant figures, Leon Trotsky In his Introduction to The Two Trotskyisms Sean Matgamna draws how own parallel with the heresiarch Arias and his followers. The reference is not, as one might expect, to the unequal contest between the founder of the Fourth International’s circle of supporters and Stalin’s Established Marxism-Leninist Church. It is to disputes within the Trotskyist movement, “The Heterodox were the Arians, and the Orthodox the Catholics of post-Trotsky Trotskyism.” The leader of the – ‘heterodox’ Trotskyist – Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) argues that this division, which originated in the 1940s, amongst those who “embodied the great truths of Marxism” the only “authentic Marxist-communist tradition” was of lasting significance. Revolutionary socialists, “must go back to re-examine the old debates and the flaws and lacunae in the political legacy which Trotsky left at his death – back to 1940.”(2)

Apart from Matgamna’s lengthy Introduction we are offered an extensive – over 600 pages long – selection of original articles from 1939 to the early 1950s, by Trotsky, his ‘orthodox’ champions, and those expressing opposing views on the errors and gaps in their political approach. The present work aims to present a demythologised account of the raucous debates of the Trotskyist movement inside the American Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP –henceforth the SWP referred to) during the 1940s – placing the heretics on an equal, if not superior, footing to the Orthodox. The texts are not always easy reading. Anybody unused to the disputes of hard-core Trotskyism will find the often wildly intemperate language unattractive – the suffix “ite” for opponents’ standpoint, “deviation”, and “petty bourgeois individualism”- gets freely aired. The articles range from the ‘Shachtman” opposition to Trotsky call for defence of the Soviet Union, to the scepticism of Felix Morrow, a leading American Trotskyist and author of an orthodox account of the Spanish Civil War, who became sceptical about the Fourth International’s prediction of post-war European revolutions. Morrow by contrast could see that it was more probable that,  “bourgeois” democracy would be restored, and advocated a left-wing democratic response. Morrow was the main subject of an important 1970s, Where Trotskyism Got Lost. (Peter Jenkins. 1977), which might also seem an appropriate sub-title for The Two Trotskyisms.

The first thought of the reader is to ask whether it is worth the time and effort to look into this literature. Are we delving into the “archives” of a lost Atlantis, as former Fourth Internationalist Tariq Ali, prefacing the philosopher and life-long Trotskyist activist Daniel Bensaïd’s An Impatient Life  (2015) has described records of the Trotskyist movement? Are they files of failure swept into the depths by the Triumph of Capital? A more urgent task might be to respond to the post-Communist “lucid recognition of defeat”- as NLR Editorialised a decade after Perry Anderson’s verdict. The “archipelago of a thousand Marxisms”, the research programmes of the academic left which the same Bensaïd saw flourishing in Marx for our Times (2002), and which has not ceased bearing fruit, might seem to offer more fertile soil on which Trotskyists too can plant their seeds. There is indeed debate on collective agencies, opposed to capitalism, in which this left could intervene. If it often, as indicated by the writings of those associated with groups like the British Socialist Workers Party and its Diaspora, or from those associated with Red Pepper, of uneven quality, dominated by “movementist” ideas based on the most recent wave of protests, that sparkle briefly and then are forgotten (remember anti-Globalisation, anti-capitalism, and Occupy?). But for Matgamna at least the original City of the Trotskyist movement has not been submerged in the deluge following the Fall of Official Communism. We should first of all, like a modern Montaigne, return to the library in its principal Tower. (3)

In this respect a useful contrast might be made with Lars T. Lih’s influential Lenin Rediscovered (2005). Lih argues that Lenin’s politics developed in the shadow of German Social Democracy, and its chief theorist, Karl Kautsky. A strategic emphasis on the importance of political liberty, as a condition for the development of the movement, was grounded on a “world historical epic about the coming of socialism”. The task of the left was to bring the “Good News” of socialism to the working class, merging intellectual resources and the labour movement. But for Trotskyists in the 1940s, after two decades of Stalinist rule in ‘socialist’ Russia, forced collectivisation, famine, the Great Terror and the Gulag, there was little tangible to evangelise about. The German Communists had lost to the National Socialists; the Spanish Civil War had ended with defeat for the Republic and the left. Nazi and Fascist tyrannies were now poised to turn Europe into a totalitarian Empire. The old colonial powers of France and Britain, they considered, looked only to protect their own interests, as were the Americans. There was, in short, an abundance of very Bad News. The Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin’s years of leadership during the founding of the USSR, and Trotsky’s battle against Stalin’s rule, remained, for them, touchstones, but their faith in the future of socialism had returned to belief in “things unseen”.  (4)

It could be argued that the left has yet to settle accounts with Stalinism. While High Stalinism, beyond the borders of North Korea, may have vanished, there it ample evidence that its outlook continues to leave its imprint on the left, not least in “anti-imperialist’ quarters. That if there is to be a democratic socialist strategy that could succeed in winning political power it can learn much from those who refused to compromise with totalitarianism. That at least some Trotskyists, the ‘heterodox’, have something to offer in outlining ways in which the left can be both opposed to capitalism and democrats, above all in the way in which they confronted a much stronger ‘socialist’ power that had dispensed with all pretensions to democracy. That in facing up to this “bad news”, the 1940s dissidents offered signposts for the future. That, at last, is the implication of Matgamna’s arguments. For that reasons alone Matgamna’s case should be taken extremely seriously.

The Rise of the Heterodox.

Our knowledge of the heterodox side in the early centuries of the Christian Church comes from fragments of their documents, and the commentaries of the victorious Catholics. Backed by Emperors the Orthodox considered the Arian congregations to be rebels against the supreme powers of Heaven and Earth. Although the analogy is perhaps strained those who criticised Trotsky and the leadership of the American Trotskyists, the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1930s and 1940s, are like Arian ecclesiastics, largely known through the literature of their adversaries.

Max Shachtman (1904 – 1972), a founder of that SWP, and a member of the Executives Committee of the Fourth International, has, to Matgamna, suffered the worst from the “handed down” and “apparatus historiography” of Orthodoxy. A Pride’s Progress, from criticisms of Trotskyism to support for American imperialism, was his, and the majority of his comrades’ their fate. This parable was part of the consoling “revolutionary mythology” that helped the Orthodox stand together against an assortment of enemies on the left and survive the ascendancy of Official Communism. For Matgamna declarations of doctrinal righteousness did not prevent them from chasing after the radical causes of the moment, including “alien political movements”, and, above all, becoming “critical supporters of varieties of Stalinism.” (5)

The Two Trotskyisms, with its companion volume, Lost Texts of Critical Marxism, presents a rich selection of articles and other material. Matgamma – one assumes, or hopes,  half-jokingly – referred in the first book to them as the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls” of this movement. Unlike the Essenes, the Heterodox manuscripts have not been buried for a couple of millennia. But The Two Trotskyisms presents together texts that have, up till now, only been available, but still in dispersed existence, to a limited readership. Following the first Volume’s publication of writings on, amongst other topics, the Stalinist Counter-Revolution and the Third Period ultra-radicalism that swept the world’s Communist parties, the present work assembles the efforts of small Trotskyist groups to grapple with the Second World War, and the expansion of the USSR into Eastern Europe in its aftermath. (6)

Sean Matgamna reminds readers, a few of whom may need this underlined, that Trotsky – by definition the lodestar of Trotskyism – was not infallible. Over the period leading up the War he presented a “large quiver of half-evolved and half-eroded “positions”, ambivalences, and contradictions. He is keen to make one point clear. The founder of the Fourth International did not lay down a hard and fast ‘line’ on the central issue of the controversies. “While defending the view that the totalitarian regime created over the foundation the October Revolution laid down, in nationalised property and planning may have been evolving as “transitional society” into a new social formation. He admitted, in effect, the theoretical possibility that the USSR was already established as a new exploitative class society, a semi-slave society.” We would also note that Trotsky’s frequent use of the term “totalitarian” – a word first used in Marxist circles by the dissident’s dissident Victor Serge – would raise hackles amongst those who have consigned it to Cold War political ‘science’.  (7)

That 1940s Trotskyism divided into two strands is a claim that rests on an account focused on North America. In the 1940s the SWP (US) was the largest Trotskyist group in the world, whose several thousand members had played a substantial part in the trade union movement. The publication by Shachtman of criticisms of dialectical materialism from a ‘pragmatist’ philosophical standpoint by James Burnham in the party’s theoretical journal, New International in 1938 was not universally welcomed.  Trotsky came down hard on the “anti-dialecticians”, harbingers of open ‘anti-Marxism’. Broader political differences emerged. What Trotsky and his immediate supporters called the “petty bourgeois” opposition began to engage in open factional warfare with the majority. This bitter quarrel was less over the value of the ABC of Materialist Dialectics than on the nature of the Soviet Union and the SWP’s policies towards Stalinism.

Specialists in this history would no doubt observe that by the late 1930s there as indeed a shift in parts of the American left from an interest in Marxism, including Trotskyism, towards democratic “anti-totalitarianism’ inside the American radical intelligentsia affecting figures such as Max Eastman and Edmund Wilson. Sidney Hook, a more substantial intellectual figure than Burnham, author of the still read, From Hegel to Marx (1st Edition, 1936), a student of the pragmatist philosopher and educationalist John Dewey, Chair of the Dewy Commission (1937) which condemned the Moscow Trials and their accusations against Trotsky, perhaps symbolises this change. By the end of the decade Hook had moved from the traditions inspired by Marx, including a period of “Trotskyesque” anti-Stalinism, towards a rejection of historical and dialectical materialism, and anti-communist (big and small ‘C’) support for the American Constitution and liberal democracy. (8)

Inside the SWP rifts hardened during the first years of the Second World War. The SWP minority recoiled from the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939. Shachtman, Martin Abern and other dissenters began to question the policy of “Defence of the USSR”. The SWP majority accounted that on the basis of the economic foundations laid down by the October Revolution it was their duty to back the country. For the majority Stalin’s occupation of half of Poland, the invasion of Finland and other Soviet manoeuvres in Eastern Europe, found them “partisans” of the USSR side, to the point of calling for the people in occupied territory to back the Red Army.

From the Bad News of the Gulag there was soon even worse news about the conduct of the Soviet invasions and fresh slaughters. For the dissidents these actions proved that Russia had acted as “imperialist” power – acting with a brutality which no slogan could cover up for. The claim that at least something of a workers’ state remained in the country, however “degenerated”, rang hollow. Russia was not in a “transition”, however unstable, towards socialism. Unrestrained violence was embedded in “bureaucratic collectivist” society; its apparatus was marked by exploitation of the workers, tyranny and mass murder. It would be simpler to recognise that there was nothing worth defending about the ‘Soviet’ State. Amongst the Heterodox the contours of what became known as the ‘Third Camp” position, standing neither with the Soviets nor the Imperialists but for international socialism, began to see the light of day.

These opinions were met with unrelenting hostility by the SWP leadership around James P. Cannon. Trotsky’s interventions, in the early stages of the dispute – attacking the Heterodox in his own right – give it lasting importance. He did not condone the full scope of the actions of the “Kremlin oligarchy”, but considered that the “nationalisation of the means of production” called for defence of the USSR, coinciding with “preparation of the “world proletarian revolution”. For his biographer, Pierre Broué, every declaration that Trotsky made has to be seen in the light of his priority: building a Fourth International that would play a leading role in this upheaval. In Poland and Finland (1939) he began by proclaiming, as a would-be commander of his own revolutionary forces, that the Kremlin, with the “Red Army on the side of the workers in a civil war”, would be “forced to provoke a social revolutionary movement.” With more information to hand, and faced with Shachtman’s criticisms, he announced a few months later that the USSR was planning to ‘Sovietise’ the country, under bureaucratic command and police repression. This is the “revolution”, which. Matgamna does not fail to emphasise, that became the norm in post-45 Eastern Europe. (9)

The murder of the leader of the recently founded Fourth International in August 1940, during the early stages of the Second World War, indicates that these views had importance in more than the limited circles of the SWP, not least for the Kremlin’s chief critic. This extension of ‘side-taking’ to something close to support stands out. Matgamna observes that as the war developed the Orthodox party paper praise for the Soviet Armed Forces appeared as the war. This reached an apogee with SWP columns glorifying “Trotsky’s Red Army”. The ‘progressive’ Revolutionary foundations of the ‘workers’ state became, for a time, more important than its ‘degeneration’.

The minority was expelled from the SWP in the same year, 1940, as Trotsky’s assassination. They took 40% of the membership with them and a majority of the youth wing. SWP leader James P. Cannon’s account in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, absorbed by generations of Trotskyists, and percolating through the wider left, presented the conflict, as a battle between a “shabby crew” of “adventurers, careerists, self-seekers, dilettantes quitters-under-fire” and serious proletarian revolutionaries. Outside of the material in The Two Trotskyisms we know, from the SWP’s own publications, that Cannon and his earnest allies dispensed with “formal” democracy in order to effect the exclusion. That is, bluntly, he ignored the party’s own statues in order to be rid of the minority. This could be considered evidence in support of a frequent charge against Trotskyists: that they are democrats to the tips of their toes, except when democracy is an obstacle to their factional manoeuvres.  (10)

The new Workers’ Party (WP) of the minority engaged, Matgamna observes, in serious trade union work. But years of this activity in Cold War 1950s America drained their politics of distinctive themes. Apart from a radical minority, whose best-known figure was Hal Draper, author of the landmark democratic Marxist Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (3 Vols. 1977), most of the remaining members drifted from revolutionary Marxism towards the Democratic Party. Shachtman’s evolved towards the “liberal anti-Communism” of that Party – in 1961 he refused to condemn the Bay of Pigs Invasion and later supported the US over Vietnam. With Burnham’s rightwards turn, after swiftly exiting the WP, the later careers of the main supporters of the Shachtman current are presented as proof that the Heterodox can be dismissed. This tale has had a long life. Alex Callinicos has offered a version of the “inevitable fate of those who stray from orthodoxy” position. In his account of Trotskyism he stated, “in the absence of an articulated theory of the new mode of production, the concept of bureaucratic collectivism has acted primarily as a means whereby its adherents could adapt to the prevailing mood on the local Left.” (11)

Whether the failure to have a substantial – ‘correct’ – line on the USSR was a factor in the group’s evolution, or whether bureaucratic collectivism was the nearest label at hand for the Workers’ Party leadership to justify its – decade long- evolution towards the American political mainstream is hard to determine. For Matgamna the original arguments of this dissenting strand of Trotskyism did not stray into the ideology of the “petty bourgeoisie”, or owed their origins to fashion. It can be argued that the bare bones of the theory of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ was part and parcel of a political response to the Soviet state, principally the actions just described in the early years of the War. This political legacy is important for the renewal of revolutionary Marxism. Indeed, In the 1940s, the Heterodox “elaborated a politics of consistent anti-Stalinism as well as consistent anti-capitalism.”  (12)

Armed Bureaucratic Collectivism.

The debates in this volume centre, as we have indicated, on the political actions – the armed foreign policy – of the USSR. But behind this is the issue of the nature of that regime. Some might consider that arguments about the character of the former Soviet Union – whether it was a workers’ state, a degenerated workers’ state, state capitalist, bureaucratic collectivist, a “new class society” – resembles discussion on the Trinity. If some Trotskyists have sunk into religious veneration for Trotsky a more common fault is scholasticism – “proof” of any view by appeal to the authority of quotations from the Old Man, Marx, Engels and Lenin.  But there is little doubt that when it comes to working out what was wrong with Stalinism, the economic and social framework of the former Soviet Bloc, the several decades of Trotskyist, orthodox and heterodox reflection and debate, play a substantial, essential, part in the effort to develop a socialist alternative today.

Differing stands on these issues, examining Trotsky’s and many other views, is explored more widely in Marcel van der Linden’s Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (2007). In this context the clash between the ‘Orthodox’ and the ‘Heterodox’ Trotskyists is only one of many, more or less intense, debates. Few would be as confident that one position is the only viable theory. Linden notes that Shachtman initially prepared to give some credit to Soviet nationalised property forms, and regarded bureaucratic collectivism as a temporary, unstable domination based on property relations. Shachtman, one would conclude did not a particularly coherent theory – what exactly distinguished forms from relations? As Charles Bettlelheim much later would put, it, property forms are the embodiment of social relations, extraction of the surplus is not distinct from the way rights over fixed and moveable goods are established. But Shachtman’s critical view of the USSR was, as the debates primarily political: the working class had no handle on the State, and in this respect had become a “reactionary obstacle” to socialism. Above all, as Martin Thomas of the AWL observes, it was the “movement of the USSR into imperialist expansion” already outlined above, which prompted his interest, use and development of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism. (13)

With the benefit of hindsight more general conceptualisations may have been a better way to approach the nature of Official Communism. The political character of high Stalinism, its dissolution of independent Law, the boundaries between power, civil society and the state, and the concentration of that force in the hands of an Egocrat meant the destruction of politics as an open clash of different interests and opinions. In this respect the ‘heterodox’ Trotskyists produced evidence of totalitarianism sprung to life – the actions of the USSR in the first years of the Second World War, that show a state prepared to override democracy and basic human rights, beyond and above the demands of armed conflict, in order to further its own interests. On the wider theory of bureaucratic collectivism our present judgements are mixed. Were these forms a “freak” of history, as Shachtman sometimes argued?  The persistent idea that these societies were, as Linden summarises, arranged in a sequence from capitalism to something new, whatever we label it, also seems to have outlived its use. But the USSR’s statist planning and mobilisation of ‘labour armies’, including forced labour in the Gulag, its “socialist primitive accumulation” may be considered, as Martin Thomas argues, not as a leap out of the capitalist world at all. It was “a compressed, intensified version of the use of direct extra-economic force’ in the ‘historic genesis of capitalist production’”. In other words, the mode of production was not really transformed by the Bolshevik Revolution at all. If this was an oddity, normality eventually reasserted itself. (14)

There is a vast space for more detailed accounts of the mechanisms of these social formations, from their initial creation, growth, expansion, and, decisively, the dissolution of an all-powerful repressive-ideological apparatus. The narrowing of politics into ‘monolithic’ unity simply could not be imposed on society without enormous human cost, and even then, lasted in its pure form until Stalin’s death. Rival interest groups, effectively differing political ‘factions’ within a still authoritarian and repressive regime, as the “pluralist” school of Soviet Studies, then re-merged. The economic transformations that have taken place in the former Eastern Bloc since 1989 may have caused massive social shake-ups. But they have been achieved remarkably swiftly and without mass resistance.

The study of the collapse of Official Communism, after full-blown Stalinism had long been tamed by bureaucrats, as the planned economy became ever more ramshackle and unable to deliver Red Plenty, continues. It raises much more profound issues than a clash between Marxist interpretations, let alone rivalry between ‘two Trotskyisms’. How can socialisation of the means of production take place in a different form? How can democratic control over the economy replace the market? Post-Communism also leaves open the issue, which is in the belly of the of Matgamna’s case for the Heterodox, of Stalinist imperialism. Whether, as the last echoes of Isaac Deutscher in New Left circles were wont to argue, the USSR was in the post-War period, a progressive international force through its support for national liberation movements, or that this too was pure Realpolitik, remains a live topic. There are those on the left who consider that Russian President Putin and a host of other non-Western powers represent today a kind of necessary ‘counter-balance’ to the US-led Imperium.  This might be considered, recalling Alex Callinicos’ words, to be an example of the use of a  theory, clutched to and adapted to the needs of local lefts desperate to discover some “resistance” to the American hegemon.

Two Trotskyisms?

 The Two Trotskyisms presents a view of the history of the Trotskyist movement. Any account on this topic, by the established rules of the genre, has to be controversial. Matgamma succeeds in demonstrating that there is a value in looking at the critical stand of the ‘Heterodox’ towards the SWP leadership, and the orthodoxy associated with Trotsky. Yet it is a mental wrench for the reviewer, politically brought up on British and other European left-debates, including Trotskyist ones, to enter the political and cultural world of the 1940s American SWP. This was Trotskyism with a capital T. This is a group that George Orwell described in 1945 as having “a fairly large number of adherents” with a “petty fuehrer of its own” with an “essentially negative inspiration.” Left political culture in Europe, while containing a few organisations of the same stripe, had and has much broader influences. From social democrats, Communist thinkers, democratic socialists, autonomists and anarchists, Western Marxists, non-Trotskyist Leninists, not to mention activists and writers directly involved in the trade unions. Some of these would challenge Matgamna’s claim to ownership of the Revolution. Others would find the assertion empty. But, to be brief, the US SWP even at its height is a party on the margins of our mental horizon. (15)

It is harder still to associate ‘orthodoxy’ with the main Fourth International, figures such as Ernest Mandel or Michel Rapitis, charged with apostasy by the same James P Cannon in the 1953-4 split in the Fourth International, accused of straying from Trotskyism for their support for Third-World movements of national liberation, not to mention the 1970s controversies on guerrilla warfare. To reverse the argument: to claim that the various ‘orthodox’ French Trotskyist parties led by Pierre Boussel (‘Lambert’) were pro-Stalinist ignores their intimate association with the American funded post-War break-away from the Communist led trade union federation, the CGT, Force Ouvrière, not to mention their actual writings – virulently hostile – on the Eastern Bloc. (16)

The history of Trotskyism indicates other directions. Bensaïd called the Trotskyists’ splintering into mutually antagonistic tendencies, in the aftermath of the Second World War the creation of that Eastern Bloc, and the victory of the Chinese Communists, the “scattering of the tribes”. At the Second Congress of the Fourth International in 1948 the Workers’ Party and Shachtman were still present. In a protest at the lack of clarity and democracy during the conference he united with one faction, represented by Cornelius Castoriadis. The Franco-Greek theorist’s subsequent history went beyond heterodoxy – designating the USSR as ‘bureaucratic capitalist’ – to rejection in the name workers’ self-management of all the main tenets of Trotskyism, except Revolution. (17)

Castoriadis’ small group (never more than a 100 members, though with some significant working class activists), Socialisme ou Barbarie, took a root-and-branch stand of opposition to all forms of Stalinism. They split from the FI came in the wake of the majority’s decision to side with Yugoslavia against Stalin. Their journal published some of the most revealing accounts of Stalinism, from East Germany to China as well as the USSR, available in the 1950s left press. But their political practice, based on unremitting hostility to Stalinism social democracy, Parliamentary politics, all existing trade unions, and even participation in the French system of workplace representation, left them isolated. That Castoriadis has enjoyed some posthumous fame as a philosopher of ‘autonomy’ – the democratic self-creation of social forms, may be some comfort to his admirers. But the failure of Socialisme ou Barbarie to make any real impact on French political life in the 1950s, and its own history of divisions, indicates one direction that principled hostility to Stalinism in this period could lead. (18)

French Trotskyism is significant in that during the German occupation the policy of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ was put into practice, in different ways by its already divided forces. Trotskyist histories of the period glorify efforts to convince German soldiers to unite with French working class and other internationalist actions. They tend to look with suspicion on any ‘nationalist’ support for the Resistance – that is when a small number of Trotskyists joined the armed fight against Pétain and the German occupation. (19)

Yves Craipeau – acknowledged by the AWL as an early ‘bureaucratic collectivist’ – recounts one important part of that history. When the Allied forces landed in Normandy his faction, probably the largest, published in its underground paper, La Vérité, a headline, “ils se valent” – they’re the same.  (June 1944) It went on to read, “En réalité, la libération de Roosevelt vaut tout autant que le socialisme de Hitler’. In reality the liberation of Roosevelt means as much as the socialism of Hitler. The divisions within the Greek Trotksyists were even more severe. One wing, already in conflict with the other, refused the ‘defence’ of the USSR and spent the War violently hostile to the other. The Stalinists physically liquidated  some of them, though reliable estimates give the total at 50 (both groups together) not the total, 300 – Matgamma asserts. (20)

In post-war the Fench Trotksyists briefly united in the Parti Communsite Internationaliste. The majority view, set out much later by Ernest Mandel was that they had has called the  electoral strength of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF)  and, one hopes, with some due modesty to the  legacy of the Communists’ role in the Resistance. Part of the ‘scattering of the tribes’ Craipeau left the Fourth International in the belief that there were forces on the left, outside the PCF and the Socialist SFIO, who could form an independent left party. The long story of efforts to create one, up to the radical ‘new left’ democratic socialist Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU), in which Craipeau played a significant part, indicate another direction that the ‘heterodox’ could take.  (21)

Going back to Sources.

For many on the left Trotskyism is a by-word for factionalism, of the single-transferable speech and sloganeering.  They have been criticised for trying control everything, for expressing open contempt for their opponents and adept at underhand organisational methods to win and hold onto organisational power. These accusations are not aimed at the 1940s SWP leadership or culled from accounts of present-day British Trotskyist groups, but were amongst those made in 1939 by Marceau  Pivert originally the leader of the Gauche révolutionnaire the left tendency of the French Socialists, the SFIO. He moved from the SFIO and became subsequently chief of the ‘centrist’ (that is ‘in-between ‘revolutionary; and ‘reformist’ politics) party, the Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan ( PSOP), Pivert experienced the methods of the French Trotksyists (after the famous ‘French turn’ of 1936 when they jo0ined the SFIO, and then tried to move into the PSOP). Pivert was eventually forced to remove these hectoring groupuscules.  (22)

But there are different voices. Pierre Broué, once an Orthodox activist in the French Lambertists who became respected historian of the movement, left this statement in his Memoirs. Reflecting on the Fall of the Soviet Bloc and the faults of the organisation which expelled him, he wrote in conclusion, “We must return to our sources, become again the ‘party of communists’ which only marks itself out from the mass of people with whom we live by our devotion, our continuous thinking, our openness to the world, our capacity to struggle, our will to clarify, to help the masses see things through their own eyes.”  (23) By its important indications of democratic and serious thought on some of the most serious issues of the 20th century the Two Trotskyisms has contributed to these generous aims.



(1) Page 17. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. Second Series No 1. 2000.

(2) Page 98 The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism. Edited Sean Matgamna. Second Edition. Workers’ Liberty. 2015. (TTCS) Vol. 2 of The Fate of the Russian Revolution Workers’ Liberty. Page 133

(3) A Letter from Atlantis: Remembering Daniel Bensaïd. Tariq Ali. Introduction to An Impatient Life. Daniel Bensaïd. Verso.  Editorial. Shifting Sands. Susan Watkins. Page 23. New Left Review 61 Second Series 2010.

(4) Pages 42 –3. Lars L. Lih. Lenin Rediscovered. Brill 2005.

(5) Page 97-8. TTCS. 

(6) Sean Matgamna Introduction. Lost Texts of Critical Marxism. Vol. 1. The Fate of the Russian Revolution. Workers’ Liberty.

(7) Pages 5-6. TTCS. On Serge and Totalitarianism see: Victor Serge: totalitarisme et capitalisme d’État. Philippe Bourrine   Fundación Andreu Nin. 2001.

(8) Chapter Five. Young Sidney Hook. Marxist and Pragmatist. Christopher Phelps. Cornell University Press. 1997.

(9) Pages, 268 –9, and Page 280. Pierre Broué. Trotsky. Chapter LIX. La Ive at la guerre.  1998. Marxist Internet Archive.

(10) Part 1. The Struggle for a Proletarian Party. James P. Cannon. 1943. Marxist Internet Archive. “Perhaps it is not generally known in the International that in the 1940 struggle in the SWP, the Burnham-Shachtman minority was supported by the majority of the resident IEC of the Fourth International, at that time located in New York. … They claimed the formal right to spoke in the name of the Fourth International” “The Convention of the SWP (April, 1940) paid no attention to the formalistic arguments which were undoubtedly in their favour.” Letter from James P. Cannon to Leslie Goonewardne. February. 23. 1954. Towards a History of the Fourth International Part 3. Volume 4. Part 3. International Committee Documents. 1951 – 1954. Socialist Workers Party. 1974.

(11)  Chapter 4: 1. Heresies: Max Shachtman and the evil empire. Trotskyism. Alex Callinicos. Marxist Internet Archive.

(12) Page 3. TTCS. 

(13) Shachtman and his critics’ views are covered in: Chapter 3 From Stalin’s ‘Great Leap Forwards’ to the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (1929–41) Marcel van der Linden Western Marxism and the Soviet Union. Brill 2007. Three Traditions? Marxism and the USSR. Martin Thomas. Historical Materialism. Vol.14.3. 2006.

(14) For these political conceptualisations of totalitarianism see: Claude Lefort. Un homme en trop. Réflexions sur l’Archipel du Goulag. 1976 (2015). Belin. Claude Lefort, Essais sur le politique. Edition de Seuil. 1986. Martin Thomas. Ibid.

(15) Page 370. Notes on Nationalism. 1945. Political Writings. George Orwell. 2001.

(16) On the Lambertists see the hostile account, in great, if contentious, detail: Les Trotskistes. Christophe Nick. 2002.

(17) Strategies of Resistance and ‘Who are the Trotskyists?’ Daniel Bensaïd. Resistance Books. 2009. Max Shachtman. The Congress of the Fourth International. An Analysis of the Bankruptcy of “Orthodox Trotskyism (October 1948) Marxist Internet Archive. Chapter 6. From the Second World Congress to the 1953 Split. The Long March of the Trotskyists, Pierre Frank. 1969.  Marxist Internet Archive.

(18) Francois Dosse. Castoriadis Une Vie. La Découverte. 2014.

(19) Ian H. Birchall. With the Masses, Against the Stream. French Trotskyism in the Second World War Revolutionary History, Vol.1, No.4, Winter 1988-89. See also: Ernest Mahttps://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/1948/10/fi.htmndel. A Rebel’s Dream Deferred. Jan Willem Stuje. Verso. 2009. The Meaning of the Second World War. Ernest Mandel. Verso. 1986. The less than clear history of Continental Trotskyism during the Second World War is defended in the same writer’s interviews published as Revolutionary Marxism Today, ed. by Jon Rothschild. New Left Review. 1979

(20)  Yves Craipeau. Mémoires d’un dinosaure trotkyste. L’harmattan. 1999. This total of deaths and on the tangled history of Greek Trotskyism: Alexis Hen. Les trotskystes grecs pendant la seconde guerre Mondiale Cahiers balkaniques 38-39 (2011)

(21) Further material on Craipeau in English: The Third Camp in France. Workers’ Liberty 2#2. This, a small but important part of the majority view on Stalinism was given by Ernest Germain (Mandel) Stalinism – How to Understand it and How to Fight it. April 1947. Marxist Internet Archive. On the wider revolutionary expectations in France in this period amongst intellectuals – a significant constituency for French Trotskyists – see this useful study:  La Révolution rêvée. Pour une historie des intellectuels et des oeuvres révolutionnaires. 1944 – 1956. Michel Surya. 2004.

(22) Le P.S.O.P. et le trotskysme. Marceau Pivert Juin (Journal) June, 1939. One should note however that for modern Trotsksyist writers the problems that arose in this encounter (in the wake of the Front Populaire and its impasse) were everything and everybody’s fault but the Trotskyists. Unfortunately this has included Broué :  P. Broué, N. Dorey. Critiques de gauche et opposition révolutionnaire au front populaire (1936-1938). La crise sociale de 1938. (1966)

(23) “nous devons revenir à nos sources, être de nouveau ce “parti des communistes” qui ne se distingue de la masse où il vit que par son dévouement, sa réflexion permanente et son ouverture au monde, sa disponibilité à lutter, sa volonté d’éclairer et d’aider les masses à voir de leurs propres yeux.” Pierre Broué. Mémoires politiques. Fayard, 2005. Sections circulated in PDF form.

Circulated  as text  2014/5


Reviews of “The Two Trotskyisms”


Written by Andrew Coates

February 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Corbyn’s ally, Sean Magmana: Daily Telegraph Exposes Alliance for Workers’ Liberty Plans.

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Important Corbyn Allies Says Telegraph. 

If it mattered to Corbyn at all what the Labour Party looked like to the public he wouldn’t be running for leader. His is a hostile takeover

Just look at what his allies are saying. Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers Liberty has written: “If Corbyn wins, then the Left should immediately go on the offensive. Irreconcilable MPs should be de-selected.” Matgamna’s position was echoed by Corbyn’s campaign manager Jon Lansman when he was on Newsnight this week. And please don’t let any MP tell you that it would be embarrassing for Corbyn if his allies tried to deselect a sitting frontbencher. They do not care.

John McTernan. Telegraph.

Since Cde Gorge Orwell we all know that the Daily Telegraph can be relied on to tell the truth.

Now this presents a problem for the Communist Party of Great Britain  (Provisional Central Committee – Weekly Worker) whose plot to “infiltrate” the Labour Party was fearlessly exposed by the Sunday Times  in July, indeed given Front Page treatment.

This is (only a fraction) of what this, the leading revolutionary force in the Labour Party  says of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in their esteemed Weekly:

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and social imperialism

One might guess that the Weekly Worker does not believe the AWL are against ‘social imperialism’.

You would be right:

Charles Gradnitzer examines how the social imperialists have responded to the latest Israeli assault on Gaza.

Sample, “Another war, another bizarre article from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty patriarch, Sean Matgamna.1 This latest stream-of-consciousness tract on the AWL website is half initiation rite for new members of the group, half appeal to the conscience of Zionists to stop bombing Gaza.”

AWL paper: Solidarity.


Written by Andrew Coates

September 4, 2015 at 11:48 am

Two nations, two states! AWL Editorial on Gaza.

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Workers Liberty (the paper of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) has just made a carefully weighed assessment of the horrendous Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Since the latest round of Israeli air bombardments of Gaza began on 8 July, around 200 Palestinians have died.

77% of have been civilians according to UN estimates. Many have been children

On 14 July, Israel ran a ground-troop operation in Gaza, and said it would expand its list of targets for bombing to include civilian institutions with suspected links to Hamas, the Islamist party which governs Gaza. Given that Hamas’s political infrastructure is substantially enmeshed with the frail Gazan state, this could include almost any target Israel chooses. Also on 14 July, Israel began a leaflet-dropping campaign instructing residents of northern Gaza to evacuate as it was preparing to widen its bombing campaign. Hamas has instructed Gazans to stay put.

On Tuesday morning 15 July, Israel announced that it had accepted a ceasefire proposal from Egypt, but Hamas hesitated, and later that day Israel was bombing again.

Gaza’s economy, always sore beset by Israeli restrictions, managed to grow nearly 15 per cent in 2011 and 7 per cent in 2012. Hamas was also boosted by the Palestinian “unity government” announced on 2 June this year, which allowed it to hope that public-sector workers in Gaza would be paid by the Palestinian Authority.

However, since a military-dominated government took over in Egypt in July 2013, ousting Muslim Brotherhood president Morsi, Egypt has shut down many of Gaza’s routes to the outside world, and unemployment in Gaza has risen. The Palestinian Authority has stalled on paying wages: public sector workers in Gaza struck over that on 26 June.

Hamas wants to put pressure on Egypt and Israel to ease their grip on Gaza. Right-wing Israeli prime minister Netanyahu wants to keep Hamas off balance, and is under pressure from a growing far right in Israel.

The current conflict grew after three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftal Frenkel, went missing on 12 June in the West Bank. Israeli forces raided thousands of homes in the West Bank, arresting 570 Palestinians and killing several (5 by one report, 10 by another) in the process. The teenagers were found dead near the Palestinian town of Hebron on 30 June.

Far-right Jewish nationalists abducted and murdered 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir on 2 July. Hamas began a barrage of rocket fire, and has now launched nearly 1,000 rockets at Israeli towns. It has also threatened to attack Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. So far, no Israelis have been killed. Israel responded by bombing Gaza.

No state, Israeli nationalists claim, should tolerate rocket barrages, however poorly aimed and ineffective, against its civilian population. That is the rational kernel to the Israeli case. But Israel’s actions go well beyond self-defence. Aerial bombardments of a densely-populated area, with an impoverished and essentially captive population, by one of the best-armed states in the world against are so disproportionate as to undermine the self-defence argument.

The Palestinians, too, have the right to defend themselves. Hamas rockets do not provide that defence.

Israel’s bombardments cannot be abstracted from Israel’s longstanding oppression of the Palestinians. Likewise, Hamas’s rockets are aimed at civilians and must be considered in the context of the social and political project of Hamas. Hamas is a clerical-fascist political party, which, despite the recent concessions to bourgeois diplomacy of some of its leaders, states its hostility to the Israeli-Jewish people even existing in historic Palestine.

Israel’s war on Hamas cannot possibly have a progressive outcome. While Israel continues settlement building in the West Bank; while it keeps the population of Gaza under semi-permanent siege; discriminates against Arabs within its own borders; and operates a regime of walls and checkpoints, it creates the conditions in which Hamas grows.

The only way out is peace. And, for peace, Israel holds all the cards. Ending the siege of Gaza, dismantling West Bank settlements, ensuring equality for Israeli-Arabs, and allowing the Palestinians their right to set up a genuinely independent state in contiguous territory alongside Israel would allow peace — and security for Israel’s people.

The hope for the future of both the Israeli and Palestinian people lies in the political potential of the Palestinian labour, women’s, and LGBT movements, and the potential of the labour movement and internationalist, anti-war left inside Israel. Those movements can provide an alternative politics for Israeli and Palestinians that cut across the nationalism and chauvinism of both sides.

That potential can be glimpsed in the demonstrations which have taken place in Israel, on 3 July and 13 July. On 3 July, thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv demanding an end to the atmosphere of incitement and vengeance following the deaths of the Israeli teenagers. On 13 July, hundreds of anti-war activists, many from the Israeli political left, demanded an end to the bombing, and faced violent reprisals from far-right nationalists.

As Yacov Ben Efrat, wrote in the left-wing Israeli magazine Challenge following the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2010:

“Solidarity between Jewish and Arab workers is the only way to overcome the cycle of bloodshed. The supreme interest of the workers on both sides of the conflict is to build a political and social alternative, egalitarian and humane, against a right-wing Zionist chauvinism and an Islamic fundamentalism that are leading both peoples into catastrophe”.

This editorial would seem to be the right framework for any serious left-wing discussion of the issues this catastrophe raises.

Update (hat-tip JV)

This is essential and very depressing reading,  With the Oslo dream shattered, Israel must do the creative thinking. (Haaratz)

The Palestinians do not recognize the Jews’ right to a state, so Israel must take steps on its own to improve the atmosphere.

By .

I would add that this is significant, Le courageux combat des pacifistes et progressistes israéliens Israël-Palestine, Rosa Moussaou (l’Humanité)

Written by Andrew Coates

July 17, 2014 at 11:38 am

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.


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

Andy Newman, Witchfinder General: Does He Speak for the GMB?

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Andy Newman Prepares for Work.

Socialist Unity may have bitten often more than it chew.

It has indulged in what many people consider to be red-baiting of AWL member Janine Booth. She  is now London Transport rep on the RMT’s national executive. A great fault in Andy Newman’s eyes.

Andy Newman remarks that given that the,

AWL is deeply hostile to the politics of Bob Crow, then it is hard to see how productive relations between lay members and full-time officials can be maintained, when Janine is committed to writing leaflets that undermine officials who the AWL describe as bureaucrats, and by implication break confidences (telling you what the “bureaucrat” won’t).

In other words Newman insinuates that Janine Booth will break RMT rules regarding the confidential nature of union business. This is an extremely serious charge.

He goes into make this claim,

The AWL says that their aim in RMT is to “prioritise recruiting new AWL members”. Significantly this is regarded as more important than strengthening the union. To this aim in May 2011 they set up a Tube workers’ AWL branch that caucuses around introducing their controversial politics into RMT branches.

“We have prioritised political discussion in the branch, increasing our confidence to sell the paper to more and more people. Together, we discussed, wrote and moved an amendment on Libya to last month’s regional meeting. Although we lost the vote, we impressed some people by articulating clear, distinctive and thought-out views” [AWL expands on London Underground, http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/05/04/awl-expands-london-underground  ]

Most unions in Britain have smaller and larger alliances of left, centre, or right-wing activists who stand for election. The AWL takes part in some, and, apparently in this case, organises its members who work on the Tube around their own body.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

It is no secret.

Newman was able to find the AWL statements even from darkest Wiltshire.

But wait, London Underground workers have faced a long (very long – going back to the 1980s) campaign against them. Led by the Evening Standard.

Some of the flavour of this attack – which can be called a witch-hunt – is given last year in the same paper (Here).

The three men orchestrating the RMT union’s two weeks of strike action from behind the scenes can be named today.

Steve Hedley, Brian Munro and Pat Sikorski each have a long history of battling Tube managers and leading militant campaigns.

While RMT general secretary Bob Crow is the union’s public face, he is said to be backed by an even further-Left clique of activists.

Socialist Unity seems to think that they should make their own attack on a “far-left clique of activists”.

For a GMB Branch Secretary (Wiltshire and Swindon) – Andy Newman –  to red-bait Janine Booth in her capacity as a RMT official is a very serious breach of normal  union protocol.

Put simply, officials, including lay-officials, do not publicly attack other unions, including activists in other unions.

How does this work for the GMB?

The GMB is run democratically from the centre.

To illustrate how this happens one of its principles (from the GMB Rule Book)  is that “Members or branches must not issue any addresses or circulars without getting approval from the regional council, regional committee or Central Executive Council. Also, members must not make our business known to  unauthorised organisations, unofficial journals or the print media without getting approval. “

Is this latest attack on members of other unions known to the GMB?

We doubt it, as we have great respect for the union.

We wonder how Newman squares his Web activities with his duties to his own union.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm